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Gardening to be Bold

September 26, 2016 — by Ian Ritter

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Let’s face it, you don’t always get good seeds in life, and sometimes, you don’t have a clue what kind of plant is going to grow from some random seed that life haphazardly tossed in your way. bad-apple Hell, you may have even tripped on it and skinned your knee.  But I can tell you what, life is about experience and if you don’t sow a seemingly good seed when you get it you’re gonna miss out, because until you give it a shot, you’ll never know what could be.  So, plant that fucking thing, water it, and take good care of it!  The worst thing that happens is that you get to be a gardener for a moment in time.  If it doesn’t work out, fuck it, at least you tried.

it-is-what-you-make-of-itThings don’t always need to make sense to you in order for them to be epic.  If you have your bases covered, have faith in yourself to explore what is happening.

Be bold, not shy.  Be courageous, not timid. Be vulnerable, not invincible (because you are in fact, not invincible).  Accept and embrace the fact that those things which are incredible, are often scary and surrounded by uncertainty.  courageLook that fear, uncertainty and scariness in the face, accept that you will be roughed up a little and press on with honesty, trueness to yourself and trueness to an yone else involved.

Only by accepting the perils, are we fully able to accept the beauty of life when we are so lucky to find ourselves in the situations which include that amazing, rare, precious, delicate, tender, intense, magical, and life sproutbringing feeling of sowing seeds to grow moments in time.

 

 

Learning

Happy Autumnal Equinox

September 22, 2016 — by Casey Allen0

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Astronomy is one of my hobbies and I enjoy celebrating celestial events. For me, it’s a great way to keep my life in perspective and to continually renew my sense of wonder about life and our minuscule part that we play in the universe. I also find it incredible that humans have have used celestial events to measure the seasons for thousands of years – most of them doing this strictly by observation, without knowledge of fundamental traits such as the heliocentricity of our solar system.

Today marks a celestial phenomenon that happens twice each year: the equinox. The equinox is a way to mark the changing of the seasons, in the case of today’s equinox it’s the end of summer and the beginning of fall for the northern hemisphere as well as the start of spring for the Southern Hemisphere.

earth-modelThe reason for the name “equinox” has to do with the geographical position (GP) of the sun. The suns GP is the location on Earth where the sun is directly overhead. This position changes in latitude throughout the year, moving from its highest latitude at the Tropic of Cancer to its lowest latitude at the Tropic of Capricorn. On the equinox, the GP of the sun is directly over Earth’s equator. The length of daytime and nighttime are approximately equal on this day.

I suppose this is all a very circuitous way of saying “happy first day of fall!”

Learning

Dear Dad, and Bonus Mom. Drink More, Work Less.

September 13, 2016 — by Ian Ritter

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This is a letter I wrote to my Dad, and step mom recently.

NORMALLY IT’S THE PARENTS writing letters to the kids, but I’ve been doing a bunch of soul searching recently and have had some incredible moments of clarity in this searching.  One of the things that I realized was that sometimes, a small gesture can put a big smile on people’s faces, so I figured I’d be a little weird (duh) and give them a nudge about stopping working and heading towards retirement.  Both of them have worked extremely hard their whole life, and quite frankly, it’s time to cut the crap, stop the 9-5, 6, 7, sometimes 8 o’clock days, crawl the hell out of the office and get to living!  I left this letter for them to come home to, along with an easel, poster board, and real Magic Markers.  Luckily, it was well received, and I will be sure to post their dream board when I see it!

Dear Father and Bonus Mother,

As I head off to training to bust my ass for the next 3 months training on the 767, I was reflecting upon hococktailw much you guys work and bust your ass as well.  In doing this, I was contemplating how to make the things I have for boating and water activities available to you while I am gone so that if you wanted to use them, they would be easily accessible.  In keeping with this thought, all of the possible fishing and diving gear that you need will be in my living room for you both.  There are bags of ice in my deep freeze downstairs as well as some beer and lots of booze in my kitchen.

As I considered the effort and trials you both have endured in life in order to get to where you are, (far from where you once were) it is clear that continued and focused hard work has been at the core of your path to success.  (I’m especially looking at you, Nancy)  Even though I don’t have a kid, I know that a beautiful daughter like Jenna doesn’t raise herself, and I know you’ve been grinding at Harris for a long fucking time.

With that said, I also don’t in any way want to pretend that I know how you feel about what you are currently doing, or what you want in life, or what your goals and dreams are for the next 5, 10, and 15 years.  Unfortunately, those aren’t the kinds of conversations parents have with their children too much; although I would be interested to hear about it.

The reason I’m mentioning this stuff is because I have been in a period of transition over the last two years and seen all of the things, the goals, the dreams, they are real, and they are possible.  To add to the excitement, I’ll also toss out there… I’ve realized (sadly) that I am, in fact, not getting any younger, and neither are you; no one is.  The average lifespan in the USA, who ranks #31 in life span, is 79.3.  old-peopleThat number is the average of when people die, so you’ve gotta figure you’re out of commission well before then.  I’m guessing I’ve got another 35 years of active and healthy life where I can ride a bike, go for long walks, or get out of bed and make coffee for the person sleeping next to me without my creaking joints giving away the surprise.  How many do you guys have?

So, the time is now (whatever now means to you). I want you to know that I believe in both of you 110%.  They say we’re supposed to leave no stone unturned.  Well, I want you to leave no sick time unused, I want no spare money left un-saved, I want no financial planning left un-done, no workout weaseled out of, no champagne to stay corked, champagneno lips un kissed, and I expect a board with a list of hopes, dreams, and goals to be proudly displayed for you both to revel in.  (HINT: I’ve already put a board with lots of Magic Markers at your house to get you started) It is important to do this now, because the reality of just how attainable our dreams are once we take away the mental blocks the world has imposed on us, can take a while to set in.  Ya know, the fog takes a while to clear, and the vision for your dreams takes a while to adjust and improve.

I also expect the boat to be used and some beer bottles left in there for me to clean up when I get done with my training.  galaxyAnd for there to be at least a few days where you both do abso-fucking-lutely nothing other than enjoy that you’re alive on this fascinating, medcute-coupleium-sized planet, in a medium-sized solar system, swinging about halfway out on the arm of a medium-sized, spiral galaxy, we call home. I will be very disappointed in you both if this doesn’t happen. 😉
You both are free people, no kids, no nothing and you don’t owe anything to anyone, especially not some fucking slave merchant company or the millionth “just this one more project,” (john).

Again, I believe in you 110% no matter what and will support you and help you in any way I can.  Hopefully starting with taking you sailing in November.

Consider this, your written invitation! 😉

Much Love,

Ian

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Free Range Life, and Dinner too

September 12, 2016 — by Ian Ritter

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Let me start by saying I have some amazing friends.  friendsSeriously, I do.  Look at those beautiful animals!  I’m almost positive they were supposed to be at work and called in sick because I was in town.  So, yea, that’s a boat behind the truck and off we go!

The dude in the picture actually loaded my broken, bleeding self onto a stretcher to the hospital after a particularly memorable day back in 2007, but that’s a story for another time.  In this story, we are talking about how epic the Pacific Northwest is.

I have been extremely fortunate to be able to travel for my job.  With the whole, “I’m a pilot thing,” comes the “I can jumpseat all over the world for free thing too.”  It works out great for someone like me who loves nature and just being part of this little slice of heaven, earth.  IMG_9439Every so often, I am able to get out to one of my favorite spots called, “Neah Bay.”   It is situated at just about the tippy top of the North West, of the Pacific North West.  It is remote, but has a beautiful road that weaves along the rugged coast.  The whole drive is magical to me.  You pass old growth rain forests, huge snow-capped peaks, and can often see entire mountain ranges on the way there.  From my friends house, you have to endure 3.5 hours of those tortuous views that just leave you breathless and humbled before you arrive at your equally magical destination.

Because of how remote this area is, not to many people make the trek, so I was surprised to find this beautiful scene here on the shoreline, miles from anywhere.  IMG_9437It made me really happy to think that two people found this little beach, took the time to gather up all the shells and leave these hearts for someone else to find.  It was a  sure sign that it was going to be a killer day out there.

Our mission out here is generally to partake in some nautical pursuits which frequently involves spotting whales, seals, and hopefully catching some fish.  Today was a day of free diving the forests of the sea, the kelp beds.  The water was clear and cold (52 degrees), krill were everywhere and we even had a couple stellar sea lions check us out.  They were beautiful and peaceful, and also large and terrifying.  We were relieved they kept their distance, although you could tell they wanted to get closer.  We of course had a great IMG_9438time in the kelp, and even nabbed a few fish for dinner.  But the unique treat of the day (aside from the sea lions) was an ocean scallop I spotted on a rock.  After a few dives, I was able to stuff him in the wet suit and add him to the dinner list.  img_9454

We of course had an amazing drive home, through the same stunning views and arrived back with time to cook up dinner.  These are the best pictures I got of the adventure, next time, I promise to take more.

Learning

Three Lessons for the Digital Age I Learned From Studying Buddhism

September 6, 2016 — by Casey Allen0

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This is an article I wrote for Medium a couple years back. I’m usually not much for self-help type articles with clickbait titles, although there is no denying their popularity on the interwebs. However, I think in this case, my level of expertise on the subject really hit the sweet spot for this type of article, so I decided to run with it. Enjoy!

Recently I spent an evening with a friend at the Zen Center in Detroit, Michigan where she is a student. Having done a bit of studying about Buddhism, I was excited to learn from someone who was actually living the Buddhist life. My friend gave me a tour of the center, we sat for an hour long meditation, and then ate dinner together at a Japanese-style low table. After dinner I was struck with what a pleasant and uncomplicated day it had been. I began to realize that Buddhism holds within itself many antidotes to the conditions which have become endemic of modern society. We have all become familiar with these ailments, at least to some extent – finding it difficult focus long enough to do things we used to enjoy such as to read a book or even carrying on an in-depth conversation without checking our phones, feeling a constant sense of urgency and need to search for the next distraction. Despite being more connected to the outside world, experiencing a feeling of loneliness and of being misunderstood or uncared for. Sitting down in front of a computer only to realize hours later that you have been browsing for so long that you don’t remember why you got on the internet in the first place. 

1. There is a lot of richness in the present moment. Think about the last time you walked somewhere. My guess is that, even if it was a short walk, you probably had your cellphone in hand. Maybe you tried to call a friend to fill the time. Maybe you checked your Facebook, then posted a picture on Instagram. Or if you are like me, as a last resort, maybe you just kind of flipped through the apps on your phone searching restlessly for something to occupy your time. As a society, we have become increasingly uncomfortable with phone lookersthe present moment. We try rather successfully to escape it through a constant bombardment of notifications, messages, apps, etc. The Buddhist principle of mindfulness tells us that we are escaping the most important moments of our lives. Mindfulness has started to gain some traction in the U.S. over the last few years – there was the recent Time magazine cover story, loads of new books and apps, and even recent promotion by large corporations as a way to foster increased productivity and focus. 

In essence, mindfulness means to have a full awareness of the present moment. To practice mindfulness is to take a break from the busyness that has become our modi operandi and to focus only on the present. This can take the form of a sitting meditation or it can just mean eliminating distractions for a few moments to enjoy whatever it is you are doing right now. In fact, I would say that the most important point of mindfulness is that it can be practiced at any time, in any situation. All that has to be done is to give full attention to the task that is being done. Take again the walking example. Perhaps you’re walking to your car after leaving work. Instead of checking your phone, try focusing your attention on “just walking.” Feel your shoes making contact with the ground. Notice how your legs feel as they carry you forward. Feel any breeze or sensation of wind against your skin and clothes. It’s deceptively difficult. Watch your breath as it naturally changes to the pace of your steps. At first your brain will probably protest and your thoughts will drift to something more “exciting.” Just gently bring your attention back to the aspects of walking. Once you have practiced this a bit and get used to “just walking” you will see how much richness there is in the details of walking. You will begin to notice aspects that perhaps you never saw before. It is exciting to see life through new eyes, with the renewed wonder of a child. Being content with the present is a fundamental part of happiness, and one that our addiction to technology can strip from us by creating endless distractions that we perceive as important. Practicing mindfulness is a way of retraining your brain to focus and become more comfortable with the life that surrounds you.


2. We are all connected.
A message of kindness. The Buddhist teachings say that all beings on Earth are interconnected. flowerThich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and educator, relates this concept in a way that is easily understood: “…looking into a flower, you can see that the flower is made of many elements that we can call non-flower elements. When you touch the flower, you touch the cloud. You cannot remove the cloud from the flower, because if you could remove the cloud from the flower, the flower would collapse right away. You don’t have to be a poet in order to see a cloud floating in the flower, but you know very well that without the clouds there would be no rain and no water for the flower to grow. So cloud is part of flower, and if you send the element cloud back to the sky, there will be no flower. Cloud is a non-flower element. And the sunshine…you can touch the sunshine here. If you send back the element sunshine, the flower will vanish. And sunshine is another non-flower element. And earth, and gardener…if you continue, you will see a multitude of non-flower elements in the flower.”  
At the Zen Center when greeting another person it is customary to bow towards them. This is a way of saying “I respect you and see a part of myself in you.” I think the more standard way to look at the world is a dichotomy of “us and them.” We emotionally distance ourselves from strangers, people we don’t like, and problems that are not directly affecting us. Inter-being is a twist on the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It means not just to treat, but to view others as an extension of yourself. It’s the ultimate call for the kindness of humanity, both towards each other and also the environment in which we inhabit. Perhaps spoken to humanity, the message of interconnectedness feels like a platitude. But considered individually, it’s a call for personal change and for deep consideration about the nature of our realities.

3. Use teachings as a guide, not as ultimate truth. The Buddha said to use his teachings as you would a raft. Use them to aid you in getting to the other side of the pond, or in other words, as a means to an end. He didn’t want anything that he said to be taken for dogma that was written in stone and could not be reinterpreted or changed. This is a powerful lesson for the importance of critical thinking in the digital age. It’s so easy to find an “expert” opinion on a subject. Just check YouTube for a video tutorial, Wikipedia for a textual lesson, or Google to instantly see millions of search results from all over the web. There are obvious benefits to this – the wealth of information at our fingertips would have been unfathomable in any era of history. The negative aspect though is that we are losing our ability to think for ourselves, to think critically and deeply, forming our own opinions. To me, this teaching of the Buddha contrasts beautifully to the teachings of the Abrahamic that many of us are more familiar with. The ability to think and reason for ourselves is the most powerful tool we have to make forward progress both outwardly through technology and scientific advancement and inwardly through our own moral endeavors. In his book Walden, Heney David Thoreau wrote about cultivating these abilities “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.” 

Seagull mindfulnessIn studying Buddhist teachings, I am struck by the relevance of what I have read. I am not advocating that all people should become Buddhist. I am, however, promoting more deep thought about our social mores and ethical beliefs. We are often so steeped in our collective ethos that for positive change to occur, we must learn to be observant of our most basic assumptions. It is this type of thought and observation that makes Buddhism so important to our society.

Learning

Moby Dick: The Alternate Ending. Cetaceans win.

September 6, 2016 — by Ian Ritter

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As a lover of animals,

It can sometimes be hard to read passages illustrating in great detail, the slaughter of majestic creatures.  Herman Melville is a detailed writer if there ever was one, and he is also the author of my favorite book, Moby Dick.  While I was regaling my Aunt with my favorite quotes from the book, she mentioned to me how much she hated Ahab. whale breathing I think we can all agree that Ahab wasn’t the best guy.  He is to Moby Dick, what King Geoffrey was to Game of Thrones.  So, being the kinda guy I am, (weird, but with a taste for fine literature,) I decided to re-write Moby Dick for her.  I then thought about how stupid an idea that was, and decided to just re-write the ending for her.  Below, you will find Ahab gets the justice we all hoped he would get, as Captain Lizard and her trusty dog Chuck liberate the world from this Leviathan sized, nautical douche bag.  Also, it is written in the style of Herman Melville, and I have tried to incorporate some great phrases he uses.  ENJOY!

AHAB, NOW LASHED to a chair on the quarterdeck, all bound, and tied resembled so strikingly a whale fast to the ship, she was sure the similarity of their shared predicament would not escape him.  As much as her disdain for the man prevented even the most infinitesimal display of sympathy, so too did her respect for his wit make it impossible to think this ignominious growth named Ahab might not realize the karmic role reversal at the present time.

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In the dim light, she took a moment to survey the stage for the final show.  Covered from tip to stern in the ship’s own spermaceti, the whole of Ahab glistened; like a mirror, his salt-cured hide reflecting back the ethereal glow of stars whose light travelled millennia to bear witness to the cleansing; a sight so precious, from this reflection, distant nebulous gasses will receive the tale in waves and reflect the sacred event out for the universe once they are born into stars.  His ragged locks hung like infected Spanish moss from the gutter of a house built on the grave of a once mighty oak, the previously hateful and fearless brow furled into perpetual condemnation, now looked like that of a man being slowly lowered feet first into a pool of water, just as the rising liquid covers his mouth and nose, the reality of Ahab’s situation finally breaks him.  Eyes, once covered by burlap lids, now dart about frantically, he tries to cry out, but is muffled by the harpoon line used to gag him.  He is in fact a whale, stuck fast to his own ship. Moby dick dog The dog with the white tipped tail edges closer, teeth barred and shining like ivory daggers in the moonlight, he dared not move, even if he could.  The mood is tense, and the lizard has not made a sound.  In the pale illuminations, Ahab thought he might have even seen a smile; he shuddered at the thought.  All was quiet; there was not a breeze in the sky, no halyard made a sound, it was like an opera at its climax, the whole of the cosmic audience on the edge of their seat awaiting the final note; sheer silence until their need for an ending is met, not even the planks of the deck dared to creek.

Finally, the Lizard reached into her pocket and found a lighter.  She took it out, stared into Ahab’s eyes and raked the flint, drawing a blaze from the wick which in turn drew a muffled gasp from Ahab.  The small light from an even smaller flame looked like an inferno to a man covered in a substance he himself pilfered from the earth’s most majestic creatures so that he could make a buck and humanity could light its otherwise perpetually dark path.  That tiny flame scorched whatever refuse festered in place of where a soul might once have been; all he could see behind the blaze was a toothy grin far surpassing the fearsomeness of the mutt’s teeth still being gnashed at him presently.  She asked the man covered in boiled whale fat, “why so unctuous?” He readied himself for the inevitable, reflecting on his life.  To his amazement though, she turned about and proceed towards the boats, never once looking back, she descended to the boats obviously on her way back to that sub which had caused so much damage to the whaling fleet.  Moby dick 1Ahab felt a wave of relief wash over him and he knew he had been given another chance, God himself had saved poor Ahab.  God had reached down to him alone; finally noticing him and offering salvation, he thought to himself.  All these years, poor hard working Ahab has been providing oil for lighting the Christian churches, so that people’s souls can be saved and have eternal happiness and peace; oil to illuminate the solemn churches use many barrels of the spermaceti he provides so they may preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.

In those moments, Ahab vowed to live the life of a righteous man, to live by his wife and child and to be a servant of the God who saved him, the God who gave his son to cleanse humanity from their sins; he wept joyous tears upon realizing his new calling.

Ahab even smiled a little as he watched Captain Lizard’s boat lowering towards the water as she and her hateful mutt fell from of view.  “Thanks to the God who created the universe and loves his children,” Ahab thought to himself, still reveling in the fantasy of his second chance.  As he smiled, in his periphery, he thought he saw a shooting star, an angel sent down to meet him and guide him on his new mission graced the sky, arcing beautifully through the heavens.  Time slowed as the angel neared; drunk with blind faith, the newly saved sailor thrust his gaze forth in order to gain a better view of his salvation and as it came near.  Angel Moby dickAs his eyes fixed on the heavenly body he was so sure would guide him to the eternity he so deserved for years of servitude, time stopped.  Burning, icy chills stabbed through his corpse and no matter how many times he blinked, he could not change the arcing shape back to an angel and no God could save him, because there is no such God like the one in his fantasy, for what he had seen arcing through the night sky was not an angel sent to him from a God that doesn’t exist, it was the tiny flame of a lighter, sent by a God who answers injustice with justice, moments from striking the spermaceti planks and setting wretched Ahab ablaze; he was to become a his own tryworks.  Blaze Moby dickAs the tiny lighter struck the deck, Ahab immediately felt the intense searing heat lash on to his oil soaked body as his immolation began.  Flames filled his lungs as he tried to close his eyes to hide from his reality, but he could not because the scornful lids were now seared and torched away into fleshy, carbon tears that flew upward with the heat.  As his odious flesh melted away like butter under a summer sun and Ahab began to scream, like half-articulated wailings of the ghosts of all Herod’s murdered Innocents, the wretch cried the cries of all the earth’s majestic creatures he slaughtered.  Even in the midst of his own boiling flesh, Ahab was startled by his sounds, how his cries were so much like all distressed creatures.  Just before his torment of the world ended and his molecular contribution began, a thought occurred to him, “perhaps if man and beast are so similar in our endings, we creatures are really no different from the beginnings.”

The end.