Sunday, March 25, 2012

Transforming Suffering

Thich Nhat Hanh

In Buddhist thought, we recognize the existence of suffering as a human condition and that we can arise from suffering.  Essential teachings of the Buddha are the concepts of impermanence, non-self, and nirvana, called the Three Dharma Seals.  Here is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching on the Three Dharma Seals:  

Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. Heraclitus said we can never bathe twice in the same river. Confucius, while looking at a stream, said, "It is always flowing, day and night." The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.

If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. when a flower dies, you don't suffer much, because you understand that flowers are impermanent. But you cannot accept the impermanence of your beloved one, and you suffer deeply when she passes away.

If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now. Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving and wise. Impermanence is good news. Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change. Instead of complaining, we should say, "Long live impermanence!" Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.

The second Dharma Seal is non-self. If you believe in a permanent self, a self that exists forever, a separate, independent self, your belief cannot be described as Buddhist. Impermanence is from the point of view of space. When we look more and more deeply at the notions of self, person, living being and life span, we discover that there are no boundaries between self and non-self, person and non-person, living being and non-living being, life span and non-life span. When we take a step on the green earth, we are aware that we are made of air, sunshine, minerals and water, that we are a child of earth and sky, linked to all other beings, both animate and inanimate. This is the practice of non-self. The Buddha invites us to dwell in mindfulness in the concentrations (samadhi) of interbeing, non-self and impermanence.

The third Dharma Seal is nirvana, which means "extinction," the extinction of afflictions and notions. Human beings' three basic afflictions are craving, hatred and ignorance. Ignorance (avidya), the inability to understand reality, is the most fundamental of these. Because we are ignorant, we crave for things that destroy us, and we get angry at many things. We try to grasp the world of our projections, and we suffer.

Nirvana, the extinction of all afflictions, represent the birth of freedom. The extinction of one thing always bring about the birth of something else. When darkness is extinguished, light comes forth. When suffering is removed, peace and happiness are always there.
At a Sangha meeting, I was listening to a DVD talk from my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.  I especially was struck by the perception of  "discrimination" that the human mind engages in to see ourselves apart from the earth, other beings, and other conditions.  I realize that I (I as Ego) frequently see the other person or thing as not like me, or may even see the "other" as my opponent, competition, or enemy.  I may then use my power to subdue, subvert, or control the other.  However, the mental formations I act upon may be a wrong view. My "ego" is really a collection of mental formations that do not reflect what is reality, but rather is a reflection of both positive and negative formations that are in my mind consciousness that I am often unaware of.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches "Engaged Buddhism" to help us to see the essence of interconnection of all things through the use of mindfulness practices, especially meditation, using the breath to focus our minds on what is.  Here is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's dharma talk in Vietnam in 2008 on mental formations (the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings within our mind) and how they manifest and affect our well-being:
There is a technical term, formation (Skt. Samskara), Buddha said that all formations are impermanent, always changing, you can distinguish between physical formation, biological formations and mental formations, a flower is a formation because many elements has come together in order to help flower to manifest. you see the cloud, sunshine, the seed, soil, farmer, the gardener and many elements that had come together in order to help the flower to manifest, that is why a flower is called a formation.

That formation called flower is impermanent, it is always changing. When I looked at my hand, I know this is also a formation, many elements has come together in order to help my hand to manifest; ancestor, mother, father, food, water, experience, and so on; many elements come together to help my hand to manifest as a biological formation, my body is a formation (Skt. Kayasamskara).

When I have anger, joy, forgiveness, irritation, depression, peace, they all are mental formations. Mental formation are also impermanent, our emotion, feeling perception, are all mental formation, all mental formations are impermanent, not only physical formation are impermanent but physiological and biological are also impermanent, all formations are impermanent, statement made by The Buddha. When we observe one formation we can see the nature of impermanent in each formation.

We want to talk about the mental formation this morning....there are positive or wholesome mental formation like compassion, loving kindness, joy, forgiveness, mindfulness, concentration, insight, there are many wholesome wonderful mental formation in us. The practice is to recognize our positive mental formation in us and help them to manifest.

We also have negative mental formation, like craving, anger, hate, violence, jealousy; and the practice is consist of refraining from touching them or refraining from watering these seeds of unwholesomeness so they don't have a chance to manifest.
                                                      *  *  *  *

Our consciousness consist of at least two layers, down here we have store consciousness, and up here we have mind consciousness, all the seed are here, wholesome and unwholesome.... When the seed of anger is watered, it manifest itself up here in the realm of mind consciousness as a mental formation, down here [in store consciousness] is only a seed.
The mindfulness is invited up in the mental formation as a kind of energy to recognize the other mental formation, we called it a practice of mindfulness of anger, mindfulness is always a mindfulness of something, when you breath mindfully this is called mindfulness of breathing, when you walk mindfully that is a mindfulness of walking, when you are angry aware that you are angry, that is a mindfulness of anger.

Those who doesn't has a practice they only has anger mental formation, they allow the energy anger to cause a lot of damages, for those of us who has a practice, we will not let the anger alone, we are always invite the mindfulness to come up to take care of anger, anger is still there but mindfulness is already there in order to take care of anger, this is the practice of mindfulness of the anger.
If the seed of depression is coming up, we suffer, the landscape of mind consciousness is not peaceful, is not happy, when depression is manifested, we should know how to invite the seed of mindfulness to manifest, the energy of mindfulness will recognize the energy of depression, there is no fighting between the two kinds of energy, because the job of mindfulness is to recognize things as they are, then to embrace whatever is there in a very tender way, like a mother embraces a child, when the child is suffered, the mother is working in the kitchen but she hears the baby cry, she know that the baby is suffering, so she goes into the baby room and she pick the baby up, she hold the baby tenderly in her arm, and the energy of tenderness from the mother begin to penetrate into the body of the child, and after a few moment the child feels better, this also happened in the practice of mindfulness.

With the practice of mindfulness breathing and walking, we generate the energy of mindfulness, the seed of mindfulness become the mental formation of mindfulness, with this energy we recognize the other energy and we can embrace other energy with tenderness, there are no fighting, there are only supporting, helping, buddhist meditation based on non-duality and non-violence.

Non-duality means, not only mindfulness is you but anger also is you; not only mindfulness is you but depression is also you, so you are taking care of yourself, you are not fighting against yourself, that is why we said that buddhist meditation is based on the principle of non-duality, you are both anger and mindfulness, no fighting is needed, you only need to recognize, you only need to embrace tenderly.

There is no attempt to suppress, to fight, and therefor the practice is non-violence. Non-duality lead to non-violence.

When we have a feeling, pleasant or unpleasant, or neutral; as a practitioner be become aware of that feeling, you recognize the feeling, you accept the feeling as it is, you don't have the intention to fight, whether the feeling is pleasant or unpleasant, or mix; to become aware of the mental formation is the practice, there is a river of feeling flowing day and night in us, a practitioner is there in order to recognize every feeling when it manifest, as it stay for sometime and die down, that is the practice of contemplation of the feeling.

[In] the four foundations of mindfulness sutra, Buddha advised us to focus on our body first, the in breath and out breath belong to our body, so mindfulness of breathing belong to the first realm of the practice.

When I practice breathing in I'm aware of my body, breathing out I release the tension, I'm dealing with my body as a object of mindfulness, when I practice total deep relaxation, I become aware every part of my body, I bring relaxation to every part of the body that belong to the realm of the realm of practice contemplation the body inside the body.

I aware the feeling and emotion, feeling and emotion maybe pleasant or unpleasant, but we should be there as a practitioner in order to recognize and to take good care, like a mother take good care to her baby, If that is a pleasant feeling, you say to yourself breathing in I'm aware the pleasant feeling is in me, we should not identify ourself with the pleasant feeling and allow it to carry us away.

If it is a painful feeling, you say to yourself, breathing in I'm aware of the unpleasant painful feeling, just become aware of that feeling, this is very important, non violence, non duality. In the case of mother embracing holding the baby tenderly, few minutes later, the painful will be lessen, you get a relief after having hold tenderly the painful feeling with energy of mindfulness (the mother), the painful feeling (baby).

Just be there for your child, recognize the suffering, hold your child tenderly and after few minutes you get a relief, so mindfulness has the function to recognize then to hold and to bring relief.

The energy of mindfulness carry the energy of concentration, when you mindful of the flower, if you maintain you mindfulness alive for a long time, concentration begin to be powerful, so mindfulness lead to concentration, with concentration you can take deep look into the nature what is there, that is deeper level of meditation, first you recognize than you can look deeper, if you look deeply with concentration, you discover the root (very nature) of what it is, with that kind of insight, that kind of understanding you can liberated from that kind of sorrow, pain, anger, and despair.

Mindfulness is a kind of energy that contain within itself, the energy of concentration, and the energy of concentration contain within yourself, the energy of insight, insight is the factor of liberation, in Buddhism we do not speak salvation by grace, but salvation by insight, insight comes only when you have strong a concentration, in order to nourish and cultivate concentration we should practice mindfulness; mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the heart of Buddhist meditation, this is the 3 kind of energy that we can cultivate in every moment of our daily life, while breathing, walking, washing, driving, cooking, this energy can cultivate at anytime and anywhere, even when you drive your car, it is still possible for you to practice mindfulness driving, and concentration, you don't need to go into a monastery in order to practice mindfulness, concentration and insight. Although the atmosphere of the monastery is very supportive to that kind of practice.

It is very important to learn how to use the energy of mindfulness in order to recognize the painful feeling, painful emotion in us, not only we can bring about a relief but we can also practice looking deeply into the nature of feeling of the emotion in order to get the insight, once we get the insight we are liberated from that painful emotion, fear, despair, and anger.

When we speak about engaged buddhism, we speak a kind of buddhism that is present in our daily life and moment. firstly when they heard about engaged buddhism, they think of fighting for social justice, fighting for human right, organizing demonstration and so on, that is not true, that is part of the practice, but not the basic part, the basic part is to have the practice alive in very moment of your daily life, you should be there in order to attend to what is happening in here and now, in the realm of the body, realm of mind, the realm of environment.

So, engaged Buddhism is to response to what is happening in body, mind, and environment, this is a simple definition, to response to physiological formation, mental formation, and physical formation.

You can watch the entire Dharma talk here. The talk begins at 11.30 minutes, after the chanting.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

On Becoming the President of the United States of America

We Americans are in the midst of selecting our President for the next four years. There is a contentious battle for the Republican choice to run for President in November, 2012. Democrats already have a candidate: Barack Hussein Obama, the incumbent President. There will be hundreds of millions of dollars spent by candidates and their supporters on both sides. Why is there so much at stake for a job that pays an annual salary of $400,000 per year and may last only four years? How many of a candidate's promises will be kept? Do the men (or women) we elect to the Presidency change as a matter of choice or necessity when they become the President of the United States of America?

The presidential primary elections of 2008 brought new "reform minded" candidates to the forefront of American politics

A lot of people got involved in politics with the hope for change

This sign was typical of grassroots involvement in 2008

Senator Obama came to Albuquerque to an overflowing crowd of people at the Civic Center in January, 2008

Candidate Obama had an appealing message of Change in American politics

I was there with him
The victory of the Democratic candidate in November, 2008 was widely hailed as a vote for real political reform and renewed hope for the majority of Americans.

My friend, Price, who helped to elect Barack Obama in 2008, sent me an email to check out the March issue of The Atlantic to read an analysis of President Obama (and the institution of the Presidency including why past Presidents fail or succeed). I thought it was worth sharing. Here's one excerpt from the article by James Fallows:

We judge presidents by the specific expectations they ask to be measured against: inspiration (Kennedy, Reagan, Obama), competence and experience (Eisenhower, the first George Bush), strategic cunning (Johnson, Nixon), integrity and personal probity (Carter), inclusiveness and empathy (Clinton), unshakable resolve (the second Bush). But eventually each is judged against his predecessors, a process that properly starts with a reminder that all begin their terms ill-equipped, in ways that hindsight tends to obscure.

The sobering realities of the modern White House are: All presidents are unsuited to office, and therefore all presidents fail in certain crucial aspects of the job. All betray their supporters and provoke bitter criticism from their own side at some point in their term. And all are mis-assessed while in office, for reasons that typically depend more on luck and historical accident than on factors within their control. These realities do not excuse Obama’s failings, but they do put his evolution in perspective.

Presidents fail because not to fail would require, in the age of modern communications and global responsibilities, a range of native talents and learned skills no real person has ever possessed. These include “smarts” in the normal sense—the analytical ability to cope with the stream of short- and long-term decisions that come at a president nonstop. (How serious is the latest provocation out of North Korea? What are the “out year” budget implications of a change in Medicaid repayment formulas?) A president needs rhetorical clarity and eloquence, so that he can explain to publics at home and around the world the intent behind his actions and—at least as important—so that everyone inside the administration understands his priorities clearly enough that he does not have to wade into every little policy fight to enforce his preferences.

A president needs empathy and emotional intelligence, so that he can prevail in political dealings with his own party and the opposition in Washington, and in face-to-face negotiations with foreign leaders, who otherwise will go away saying that this president is “weak” and that the country’s leadership role is suspect. He needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present; visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant, and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 a.m.—yet also able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.
                        -from The Atlantic, March, 2012

Here is another excerpt from The Atlantic article on President Obama and the current political situation he faces in Congress and the Senate:
If Obama really thought that America had moved past partisan division, then he was too innocent for the job. But part of political leadership is being able to project a positive idealism that you know is at odds with the real world. I am ready to believe that Obama adopted this faux-harmonious tone, apart from its being his natural register, as a way to win the election, and as a marker for what he hoped America could become, and—crucially—that once in office, he maintained it as a sound position for himself as he moved toward reelection. Late last year, he also applied it with chess-master skill against the congressional Republicans, in daring them to let the widely popular payroll-tax cut expire at the start of an election year. They backed off, and when the dust settled, the Republicans found themselves at an unaccustomed political disadvantage. Having secured an agreement on government funding for the rest of the year, Obama had taken one of their favorite tools, the threat of a government shutdown, out of their hands through the campaign season. And after three years of seeming to shy from “partisan” rhetoric, he began linking the slate of GOP presidential contenders to the Tea Party–dominated Republican Congress, whose approval ratings were far worse than his own.

The payoff for Obama in a strategy of remaining Mr. Reasonable is the prospect of occupying the acceptable center, as the Tea Party spins the Republican Party off to the extreme. The risk is that even if the Republicans make themselves unpopular through filibuster and obstruction, they make Obama look weak—and that’s worse.

Obama’s future, and his effectiveness, depend on that balance, whose results we will see this year. My impression from recent evidence is that he has found his footing, and has come to understand how to use the constrained but still real powers of a president facing congressional opposition—just in time. The most enlightening document I found for assessing Obama’s recent moves turns out to be 66 years old.

This is a memorandum that James H. Rowe Jr., a Harvard-trained lawyer who had been Oliver Wendell Holmes’s last law clerk on the Supreme Court and after World War II was a young official at the Bureau of the Budget, wrote to President Harry Truman soon after the midterm elections of 1946. In that election, the Republicans gained 55 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, to take control of both houses for the first time since before the New Deal. Truman was if anything less prepared, for more overwhelming responsibilities, than Obama was. Three months after he unexpectedly became president upon Franklin Roosevelt’s death, he had to decide on the use of atomic weapons whose very existence FDR had never let him know about. After that came management of post-war Europe and Asia. But the fundamentals of Truman’s political situation, as described in Rowe’s memo, are amazingly similar to those Obama now faces.

Rowe tells Truman that, with the Republican victory, he should be prepared for obstruction and nonstop partisan stalemate, not because of strategic mistakes on his side but because this is the basic nature of the American system. Anyone who thinks that American politics is more embattled “than ever,” as I am often tempted to, should read this memo (and Samuel Popkin’s exegesis of it, in The Candidate).

Rowe points out that when an opposing party holds Congress, it will always view weakening the president as its paramount goal. It will launch as many congressional investigations as possible, in hopes of finding scandal in an administration or at least distracting its appointees. It will block nominations and try to frustrate a president’s attempts to keep the executive branch operational. Its leaders will define “compromise” as the president’s accepting all of their demands and abandoning his own. If the leaders of Congress do finally strike a deal with the administration, a president should be wary. The “simple fact” about most deals with a congressional opposition, he writes, is that “they just won’t work under the American two-party system”:

For “cooperation” is a one-way street. The President can discipline the Executive Branch sufficiently by exercising his right to hire and fire; he can force it to cooperate. The Republican leaders may agree to have co-equal responsibility for executing the agreements reached on policy but they do not have co-equal power “to deliver” … [Congress] has no parliamentary discipline … for a very simple reason—Congressmen are not representatives of all the people; they represent only their own districts or sections and the particular pressure groups within those sections which are vital to them. No Congressional leader can commit his party because no commitments are binding upon the Members except those they may personally make to their own sections.

Negative discipline, of the kind that Mitch McConnell has exercised to keep Senate Republicans voting as a bloc against Obama’s proposals, is easier to maintain than positive discipline, of the kind Newt Gingrich wielded temporarily over his Republican majority. That is the exception. A president “should first of all accept the inevitability that formal cooperation is unworkable,” Rowe concludes. “Despite his sincere desire to cooperate, he should accept the verdict of the politicians, of history, and of the disinterested students of government.” - The Atlantic, March, 2012

So how does the leader of the free world translate his campaign promises into successfully implemented policy and legislation?  What do you think about James Fallows' observations and conclusions?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Film Review: A Separation - Best Foreign Language Film (2012)

My husband and I go to the movies frequently.  We usually try to see the majority of films up for an Oscar. We pick films to see based on reviews, interesting story lines,  favorite directors and actors. We also see a number of previews for films but trailers for two of the films we saw this year (The Artist and A Separation), didn't motivate us at all to see the films.  We went due to the buzz, film reviews, and film awards.  We checked out The Artist the day before the Oscars and found it to be a "snooze fest" and certainly would not have selected it for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, etc. It did not live up to the hype for the Top Oscars,  but then that is our opinion.  Generally, we do like to be entertained but The Artist was gimicky, down to the blurred quality of the black and white film to enhance a "dated" look. This film would not have been a stand-out even in the 1920's or 1930's, it's story and ending predictable.  The "hook" was of course the use of an archaic genre (silent film) to create something "new and different" in cinema.  I apparently was not the only one disappointed.

My husband and I saw A Separation  at the cinema last night. I was intrigued to see the Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film after watching the genuine and heartfelt acceptance speech of it's director, Asghar Farhadi.  We both enjoyed the film very much, and consider it to be one of the best we've seen in the past year.  We also very much enjoyed Midnight In Paris and were pleased that it's director and writer, Woody Allen, received Best Original Screenplay although in competition with Asghar Farhadi who was also nominated for his original screenplay for A Separation.

A Separation is not a happy film to watch, with it's sadness of a family broken apart by uncontrollable circumstances and competing life choices, but it is highly engaging and thought-provoking.  The direction, the acting, the story, and the camera-work are all top notch.  It is sub-titled and following the rapidly spoken dialogue for non-Farsi speakers is sometimes difficult, but should not be an impediment for anyone familiar with sub-titled films.  The film's approach to making the viewer be the judge of events and an eventual ultimate decision may be disconcerting to someone who wants the film to "finish the story".  Overall, the film provides a compelling portrayal of middle-class Iranian life and the culture of an Islamic-centered society that overlays the social interaction, the relations between men and women, the courts, education and economy of present-day Iran.  The humanity of the central characters come through perfectly and the American viewer can well relate to the weight of the problems faced by the two families portrayed.  One family faces the care of an aging parent with dementia while trying to improve their lives, while another family that is facing difficult economic and mental health issues intersects with the first family with spiralling out-of control results. I could not help being sympathetic to their lives and wishing them well.  There is no cultural disconnect here except perhaps for the theocratic domination of people's lives.  Americans may feel uncomfortable with the religious overlay of life in modern-day Iran, especially how it governs the day-to-day lives of women.  I found it to be revealing of how individual freedom is constricted when religion and the State are no longer separated.  In Iran, one must call  a "religious" counselor to determine one's proper behavior in order to avoid "commiting a sin" even when a female care-taker must change the soiled pants of a male Alzheimer's patient.  And the desire to protect one's family members or one's own soul from misfortune and damnation prevent one from swearing on the Koran to the veracity of events even though it destroys your own family economically and socially.  Ultimately, the conflict between making the best personal choice and the preservation of one's personal integrity is what this story is about.

After leaving the theater, my husband and I were eager to talk about the film.  He compared the inhabitants of Iran to his experience with Russia and the former Soviet Union, in their living a life confined to the "four corners" of a highly-defined political culture and reality.  I was struck by the limitation on personal freedom of a theocracy and immediately brought up my fears of a Rick Santorum-led theocractic movement in our own country.  Needless to say, that stopped all further discussion between my conservative husband and liberal me. It's a pity that the extreme factionalism of our current national politics prevent us from calmly and openly discussing such issues.  I suspect that is how Iran's society came to be the way it is.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Death Valley - Hidden Jewel of American National Parks

Zabriskie Point in October
Now is the time to visit Death Valley, a largely unknown treasure of US National Parks, having less than 1 million visitors a year.  In the late winter and early Spring, Death Valley has moderate temperatures (not too cold, not too hot), but it can be very windy. In mid-March and April, wildflowers usually cover the desert for a few short weeks. Unfortunately, lack of rainful this past winter makes for a poor wildflower forecast for Spring, 2012.  I have never visited Death Valley in the summer when temperatures soar above 120 degrees F. and do not recommend it to anyone.

Badwater at dawn (Oct, 2009)


Zabriskie Point

Badwater at dawn - Lowest point in the USA 282 Ft. below sea level

Zabriskie Point - One of the first landmarks on the eastern side of Death Valley coming from Las Vegas via car or tour bus

Ron viewing Zabriskie Point
I first went to Death Valley as child in the 1950's when it was still only designated as a National Monument.  In  1994, it was expanded to more than 3.3 million acres and upgraded to a National Park. Here are some photos from my visit in 1967 after it was designated a National Park:
 My grandmother, I and my mother - Dante's View in 1967

Me in 1967 at Ubehebe Crater

Scotty's Castle in my 1967 visit

I've been to many National Parks in the USA. Death Valley is one of my favorites, ranking behind Yellowstone NP and equal to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. I tend to like parks with interesting geology. Death Valley offers a vast and panoramic landscape with surreal images of colorful canyons and unusal geologic formations. 

Salt deposits from ancient dry lake on valley floor
Zabriskie Point's sedimentary and volcanic ash layers bent and folded by earthquakes

Take your camera or your paintbrush and record the beautiful scenes you will not see all in one place like Death Valley.  From Badwater at 282 ft. below Sea Level and the Devil's Golf Course and Zabriskie Point in the mid-section of Death Valley to the eccentrically elegant Scotty's Castle and deep Ubehebe Crater in the north end of Death Valley, you should plan on driving many hours a day for your visit.  Only 2 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada, Death Valley still needs at least an overnight stay to enjoy what it has to offer.  Make sure you have reservations for lodging or a campground in advance of a March or April visit as this is Death Valley's busiest season along with October-November.

Death Valley has lodging, gas stations, stores, restaurants, RV parking and campgrounds. The Furnace Creek Ranch has resort facilities including an RV Park, horseback riding, swimming pool, tennis, golf, and family and fine dining restaurants.   If you do not own a 4WD and wish to go exploring on jeep trails, you can rent a jeep at Furnace Creek Resort.

The wonderful website Desert USA has a Death Valley Introductory Package for purchase in advance of an exploratory adventure of more than one day.  This Park needs a minimum of three days to see the highlights, and a minimum of 5-7 days to enjoy all the Park has to offer, especially if you plan to hike, bike, or 4WD the more remote canyons and mountains

Next weekend (March 9-11), NASA is partnering with Death Valley to have its first ever Mars and the Mojave Festival :
"Death Valley NP is a lot like Mars. That's why scientists are partnering with the park to celebrate a three-day, free public festival titled Mars and the Mojave: Exploring extremes on Earth and beyond, scheduled for March 9-11, 2012....Visitors to Death Valley National Park during the festival will enjoy scientist-hosted field trips to analog sites like Mars Hill, Badwater salt flats, and the Ubehebe crater field.An expo on the lawn of the park's newly renovated Visitor Center will feature booths from various NASA centers, universities, and non-profit organizations, as well as mini-Curiosity Rover demonstrations, scientist talks, and free souvenirs.After-lunch lectures and an evening panel will provide the public with more in-depth perspectives on planetary research in National Parks and around the globe, as well as a discussion about the relevance of space science. The festival concludes on Sunday afternoon featuring a talk on the future of planetary exploration, on earth and beyond."  -  Excerpted from Death Valley NP website.

Looking at Death Valley north  from Dante's View  

Be sure to take the tour of Scotty's Castle

The Devil's Golf Course - salt formations on valley floor

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mandy Celebrates Her 30th Birthday

Amanda (Mandy) turned 30 last week. She is my first child, born in 1982. I am twice her age. She organized a big party in Albuquerque with a 1982 Prom Theme to celebrate her milestone.

Amanda at 30.

Matt, Mary, Pam and Brian

Amanda and DJ Kossi

Blowing out the birthday candles

Amanda's sister Mary at birthday 80's Prom Night Party

I threw a big party to celebrate my milestone (60th Birthday).  I guess we mark these milestones because we don't know how long we'll be here.  Every photograph we take captures a moment in our lives that is meaningful.  Below are pictures from Amanda's life.
Amanda in 1982 with her father, Mark, at our home in San Diego

Here Amanda is on her father's back at a union picket in front of General Dynamics in San Diego.  She began attending union meetings at 3 months old. 

Amanda at 1 year old in San Diego, California

Summer of 1984, San Simeon Beach, California

Amanda "reading"  in 1983 in San Diego

Sister Mary at Amanda's 4th Birthday (1986)

Mandy and her Dad (1983)

Mandy swimming with the Copley YMCA Swim Team (1989)

In Fishersville, Virginia, visiting Grandparents (1984)

Hiking in the Cuyamaca Mountains (1985)

Mandy at Disneyland with sister Mary (1991)

Showing off her Swim Pentathalon Trophy (San Diego, ca. 1992)

Middle School in San Diego (1995)

Running Cross Country for Mission Bay High School (1997)

Amanda in backyard of Clairemont home (2004)

Senior Prom Night (1999)

Mary and Amanda, Girl's Water Polo Team, Mission Bay High School (1998)

Amanda visiting old family home in Virginia (1997)

Amanda and Mary drifting on Merced River, Yosemite National Park (1996)

Amanda in Toulumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park (1996)

Mary and Amanda in Portola State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains (ca. 1992) - that's a Banana Slug in Mary's hand.

Senior Year, Mission Bay High School, 1998-99

Amanda at Grand Canyon (1986) with Mary and father, Mark 

Amanda at High School CIF Swimming Championships (1999)

1999 Graduate of Mission Bay High School

La Jolla Cove (1998)

Amanda and mom at Grand Canyon, May, 2000
on our way home from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri

Ashley and Amanda, Sonoma State University Graduation (2007)

Amanda and Step-father, Ron, at college Graduation Dinner, 2007

Aunt Jeanne, Cousin Tracy, and Amanda at graduation luncheon in Sonoma (May, 2007)

Amanda moved to New Mexico in 2007

Amanda at Santa Fe International Folk Market (2011)

Mary and Amanda at Amanda's 29th Birthday Breakfast at Barelas Coffee Shop in Albuquerque (February, 2011)

Amanda striking a meditative pose at my home
in Sandia Park, New Mexico

Amanda at adobe ruin at La Madera, New Mexico (2009)

Amanda in Manitou Springs, Colorado in January, 2012

There's so much more waiting for you.  Enjoy the next 30 years! And always be in the moment, experiencing life as it is with each breath you take.  Love, Mom