S.C.U.B.A. Zen: 10 Life Lessons

S.C.U.B.A.    Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

Zen             School of Mahayana Buddhism that asserts that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition;  To figure out something by meditation or by a sudden flash of enlightenment (definitions found on dictionary.com)

When done by a Master, SCUBA is a practically effortless voyage to contemplate the world beneath the surface of the water. People often ask me if it is difficult to do. I am sure that there are some circumstances where it could be but recreational SCUBA should not be. However, if you are not properly prepared it can be life threatening, lead to the pain of the bends or at least lead to an unsatisfying experience. Easy and dangerous are not mutually exclusive.

As I made mistakes, there were several, during the week that I dove I came to appreciate the lessons from more experienced divers as well as my original instructors. They seemed to have general application to life.  Since every aspect of life seems to have provided life lessons for profit (What I learned in Kindergarten, various business persons take on the world, etc.) I thought I would add a chapter about SCUBA. For free. (See what value you get reading this blog!)

SCUBA Zen Lessons 

  1.  Everything in SCUBA is easy. If it is not easy, slow down and think about what you are doing wrong. Find the right way.
  2. Look Good. Be as colorful as your surroundings. Define your own style
  3. Be Prepared. This is not just for boy scouts. Whether heading underwater, to a job opportunity or an important presentation make sure that you have all your tools with you. By tools I mean mental preparation as well as equipment.
  4. Check It Twice. In Scuba you have a buddy check out all your stuff to better ensure that everything works as it should. In life checking twice improves quality.
  5. Everyone Needs A Buddy. This is the no one is an island speech. I in particular only survive and thrive with the company of others. In SCUBA the rule is that no one dives without a buddy. Down there when something goes wrong it could mean life or death.
  6. Take It Slow. This is a stop and smell the roses kind of rule. SCUBA is all about observation not getting from one place to another. Go too fast and you will likely miss something spectacular.
  7. Have A Plan. Each dive site is different. You should never dive without you and your buddy discussing direction, depth, time under and how various potential issues will be addressed. If you know where you are going it is more likely that you will get there.
  8. Know your Limits. Different SCUBA certifications set limits on the depth you can go and the types of diving based on the training for that level. Especially with depth it is easy to just keep getting in deeper. Deeper in SCUBA means more pressure on your body and on the air you breath. Complexity rises exponentially. Going beyond your depths means danger. As in life, knowing your limits does not imply that you should never stretch yourself or always play it safe. Just understand the risks.
  9. Avoid Panic. Weather conditions change, equipment fails, you can hurt yourself. A cool head during trying times can save you and others around you. Two of the basic exercises you learn early is what to do if you can’t see or breathe. Checking off the steps that you have learned will keep you safe should be your first course of action in a hostile environment. (My worst dive situation was my first night dive. I got careless and lost sight of my group. Oh yeah and my light went out. It was pitch black. My lack of panic at the time both amazed me and saved me.)
  10. Breathe. For SCUBA this is a technical requirement. The air in your lungs contracts as you go deeper and expands as you head toward the surface. The only way to maintain the correct pressure in your lungs is to constantly breathe. In life, metaphorically as well as physically, it is important to breathe.

Life lessons. Another reason to join the world of SCUBA.

Small X Many = Big

The question of what can I do as an individual to help solve a big problem comes up frequently. The environment/global warming, violence in the country, the feeding the poor, finding homes for the homeless – you get the idea. Fortunately, in my opinion, there seems to be some movement toward personal responsibility in taking the actions we can take. Recycling, volunteering, providing one on one help to people in need. You may not feel like you are changing the world but there is evidence that all contributions help.


Even UPS thinks so. This humongous delivery company is looking at ways to use less fuel. The motivations are profit oriented as well as environmental, they spend billions of dollars a year on fuel. Some bright engineering type came up with a clever idea. He calculated the fuel impact of every time a UPS truck had to make a turn. Overall, a right turn uses less fuel than a left turn. On average a truck spends more time idling in the intersection making left turns than right turns. Take that small amount of fuel usage multiplied times many millions of turns and there was a real cost. He devised a program that mapped out the most efficient routes for deliveries with an objective of all right turns.


Bottom line was millions of dollars of savings to the company’s bottom line.


If the concept of Small X Many = BIG works for UPS it should work for all of us. Do all you can.

A Beautiful Day At Wrigley

My buddy Tom had tickets for the Cubs game today so I played hooky. Afternoon game on a warm spring day. Can not be beat.

Cubbies played well. They won 8-1. They beat the hated Mets (been the hated Mets since 1969). Lots of players contributed.

It has been 100 years since my Cubs have won a world series. It is too early to make predictions…but this could be the year. Spoken/written like a true Cubs fan.

Beautiful Wrigley Field on April 22, 2008.

Is Perfection Always Better?

We strive to improve. Our selves, our works, everything.  So perfection is the ultimate, is it not?

I am not so sure. I think what many may define as perfect may lead to too much sameness. If everything is perfect is anything better? Isn’t there value in nothing more than being different? Can’t sometimes a slight blemish make something more desirable? Does the means by which perfection is achieved matter?

No, Yes, Yes, Yes are the correct answers, in my humble opinion.

To think that wine started this internal philosophical debate. No not drinking some–though that would have helped– but reading about it. Twice.

The first article was in the Hemispheres magazine found on United Airlines. This article compared the techniques of two winemakers. One was driven to make wine better through genetics. Breed the best genes for the wine. The other, while recognizing the value of the grape variety, he believed making great wine was created based on the soils, micro-climate and most importantly the care and feeding of the vines by a master using his instincts. The first would create a wine that the average buyer could most readily count on as being of a certain quality. The latter spoke of the character, personality and even the sould of the wine. Each vintage may vary but it would always be the best it could become.

Somewhat later I read in The Economist that the pinot noir genome has been sequenced. This has opened the door for genetically modified wine. Also leading to greater consistency of one grower’s view of the perfect wine.

Now I know that some level of genetic modification of foods may be helpful to create strains less resistant to certain diseases or insects. This type of modification may help better feed the world. Let’s assume for purposes of this discussion that these genetic modifications do not cause other problems for animals or the humans that consume them. Still is a million of the same “great” item mass produced really better?

Whether we are are talking food, wine or people, i.e. plastic surgery to “improve” our looks, I disagree that this is a way to achieve “better”.  Let’s talk superficially for a moment about how people look.

I study how people look in great detail. I have for as long as I can remember. I see everything. What I see on TV or in the movies or magazines that looks too perfect doesn’t look right. Jessica Simpson. Take each component part and I would have to objectively say that each one is very attractive. Yet the total package looks too plastic. (I am about to show my age so bear with me.) Sophia Loren. Too chunky, long nose. Yet stunningly sexy and gorgeous. Cindy Crawford. The mole makes the face more attractive. Men with cleft chins, such as Cary Grant or George Clooney. Not perfect in the Brad Pitt kind of way but good looking guys–so I am told by women I know. Also there can be outstanding beauty in the an aged, time tested face that no youthful complexion can match.

Should any of the Impressionist painters stayed within the lines? Or Picasso? Are these not masterpieces?

And with taste, be it wine or great food. Being a little different each time is my concept of perfection.

Last point. Science as a way to perfection is a lesser means than art. Being able to slice genes or peoples faces to get something that is theoretically better does not improve our souls the way that working with your hands, studying the large and small techniques for creating something and sometimes failing, can do.

This is beauty. Perfection. I saw her in Amsterdam.


What’s In A Name?

Going through my mail with the usual spate of credit card offerings, requests for donations and get rich quick investment letters.  One stood out.

Third Federal wants to give me a loan. In these days when brand name financial companies like Citigroup and Bank of America are bleeding multibillion dollar losses, I am looking for an institution that inspires confidence.

I know it is only a name but Third Federal? I should borrow money from an institution that was not good enough to become at least Second Federal? Heck since the savings and loan scandal of a couple of decades ago I would not even deal with the very First Federal. I know that I should be studying the bank’s balance sheet and not its name but a company that failed marketing 101 is not getting me for a customer.

My Sweet Son Visited This Weekend

No I do not have another son that I have been hiding from you. I just have a 17 year old. They tend to be highly multifaceted or maybe just multiple personalities. This weekend he brought back memories of the sweet kid I used to know but who doesn’t show up as often anymore.

He was grounded this weekend. Reasons are unimportant. That meant no going out Friday and Saturday night –he would normally be out until midnight– and after baseball practice on Sunday he needed to come straight home. I felt that this would be a reasonable weekend for a grounding. Saturday night we were hosting a Passover Seder for 20 members of the extended family and he would have to be home anyway. Friday we need his help preparing. He did not even argue the punishment.

All weekend he was helpful when asked and even did some things without being asked. And there was much to do. He got his homework done, caught a few extra hours of much needed sleep and even carried on conversations. The best was that he led the Seder the second night when there were just the three of us. I think he liked that. It was his first time leading.

I of course want to put all the good behavior on the fact that we caught him doing something wrong, delivered a fair punishment and did not stray from our position– he did ask his mom if he could go to the Cubs game on Sunday and she said no. Yes, kids need and even want limits. So our good parenting must have made all the difference. Sure, I’ll buy that. At least until it does not work out this way next time.

For two and a half days anyway it has been great to see the side of him that usually only other parents get to see.

Sometimes It’s The Little Things

Service. Getting good service. Getting good service at a grocery store chain. Don’t really expect it. When it happens it makes the whole shopping experience. Even lightens up the day a bit.

Was standing at the deli counter. Two people being served and one in front of me. One of the people behind the counter was really slow. It took longer than expected to have them call my number. As I was standing there I was thinking, “please let the faster one finish first and call my number. If I end up with the slow one, one of us may not survive the experience”  (it had been a bad day already).

To my surprise a third person came behind the counter and my number was called. She was friendly and fast. Soon I was on my way.

By no means was this a life altering experience. It was just a life brightening experience. A momentary smile.

A Whole Lotta Shakin’:The Great Chicago Earthquake of 2008

I thought 5.2 on the Richter scale was limited to California. The Midwest, impossible…or not.

Friday morning I had woken up during the middle of the night, had dozed back off when I felt the bed shake. Kinda like when you put quarters in the beds at cheap motels. 4:37 am. I figured I must have been dreaming until I heard the news on the way into work.

It was the New Madrid fault line. Worst quake in the midwest in 40 years. Centered 120 miles south of Chicago. Here is what the Chicago Tribune reported the morning of the quake:

“A massive rock formation 7 miles below West Salem, Ill., moved just an inch or so at 4:36 a.m. Friday, but that was enough to cause the 5.2 magnitude earthquake that broke windows and cracked walls near the epicenter, shook Chicagoans in their beds and sent shock waves that people felt as far away as Kansas and West Virginia.

Neither the main quake nor the half-dozen aftershocks caused any major injuries or property damage. But the rattling was the worst to hit Illinois since 1968, when a 5.3 quake caused more damage to buildings but no injuries.”

I have thought for a long time that while the winters can be brutally cold and July and August can shelter that Chicago was clear of natural disasters. No hurricanes, tornadoes or quakes…or so I thought.

Well, you can get out of town, be fearful or just rock with the Jerry Lee. I vote for the latter.

First Name Basis?


They are everywhere. In restaurants, at airports, stores, office buildings. People from whom you need answers or they provide a service and they wear a name tag. Your interactions with them are typically brief and fleeting and you WILL NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN.            


During the conversation or at the end when thanking them, or cursing them, do you call them by their first name?


I have mixed feelings. One could argue that by doing so you acknowledge them as individuals and it demonstrates respect. On the flip side, one could consider this a show of personal connection or intimacy that goes beyond the few moments of interaction.


Personally I do not think that I would like someone to use my first name if I were Name Tag Person. I would be thinking, “Where do you get off. You don’t know who me”. But that is me.


And you?

Small Town Boy

I am in Pittsburgh today…Pittsburgh, TX. You know, right next to Mt. Pleasant and 15 miles from Paris. No it is not the pits, glad to get that out of the way.

I seem to have more than my fair share of clients based in small towns which by itself is not bad just inconvenient. Pittsburgh is a 2.5 hour drive from Dallas. I get to stay at a Holiday Inn Express. Free breakfast.

For dinner I get to choose between Chili’s, Applebee’s and a dive Mexican joint. No contest. Mexican it is.

Someday I hope to get clients in a major metropolitan area.  One with an airport.  And restaurants.