Killing Time

“Killing time”, that’s an interesting choice of words. When you’re bored, you have time to kill, you’re waiting for something better to happen. The way this phrase is worded, we tend to think “killing” is used as an action: we’re killing time, reducing the amount of time between now and some future event. But what if “killing” is really an adjective here? As in, this is the killing time, the time when we’re slowly killing ourselves by not being present in the moment. I know after I’ve been killing time, I sometimes feel like I’ve died a little, feeling listless and agitated at the same time.  

We spend so much time chasing experiences, looking forward to some future time when things will be better, and killing time waiting for that future experience.

What kind of experiences do we want? I think a big part of what makes an experience fun is that it fully engages our attention. Think back to the last really awesome thing you did, you were probably fully engaged in the moment, experiencing it all, not thinking about anything else, not reminiscing on the past or worrying about the future.

In the words of Joseph Campbell: “I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that the life experiences we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances within to our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”

I love the way he says that, “…the rapture of being alive”. Yeah, I think that’s what we really want, to feel the rapture of being alive. This is similar to the concept of “peak experiences” discussed in the book Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler. That entire book is about different ways to chase peak experiences, different ways to feel the rapture of being alive.

Admittedly, some experiences are more likely to fully engage our attention, and that’s great. But if what we really want is to be fully engaged in the moment, what if we directly chased that, rather than chasing experiences that we hope will fully engage us? That’s what mindfulness is, trying to experience the rapture of every single moment.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in chasing experiences that we spend most of our time rushing through all the other stuff we have to do in order to get to some future experience, killing time until we get to a better experience.

The essence of mindfulness is that our minds judge experiences to be good or bad. If we quiet the mind, if we stop the judgement, every experience, every moment can be a peak experience. If we stop thinking about what’s wrong with the present moment, or how it could be better, or how much better some future moment will be, then we can fully experience the moment we’re in.

At least that’s the theory of it, I know I frequently struggle with judging the moment I’m in, often assigning unpleasant judgements to it. I try to start small, try to capitalize on the benefit of a peak experience before and after it occurs. If I’m looking forward to some future event, I try to notice that I’m doing so, slow down, and pay more attention to what I’m doing. Not just rush through it trying to get to the next experience.

Similarly, after having an awesome experience, I try to bask in the afterglow, instead of trying to prolong the experience itself or immediately planning the next experience. Baby steps, you have to start somewhere. Instead of killing the time in between good experiences, I want to be living the time, fully living it.


A Fire in the Sky

The sun dipped below the far-away clouds, giving us a taste of the spectacle to come. We were sitting on the beach in Cozumel, Mexico, after a day of diving the sublime reefs off the coast. A few days into a dive vacation, spending all your time in and around the ocean, it’s easy to forget anything else in the world exists. The serene sea, turning a metallic blue in the fading light, the whisper of gentle waves caressing the beach, we were entering the magic hour, the transformation of day to night and the fleeting interchange that is both, neither, and something more.


The sun slipped below the thick band of clouds and painted the sky, an explosion of color radiating out from the burning center.


The dark band of clouds seemed to intensify the glowing red-hot coal of the setting sun.


The sun sizzled into the sea, seeming to to end the show, but the encore was just beginning as clouds farther back in the horizon caught the fading rays.



This cloud formation on the left flamed up like an gasoline thrown on a fire in slow motion. I stood there in awe, transfixed by the magnificence unfolding before me, the indescribable beauty.








The final remnants of color finally faded away.

That’s the wonderful thing about vacation, when you get away from the constant hustle of life and have time to watch an entire sunset evolve in front of your eyes. No distractions, nothing else to do, no where else to be. Time to just watch and absorb the radiance of the natural world.

Nothing is fixed, the world is still a frightening mess, but for awhile, it doesn’t matter. You forget about everything else in the face of overwhelming beauty, and experience peace.

Rainbows in the Blue

The blue… the vast, infinite blue, that’s what first strikes me as we drop down towards the reef. We’re just offshore from Cozumel, an island off the Caribbean coast of Mexico that is the staging ground from some of the most spectacular diving in the Caribbean. I’ve done most of my diving so far in the temperate waters of California. The these blue tropical waters stun me with their vibrant color.


Cozumel is famous for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest barrier reef system, which stretches from the tip of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico down to Honduras. But it’s the infinite blue that first captivates me. Immersed in the deep blue, the effect is supremely calming, as if the endless, tranquil blue is reflected in my mind.

Soon other wonders captivate my attention, as the current zips us along the reef. The corals and fish delight my eyes with their shimmering colors. The variety and intricacy of the corals are magnificent, accented by the brightly colored fish darting about, like animated rainbows dancing in the blue.



The physical structure of the reef itself is remarkable. Fractal patterns of growth create elaborate formations that soar up from the ocean floor and abruptly plunge away. Complex caverns, overhangs, and spires emerge from the blue, creating labyrinthine channels and caverns large enough to swim through.



The sheer abundance of life on the reef makes my soul resonate with joy. The variegated colors of the coral, the diverse fish in all manner of size, shape and color, it’s a celebration of life, of the magic and wonder of the natural world. Shoals of tiny juvenile fish flit across the surface of the reef while schools of adults hover in the gaps. Splendidly colored angelfish and triggerfish regally float past.



The Light Inside

The Light Inside
By Reaction Mass

I can feel it
    the light inside of me
Shining through
     from Eternity

I am light
     light is me

This is a song about meditation, about the experiences I have when my mind goes quiet, my thoughts drop away, and I can feel my connection to the universe. When “I” go away, sometimes it feels like there is light shining through the space where I used to be, bringing light into the world. For a bit, all my cares and worries cease, the void is absent, and all I feel is love and connection. Those are good times 😊

Musically, this song is heavily inspired by “Sleep”, by the Dandy Warhols. I first heard this song over ten years ago. Still, every time I hear it, the extended instrumental and vocal section of the piece takes me away. It’s one of those works of art that stuns my mind into silence, induces a state of aesthetic arrest.

The Void

I first started sensing the void during graduate school. After college, in my early 20s, sometimes I would get in a funk, for no good reason. Life in graduate school was pretty good. It didn’t pay much, but it was a pretty good lifestyle. I had lots of friends, girlfriends, and a promising career path. But I would just get in these funks, when everything felt so empty. I remember thinking to myself: “what is wrong with me? What do I have to complain about? This is a good life.” But it just wasn’t enough. When I would think about the future, about what to do after graduate school, what to do with my life, I would feel an overwhelming with a sense of dread and hopelessness. I didn’t have anything to look forward to, long term. All the stuff you’re supposed to look forward to, a career, marriage, a family, a house, none of that felt like it would give meaning to my life.

What was missing was meaning, a purpose.

Working for a big, soulless corporation, or staying in research, studying molecular biology, neither of those gave me a sense of purpose. Thinking about a life that stretched on into the future, there was nothing to look forward to.

It was around this time I remember reading some of Jim Morrison’s writings about the void, I think it was in the book Riders on the Storm, by John Densmore. (It seemed like he wrote about the void a lot, but now I can’t find any references to it. Maybe it wasn’t really a lot, it just seemed like it, because it stuck with me.) That word, the void, it seemed to give name to what I was experiencing. The feeling that something was missing, that there had to be more to life than this.

After finishing grad school, I came closer to the edge of the void. My fledging freelance science writing career didn’t provide the meaning I hoped it would, nor did it pay the bills. I was hanging out with friends who liked to go out drinking and chasing women. All these factors were leading into a downward spiral. (It was at this time, on my 30th birthday, when I blacked out for the first time from drinking too much alcohol.)

This sounds so cliche, but it was at this time, when things were at their bleakest, that I found hope. I found meditation, and a teacher who showed me how to find meaning, how to find connection, how to find hope. And I found a community of like-minded people that made me feel less alone. I don’t know where I’d be right now if I hadn’t found hope at that time, when I needed it most, but it probably would not be a good place.

After ten years of studying meditation, spirituality, and eastern philosophy, I think the void is the result of a soul leaving the cosmic oneness of eternity and reincarnating in a physical body. (I use the word eternity here, but you can substitute many different words: God, the universe, Allah, whatever word you want to use for that concept of a “higher power”.) As the soul develops, it starts to identify with the mind and the physical body. We start to believe that this body is all we are and that reality is limited to what can be perceived through the physical senses. For a sensitive soul, this feels isolating, empty, meaningless. It leads to soul-sickness. We try to fill the void, with work, relationships, marriage, children, drugs, alcohol, shopping, partying, drama, conflict. Anything to provide some brief enjoyment and pleasure, or at least distract us with intense feelings of any kind, positive or negative.

Some people are more sensitive to it than others, I’m not sure why. I think some people instinctively learn to adapt, to deal with it, take comfort in the life they create. Others don’t adapt, and just look harder and harder, becoming workaholics, alcoholics, rageaholics, drug addicts, addicts of other kinds. For some people, nothing in the world will cut it, because nothing in the world will fill that void, nothing can stop that feeling of isolation from eternity, feeling cut-off from God.

Those who are lucky find something that brings them back to God, back to eternity, whether it’s religion, meditation, spirituality, AA, or family. The lucky few find something to help them find that connection to a higher power, to find meaning in the emptiness, hope in the darkness.

I was lucky to find meditation, and a teacher who showed me how to find that connection within myself. Even though it appears to our senses that we’re born isolated in these physical bodies, that’s not the whole picture. A good metaphor I’ve heard is of a wave, breaking in the ocean. Each individual wave rises out of the infinite ocean, starting as a small swell, then cresting in a glorious, dramatic crash before subsiding back into the ocean. But during that whole lifetime of the wave, even though it is it’s own distinct entity, with its own unique personality and identity, it never ceases to be part of the ocean. So it is with us, we rise up out of the infinity of creation, with our unique identities, and lead our glorious, dramatic lives. But underneath, we’re still connected to eternity. It’s only the mind, conditioned by society, that believes our being is limited to the physical body. The mind imagines the void, the mind creates the emptiness. When you quiet the mind, the void doesn’t feel so empty or meaningless. When you quiet the mind, you can feel connection to Eternity, you can feel the love the surrounds us all.

Alien Encounter

Here’s a longer video, with original music:

Channel Islands, May 2018, Part 2

A biting wind blows off the ocean and cuts through my fleece like I’m wearing nothing. It’s 8:30 am, we’re anchoring at Fry’s Harbor, south of Santa Cruz Island, after jostling through six foot swells on the way here from our overnight anchorage. We’re suiting up for our first dive of the day, I’m in a bit of a daze, caused by the cold, the bumpy ride, and some lingering exhaustion from yesterday’s five dives.


We follow the anchor line down to the underwater cliff that is the object of today’s dive. I’m immediately greeted by a colorful Spanish Shawl drifting in the current. These are not uncommon in California waters, but I’ve only ever seen a couple small specimens before, it’s a treat to see one up close, and a harbinger for the show in store for us.

I let the Spanish Shawl drift away and turn my attention to the surroundings, and immediately see another Spanish Shawl, attached to a rock. As I eagerly zoom in, I start to notice all the color growing on the surrounding rocks.

We continue on, and I find another exotic beauty waving in the current.

And another, this one photogenically perched next to a starfish.

Other types of nudibranchs also populate the wall, this one isn’t quite as colorful, I think it might be called an Orange-spike Polycera, but it’s equally alien-looking.

As we continue our tour, a bright orange Garibaldi seems to pose for my camera.

My dive buddy points at something under a rock, and it takes me awhile to realize it’s an octopus. I’ve never seen one of these in the wild before. Up close, they really have a sense of alien-otherness, like this is a very different type of being. (My dive buddy was poking the octopus a bit so I could get a better luck, I felt kind of bad about that, but I was grateful to see it in action. I hope we didn’t harass it too much.)

As I soak in the surroundings, I’m struck with an increasing sense of awe at this alien world. Maybe it’s the lingering daze, but the visual stimuli that meet my eyes are almost difficult to process. The vibrant colors growing on the wall are amazing, like nothing I’ve ever seen before, even at tropical reefs. There’s all kinds of weird stuff growing on the wall, like this big coconut-looking thing. I see more and more Spanish Shawls, hanging out on the wall, surrounded by dazzling colors.

Another big Garibaldi cruises by to say hello.

Here’s another alien, I think maybe it’s an Opalescent Nudibranch 

The diversity of color continues to amaze me. I think these brightly colored fish hiding in a sea urchin are Bluebanded Gobies.

This giant starfish! It’s at least two feet wide!

My amazement grows as we continue on, the magnificent variety of colors tickles my eyes.


A visually stunning dive. I’ll conclude with one final shot of a Spanish Shawl, swimming through the water.

Flying Through the Dream Forest

Channel Islands, May 2018, Part 1

When people ask me what diving is like, I often respond that it’s like lucid dreaming. The feeling of weightlessness, the constant, lazy swaying of the currents, the bizarre colors and creatures, it’s an experience totally foreign from life on land.

Giant kelp forests are one of my favorite diving environments. Giant kelp is an amazing organism that grows prolifically in the temperate waters off the coast of California. The Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California, are home to large swaths of lush kelp beds.

The Channel Islands are frequently explored from liveaboard dive boats. This dive was our fourth dive of the day. The first three dives were kinda meh for me. Visibility wasn’t great and I was still settling into the liveaboard groove. But dive number four captivated me. We anchored at a site called Coches Prietos, on the southern side of Santa Cruz Island and jumped back into the bracing water.

Visibility was noticeably better here, with hypnotizing turquoise waters bathing the kelp stands. As we roamed through the forest, the alluring beauty swept away my thoughts and I was enthralled in the wonder of the experience. Gliding through the gently undulating forest, encased in the canopy of kelp, all my cares and worries dissolved in the natural beauty.

Towards the end of the dive, the current picked up a bit, bringing back the greenish, murky water. But the magic of the forest kept me in its thrall for the remainder of the dive.

Returning to the surface was like waking from a dream, feeling refreshed and invigorated, cleansed, by the grace of the Pacific.

Waking from the dream

Check out a longer video here:

This Ship of Fools


Ship of Fools
By Reaction Mass
There’s a ship cruising through time and space
It’s a beautiful ship, such a magical place
Made of water and rock, filled with mountains and trees
So much diversity you’d never believe

Oceans full of the infinite blue
Frozen arctic tundra roamed by herds of caribou
Deserts full of the scorching heat
Tropical jungles teaming with parakeets

With all of this wonder and so much to give
You’d think this ship would be just the perfect place to live
But the thing, the thing about this ship
It’s a ship full of fools

We’re all together on this ship of fools
Don’t know where we’re going but we’ll get there soon
No one knows how, but we all try steer
No one knows why, so we’re driven by fear

And now we come to the people on this ship
You can’t avoid the people on this ship
We all want to find what makes us happy
But we don’t always know what really makes us happy

We live in a culture built on a belief
That doing stuff or buying things will make us complete
So we struggle and we strive to earn fat paychecks
To take exotic trips and buy the latest gadgets

But this relentless pursuit of material things
Just leaves us wanting more and feeling so incomplete
With this void in our hearts, we don’t know what to do
So we fumble all around like a ship full of fools

We’re all together on this ship of fools
Don’t know where we’re going but we’ll get there soon
No one knows how, but we all try steer
No one knows why, so we’re driven by fear

But the saddest mistake is when we come to believe
That someone else is causing all of our misery
The emptiness turns into hate and anger
Raging out at others causing pain and danger

We think we need to make others see
That our way is the right way and they all must agree
So we circle up the wagons, isolating us from them
Making accusations, spreading fear and mayhem

If we continue on this course we’ve set
We’re gonna crash this ship and get us all really wet
All of this fighting and all of the lies
Are just a distraction from the emptiness inside

We all have a part to play in changing our course
But the answer might turn out to be tough to enforce
The most important thing we need to fix is within
By remembering that there’s nothing wrong to begin

When we examine the emptiness to see what it is
It’s because we all forget our true nature is bliss
If we turn our attention to the love within
Maybe, just maybe we can right this ship

We’re all together on this ship of fools
Don’t know where we’re going but we’ll get there soon
No one knows how, but we all try steer
No one knows why, so we’re driven by fear

I feel compelled to expound upon this song a bit. I didn’t intend it as a harsh critique of society or judgement on people. I want to make it clear, I consider myself one of the fools as well. I’ll get into that more, but first, a little back-story.

The original inspiration for the title comes from an allegory in Plato’s Republic that has come to be known as the Ship of Fools. Interesting, this metaphor has been a recurring theme throughout the ages, with multiple references in literature, film, and music. There are at least 16 songs with this title on iTunes. All are different songs, not remakes of the same song. For more on this interesting topic, check out this article Ship of Fools, the Enduring Metaphor 

There are many different interpretations and extrapolations of Plato’s ideas. In my take, we are all a bit of a fool, all of us are influenced by unconscious drives of which we are barely aware. This is a recurring theme throughout eastern philosophies and modern cognitive science. There’s significant research that suggests we make decisions largely based on emotion and snap impulses, and then later create rational explanations. (Check out this article for a brief intoduction to this topic.)

My hope is that we all acknowledge this fact about ourselves, and try to spend time identifying these unconscious drives and understanding how our minds work. I think most of the problems in the world, from politics to business to our personal lives, result when we’re convinced we know what we’re doing and don’t stop to question why we act the way we do or believe what we believe. This song is a plea for us to spend more time examining ourselves, and less time trying to convince others we’re right.

Another theme in the song pulls more directly from eastern philosophies: the idea of the void, the feeling of isolation and emptiness created by the ego. Some people feel this void more acutely than others, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then good for you, I envy you. But some of us spend our lives searching for meaning and connection to fill this void. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying cool gadgets or traveling to exotic locations, but those things aren’t going to fill the void. They can be a lot of fun and provide great enjoyment and a pleasant distraction, but the void remains.

In my personal experience, I can only escape the void when I stop looking out in the world, and instead look inside. Meditation and mindfullness help me see through the illusion of the void to the love found within us all. So this song is also a plea for us to spend more time searching for the love that connects us all, and less time focusing on the differences that separate us.

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