Contemplations on Water — January 19, 2016

Contemplations on Water


When I was in college, I remember one of my professors said that, education at a university is like looking at labels on boxes. All the boxes are neatly stacked and organized, and each one neatly labeled with its contents clearly marked.  And if you do well, you memorize what’s in all the boxes and in what order they’re stacked.  But what is frequently missed is that the boxes are never opened.  You know what’s in the boxes, but you don’t experience it first hand.  First hand experience is something very different from labels on boxes.

When I moved into my van, I expected it to broaden my horizon, both literally and metaphorically, and to get to open some boxes and have my life experiences.  I have not been disappointed so far.   But the most interesting lessons have come unexpectedly, unbidden, and in some cases unwelcome.

Take water for instance…

You know what I learned about water in school?  From chemistry – H2O!  It has unique properties in that, when it freezes it expands rather than compresses the way that other liquids do, and this is what makes ice float.  Both the gas form of water and the solid form are less dense than the liquid state.  If it didn’t do this, the bottoms of lakes and the oceans would freeze first, rather than the top, and would never melt!  Never mind that it’s the very substance that is the essence of life, and of the planet.

Being a religious studies major, I learned other things about water.  Lao Tzu liked to use water as metaphor for the Tao.  Water is soft and resilient.  It takes the form of whatever container holds it.  It always seeks the lowest levels, and always moves downward.   It’s pure and simple and flexible and humble, and never resists.  Yet, water in it’s persistence can carve canyons.  If we seek to be like water, then we have the greatest power.  We will be going with the flow – living the Tao.

And then I moved into the Hilton…

Living in my van gives me a whole new experience of water.  From “Tao and Water – The real Spiritual Lesson” by Master Steenrod:

  •  Water is relentless.  It never stops exerting it’s force.

Yup!  No matter how I try to keep the water out of the van, block the holes, whatever… it just keeps coming in!

  •  It’s force is a manifestation of its nature.  It does not try to be something it is not, applying neither morality nor immorality.

Uhuh!  It’s just water!  It’s not good or bad, regardless of how I may perceive it, and regardless of whether it’s messing up my night by seeping into my cabinets and things.  

  •  When it’s restricted, water seeks the weakest spot of any obstruction and applies constant force until it is free.

And it doesn’t matter if I put up one obstruction, block the hole, it just keeps coming until it finds a way in!

  •  When it’s pressed or attacked, it changes form and repositions itself.  It exerts counter force to search for weakness.

And if not for water, I would have no idea just how many weaknesses my van roof had!

  •  Water is opportunistic.  Given the slightest opening it will pass through.  It will do so while the opening is present.  It will widen the opening if possible.

Now I’m starting to think the author is hiding under my bed in the Hilton!

  •  Water has a wide range of energetic expressions, but continues to be water.  It can be still.  It can be sluggish.  It can be swift.  It can be pounding.  It can be vapor.

It pounds on my rooftop.  It sits in a still puddle in my window sill, and it’s vapor permeates all my belongings. 

Yes, I think I know more about water now than I ever wanted to.  And I’m not complaining really.  Because now I have completely opened the box labeled “The Tao”


Fixing the bed — January 16, 2016

Fixing the bed

On the happy day when I got my van, July 30, 2015, it already had a bed in it. It had this built-in base of heavy solid wood that had heavy drawers.  One drawer opened from the front, inside the van, and the other from the back when the doors are open.  The bed ran the width of the van, and was just barely too short, but I could sleep quite comfortably with my head at one side of the van and my feet at the other, if I slept diagonally.  This left the entire front part of my van for…whatever.  I added a mattress topper and slept so comfortably for months!  Until the rain started…

The rain was getting into my van from the back end – right where the bed was. You can read a couple posts I made about that.  At first, it was just in the cabinets, and I was very vexed at having to take the things from the cabinets and open them up until they dried, at which point it would rain again.  Then, in December it happened… Drip.. .drip…drip… The rain was dripping from one of the back cabinets and hitting the bed.

A wet mattress is not acceptable!  I went to the dump and dismantled the base.  I would have stored the base for later, if I’d had a storage space that could hold it (mine is way too small, and full of my boxes). I also got rid of the custom mattress that fit the base, but kept my mattress topper.  I then got a used cot.  It was a kingdom 3 REI cot.  I assembled the cot at the front of the van, lengthwise, where it always stays dry.  I slept in that cot for about 3 weeks, when I realized that my back was getting more sore.  I have back issues that can incapacitate me if I don’t watch it.  The cot has a slight rise at the feet and at the head.  Plus, it wasn’t nearly as comfortable or cozy as the other bed had been.  Combine that with the slight dampness of everything – including my bedding – due to the rain and general humidity in the air combined with the cold.

Yesterday I stuck the cot in my storage and bought a piece of plywood slightly smaller than a twin bed.  I also got some cheap storage bins that are about 18 inches high, with lids.  And I got a twin air mattress.  I put duct tape around the edges of the plywood (to avoid splinters) and put it on top of the storage bins, items I don’t need in the back and items I do need toward the accessible edge.  I put a blanket over the plywood, and put the air mattress on that, and my mattress topper on top of that.  Then I tested it. Ah, it was comfortable!  I could sprawl out a little, cuddle up with my big pillow, and move around with abandon…as long as I was parked on a level surface (a problem that didn’t come up until last night when I parked on a street).

Parked on the street, there was enough of a slope that I could easily have rolled off the bed, or the whole thing could have shifted down during the night.  Realizing I wouldn’t fall asleep until the problem was fixed, I got up and put three blocks of wood under the plywood, along the edge that was on the downward slope.  That solved the problem for last night, but I need to do something else, otherwise the plywood underneath will end up breaking due to having no support along the center.

So, here is my plan.  I’m going to leave the blocks of wood along that edge under the plywood, but put some pillows along the center, under the plywood, to give that centerline some support.  It all sounds like a very temporary makeshift solution.  I know (have read about) a lot of people who build solid bases into their vans for the bed, but I don’t have the skill, the tools, or the workshop to do that.  My temporary solution is actually quite comfortable (except for the pervasive dampness – which I can do nothing about, but wait for warmer weather).  However, I do need some adjustable permanent solution.  I so miss my cozy comfortable bed of the early days!


Gratitude! — January 6, 2016


Even though it’s pouring rain, and my cabinets are wet, I’m still reminded that there are so many things to be grateful for.  I remember once, about a year ago, there was some event on campus, and I was at this event in the evening.  It was pouring rain, and it was dark and cold.  There is an underground parking lot where I parked my car on that day, and I walked back to the lot in the cold rain after the event to get my car.

Berkeley has a pretty big homeless population, and often they sleep in the doorways of businesses, and sometimes just right out on the sidewalk, where there are open underground vents through which warm air flows up into the streets.  But on this night it was cold and wet everywhere.  On this night as I walked down the stairs from the wet and windy atmosphere into the parking garage to retrieve my car, I could feel the immediate change from cold and wet to warm and dry.  It’s so comfortable down there… and empty. But at the stairs is a security guard who greeted me as I descended.  Now, there is no real reason to have a security guard in this parking garage, because there is nothing down there, so I can only assume that the security guard is there to prevent the homeless population from escaping the wet cold misery to be in the warm dry comfort of that garage!

And it occurred to me then, and even more so now that the wet and cold is more of a present reality for me than it was, that the whole parking garage and security guard scene is a really pathetic statement about social justice – that there is a huge warm dry space underground and empty, and there are freezing cold people who are wet and sleeping on the sidewalk right outside of it…how does that even make sense?  How in Hell do we justify that?  How can that security guard do her job of keeping those people out of that empty parking garage?  It’s the middle of the night!  NO ONE IS PARKING THERE!  For the love of GOD let people escape the wet and cold for a few hours at least…

Even though my cabinets are wet, I am grateful that my clothing and my bed is dry.  Though the air is cold, when I sleep I am warm, and I am grateful for that.  Although I have expensive mechanical problems with the Hilton, I do have, or can get the money to fix it, and I’m grateful for that.  I have enough food to eat, and I am grateful for that.  I have a job that provides insurance and income for me and I am grateful.

There are so many things I could complain about, but at the end of the day, I have a running vehicle, I am warm and dry and safe when I sleep, I have medical care, a job, and enough to eat!  It’s not that I didn’t know that I was privileged before, but now that I live in the Hilton, I feel both the privilege and the gratitude more acutely than I ever have before.


Still Fixin’ that hole! — January 5, 2016

Still Fixin’ that hole!

And damnit!  I’m not happy about it!  And it’s cold!

I went and had the seam around the top of the van sealed.  First they sealed it with a water based sealer that needed to completely dry before being wet again, and it happened to rain the evening that they sealed it.  Fortunately, they redid it without cost with some other sealer, not water based.  But the water is still getting in!  I’m not sure what to do… or even if it’s a big enough deal to worry about it at the moment.  The cabinets that are built into the top of the van are getting wet, but for the time being, I’m not storing anything there that will be affected by this.

When it dries again, I’m going to up there myself with a sealer and do it.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this in the first place.  I know there is a drought in California, and I know we need the rain really badly…. but is it wrong for me to wish it would go away?

In addition to the problem with the rain, I have some expensive mechanical problems that need to be taken care of.  However, as Blaize mentioned, at least with not paying rent, I have the money to take care of van repair expenses.  And I do… and these are one time expenses unlike rent, so I’ve decided to be grateful for that much.  It’s all about outlook, right?

And it’s cold!

Or it was – for like two weeks it got down to freezing.  I was OK during the time I was sleeping, but it’s hard to be excited about van living when I’m freezing my ass off!  The cold has gone away though – and although I’m not excited enough to pee my pants like I was when I first started this, I am still quite pleased with my decision.