by Jim Connolly

Howard Shifflett November 19, 1927 - May 25, 2014

Howard Shifflett
November 19, 1927 – May 25, 2014

This past weekend I received the news that my first geology teacher, Dr. Howard Shifflett, had just left us after an 84 year career as an extraordinary human being.  I first met Howard in 1971 when I took my first geology classes at Long Beach City College.  I wrote about it in an essay that was part of David Kuenzli’s book “Diving Deeper: Mastering the Five Pools of Happiness” (2010; Dog Ear Publishing).  Howard was the person responsible for igniting my lifelong passion for geology and the extraordinary planet that we live on.  After writing the essay (reproduced below), I did some investigation and discovered that Dr. Shifflett (he was Mr. Shifflett when I took his classes and working on his Ph.D.) had a long career as a teacher of geology at LBCC and went on in retirement to lead numerous geology-related tours for anyone who was interested.  My only disappointment was that I was not able to reconnect with Howard before he passed, but I was happy that his son Mark found my essay online and has been able to share it with his mom and others who knew Howard as students, colleagues and friends.  It is my hope that publishing this on the NMMW Website and Blog and adding a link to it on Howards memorial page will help get the word about this extraordinary man out to more people who knew him.


Amazed by the Earth

James R. Connolly

In 1971, after a tour in the Army, I was living in Southern California and working for an airline to pay the bills. Bored with the corporate world, I cut back on my work hours so I could take a few college classes.   I was introduced to Geology for the first time by a Long Beach City College instructor named Howard Shifflett.  In the first class, Mr. Shifflett handed out a sheaf of stapled pages that were mostly blank.  This was to be the text book for the class – an outline that I was to fill in myself from the subjects he covered in his lectures.  Listening to his lectures, I became fascinated with the idea that the earth is a living, ever-changing system that you could understand by careful examination of its features.  The jagged mountains, the flowing streams, the hills and valleys and the different types of rocks and minerals that formed them told an intriguing story of how our planet came to be as it is.

I had majored in chemistry in my first failed attempt at college, finding it somehow too abstract and artificial.  To me, Geology was solid and physical.  To see ripples of sand in a stream and recognize these same structures frozen in the layers of gloriously colored rocks that I had seen in the deserts of the southwest got me more excited about science than I thought possible.  Over the weeks, as Mr. Shifflett’s magical outlines began to take shape, I knew I had found my calling.

The second course, “Field Geology,” was open to those who completed the introductory course.  It was in the field that Mr. Shifflett’s lectures really came to life—in the ever-startling landforms of Death Valley, the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Mono Lake, the stark majesty of the Mojave Desert and the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  My previous experience with science was in my head.  Geology, in contrast, was in not only in my head…but also in my hands, my eyes and my heart!  In an odd but compelling way, I began to feel more in tune with the the earth and its rhythms.

The earth, as you may know, is continuously being re-created by competing processes that operate in both tension and harmony.  The slow, uniform geological processes of weathering, erosion, transport, deposition and burial gradually grind down giant mountains, move them as sediment hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and transform them into new rocks.  The catastrophic processes, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and meteorite impacts, punctuate the slow and steady processes with bursts of high energy as they push up newly formed mountains by powerfully energetic jerks or knock them down with explosive force often causing great catastrophes including mass extinctions, enormous destructive floods and other events that reverberate through eons of time.

Somehow, all of this made grand, internal cosmic sense to me.  Though our human time scale is much different from that of the earth, the slow and steady processes, punctuated by abrupt, energetic ones still seem to me today to be a good model for understanding the evolution of our lives.

After Mr. Shifflett’s classes, my life was changed.  Thirty-seven years after my first Geology class including a career as a professional geologist, I still find the endless shaping of our planet by geologic processes a source of awe and wonder.  Someday soon, after retiring from the work-a-day world, I look forward to sharing my excitement about geology with a new generation of students, young and old. Perhaps I can even help a few of them make the connection between their own lives and that of the awesome planet that is our home.  Thanks Howard. I am still filling in your magical textbook!

(from: “Diving Deeper: Mastering the Five Pools of Happiness” by David Kuenzli, 2010, Dog Ear Publishing)

Gentlemen,

I’m adding this post to NMMW in the “Men’s Musings” at the request of several of the men who attended the 2012 NMMW Summer Gathering at Jack’s Creek campground. In our closing talking circle, I brought up Don Miguel Ruiz’ classic book The Four Agreements as one of the important tools that I use on an almost daily basis to keep my life and my place in the world in perspective. When I mentioned that I had written a two-page summary (for the impatient), several of the guys asked if I could make it available through the web site. This post is the result of that request. For the really, really impatient, here are the four agreements in a numbered list:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

If you would like more of an explanation of what these really mean, please download the two page Acrobat PDF, The Four Agreements.  If you really want the whole story (highly recommended) I’d suggest purchasing the book.  It is under $10 from Amazon.com and well worth it.

I hope you find this of value.  Feedback may be sent to me at jrc347@gmail.com.  Thanks.

Jim Connolly

 

I am writing to state my opinion in an arena where I have some strong feelings and opinions. I am interested in hearing from other NMMW guys on this important topic. There was booze on campus at the recent Spring Gathering–and it was freely shared during the Saturday afternoon discretionary time. As the designated leader, I elected to confront its presence in multiple ways. This essay is part of that response.

I strongly believe that alcohol has no place at our table–not because I am a teetotaler. I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner on a regular basis I value its capacity to lubricate lively conversations–as well as its time-honored role as an element of ritual at weddings, graduations and for many other festive occasions.

Despite the above, I consistently choose to leave my wine bottles, glasses and corkscrew at home when I head off to a NMMW gathering. I  fully intend to continue this practice–as long as I am a  member of New Mexico Men’s Wellness.

First of all, New Mexico Mens Wellness provides a remarkable forum for healing, personal growth and spiritual development. In the company of seasoned,intelligent, caring and nurturing men, we take remarkable risks, communicate our highest hopes and darkest fears, and regularly achieve emotional release and powerful insights–experiences that can open up new pathways and even transform our lives. This process of growth/discovery/acceptance quite often means experiencing mood states that
are painful as well as liberating.

A primary property of alcohol is to numb and diminish raw/powerful emotions, to soothe the mind, and to promote the depositing/burial of challenging memories. In my belief these properties run  directly against the grain (pun intended), of the core values and experiences of New Mexico Mens Wellness.

Secondly, there are men in various stages of alcohol recovery among us. If they know that alcohol is tolerated in advance of registration, they may choose not to attend, in support of their recovery.  There is also the live possibility that, if presented with alcohol during the course of the weekend, they will actively imbibe. This choice may, or may not, have a highly negative impact on their recovery journey.

I am a social worker by profession, and the maxim of my trade is “Do no Harm.” Bringing alcohol to our gatherings, and sharing it with another brother whose alcohol/substance abuse history you may or may not be familiar with–is potentially a harmful act.

Thirdly, it’s the piece about following rules and observing boundaries. With the recent gathering at Hummingbird, the literature for the weekend stated clearly–please leave your firearms, pets and  alcohol at home. The person who brought booze on campus elected not to express his dissatisfaction with the clearly stated rule in advance of the weekend.

Hummingbird Music Camp has a similar no- booze- on- campus rule. Had Lesley Higgins stopped by to change light bulbs a few hours later than he chose to on Saturday afternoon, he might have encountered the happy hour circle within 100 yds of the north campus buildings. In that case we likely would have lost not only our good relationship with the Higgins Family and with the staff of Hummingbird Music Camp, but also our opportunity to host the 11th Spring Retreat on their grounds (site of all previous 10 retreats).  Fair to say that our reputation as an organization might have suffered as well.

Post Script. This essay does not address the issue of psychoactive substances–including cannabis and peyote. My personal choice has been to avoid partaking in these as well during our gatherings (and in all honesty I have yet to encounter them). I recognize that with this issue, there are multiple factors to consider (such as medicinal usage of cannabis), and I leave it to another stout-hearted man to broach the subject.

Looking forward to your responses.

Respectfully,
Christopher King

May 1, 2011

We just completed yet another successful NMMW event–the Spring Retreat at Hummingbird Music Camp outside of Jemez Springs–over the weekend of May 15th to 17th. If you were unable to attend, keep an eye out for a blog on the retreat–to be posted on the nmmw.org website in the near future–thanks to the website administration skills of Jim Connolly, the journaling of Manuel Tafoya, and the photography of Uwe Schroeter, Joseph Woods and others.

I, Christopher King, have benefited from each and everyone of the 19 gatherings I have attended, starting with the Summer of 1999–held on our old summer stomping grounds–on US Forest land outside of Cuba,NM, and capably led by Mr. David Robertson.

I can fairly say I have achieved NMMW frequent flier status over the course of the last five year period–15 gatherings, twice the designated leader (Summer of 2007 and Spring of 2011) and five other gatherings where I attended planning sessions and took on various tasks and leadership roles.

The benefits I accrued from those 19 gatherings easily outstrips the investments of my time, energy, dollars and creative juices.

The most recent Spring Retreat was a robust success–based on multiple markers–29 men and one guest visitor for Friday night made it the largest of the Spring Gatherings to date. Six of the men were either newcomers to NMMW or to the Spring Gathering. Three came to the gathering thanks to the
single-handed recruiting efforts of Mr. Joseph Woods. Two men in attendance benefited from  partial/full scholarships. Finally, on Sunday mid-day during the closing talking circle, four men  picked up the talking stick, guaranteeing us an 11th Spring Gathering Retreat next April at Hummingbird.  Financially speaking, we covered all of our expenses, and added $500 to the NMMW coffers. In addition we passed the hat for Young Fathers of Santa Fe and raised $234 on their behalf.

The most significant statistic in my mind is that, of the 29 members present, all 29 contributed their labor over the course of the weekend. Fully 15 of 29 took on a leadership role or two—for example leading one of the small groups that met for 5 hours over the weekend, or offering a Saturday afternoon discussion on Conscious Dying, playing Haydn sonatas on the piano or teaching a lovingkindness or a zen meditation session, writing a journal of the weekend’s events, or facilitating a meadowlot baseball game.

The take home message for me is this. Despite some  indicators of decline within our organization over the past 8 to 10 years (smaller gatherings, fewer younger men in attendance, declining bank account balance), there’s plenty of growth potential within our NMMW organization.

Now whether it gets actualized, or not, depends completely on the choices that YOU make (the  individual YOU reading this blog–as well as the 100 or so of your comrades with solidly beating hearts). I am speaking of the choices YOU make this month–and in the months to come. When my 17yo daughter fails to complete a designated task, and offers up a spontaneously derived and well-presented excuse, her silver haired Dad is quick to respond: That’s all well and good, my dear Eliana, but Actions, will always speak louder than words.

At a loss for an action step on behalf of the NMMW Cause? Here are six ideas that leap into my mind.

  1. Contact Jim Mischke and Doug Booth, and volunteer your time and talents to assist with planning and execution of the 2011 Summer Gathering.
  2. Contact Shel Goldman and Kurt Faust and volunteer your time and talents to assist with the planning and execution of the 2011 Fall Conference.
  3. Commit to attending either or both of said gatherings, and plan to drive up with a new guy riding shotgun (bound and gagged and safely stashed in the trunk is an acceptable alternative).
  4. Start a mens group–and post a request for new members on the website (www.nmmw.org)
  5. Contact Barry Macintosh–and volunteer to assist Young Fathers of Santa Fe over the upcoming Father’s Day Weekend.
  6. Got computer tech skills? Contact Jim Connolly and ask how you can assist him with maintaining the website.
  7. Write a check to the NMMW Scholarship fund, and mail it to our treasurer in Santa Fe, Mr. David Pease.

Note: contact info for the above NMMW-active men can be readily found on the website, or contact me and I will provide it for you (for a small fee of course).

Carpe Diem,
your NMMW Brother,
Christopher King

April 30, 2011