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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Renko Styranka
Apr 10th, 2012

Canadian soldier in firefight-Afghanistan. Photo courtesy YouTube.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an insidious  chronic condition that can affect soldiers, emergency responders, or just about anyone who encounters a traumatic experience. I tasted it after witnessing a man stabbed to death on a sweltering August evening in Toronto in the 1990s. While knowledge about PTSD is gaining, and although help is sometimes available, God help PTSD sufferers whose trauma began before this decade. Soldiers who suffered from it were often told by their commanding officers to “Get the sand out of your vagina, soldier.”  Emergency responders were left to find solace in a bottle of Wild Turkey.

Navigating Canadian health care and chronic pain

Renko Styranka
Apr 1st, 2012

Photo courtesy

 Health care in Canada is deteriorating, and the cause of this is political. The public’s need for reduced taxes---which is where funding for social programs comes from---and the politician’s need to get elected, means hospitals and their staff do without necessary resources. The result:  doctors and nurses are overworked;  patients, who found it hard enough at the best of times to get the attention they needed,  are left facing an insurmountable headwind of tired, cynical health workers, and a heightened level of stress.

My mother was a nurse. Were it not for her inside knowledge, I might not have had the care I enjoyed  through a series of seven major surgeries starting at age nine. She told me back in the early 80s, “You have to fight and scrape for everything you get in health care.”  It was true then, and it’s even truer today.  When you fall ill, getting answers is a little like stepping into a Robin Cook novel.  Many of you have your own medical mystery.  I hope that relating this story will assist others in getting the attention they need.

Meditation and chronic pain

Renko Styranka
Mar 10th, 2012

Photo courtesy

If neither you nor anyone immediate to you  has had chronic pain, it is nearly impossible to relate to. This can make the battle more difficult for the sufferer, adding to the pile of stress loading on. There are no simple answers, but if some of these conclusions gleaned through years of chronic pain and Zen practice can help, the time spent writing this will have been worth it.

I belonged to a Zen lineage where sitting meditation, or zazen, was done in a formal position in 35 minute blocks. A retreat, or sesshin, can see as much as ten hours required sitting, plus whatever else you wish to put in on your own. This can induce excessive pain even to healthy individuals. Unfortunately, I have a bone disease, have had dozens of tumors removed, and have dozens more remaining. Meditating in a formal position was like sitting on rocks. But in formal zazen you aren’t allowed to move or fidget.

Surfing addiction

Renko Styranka
Feb 19th, 2012

Surf police keep etiquette in the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo courtesy of

I moved to the surf in 1998 with several motives: to surf, to meditate and to live simply. Little did I know that meditation would be the easiest of my goals. Living simply is a complicated process that I’m still struggling with, and surfing was wrought with all the pitfalls of the drug addict.

The impression voyeurs and dabblers have of surfing is a lazy life of fun in the sun, hanging on the beach, and doing headstands on waves as they roll shoreward, all followed by beach parties with sun-drenched babes and hunks. The grim reality is that many surfers around the globe are addicted to surf like junkies to crack, and fistfights occur in parking lots over the ownership of something as transient as  gravity waves. Surf pimps.

The addicted surfer

Sexy knots of desire

Renko Styranka
Feb 4th, 2012

Sexy Buddha photo courtesy

When I was 10, I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show and marvel that the star slept in a bed separate from his TV wife, played by Mary Tyler Moore. Even at that young age I recognized the ludicrousness of that spin. Although husbands and wives everywhere shared beds and had sex---even in the 60s--- somehow it was too much for studio execs to air on TV.  By thirteen I knew that many people’s perception of sex was wrapped in fear, guilt and judgment.

Zen teacher once said that if you had a speaker on your shoulder broadcasting your thoughts, 90 per cent of what people would hear would be insults and judgments directed at others and ourselves: “What an awful shirt”; “Why don’t you lose some weight?”; “What a deviant.”

Gods worshipped by the power elite

Renko Styranka
Jan 12th, 2012

Photo courtesy of The Whitehouse Archives

These days, it’s practically impossible to become a political leader in North America without declaring devotion to Christianity. This is not as true in Canada as it is in the US, but in America you have no hope of becoming president without being the right type of Christian. Our leaders actions, however, differ greatly from their professed beliefs.

While growing up Catholic, my impression of the Ten Commandments was that they were behaviors to emulate, ideals to live up to. Upon becoming a Zen Buddhist, I was astonished to see that their Ten Precepts were nearly identical to the Commandments. This would become less shocking when I reread the Sermon on the Mount, and realized it could easily be inserted into Zen text.

A final Zen koan: so bloody what?

Renko Styranka
Dec 16th, 2011

Mystical searching has become a hodgepodge. The art of breaking ground with your shovel and digging deep in one spot has become rare. Like online dating, people are more excited to move on to the next one, especially if life’s answers haven’t revealed themselves within a day or two.

Every so often, various media have reporters write pieces on spirituality and mysticism. When they touch on what I know, they’re always off the mark, which makes me wonder how on the mark they are with practices unfamiliar to me. A typical reporter doing a piece on Zen or koans is like a landlubber writing about what it’s like to be a fish, while standing on shore watching waves.

A lot of people think we can’t know anything about what happens when we die, or what the meaning of life is (if any), and think people who claim it’s possible are arrogant. But it’s just as arrogant to think one can’t know, just because you don’t.

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