The spirits of Jock and Holly Cobb

Driving north out of Albuquerque with my parents last month to celebrate my aunt’s and uncle’s 50th anniversary, we learned from the Internet that our dear friends Jock and Holly Cobb have passed away.  Jock was my god-father and immortalized himself in my mind early on, mostly by convincing me (as a ~6-year-old) that it would be a good idea to rent a very large rock from him at a compounding interest rate, which I’ve done for more than 40 years!  He was always an inspiration — whether reclining naked in the outflow stream of a Colorado glacier when I first met him, or demonstrating the latest prototype of his solar-powered water purifier in the New Mexican sunshine when Annie and I last saw them in the early 2000s.

Both Jock and Holly were wonderful people, full of ideas, compassion, principle, and creativity.  I’m going to take the time to get to know them a bit better this winter.  Perhaps you should do so, too.  Here’s my reading list:

Jock’s book

Jock took some amazing photographs during WWII when he was a conscientious objector working as an ambulance driver in north Africa for the American Field Service.  Thankfully, they made it back to the States and through the decades to be published recently (in 2013) as Fragments of Peace in a World at War.  You can buy the book directly from the Cobb family via

or via the publisher,
or via Amazon.
Jock ends his Vimeo recollections (in ~2011) with this quote from John F. Kennedy

“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”  –Letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 88.

NYT article (2013) regarding the photographs

Obituaries

John Cander (Jock) Cobb II, MD, MPH

1919-2016 (96)

Tribute to Jock in the Denver Post

John Candler Cobb II, known to all as “Jock”, was born July 8, 1919 in Boston, MA. He died June 20, 2016 in Albuquerque, NM. After earning his B.A. in Astronomy from Harvard, he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in World War II. This experience and his association with the Quakers around this time, led him to his lifelong devotion to the cause of peace and to his career in medicine. He returned from the war to earn his MD from Harvard, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins. While in medical school he met Radcliffe student Holly Imlay-Franchot on a skiing trip. They were married for 67 years until Holly died in 2014.

After teaching at Johns Hopkins in maternal and child health, Jock began a career in public health when he moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1956 to work for the Indian Health Service. In 1960, he moved with Holly and their four children to Lahore, Pakistan, where he directed a Family Planning Research project. In 1965, the family settled in Denver, CO, where he became professor and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Realizing the importance of environmental health early on, he was a member of the task force studying the Rocky Flats Plutonium Plant and Uranium Enrichment Plant, which were shut down as a result of this work. He also served on the Governor’s Scientific Advisory Council, and tackled Denver’s notorious “brown cloud” as a member of the Air Pollution Control Commission. His work with international public health continued with shorter assignments in Indonesia, the Philippines, Togo, and China. He is honored to have his work and papers archived in the University of Colorado Archives in Boulder, CO.

In 1985, Jock retired from the University of Colorado Medical School, and he and Holly returned to live in the house they had built in Corrales, NM. They continued to travel abroad and enjoyed summers at their mountain cabin in Alice, CO. Jock’s inventive spirit and dedication to health and the earth led him to develop a solar sanitation system for water and waste. While active in the world, he also treasured quiet time in nature, played cello, wrote poetry, and took many photographs. In the last decade of his life, Jock revisited the photographs he took while serving as ambulance driver in Italy, North Africa, and Syria. He distilled his dedication to peace in the book Fragments of Peace in a World at War, which includes his photographs, poetry, and narrative.

He is survived by his children Loren, Nat, Bethany, and Julianne; grandchildren and great grandchildren; and many people whose lives he touched.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the American Friends Service Committee or Planned Parenthood.

Published in Albuquerque Journal from June 26 to June 29, 2016– See more at:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/abqjournal/obituary.aspx?pid=180462254#sthash.OyjcMXsX.dpuf

Helen Imlay (Holly) Cobb

1925 – 2014 (age 89)

Helen Imlay Franchot Cobb was an artist, a musician and a teacher. Holly grew up in New York State, and graduated from Radcliffe College with an AB in International Affairs. She and her husband Dr. John C (Jock) Cobb lived Baltimore MD, Corrales NM, and in Pakistan before settling in Denver, where he was a professor at CU Medical School. She taught art and kindergarten at Graland School. She leaves a beautiful portfolio of paintings and note cards of the peaks by their cabin in Alice, Colorado. She is survived by Jock, her husband of 67 years, her brother Dick Franchot, children Loren, Nat, Bethany and Julianne, and grands and greats. In lieu of flowers, donate to Planned Parenthood or AFSC.

Published in Denver Post from May 16 to May 17, 2014

Archives of Jock’s work

Abstract:
Cobb, Dr. John C. 83 linear feet, 1960-1993
Dr. John Cobb (b. 1919), M.D., Harvard University (1948), and Master of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (1954), became a professor of community health in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1965, where he is currently an emeritus professor. Dr. Cobb was appointed by Governor Lamm and Congressman Wirth to the Lamm-Wirth Task Force on Rocky Flats in 1974. From 1975 to 1982, he worked as principal investigator on an EPA contract to study human plutonium burdens in people who lived near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility. He has also served on several other councils and commissions concerning Rocky Flats and Three Mile Island. The collection contains files relating to Dr. Cobb’s medical career including: plutonium study papers; material on air and water pollution, recycling, bioethics, holistic medicine, and urban health ecology; Rocky Flats and Pakistan radiation studies; and teaching materials, reports, and conference papers. Guide available in Archives.

An example photograph

San Vito, Italy: This fatherless boy, like so many in the war, was searching for something he did not understand and could not find.

San Vito, Italy: This fatherless boy, like so many in the war, was searching for something he did not understand and could not find.

The golden chain of spirituality

“As long as we follow a spiritual approach promising salvation, miracles, liberation, then we are bound by the “golden chain of spirituality.” Such a chain might be beautiful to wear, with its inlaid jewels and intricate carvings, but nevertheless, it imprisons us. People think they can wear the golden chain for decoration without being imprisoned by it, but they are deceiving themselves. As long as one’s approach to spirituality is based upon enriching ego, then it is spiritual materialism, a suicidal process rather than a creative one. All the promises we have heard are pure seduction. We expect the teachings to solve all our problems; we expect to be provided with magical means to deal with our depressions, our aggressions, our sexual hangups. But to our surprise we begin to realize that this is not going to happen. It is very disappointing to realize that we must work on ourselves and our suffering rather than depend upon a savior or the magical power of yogic techniques. It is disappointing to realize that we have to give up our expectations rather than build on the basis of our preconceptions. We must allow ourselves to be disappointed, which means the surrendering of me-ness, my achievement. We would like to watch ourselves attain enlightenment, watch our disciples celebrating, worshiping, throwing flowers at us, with miracles and earthquakes occurring and gods and angels singing and so forth. This never happens. The attainment of enlightenment from ego’s point of view is extreme death, the death of self, the death of me and mine, the death of the watcher. It is the ultimate and final disappointment. Treading the spiritual path is painful. It is a constant unmasking, peeling off of layer after layer of masks. It involves insult after insult.”

Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

What insights from science could blur the boundary between self and the rest of Nature, or even the boundary between life and death?

Feynman’s quote about trees being and becoming air as they grow and recycle is in the right vein.  Contemplate the past and fate of the molecules in each lungful of air or mouthful of water.  How many of the molecules that make up “me” are part of “you” or your dog, or your mortal enemy, tomorrow?  Of the molecules that made “me” uniquely me (the DNA in an egg from my mother and sperm from my father), how many are the same in you, or a monkey, or any animal, the plants I eat as a vegetarian, or the bacteria in my gut?  When I die, what will “my” molecules become (if buried on land, or cremated, or “buried” at sea)?

Similarly, what are the origins and fates of the ideas and culture that make “me” me?  Who taught me what I know and believe?  What will become of the memes I have created?

And maybe most profoundly, what makes “me” alive and what happens to “me” or at least my consciousness when I die?

Re-thinking life, death, and purpose

After the death of my friend, Rafe Sagarin, I’m re-thinking the nature of life, death, and one’s purposes and values while on this planet.  Below are a few articles that I want to read and then discuss.

  • Matthieu Ricard in the New York Times (2011) regarding “The Future Doesn’t Hurt. Yet”
    • References a book written with his father “The Monk and the Philosopher
      • From an Amazon comment, the Monk sums up with:
      • `…such a dialogue is useful, but can never be a substitute for the silence of personal experience, as Goethe had aptly stated, “silence allows nature to whisper to us”.’
    • Review by Maria Popova
      • “When Revel takes issue with the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, pointing out its mystical and scientifically ungrounded suppositions, Ricard emphasizes its metaphorical and philosophical importance over its literal interpretation. Embedded in that notion, he suggests, is the key to unmooring ourselves from the tyranny of the self in the here and now:”
      • From the book: “It’s important to understand that what’s called reincarnation in Buddhism has nothing to do with the transmigration of some “entity” or other… As long as one thinks in terms of entities rather than function and continuity, it’s impossible to understand the Buddhist concept of rebirth.

        […]

        Since Buddhism denies the existence of any individual self that could be seen as a separate entity capable of transmigrating from one existence to another by passing from one body to another, one might well wonder what it could be that links those successive states of existence together… It’s seen as a continuum, a stream of consciousness that continues to flow without there being any fixed or autonomous entity running through it.

      • “The fact that there’s no such discontinuous entity being transferred from one life to the next doesn’t mean that there can’t be a continuity of functioning. That the self has no true existence doesn’t prevent one particular stream of consciousness from having qualities that distinguish it from another stream. The fact that there’s no boat floating down the river doesn’t prevent the water from being full of mud, polluted by a paper factory, or clean and clear. The state of the river at any given moment is the result of its history. In the same way, an individual stream of consciousness is loaded with all the traces left on it by positive and negative thoughts, as well as by actions and words arising from those thoughts. What we’re trying to do by spiritual practice is to gradually purify the river.”
      • “There’s a natural feeling of self, of “I,” which makes you think “I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m walking,” and so forth. By itself, that feeling is neutral. It doesn’t specifically lead to either happiness or suffering. But then comes the idea that the self is a kind of constant that lasts all your life, regardless of all the physical and mental changes you go through. You get attached to the idea of being a self, “myself,” a “person,” and of “my” body, “my” name, “my” mind, and so on. Buddhism accepts that there is a continuum of consciousness, but denies any existence of a solid, permanent, and autonomous self anywhere in that continuum. The essence of Buddhist practice is therefore to get rid of that illusion of a self which so falsifies our view of the world.”
    • Founded Karuna-Shechen Foundation doing humanitarian work in Tibet, Nepal, etc.
    • “The unbridled consumerism of our planet’s richest 5 percent is the greatest contributor to the climate change that will bring the greatest suffering to the most destitute 25 percent, who will face the worst consequences.”
    • “Unchecked consumerism operates on the premise that others are only instruments to be used and that the environment is a commodity. This attitude fosters unhappiness, selfishness and contempt upon other living beings and upon our environment. People are rarely motivated to change on behalf of something for their future and that of the next generation. They imagine, “Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes.” They resist the idea of giving up what they enjoy just for the sake of avoiding disastrous long-term effects. The future doesn’t hurt — yet.

    • Interdependence, sentient living beings, suffering
    • “all beings are interrelated and all, without exception, want to avoid suffering and achieve happiness”
  • Harkening back to one of my childhood’s most trusted sources — Scientific American on “What Happens to Consciousness When We Die” (2012).  I’m not intrigued by the rather dull article, but inspired by the title and many of the comments!
    • “…the goal of enlightenment is to transcend to a more universal nonlocal, nonmaterial identity.” — Deepak Chopra?
    • “The hypothesis that the brain creates consciousness, however, has vastly more evidence for it than the hypothesis that consciousness creates the brain.”
    • “Thousands of experiments confirm the hypothesis that neurochemical processes produce subjective experiences.”
    • “2008 paper published in Mind and Matter by University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman: Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem. Conscious realism asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents.”
    • “In Hoffman’s view, our senses operate to construct reality, not to reconstruct it.”
  • Seven strange questions that help you find your life purpose” by Mark Manson