Advertisements

Experiencing the Tibetan Community near Mundgod, India

Experiencing the Tibetan Community near Mundgod, India

August 7-13, 2018

I have been an admirer of Tibetan culture since the mid-1970s when I read books written by and about Tibetans. Being an isolated country for centuries and dealing with a harsh climate and the brutal invasion and ongoing oppression by China makes Tibet exotic to Westerners. At its heart is a culture built around the Buddhist religion that systematically develops spiritual enlightenment. But the aspect that has maintained my respect and fascination across the decades is the explicit effort to use their spiritual skills to improve the condition of the whole world. The Tibetan culture’s uniquely positive nature makes it especially tragic that the culture is under prolonged attack.

Despite my fascination with Tibet I have had few opportunities for direct experience of the culture. I attended a traditional dance performance in San Diego in the 1980s. I went to a concert of a young Tibetan woman singer (Yungchen Lhamo) who blended traditional and modern styles while in Brisbane, Australia in 1995. Soon after September 11, 2001 I witnessed Tibetan monks making a spectacular sand mandala at the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC with the explicit purpose of helping heal American pain. Not much more than that, other than giving to charities supporting Tibetan dissidents and exiles.

The first Tibetan person I met was a UCSD undergraduate student who worked as an intern with our research group in 2016. I talked with Lobsang Lama about my admiration for her culture, and I provided mentoring about achieving her career goal of working to improve the health of Tibetan exiles. She graduated from UCSD in 2017, and it was fortuitous that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was the commencement speaker. His plainspoken message of kindness and compassion was easy to grasp but hard to put into practice in the modern world. It is apparent that he is living his convictions by his patient and positive approach to working with the Chinese government to improve living conditions for Tibetans living in Tibet. As described in my blog about my highlights of 2017, I was selected to be among about 100 faculty members to have a brief audience with His Holiness and shake his hand. That was one of my most thrilling moments.

Lobsang’s parents attended her graduation during their first visit to US from their home in Nepal. They honored me by having lunch at my home. After graduation, Lobsang moved to the Bay Area, and I had little contact with her. That changed in mid-2018 when I received an email informing me that her brother was graduating from advanced studies at a monastery in South India. I knew that he was identified as the reincarnation of a prominent lama when her brother was a young child. He entered the monastery at age 6 years. Lobsang’s email also invited me to attend the graduation ceremony at the monastery, which would be August 5. It so happened that I was making plans to be in Australia from mid-July to the first week of August. Because I had already agreed to speak at two conferences the first week of August, I would not be able to make it to India in time for the ceremony. This was a big disappointment. But Lobsang said she and her family would remain there for some time after the ceremony, and I could still visit the monastery and surrounding community. Her brother would be happy to show me around the community and discuss his life as a lama.

I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Tibetan culture in a meaningful way. Thus, I told Lobsang I would accept the invitation and extend my trip for another week. The time for the trip eventually came, and I spent two productive weeks in Melbourne working at the Australian Catholic University, made two presentations in the City of Gold Coast, and participated in two cardiology-related conferences in Brisbane. From there I flew to Chennai, India to begin an extraordinary week.

What follows is a diary relating my observations from my few days in India and the Tibetan settlement. I drafted most of the text while I was in Mundgod so my memories and feelings would be fresh. I apologize for the level of detail; it is probably more for my benefit than for others’. Don’t feel obligated to read everything, unless you are curious about Tibetan culture and Buddhist practices. But this is not a deep analysis of Buddhist philosophy. My impressions are more like a travelogue. I expect most readers will be more interested in the photos. There is also a labeled section about health issues related to obesity in the monastery, based on the lama’s research and my observations.

There are many photos following. Please click on them to enlarge.

August 6, 2018
My first stop in India was to visit colleagues at Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre. A team there led by Dr. Anjana are collaborators in the IPEN Adolescent study, so I spent a day with them discussing publications based on their Indian data. I was treated to dinner at Dr. Mohan’s home with Anjana and her family, along with research team key members Pradeepa and Ranjani. After a delicious Indian meal, Dr. Mohan gave me a book he had written. It described his extensive and extraordinary experiences with the Indian spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba. I was unfamiliar with Sai Baba, so Dr. Mohan told about how he first encountered this guru to millions early in life, but did not become a follower until much later. The book recounts many miracles directly experienced by Dr. Mohan, his family, and his colleagues. Eventually Dr. Mohan and his whole family became serious devotees of Sai Baba. Sai Baba is no longer living, but Dr. Mohan is a Trustee of Sai Baba’s foundation that operates clinics, hospitals, schools, and other charity programs whose services are free. All this information about such a Godly person was impressive and fascinating, and I felt that it was a well-timed nudge for me to focus on spiritual matters as I prepared to travel to a community devoted to the philosophy and practices developed over centuries of Tibetan Buddhist culture.

In Chennai, with Dr V Mohan, Pradeepa, Anjana, and Ranjani. (Taken by Anjana’s son Pranav)

August 7, 2018
In the afternoon I flew from Chennai to Hubli (Hubbali), which from the air was bigger than I had anticipated. I was met at the airport by Lobsang, her father, and sister Pema, along with the driver of the van. As we were passing through the outskirts of Hubli, we came upon an elaborate gate across the road. I was surprised when Lobsang said it looked like a statue of Sai Baba on the gate. I had only heard of Sai Baba the night before, and already I encountered him again.

Sai Baba gate in Hubli, India

 

En route to the Chennai airport I was perplexed by this amazing vehicle. The driver said it was “a car for death.” I took that to mean it is used in funerals.

Here is where the driver sits.

On the one hour drive to the Tibetan settlement near Mundgod, Lobsang delivered the good news (for me) that her brother’s graduation ceremony had been postponed to the next day. This was the event that triggered the invitation, so I was thrilled I would be able to witness it. This area in the South Indian state of Karnataka was lush and green, and we were in the rainy season. The driver let us know when we passed into the Tibetan settlement. It was mostly farm land, and a few Tibetan flags started to appear. Some of the fences were draped with colorful fabrics, and I was told the purpose was to discourage wild boars from getting into the fields. We passed through a few of the nine “camps”, or villages, that make up the settlement before arriving at a separate community of monasteries. Four monasteries are clustered together, plus related schools, foundations, cultural organizations, and a new research center built in conjunction with Emory University.

Gaden Shartse Main Prayer Hall in the background. This is the view from my guest house.

Upon arrival I was taken to my room in a guest house that was next door to two monasteries. A great location. We then walked across the street to the residence hall (Kangtsen) led by Lobsang’s brother. He is affiliated with Gaden Shartse Monastery and Monastic University. I was reunited with Lobsang’s mother and father. For the first time I met her brother Yulting Rinpoche (whom I called by his title Rinpoche, which refers to an advanced lama), sister Pemzon who lives in Italy, and four aunts from Nepal, along with one of their sons. They greeted me warmly and made me feel at home. Before dinner I had an initial meeting with Rinpoche. He invited me to ask questions about Buddhism, and he requested that we talk about a study he had done in collaboration with fellow monks and researchers from Emory. He hoped I would find the food at the monastery to my liking, but he expressed concern that the typical monastery diet was high in carbohydrates. The first of many family-prepared meals was a real pleasure, with several vegetarian curries—comfort food for me. Most of the meals we had were cooked by a combination of family members and monks in the Kangtsen kitchen. We ate outdoors on the top floor of the building that had a roof but no walls—a common design in the tropics.

Part of the Gaden Shartse Monastery complex.

August 8, 2018
I did not have a good idea of what would happen at the graduation ceremony, but I was told to be ready before 6am. I met the family at the entrance to the main Gaden Shartse Prayer Hall that was next door to my guest room. The graduation ceremony (Geshe Tonko) had already started, and it was integrated into a version of morning prayers (Daja). Instead of going into the main hall we went upstairs to a room overlooking the Prayer Hall below. It was a wonderful vantage point for photos. The room was set up for our group to have breakfast. In addition to the family, there were monks ranging in age from 5 years to middle age. We had the same breakfast the monks were having below while the ceremony was ongoing. There was a thick flatbread call pah-lay that was served with butter and jam. Everyone got a boiled egg and black tea with milk and butter. “Butter tea” is the national drink of Tibet.

View of the Prayer Hall from the upstairs room where we had breakfast.

Yulting Ripoche, his father, his mother, and sister Lobsang.

Then we went downstairs, took off our shoes, and entered the Prayer Hall. Everyone did three prostrations at the door to honor Buddha. Experiencing a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony has been a goal of mine for decades. I knew the prayers were chanted or sung, and the singing sounds strange to Western ears. Much of the singing is guttural low tones sometimes called throat-singing, the music is often arrhythmic (no discernable beats), and sometimes all the monks join in the chanting. From the breakfast area above I was able to see some of the monks sitting in lines as well as some of the elaborate and colorful decorations in the assembly room. Finally, I was in the midst of the full spectacle of the ancient rituals.

Some of the statues in the main Prayer Hall.

In the Prayer Hall hundreds of adult monks were sitting on rows of cushions. They wore red robes and saffron yellow draping. The decorations featured massive colorful hangings of embroidered cloth, large paintings of the Buddha and other figures, and many gold-covered statues at the front of the room. There is a large seat/throne at the front reserved for the Dalai Lama who makes annual visits to all the monasteries here. The constant music and chanting, along with the visual splendor and incense make the ceremony a treat for the senses. Of course, entertainment is not the purpose. The rituals have been designed over centuries to elevate the spirit, inspire devotion to Buddha, and achieve a variety of goals.

Half of the Prayer Hall during the graduation ceremony. The main throat-singer is singing into the microphone.

Rinpoche was graduating from 18 years of study at the Gaden Shartse Monastic University, but he plans to continue his studies another 7 or 8 years to obtain the equivalent of a PhD. The Geshe Tonko had nothing in common with university commencements I have witnessed. The graduation was conducted as part of a prayer ceremony, or puja. Praying, singing, and chanting were continuous throughout the three-hour ceremony. Surprisingly to me, Rinpoche was the only graduate being celebrated. His family sponsored the ceremony and played active roles. I was expecting to sit in the back of the room, observe everything, and try to stay out of the way. As another surprise, I was constantly invited to take part in all the activities along with the family. Though this made the event even more special than I could have imagined, I had to pay attention to those in front of me to know what to do, and I was worried I would make a big mistake.

Making offerings to a high lama during the graduation ceremony.

Here are some of the activities the family did during the ceremony. They offered white scarves and envelopes with money to the senior lamas, and laid scarves and money in front of several of the statues and the Dalai Lama’s seat. We visited a small room near the statues at the front of the hall that was the Room of the Protectors. While offering scarves and money we asked for protection from harm for Rinpoche, the monks, and the whole world. After that we went to main floor, and the family gave small gifts of money to each of the hundreds of monks. Then we went to nearby buildings where younger monks were in school. Family members went into all the classrooms to give the children and instructors some money. We gave money to everyone working in the kitchen. Giving is considered a highly virtuous act, and because monks are not paid, gifts are their only source of income.

Giving offerings to young monks in a smaller Prayer Hall.

I was awestruck during the whole ceremony by the generosity of the family to the monastery community—and to me. I was welcomed to participate fully, which made the entire event a vivid lifelong memory. I am deeply grateful for the Lama family’s incredible welcoming spirit.

At the entrance of the Main Prayer Hall during the graduation ceremony.

With Yulting Rinpoche.

Yulting Rinpoche and family, including parents, sisters, and aunts.

After a little rest, we had a great lunch back at the Kangtsen, but the day was far from over. Rinpoche went to the prayer room in his Kangtsen and sat on his high seat. For the rest of day and into the night a never-ending stream of lamas and monks came to congratulate him and bless him with scarves and money. Most made additional offerings to the Dalai Lama, whose photo and seat were prominent in the room. Sometimes they gave offerings to the family, and even to me.

Yulting Rinpoche accepting congratulations from monks of all ages while his family looks on.

Gifts were piling up throughout the day.

I was very motivated to take photos of all of these special events, to help me remember and to tell the story. Fortunately, there were no restrictions at all on taking photos or videos. Because most family members were at least as excited to take photos as I was, I felt comfortable the whole time. Now I am happy I can share some of the photos with readers of this blog.

The whole day was a fantastic blessing.

We got a ball for this 5-year-old monk who arrived from Bhutan only 3 months earlier.

August 9, 2018
I started this day by attending the morning prayers, held in the main Gaden Shartse Prayer Hall. This time I did sit in the back and concentrate on taking everything in. The praying, singing, and chanting were similar to the day before, with virtuoso performances by the throat-singers. I got a sense of the rhythm of the ceremony. There were intense parts with at least two throat-singers being amplified so the vibrations filled the Hall, and the effect was dramatic. There were also quiet parts, with different lamas chanting. It was an honor to experience this centuries-old ceremony, and it transported me to a more peaceful state of mind.

After breakfast the family and I took a bus to visit nearby monasteries, including the awe-inspiring Drepung Loseling Monastery. It was one of the leading monasteries in Tibet but was demolished by the Chinese. It was re-established here in 1980. The interior was spectacular, with detailed carvings decorating the doors and columns. The statues were the biggest of any of the monasteries I saw. Lobsang’s sisters pointed out some impressive art pieces that seemed to be part sculpture and part painting. In fact, they were constructed with painted butter. We went to another monastery, then we visited a shop where I picked up a few souvenirs.

This is made from carved butter.

Inside a Prayer Hall at another monastery.

Drepung Loseling Monastery, Main Prayer Hall statues. All are covered in gold.

A detail of the intricately carved and painted door frame at the Main Prayer Hall at Drepung Loseling Monastery.

Observations about health issues in the monastery
In the afternoon Lobsang and I learned about Rinpoche’s research project. It was so interesting that Rinpoche’s work group had decided last year to do a study about the health of the monks, focusing on obesity, diet, and physical activity. They devised a short survey, collected data from 105 monks aged 16 to 40 years, and had the data analyzed by their colleagues from Emory University. There were several findings I thought were particularly important. The mean BMI was about 26, which is in the overweight range, and by Asian standards would be considered obese. Frequency of walking was negatively correlated with BMI, and frequency of eating after 9pm was positively correlated with obesity. Thus, in this sheltered and unique environment, they are seeing the same patterns of health problems as the rest of the world. They have already started developing solutions. Many of the monks take walks, so they are discussing how to encourage and expand this practice. The small shop in the heart of monastic community has banned potato chips and a few other junk-food items. There is a fruit and vegetable market every day. However, they have major challenges about diet. There is a shop next to the market with a Coca-Cola sign on the outside that mainly sells sodas. I was told that sugar-free sodas are very difficult to find in and out of the Tibetan community. As Rinpoche told me the day I arrived, the diet is carbohydrate-intensive. In addition to the daily breakfast bread (which I learned is made with whole wheat flour), white rice is a staple, and I saw fried dough served to the monks during an evening prayer ceremony. I did not observe fruits or vegetables served during ceremonies. However, the family meals at the Kangtsen included many delicious vegetable dishes. Regarding physical activity, as far as I can tell there is no organized physical education for the young monks. But as I am drafting this at the guest house, there is a group of pre-teen monks playing soccer outside my window with a small ball in the late afternoon in the rain. This is a start.

The canteen in the middle of the monastery complex.

This is the (pah-lay) bread that is served to the monks for breakfast.

A particular challenge is the amount of sitting that is an essential part of the monk’s life. Prayer ceremonies are 2-3 hours in length, and though there are pauses for meals, the monks remain seated. Meditation is central to Buddhism and cannot be changed. Thus, it will take creativity to adjust the monk’s routine to deal with current health risks. But it seems the monks have devised some solutions. At the first morning prayer session I attended, I was alarmed when all of a sudden a couple of dozen monks suddenly jumped up and literally sprinted out the door. I thought something terrible had happened outdoors. In a few minutes I understood these monks were getting breakfast to bring to the rest of the monks. It is a longstanding tradition to race to be the first to bring the food or tea back to the prayer hall. Both child and adult monks seemed to really enjoy this burst of activity. However, it was just about the only vigorous activity I saw among the monks. This gives me hope there will be other creative solutions to find time for activity, or at least breaks from prolonged sitting, throughout the day.

Special ceremonies for my late wife Shemi
After discussing his research project, I made donations to both the monastery in general and Rinpoche’s Kangtsen. I explained that I wanted to sponsor a ceremony in memory of my wife Shemi who died almost exactly two years prior to my visit (www.shemiamarsisallis.com ). I consider Tibetan Buddhists the world’s experts in death and the afterlife, so this was an opportunity I could not miss to show my love and concern for Shemi’s welfare. Rinpoche surpassed my expectations by arranging for three pujas for Shemi.

At night I attended a special ceremony to protect the monks and all living beings from harm. The ceremony was called Kang-so-chenmo, which means The Prayer to the Five Great Protectors. I learned that to help achieve their spiritual goals, Tibetan Buddhists feel they can be more effective by working toward a more conducive environment by contributing to peacefulness, reducing suffering, and improving lives worldwide. The singing and chanting were similar to prior ceremonies. However, the music was dramatically enhanced by the use of drums, cymbals, and horns. Tibetan horns are impressive to the ears and eyes. They look like they are eight feet long, are straight, ornately decorated, and they always seem to be played in pairs. They only sound two notes, but they are powerful notes. I attended about half of the three-hour ceremony. The Tibetan Buddhist dedication to praying for betterment of the whole world is the aspect of this unique religion that has always struck me as the most important. I felt fortunate to be able to experience such a ceremony, that I’m sure benefitted me in ways I can’t understand.

Another unforgettable day.

The Prayer to the Five Great Protectors, at Gaden Shartse Monastery, with drums.

Here are the horns that make a magnificent sound.

1-MINUTE VIDEO:
Monks at Gaden Shartse Monastery chanting and playing drums in a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony

1-MINUTE VIDEO:
The amazing horns during a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony at Gaden Shartse Monastery

August 10, 2018
Rinpoche had arranged for special prayers for Shemi at an afternoon puja in the main Gaden Shartse Prayer Hall. Rinponche’s attendant, Ngawang Chakzod, guided me through the ceremony, with more help from Lobsang. There were similarities to Rinpoche’s graduation ceremony. I put scarves and gave offerings to the high lamas, the statue of Buddha and other statues, and to the gods in the Room of the Protector. I gave money to all the monks, including children in classrooms and the kitchen workers. I can see how Buddhists are so enthusiastic about giving in this way, because you see many, many smiles. It was a blessing for me to experience the puja from the perspective of a full participant.

I should mention what it means to be Rinpoche’s attendant. As a reincarnated lama, Rinpoche has more responsibilities and higher expectations than other monks, as well as extra privileges. Because he left his family and entered the monastery at age 6, Rinpoche needed adult nurturing and guidance. Chakzod is the lama who took on this responsibility as a lifelong job. At the beginning, Chakzod acted as both a spiritual guide and substitute parent. As Rinpoche developed, Chakzod’s role changed. Eighteen years later Rinpoche has become leader of the Kangtsen, and Chakzod provides spiritual and logistical support. That’s why one of his duties was guiding me during this ceremony.

I went with the family on a walking tour of a nearby monastery where a puja was in progress. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences of the assembly halls and the ceremonies.

August 11, 2018
The second puja for Shemi was led by Rinpoche in the assembly room in his Kangtsen. This Chod-bul Puja was attended by about 20 monks who live there, ranging in age from 5 to maybe 30 years. The ceremony consisted mainly of group chanting, with the older monks reading from books and the young monks just listening. I and several family members gave money to the monks. Chakzod also bought packages of food that were distributed to all the monks.

This is a special ceremony for my late wife Shemi at the Kangtsen.

Some of the younger monks in the Kangtsen.

The third puja for Shemi will occur in February 2019. This is a special ceremony for people who have died recently, and their names will be read during the prayers.

Scene on a walking tour around the monastery community.

During the afternoon a monk led the family and I on a walking tour of nearby monasteries. One of them has large grounds, mainly used for overflow crowds when the Dalai Lama visits. The largest of the monasteries we visited was inaugurated by Ghandi, and there is a statue of Ghandi in front of the monastery.

Lobsang’s father and Lobsang, with statue of Ghandi and Tibetan flags in the background.

Lobsang and myself by a mural at a smaller monastery.

That night Rinpoche guided Lobsang, Pema, and myself on a visit to a debate session. Debating a wide range of topics in Buddhism is an important part of a monk’s life. I asked Rinpoche many questions to understand how the debates worked. Buddhist debates are an exchange of ideas and information, not a competition. It was interesting to me that they often provide citations to boost the credibility of the points they make; knowing the Buddhist literature is highly valued. No one is judging, and it is perfectly fine for one debater to be convinced of his partner’s position. Logic and knowledge gained from reading are highly valued, because Buddhism is considered to be a spiritual science that can be improved—it is not based on dogma. The first set of debates had one debater standing and the other sitting, then they changed to a group format. There was a lot of back-and-forth discussion, in contrast to timed speeches and formal replies in Western debating. One key feature of Buddhist debating can be startling at first. The standing debater often emphasizes key points by vigorous claps. Rinpoche told me that younger debaters are more aggressive with their claps because their logic and knowledge are not well developed. More mature debaters tend to have less dramatic claps.

At the debates between monks.

August 12, 2018
This was a quieter day. The family went on a sightseeing trip that involved about 6 hours of driving, so I chose to stay at the monastery. In the morning I attended pujas at 6am and 10:30am that were quite similar to each other. The adult monks were expected to practice meditation today, so the ceremonies were attended only by the young monks and were held in a smaller Prayer Hall next door to the main one. The decoration was less elaborate, but there were similar colorful embroidered cloth hangings. The ceremony was much simpler. There was no music. Some older monks chanted, but there was little throat-singing. Meals were served at both ceremonies, and as you can imagine the young boys serving the food were very engaged in the running I described above. Most of the ceremony consisted of a debate between two senior monks. There was a different pair of debaters for each puja. They walked up and down the central aisle as they debated. Though this seemed like good modeling and instruction for the younger monks, I think many of the monks could not hear the debating because it was not amplified. There was also a fair amount of noise because the boys grew restless, started talking to each other, and acted like little boys everywhere.

Morning prayers just for young monks, at the smaller Prayer Hall of Gaden Shartse Monastery.

Bringing tea to the young monks during breakfast.

Serving soup for lunch to the young monks.

1-MINUTE VIDEO:
Young monks serving breakfast during a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony at Gaden Shartse Monastery

Jangchup Gyaltsen, a 16-year-old monk from Bhutan with very good English helped me with breakfast and lunch. He taught me how to make tsampa for breakfast. It is a dough made from barley flour, butter, and hot water. As I was warned, it was bland. For lunch we walked to the nearest cluster of shops, which was about 30 minutes away. We ate momo at a small restaurant. Momo is a national dish, which is steamed dumplings. Mine had spinach inside, but meat-filled ones are common. We got thoroughly wet walking in the rain back to the monasteries, but that was OK with me because it was my longest walk of the week.

Good friends.

Murals in one of the camps, with words of wisdom on the left. The one on the right depicts Tibet, with prayer flags and the Himalayas.

When the family returned from their outing, we had a delightful vegetable soup with home-made whole wheat noodles. After dinner I expressed my deep gratitude for the kindness and generosity all of them had shown me throughout the week. I was moved by how they had accepted me and treated me as a family member. I offered a scarf to everyone as a symbol of my thanks, and I had small gifts for some.

August 13, 2018
My last day at Gaden Shartse Monastery was short and bittersweet. I had breakfast with everyone, then packed my bags. I came back to the Kangtsen to say goodbye. I was humbled when Rinpoche and others gave me some beautiful Tibetan handicrafts as gifts, including a funny backpack celebrating yaks which are the most common farm animal in Tibet. It was difficult leaving behind this unique place where I felt so at peace. The world needs the healing that Tibetan Buddhists specialize in, so it is in everyone’s interest that this special culture continues to thrive. After saying farewell I began my long journey back to San Diego.

Tibetans have a sense of humor. Maybe it is a subtle comment that we Westerners talk too much and listen too little.

Chakzod, an old friend of the family, and Lobsang wish me farewell.

Epilog
The special nature of my experience with the Tibetan pujas became more clear to me when I learned that the ceremonies are not regular worship services for lay Buddhists. The ceremonies are for the monk’s development and are designed to benefit the whole world. People in the community mainly attend pujas at the monastery when the Dalai Lama visits. Otherwise they pray at small shrines in their homes or neighborhoods.

It is encouraging to me that the Tibetan culture and religion are surviving the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Though I can’t compare what I saw in this Indian settlement to life in Tibet itself, the Buddhist-centered culture in the Mundgod settlement is alive, thriving, and fulfilling its unique role as a force for spiritual development, benefitting the whole world, and providing an alternative to the dominant materialistic orientation. I am more motivated than ever to do my part in protecting and preserving this culture and amplifying its positive and healing impact on the world.

 

NOTE: If you are interested in making a donation to support the work of the Gaden Shartse Monastery or Rinpoche’s Kangtsen, please contact me. There is no website to make this easy, but I can put you in contact with people there who can assist you in making a transfer through Western Union.

This lama is the disciplinarian during prayer ceremonies.

Advertisements

Jim’s 2017 Highlights

April 2018

Though 2017 had a strong negative undercurrent due to the Trump presidency and for me personally due to continuing grief over my wife Shemi’s death in mid-2016, there were many good times that I want to highlight. These bright spots made a tough year much much better.

Healing visit to Indian Country in New Mexico

Before attending a Voices for Healthy Kids Strategic Advisory Committee meeting on a Pueblo near Albuquerque, I spent a couple of days visiting special places in New Mexico. This was an inspirational and healing visit for me.

This is part of Bandelier National Monument, where Native Americans lived for many centuries in dwellings carved into the volcanic stone.

I was encouraged to visit this place where the Tsankawi people lived. It was spectacular.

I was amazed how generations of Native people had worn these grooves into the rock just by walking during their daily activities. I thought of these as pedestrian highways.

More of the pedestrian grooves. They still work. It is easy to walk on them. And you can see the landscape is outstanding.

This is the main square in Santa Fe that was made very festive at night during the Christmas season. This plaza has been attracting pedestrians for centuries.

 

February and October. World Bank. I had two interactions with World Bank staff in 2017.

Through Mike Pratt our group received a contract with the World Bank to help them collect accelerometer data in Malawi. This is the group with their certificates, along with Andrea Varela Ramirez (Colombia, Brazil, top left) and Bob Wang (China, bottom right).

In October I presented a seminar to World Bank staff from numerous work groups about the health impact of urban design and transportation.

 

February. ALR Conference in Clearwater, Florida

Dr. Janna Lynott, who directs the Age-Friendly Communities program at AARP, was our keynote speaker.

Here is Chair Rodney Lyn with two speakers.

This is our panel of decision makers: Otis Johnson, former Mayor of Savannah, GA; Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councilor of Toronto, Canada, and Toks Omishakin, with Tennessee Department of Transportation.

I was pleased that my highly valued colleagues from the Notah Begay III Foundation presented some of their work to promote active living in Indian Country: Olivia Roanhorse and R. Goldtooth.

Our final panel on lifespan approaches to studying and improving physical activity: David Bann from University College London; NiCole Keith from Indiana University; Adrian Bauman from Sydney University; moderator Jenny Mindell from University College London.

We fought traffic and survived during the bike ride.

 

March. Society of Behavioral Medicine in San Diego, including my presidential duties and party at my house.

With my SBM presidential successors and wonderful colleagues, Gary Bennett and Sherry Pagato.

A photo from my presidential address.

With David Marquez, SBM Program Chair. It was a pleasure to work with him on shaping an outstanding program.

Former doctoral student Jodi Prochaska is now Professor at Stanford University and mother of two children. We don’t get together often enough.

 

March, May, August, October. Four visits to Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. These are just a very few of the professional, social, and natural high points of these visits.

March. My first night in Melbourne I went to an Adele concert.

March. On my arrival Ester Cerin and Tony Barnett took me on a long urban hike that included this scene along the Yarra River.

March. During the urban hike we saw this odd architectural juxtaposition.

March. A nice dinner with colleagues: Jenny Veitch, Anna Timperio, Billie Giles-Corti, Jo Salmon.

May. With early career researchers at ACU Institute for Health and Ageing.

May. Neville Owen and I celebrate the release of his new book.

May. I make it a point to get out in nature each visit.

For a report on the August visit that included my UCSD colleagues Terry Conway, Kelli Cain, and Carrie Geremia, please see my separate blog post:

https://drjamessallis.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/ipen-team-at-acu/

 

October. A good view of Central Melbourne. This concentration of activities is why Melbourne is routinely named World’s Most Liveable City by The Economist magazine.

October Tony Barnett, Ester Cerin, and I on one of our many outings to enjoy the city.

October. At the conference on Healthy Liveable Cities, organized by Billie Giles-Corti. The social event included a combination of entertainment and advocacy.

October. A great Melbourne scene with a mix of transport modes featuring a very attractive tram.

October. Though everyone is sitting in this photo, they had to walk to come enjoy this park in the heart of Melbourne. One of many great parks.

October. I am now affiliated with the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at ACU, so I thought I would take a selfie with Saint Mary.

October. A typically lively street scene in the Melbourne CBD.

Neville took me out on another delightful bushwalk.

 

April. March for Science. San Diego.

With Elena Martinez, Jesse Nodora, Maria Zuniga—and many thousands more.

It’s good to see young people committed to science.

A small sample of marchers.

 

June. UCSD Graduation. One of my regrets about (semi-)retirement is that I will have less contact with students. I have been blessed with the chance to mentor many outstanding doctoral students and postdocs. Here are my last two.

Jessa Engelberg and Christy Thornton. It was such a pleasure working with them.

The Dalai Lama was UCSD Commencement speaker June 2017. I was selected by lottery to be one of about 100 faculty to be in a receiving line during a breakfast encounter. It was an honor I never thought I would experience. This was the most special moment of the year for me.

Lobsang Lama (left) was an intern with our research group, and she also graduated. I welcomed her parents on their first trip to the USA, along with Lobsang’s sister. They are Tibetans living in Nepal.

 

July. Southern tour to reconnect with family, friends, colleagues.

Colin Armstrong was my first doctoral student when I was at San Diego State University. We had a reunion in Nashville. He is on the faculty at Vanderbilt University.

My graduate school mentor at Memphis State University was Kenny Lichstein (far left). I got to visit with him and part of his family in Nashville.

 

September. New York City. Center for Active Design Award.

On September 27, 2017 I was presented I attended the Center for Active Design Excellence Awards celebration in New York City. I was pleased and honored to receive the Thought Leadership Award. I had the opportunity to give a short talk and participate in a panel discussion. You can learn more about the Awards and the Center for Active Design: https://awards.centerforactivedesign.org/

Photo credit: Yetsuh Frank, Courtesy of Center for Active Design.  My award was presented by Joanna Frank, President and CEO of the Center for Active Design.

Photo credit: Yetsuh Frank, Courtesy of Center for Active Design.  Here is the panel moderated by WNYC’s Paige Cowett (far right) and including Linda Gibbs, Principal at Bloomberg Associates, Justin Garrett Moore, Executive Director of the NYC Public Design Commission. You can watch a recording of the 27-min panel at https://awards.centerforactivedesign.org/

I always enjoy exploring the streets of New York City on foot, partly because I am in the company of so many other pedestrians.

 

October. Washington, DC. National Academy of Medicine induction.

My guests at the induction ceremony and dinner. Karen Glanz (Univ of Pennsylvania), Charlotte Pratt (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute), David Berrigan (National Cancer Institute).

The other inductee from Society of Behavioral Medicine was Karen Emmons of Harvard University.

Our group had a special reception and tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, which brought back many painful memories. This was a painting in the Memphis airport.

This is also a painting in the airport, showing the vibrancy of African American culture in Memphis.

The Mayor tells us about life in a very small town in northern Mississippi.

I had a chance to spend time with my cousin Nita Carr, who lives in Memphis. Here we are in the hat department of Schwab’s store on Beale Street, one of my favorite stores anywhere.

It was a treat to tour the legendary Sun Studios with Lisa Klesges.

This is the studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many African American artists got their start.

 

September. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Roundtable on Obesity Solutions. Workshop on built environments and obesity. Washington, DC. This workshop was particularly meaningful to me, because I was on the planning committee.

The opening panel was composed of Daniel Rodriguez (UC Berkeley), Karen Glanz (University of Pennsylvania), and Rodrigo Reis (Washington University of St. Louis).

The panel on promoting equity through built environment solutions.

The panel on local actions to improve built environments, with former Maryland Governor Perris Glendening speaking.

 

Postscript

Thank you for checking out my 2017 highlights blog. I posted new videos on my Active Living Clips youtube channel. 2018 is starting out almost as busy as ever, which is why I did not get this 2017 blog completed until April 2018!

Driverless cars and possible health effects

Blog post: Sallis, J. Driverless cars could be better or worse for our health—it’s up to us. The Conversation. Blog posted January 2, 2018.

https://theconversation.com/driverless-cars-could-be-better-or-worse-for-our-health-its-up-to-us-87242

The article was the basis of an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) TV interview about driverless cars. Aired on morning news January 8, 2018. https://twitter.com/abcnews/status/949829451436601344

In Memoriam: Xiaobo (Bob) Wang

Jim Sallis. September 25, 2017

Dr Xiaobo Wang contacted me by email in 2015 and expressed an interest in being a visiting scholar with our research group at UCSD. He was Associate Professor of Physical Education at Zhengzhou University of Light Industry in China, with a background in exercise psychology. Because I cannot agree to sponsor everyone who requests to visit with us, we scheduled a phone call. The call reassured me that Dr Wang was well-acquainted with our group’s work, he had specific plans to use the visit to start new research directions, and his English was very good. Thus, I agreed to sponsor his visit. Dr Wang and his family began their visit about February 2016 and stayed until February 2017. During this time I got to know Bob (his preferred English name), his wife Lilly, and their 5-year-old son Prince very well.

Bob spent almost every work day at the office, and he became friends with all the staff and students. He was always in a good mood and was enthusiastic about learning from everyone. He participated in meetings, learned from Kelli Cain how to use accelerometers, and received substantial tutoring in statistics and study design from Terry Conway. His primary goal was to develop and publish a manuscript using one of our databases. Bob’s main interests were in youth sports and physical activity. Because he was very tall and had been a lifelong basketball player, this sport was a main focus of his teaching and research. We decided he would lead a paper based on our TEAN study of adolescents. He was eager to learn about built environments, so his paper topic was the interaction of built environment and psychosocial variables to explain adolescents’ active travel. To pursue this paper he had to conduct several literature searches, become familiar with a complex study, and learn new statistical methods. He persevered and produced a manuscript in collaboration with the whole study team. The paper received positive reviews from Preventive Medicine and was accepted before he departed in February 2017. It appeared in print soon thereafter. He was very pleased with this outcome, because he had fulfilled the terms of his visiting scholar grant and believed this paper would help him obtain funding for research to be done in collaboration with our team.

Bob received a Certificate of Completion of an accelerometer training from Kelli Cain. 2017.

 

Bob participated in the accelerometer training with colleagues from the World Bank, Malawi, and Peru. 2017.

During the visit, Bob and sometimes his family, participated in our team’s social events. Here are some photos of our social times together, including a trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert East of San Diego.

Bob and Prince with Jim in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Prince with sculptures in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Bob, Prince, and Jim at a holiday celebration in San Diego. 2016

July 4th luncheon 2016. YiYi Lee from Malaysia, Jim, Bob, Shemi, Lilly, and Prince. At Jim and Shemi’s home in San Diego.

Bob, Jim, Prince, Lilly. On the pier in Pacific Beach, CA. July 4, 2016.

Bob at the SPARK Trainers’ Meeting. San Diego. Summer 2016.

YiYi Lee, Jim, and Bob enjoy a day in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016

Bob attends a private tour of Tijuana. This is the restaurant where the Caesar Salad was invented. 2016.

Bob, on a pedestrian shopping street in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016.

During Bob’s time in San Diego a very sad event occurred in my life. Shemi, my wife and companion for 39 years, became ill, was hospitalized, and died. Bob did everything he could to support me in this difficult period. He was the only person who visited Shemi and I in the hospital virtually every day. I appreciated deeply these visits, his concern, and his friendship. I think these actions revealed the strength of Bob’s character and his goodness as a person.

With all of these positive professional and personal memories, it hit me very hard when I learned that Xiaobo Wang died suddenly September 16, 2017 at about age 38 years. I was informed by a Chinese colleague who was collaborating with Bob to jointly sponsor my first visit to China. Apparently, Bob was doing what he loved, playing basketball, when he had a heart attack and died immediately. He was taken to a hospital but could not be revived. This was news that came as a complete shock and surprise, because no one expects such a young and healthy person to die with no warning. The news of Bob’s death hit me hard, and as I informed other members of my research group, I had to watch their sadness and disbelief. My heart aches for Lilly and Prince who will mourn Bob the rest of their lives. They will have to carry on and make the most of their own young lives, but they will carry a weight of sadness. Our whole team sends love, best wishes, and positive thoughts to Lilly and Prince. We will miss Bob too.

My Chinese colleague told me that Bob had a strong wish for me to visit China, so I will continue my plans to do so. I will do my best to spend some time with Lilly and Prince so we can mourn together and remember our good times together with Bob. Peace to Bob, Lilly, and Prince.

Bob’s farewell lunch in San Diego. February 2017.

 

IPEN Team at ACU

IPEN Coordinating Center Makes Connections at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne

Jim Sallis. September 25, 2017.

The core team of the IPEN Coordinating Center took a very long field trip to Melbourne, Australia in August 2017 (i.e., 16-hour flight from LAX). The purpose was to establish an in-person relationship with colleagues at Australian Catholic University (ACU). A key reason Jim Sallis became a Professorial Fellow at ACU was to strengthen IPEN in several ways. Ester Cerin, IPEN principal investigator for the Hong Kong studies and lead statistician for IPEN, is Professor at ACU. Jim’s regular visits to Melbourne allow more face-time to move IPEN projects forward. There are several other IPEN investigators in Melbourne, including Takemi Sugiyama and Tony Barnett at ACU, Neville Owen at The Baker Institute, Jo Salmon and team at Deakin Uni, Billie Giles-Corti at RMIT, and Suzanne Mavoa and Hannah Badland at Melbourne Uni. ACU is supporting a full-time biostatistician to work on IPEN papers. He was hired in July 2017 after an open search, and his name is Muhammed Akram. Though IPEN Adolescent data are only now ready for analysis, NIH funding has ended. Thus, ACU is generously providing part-time support for the core IPEN Coordinating Center team of Terry Conway, Kelli Cain, and Carrie Geremia. Thus, the strong and experienced IPEN team is able to lead data management, data analysis, and manuscript coordination, along with Publication Committee chairs Ilse de Bourdeaudhuij (Adult) and Erica Hinckson (Adolescent), to maintain IPEN’s productivity. Though this group will be geographically dispersed most of the time, it is clear the headquarters of the IPEN Coordinating Center is now at ACU in Melbourne.

The IPEN CC team (Terry, Kelli, Carrie) spent a busy, productive, and enjoyable 2 weeks in Melbourne during the August winter. The Institute for Health and Ageing (IHA) hosted this visit. The centerpiece of the visit was 3 workshops to introduce the IPEN team and their skills to IHA members and beyond. I want to thank the IHA team for being so welcoming to the IPEN team. The first workshop was literally an introductory session during which each IPEN team member described their backgrounds and specific expertise. The second workshop was an overview of the project management, quality control, and database practices, protocols, and tools the IPEN staff has developed over the course of managing numerous international and US-based projects funded by NIH, CDC, and several private funders.

Carrie, Kelli, and Terry get to know Chinatown in downtown Melbourne.

Here we are in one of Melbourne’s beautiful parks, with the exhibition building in the background.

The third workshop, led by Kelli Cain, was an extensive 3-session training in accelerometer methods used in our San Diego-based studies. Participants learned our protocol-based methods for collecting the data, then downloading, screening, and managing the data. They wore accelerometers for several days, then practiced by downloading, cleaning, and visualizing their own results. The participants included colleagues from IHA, other units of ACU, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Deakin University, and The Baker Institute, so it was a useful network-builder for everyone involved. We appreciate the large number of attendees and their active engagement in all the workshops.

Because this was the IPEN team’s first visit to Australia, we spent off-duty hours exploring the city, which was a pleasure. Living and working in the heart of the city meant there were constant discoveries of interesting streets, unique shops, never-ending parks, and a seemingly-infinite number of restaurants and cafes in all directions. We particularly enjoyed searching for the well-known alley art that is scattered around Melbourne and nearby cities. This search stimulated a fair amount of walking, and a few example photos are shown below. Melbourne’s central business district is a great example of a dense, mixed-used, lively, walkable city. Walking or taking transit everywhere was a very different lifestyle from the car-centric experience that is more-or-less required in San Diego, and I believe the IPEN team appreciated the benefits of the Melbourne approach. They were not surprised when it was announced during our visit that Melbourne was named by The Economist as the “world’s most liveable city”—for the 7th consecutive time. Jim was interviewed about this honor, and the article can be found at:  http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/columns/news-from-the-front-desk/news-from-the-front-desk-issue-no-352-on-liveability-inequality-and-timeless-truths/94709

In agreement with our colleague Billie Giles-Corti, Jim pointed out that only those in or near the central city experience the full benefits of the liveable/walkable city. Residents of the suburbs are mostly car-dependent and endure long commutes to work and elsewhere.

This is Hardware Lane in Melbourne, which is packed with restaurants. Similar pedestrian zones are fairly common there, though very unfamiliar in San Diego.

Alley art in Melbourne.

More alley art.

The delight of walking around the city is more than matched by the wonders of nature in Australia. Thus, we organized a weekend excursion to get immersed in nature. We piled in a van with IPEN colleagues Ester Cerin, Neville Owen, and Tony Barnett, and our first stop was a traditional Aussie lunch of meat (or veggie) pies on the way to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary. The Sanctuary houses most of the famous Aussie fauna in a naturalistic setting. There was so much to see there we spent about 3 hours, and we still missed some animals. We continued on to Marysville, which was destroyed in a fire several years ago, but beautifully rebuilt. We started a bushwalk from the center of town and walked through some old growth forest to the spectacular Steavenson Falls. Of course, we posed for photos there.

The IPEN team enjoying Steavenson Falls.

The other important lesson in Aussie culture was attending an Australian Rules Football game, which was held at the much-beloved Melbourne Cricket Grounds. The “MCG” holds about 100,000, so the 50,000 attendees only half-filled it. It goes without saying we walked from our hotel to the MCG. We had a special treat when football legend Paul Salmon explained the game to us and told us some of the history. Paul is married to Prof Jo Salmon, who is an IPEN Adolescent investigator, so both of them are stars in their respective fields. IHA staff Jerome Rachelle sat with us and helped us understand some of the complexities of the game.

Australian Rules Football star Paul Salmon (left) gives us a tutorial before a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. With Irene Estaban-Cornejo, a Spanish colleague who is a visiting scholar in Melbourne.

At the Melbourne Cricket Grounds with Jerome Rachelle of ACU, the IPEN team, and Irene Esteban-Cornejo.

The 2 weeks were full of walking, exploring, preparing for and delivering workshops, making new friends, developing collaborations, and getting to know Melbourne, so the time went quickly. We appreciate that Prof Wayne McKenna and James McLaren made time to meet with the IPEN team. Wayne and James are responsible for developing and supporting ACU’s research programs across all the campuses, and we thank them for understanding the value of basing the IPEN Coordinating Center at ACU. This collaborative relationship will ensure the continued production of groundbreaking science published in high-impact journals and communicated broadly to decision makers around the world. The result of our visit was development of a strong bond between IPEN and ACU teams that is just the beginning. I want to express my thanks to Prof Marita McCabe, director of IHA, and all who welcomed us with open arms and organized a bittersweet goodbye reception on our last day. See you soon.

The IPEN Coordinating Center team at ACU. Ester Cerin, Terry Conway, Kelli Cain, Carrie Geremia, Jim Sallis, Muhammed Akram.

Colleagues at ACU’s Institute of Health and Ageing gave us a very nice farewell party.

After the August 2017 visit Ester Cerin, Takemi Sugiyama, and their groups, along with the IPEN team, transferred to the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at ACU. We are joining David Dunstan, who was already affiliated with the MacKillop, and John Hawley, an exercise scientist, who is the new director of the Institute. The MacKillop Institute at ACU is now the home of the IPEN Coordinating Center.

Are Sidewalks for Pedestrians?

June 13, 2017
By Jim Sallis

 

This post first appeared on the America Walks blog: http://americawalks.org/are-sidewalks-for-pedestrians/.

At America Walks, we are committed to people-first design. Unfortunately, in practice in many communities across the US, individuals are not prioritized on our streets and sidewalks.  Dr. Jim Sallis explores the topic in this guest blog post on the growing trend of motorized rideables on our sidewalks, an added element that has the potential to knock down the pedestrian yet another peg on the hierarchy of users. Dr. Sallis reminds us all that we need to be vigilant to this trend and others that create spaces where people who walk feel uncomfortable or threatened. Take action—add your voice to the growing walking movement, make such topics issues for local government to address, and educate yourself as to the rights you have (or should have) as a pedestrian.


 

The answer to the question should be an obvious “yes”, and among advocates for walking the answer is “YES”. But in reality the answer is becoming “no” more and more often. Technology is disrupting businesses of many kinds, replacing jobs that have benefits with gigs, making it cheaper to be driven around town, and delivering everything so you can stay home all the time playing computer games. Now technology is taking aim at disrupting sidewalks. I guess we should not be surprised.

I was alarmed 10 years ago when Segways promised to revolutionize transportation. They were able to change laws in many cities to make them legal occupants of sidewalks. However, they never really took off due to cost, and maybe people could not figure out where or how to park them. But you can count on technology to “progress”, so just in the past couple of years I have noticed a profusion of new personal transport devices showing up on sidewalks. First there were “hoverboards”, that were very small, brightly colored, and popular with children. Unfortunately they developed a habit of catching on fire. But there are many more choices now.

There is a new category of products called electric rideables. I have seen electric skateboards, numerous versions of two-wheeled hoverboards, single self-balancing wheels that whiz you along, three-wheeled devices, electric scooters you stand on, electric scooters you sit on, and apparently dozens of segway-type gizmos. There are websites devoted to this rapidly expanding category and lots of reviews. Google it. This has to be a great business opportunity because everybody hates to walk, don’t they?

For those few of us who still enjoy actual low-tech walking, it seems like we need a place to do it. That place is most often the sidewalk. And that is where I have been seeing these “rideables”. This brings up many questions. Is it legal for the rideables to be on the sidewalk even though they typically move faster than pedestrians? Are riders liable if they injure a pedestrian? How do pedestrians like sharing the sidewalk with rideables? Will pedestrians be driven off the sidewalk by rideables? That couldn’t happen, could it?

One of my favorite magazine articles of the last few years was in the Smithsonian in 2014.  It described how car companies invented the crime of jaywalking in the early 20th century to keep pedestrians out of the street so cars could take over. The car companies wrote the laws and lobbied city councils to pass them, with the noble intent of protecting pedestrians. The less-noble real intent was to stop the bad publicity created by cars killing and maiming people every day. To add insult to injury they chose the name “jay” which meant hillbilly or bumpkin. The implication was that smart and sophisticated people drove, and ignorant people walked.

So, as cars took over the road, pedestrians were driven out of the street. Could we see rideables take over the sidewalk, making pedestrians obsolete? There’s nowhere else for pedestrians to go. Filling the sidewalks with rideables would be great for business, so maybe we have to give up. We don’t want to threaten the jobs of rideable-makers do we? You can’t stand (or walk) in the way of progress.

Is the motorization of sidewalks on the agenda of walking advocates? It should be. Walking on the sidewalk is in the process of being disrupted by new technology. These small businesses are planning their growth. It looks like a clash of technology and profit versus health and quality of life. Taking a walk is usually the high point of my day. Taking a walk is the healthiest thing most people do in a day. What will be the effect on pedestrians of sidewalks filling with rideables? Whose interests will determine whether rideables become legally protected? As advocates for walking it is up to us to start asking these questions.

Life Is Change: Professional and Personal Updates

May 2017.
I want to explain why and how I am semi-retiring. Though my work has been meaningful and gratifying over many years, I am ready to slow down my activities. 2016 was a momentous year for me. In my Presidential Lecture to Society of Behavioral Medicine in March 2017 I explained how Charles Dickens’s book “Tale of Two Cities” seemed to describe my 2016. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Most of the events were excellent, such as highly-visible publications from our IPEN collaborations, leading three papers in the Lancet, being elected to the National Academy of Medicine, and being President of SBM, which included holding the Annual Meeting in San Diego. However, the biggest event of the year for me was traumatic. My wife and life partner of 39 years, Shemi, passed away on August 16, 2016. I appreciate the many heartfelt notes I received from friends and colleagues around the world. The remembrances of Shemi were touching and helped me focus on the many good times. Besides being a gentle person, great cook, and hostess, Shemi had a fertile creative life that resulted in dozens of artworks, plus stories and poems. I encourage you to visit the website I built for Shemi so you can enjoy scenes from her life and creations of her mind. http://www.shemiamarsisallis.com
After Shemi’s death I decided to semi-retire so I could focus my energies on projects of highest priority and find more time for things I enjoy other than work. My retirement from UCSD was official at the end of January 2017, but I will continue to work on current grants. I am committed to ensuring the results of IPEN Adolescent and other projects are published and disseminated. Mike Pratt’s arrival as a Professor in the UCSD Department of Family Medicine and Public Health provides an opportunity for extension of our active living work, because Mike has been collaborating on IPEN and Active Living Research for many years. Mike has already taken the lead on new grant proposals, working closely with our experienced staff. My main role will be to support, not lead, new projects.
My official retirement gives me freedom to pursue other opportunities. As of February 2017 I became a Professorial Fellow at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Melbourne. I am attached to the Institute for Health and Ageing, and my main goal is to support the growth of excellent research within this new Institute. Although I will not be moving to Australia full-time I will visit several times each year. The connection with ACU builds on strengths, because my long-time IPEN colleagues Ester Cerin and Takemi Sugiyama are there, among others. Being together with Ester will produce important benefits for IPEN and other built environment studies. We are hiring a Research Fellow with advanced skills in statistics to work closely with Ester in analyzing IPEN data. ACU is supporting core staff of the IPEN Coordinating Center who are based at UCSD so we can continue our productivity. Thus, ACU is becoming a much more important center of action for IPEN.
Melbourne is a very comfortable place for me, having spent several months of my sabbatical there in 1995 and making several visits since then. Melbourne is the capitol of physical activity research in Australia, with longtime friends and colleagues including Neville Owen at Baker IDI and Swinburne University; Jo Salmon, Anna Timperio, Jenny Veitch and others at Deakin University; Billie Giles-Corti at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology; Brian Oldenburg at University of Melbourne; and David
Dunstan, Gavin Turrell, and Andrea Nathan also at ACU. I look forward to spending more time with these and other colleagues in Melbourne while enjoying the cultural amenities of the city.
I am looking forward to this change in focus and pace of professional activity. In speaking at the SBM Leadership Institute in March I emphasized the value of seeking out change and driving change, not just reacting to it. My new situation is a chance to act on my own advice. I am ready to start new adventures, some of them including the combination of dance and music, which can unite my professional and personal interests. I plan to stay active in research, writing, advocacy, and mentoring. I want to support others in taking the lead in fulfilling my career’s mission of using evidence to move toward a more physically active world. Of course, I am committed to enjoying movement every day, and I envision that semi-retirement will allow me to more fully appreciate the wonder of life in our magnificent but fragile world.

Flickr Photos