My Story: How This All Began and the Reason For It

If you haven't yet read my story, talking about what Zen I had and how I feel like I've lost it, then you should probably start with that. You can find it here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chronic Pain

One thing that really can stand in the way of having a positive outlook on life and a calm and peaceful attitude about the trials and tribulations that come our way is hurting. Hurting all the time is even worse, particularly after days, weeks, or even months of suffering. In fact, at that point, it's very difficult to keep a placid demeanor, especially when some of your favorite activities and ways to enjoy yourself are blocked by your pain-causing issues.

I've lived with chronic pain of one sort or another for years, usually in my low back following a series of seemingly unrelated injuries when I was a teenager and in my early twenties. Thanks to the help of a friend, I've been largely able to conquer that issue and live with very little pain and debilitating limitation in my lumbosacral area. About a month or month and a half ago, however, I somehow managed to injure my right hip and right leg (I think it's related to work) and have been experiencing nearly constant discomfort, if not outright pain, in it for most of that time. It's getting better slowly now as I keep treating it and back off from many of the more active activities that I enjoy, but it's frequently painful enough so that I feel it whether I'm standing, sitting, or lying down, whether I'm working or at rest, and whether I'm awake or even asleep.

Addressing the pain is very important to finding peace with it, and luckily enough, it's very frequently treatable via techniques as simple as rather aggressive massage and then proper, slow, deep stretching. This combination of techniques really can work wonders, and I encourage anyone that suffers chronic conditions or might suffer from them to educate themselves about trigger points, trigger point self-care, stretching, and yin yoga (a branch of yoga that targets the connective tissue more than the muscles and requires very little in the way of specialized skills and nothing in the way of putting a foot behind your head). I'd also recommend seeing a doctor, of course, but checking with a good massage therapist or trigger-point specialist (myofacial release specialist, Rolfer, etc.) before consenting to any kind of very invasive procedure like surgery.

Another technique that really seems to help is a meditative technique of observing the discomfort, traveling mentally inside of yourself and paying close attention to feeling what hurts and what's causing it to hurt actively and kinesthetically. When you observe the pain, without judging it as good or bad, lesson-teaching or punishing, often enough you gain some insight into how to deal with it or even to get rid of it. Affirmations help: "these tissues are relaxed in their natural state and the pain is subsiding" (actively in the present, not in the future tense). A practice called "dissolving" also helps.

To dissolve, you meditatively feel your areas of tension and discomfort, and any other feeling that isn't relaxed (including feeling "strong" or "powerful" in an area) and pretend that that feeling is caused by something like "energetic ice" in your tissue. Then you focus your attention on it like the rays of a hot sun and slowly let that ice melt and then the resulting liquid evaporate away. It's part of the process to actively visualize the evaporate leaving the body in some way, via exhalation or simply wafting out. To do a proper full-body dissolving session (called the "outer dissolving process" in Taoist meditation), you start at the head and do this with every area of tension or abnormality that you find, progressively getting lower and allowing the gaseous results of your work to sink slowly down the body and out the feet as you get to that area. Then you might do the process again, two or three times. It's best done standing in a relaxed position, but it can be done prone as well.

Finally, I recommend frequent use of the technique in yoga called savasana, corpse pose, because it is supposed to be able to rebalance the flows of all kinds of things (blood, hormonal secretions, etc., and even more esoteric "substances" like qi) in the body in a very strong way. Done two or three times a day for five to ten minutes at a go, it's absolutely fantastic for helping you to relax and let go of discomfort, even if it doesn't treat the underlying condition directly.

Even if none of these techniques help you feel better directly, the more meditative ones at least put you in touch with a more calm, more real, more healthy expression of your time and energy than the typical traps possible with chronic pain: suffering, worrying, self-pity (in particular), frustration, and the like.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

νούς υγιής εν σώματι υγιεί

For me it's been an ideal going back to the Greeks, although it was something of a mandate or social code for the Romans: a healthy mind lives in a healthy body. I haven't posted in a little over a week because I've been working on just that. As I may have mentioned, I train in a deep martial art from China called Yin Style Baguazhang, one of the so-called internal arts, and this past week, my friend and I played host to our teachers from Beijing. In the process, we got over forty hours of hard training in. That really had me thinking -- it's very important to have a healthy body if you want to have a healthy, balanced mind.

On the one hand, the brain and the mind it creates are part of the body, so if the body is in bad shape, it's likely that the mind will be as well. It doesn't have to be some complicated business about "toxins" or anything like that. It's very simple: being healthy in your body enhances circulation and respiratory efficiency, keeping fresh, oxygenated blood circulating in your tissues, including your brain. Furthermore, being unhealthy creates discomfort, and discomfort is universally distracting.

On the other hand, the energy we burn off in the process of keeping the body healthy can really help settle the mind. Unfortunately, one of my step-daughters is victim to having far too much nervous energy and has all kinds of inability to relax. Every time we "take her for a walk," so to speak (meaning take her hiking or go on a rather long walk with her or make her do some crazy yard work with us), she's far more settled and sleeps well, though she's usually a bit of an insomniac. Burning off excess energy is one of the purposes of the more vigorous asana practices in yoga, allowing one to get rid of the need to fidget and use the body because if the body cannot be still, then there is no chance for the mind to settle.

Thus, I urge regular exercise to anyone that wants to find their own Zen, be it as simple as walking or stretching a little on a daily basis. It doesn't have to be complicated, but for a healthy mind, one definitely needs a healthy body.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

A Couple of Nice Meditation Techniques

Last time I mentioned meditation with my wife, and throughout this blog, past and future, there will be a lot of talk on that topic. I figured that today is a good time to give a few tips I've found helpful over the years I've spent trying to learn and perfect this art, along with some nice little phrases I've learned along the way.

First, meditating is only "hard" to do because it's so easy. In the beginning, the main struggle is really a matter of relaxing the body and mind enough to begin the process properly, although eventually it becomes an exercise of heightened awareness and in which more subtle, directed purposes can be achieved, although those two are exercises in preparing oneself for more relaxing at a deeper, more profound level. Simply achieving the ability to more-or-less relax the body is tough enough, and taking that relaxation to the mind is indeed very difficult for most people. The reason is as I've mentioned before: letting go of things is needed, and that's a passive activity. People, I think, want to sit and look for a specific action when they meditate, but that's kind of the opposite of what's going on. As I said: if you're carrying a stone and want to put it down, how do you do it? There's no specific action -- you just let go of the thing (although it's wise not to drop it on your toes!). It's the same with thoughts and feelings and even stress and tension.

Something I heard a long time ago is that in Chinese, the combination of words that means "to meditate" essentially means "to sit still and do nothing." That's not entirely accurate, I don't think, the actual characters being 坐禪 (zuò chán, to sit and meditate, or zuò shàn, to sit and abdicate). Taking the second meaning as what is giving that saying its meaning, we see that "to sit and let go" is probably a better way to look at the art of meditation.

There are lots of kinds of meditation with lots of varying purposes and effects, but really, all an earnest beginner has to do to meditate is sit down and release whatever there is going on with them: physical tension, mental tension, memories, worries, hopes, fears, ambitions, spiritual conflict, etc. Doing that is really, really hard. My recommendations start with the physical side of things.

Sitting still for a long time quietly enough to notice what's going on in your body is tough. You don't have to adopt a specific esoteric posture like lotus (padmasana), though you can. Those have varying purposes, but for beginners, perhaps the most important is postural. Since usually a serious flexibility-based practice for a couple of years is required to achieve and hold padmasana comfortably for meditation-length periods of time, don't worry about that immediately and instead take from it the most important aspect for beginners: having good posture. Sitting for long periods with bad posture will ultimately hurt you a lot more than sitting for long periods with good posture, even if it hurts to sit in a position with good posture. If you're relatively inflexible, I recommend not using a cross-legged position (lotus, half-lotus, and "Indian style are progressively easier versions of these, though there are others). If the flexibility and circulation in your quadriceps, ankles, and knees is good enough, then you can use the position called seiza in Japanese (hero's pose, virasana, in Yoga), which is essentially sitting with the knees folded under you, sitting either on the heels or between them -- this pose has specific health benefits beyond flexible ankles, knees, and quadriceps because it stimulates flow in four of the six main meridians in the legs: the Spleen, Stomach, Liver, and Gallbladder meridians). Especially for beginners, I recommend you start in a hard-bottomed chair with your hips either at the height of your knees or just a few inches higher. Lower is uncomfortable over time, and too high is as well. Your feet should be on the floor, and you shouldn't use the whole seat of the chair, keeping your back well away from the back of the chair. Hold your own body up. If even a chair is too much, many things and much meditating can be done laying on the back, though this practice is actually considered more advanced because of the difficulty in staying awake.

The first "rule" you should play by when you set out to meditate or do almost anything else is to pay attention to and respect your body. There is some amount of time after which your body will have had enough. It's okay to push that boundary a little. You might break through it and find it was kind of temporary resistance. More often than not, though, if you are getting increasingly uncomfortable, it's time to end that phase of the practice for the time being. I'll give a catch-all activity that you can switch to if you become too uncomfortable to continue well.

Since quieting the mind is very difficult for most people (me included!!!), I'll suggest a couple of things that really seem to help my wife and I with things. First, you can focus on the breath, just paying attention to it going in and out, filling your stomach and chest, feeling it pass the nose and throat, etc. That works well, but I think you'll find that you're like I am: you forget that you're paying attention to your breath more often than you'd suspect you do. If that happens, do not get frustrated, just acknowledge it and bring your attention back to your breathing. When you really cannot continue focusing in that manner any more, then you're done for that time and should do something else. Forcing yourself physically or mentally will not work and is not meditation. Meditating is sitting and relinquishing: you can't force that.

You can take it a step further by counting the breaths. This is a powerful technique that is also quite difficult. There are different ways to do it, and ultimately the practice is somewhat arbitrary. Some people count up from 1 to 10 and then start over. Some people count up to some other number. Some people count down instead of up. I'm a strong believer in my wife's favorite method for this: try to count down from fifty (although you might have to start at ten or twenty and work up to fifty). You'll find that counting on the inhales and exhales is very helpful: inhale 50, exhale 50, inhale 49, exhale 49, etc. If you screw up the counting (as I almost always do), start over at 50. Don't beat yourself up over it or feel forced to stay there until you get to one. Usually I forget about the exercise entirely partway through and sit quietly, usually with my mind still abuzz with whatever pulled me off my count. I'm definitely no expert at this! Anyway, when you get to one, either start again or sit quietly until you feel the need to get up. You'll find your mind greatly quieted if you get all the way to one. Once you can consistently get all the way down to one, only count the exhales. It's much harder. This kind of concentration, from my experience a long time ago when I was much more serious and regular with my practice, is absolutely necessary for keeping on task on the more subtle "internal" side of meditation-based practices that you might end up engaging in on down the line.

For now, that's all I'll mention, though there are dozens of other nice ways to introduce beginners to meditation (listening is good, observing (like a candle flame or pretty thing) is good, chanting mantras or healing sounds is good, etc.). I want to take this opportunity to briefly mention savasana, Yoga's corpse pose, as a ever-present technique and always welcoming respite from whatever meditation posture you end up choosing. The link will tell you how to do it, in case you don't know, though I'll mention a little of that.

Basically, since it's corpse pose, the idea is to lay there like you're dead. It's really nice, if a little morbid, to actually spend a few moments at the beginning of the practice actively imagining that because, for me at least, it helps connect with my mortality while simultaneously hinting to me about where I'm storing my tension that should be released. You really want to relax into this pose. That doesn't mean you'll be guaranteed comfort in it, though it is usually quite comfortable. One thing -- you're a corpse in this pose, so if discomfort arises, part of the challenge of this pose is to endure rather than fidget and relieve. Your basic goal is to lay there and relax as fully as possible without falling asleep. The not-falling-asleep part is what makes it hard, and it is hard despite how wonderful it feels.

The main benefits of savasana, other than what is mentioned on the Yoga Journal page I linked to above, is that it really should balance out the blood and qi flows in the body. In other words, it should really help you relax and feel better. Many people feel their tensions and anxieties almost literally (or sometimes literally) "melting" or "sinking" into the floor, leaving their bodies and minds in the process. Many people also feel their energy redistribute more evenly and feel less stuck. According to a couple of authoritative sources (notably Hiroshi Motoyama), savasana really should be practiced before and after a yoga practice (it's often only practiced after, though in my limited experience and from my wife's wider base, I understand that too is often viciously shortchanged), which if you're holding a meditation posture with requirements on posture can be considered something of a yoga practice and so is nice before and after meditation.

So, if you're interested in meditation, don't wait! Start today! All you have to be able to do is sit still (or lay still) and breathe!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meditation With My Wife

One particular aspect of my single life that I often miss is that when I was single, I somehow "magically" had or made time for meditation practice every night before bed and often found periods during the day to do it as well. Sometimes I get all bent out of shape (okay.. only a little bit bent out of shape) when I start to think that that time is largely devoted to doing dishes that I didn't dirty or keeping up with the responsibilities of feeding the three ladies I live with along with myself. That, of course, is to a degree completely bull, but it carries its grains of truth.

The other thing is that a single person has a completely different going-to-bed dynamic than a person in a relationship. When you're single, you can go sit in the floor beside your bed (or across the room from it) by yourself and in the dark for as long as you want without being in any way offensive to anyone. When you're married, there kind of has to be an agreement to that effect. Now my wife is just about the lowest maintenance wife in the known universe, but I live also with the knowledge that she very much appreciates the bonding associated with going to bed together, even when quite literally all we plan to do is lie down and go to sleep. There's just something romantic about that, and it completely cuts into a before-bed meditation practice.

I once read a story about a rather developed meditator whose solution to that very problem was that he'd lay down with his wife and calmly wait until she fell asleep, and then he'd gently get up and go sit on a mat and meditate for as long as he wanted. Everyone was happy, I guess, but I fall asleep as fast as my wife does as often as not, and it feels a little deceitful. I would do it honestly, but it carries the double-secret connotation that I'd rather be doing that than lying down for the night. What a quandary.

Luckily enough for me, my wife is also interested in meditation, possibly even more than I am. For a while, we would meditate together for fifteen or twenty minutes before bed almost every night, but as time wears on, one or the other of us might have a night when we're tired and not feel like it, and we kind of drag each other out of the practice. There's also some kind of pressure that when the first person has had their fill, so has the second person. Of course, open communication usually reveals otherwise, but in the moment, there's still that distraction from the practice. We did it again last night, though, to rather good effect, and I'm very glad we did. I kind of miss that form of bonding with her as well.

Then we got up this morning and did it again at stupid-early-o'clock. The eventual plan, in my head, is to get up around five each morning or so and do a little moving around to enliven my body and then do some meditation until I'm ready to start the day. That's what we did together this morning also, but as I'm far stiffer in body than she is (actually nursing a few injuries deep in my muscles/joints at the moment), I don't think it was quite ideal, though I did like it. Rather unfortunately, the practice led to us ending the meditation and lying down while we waited for the kids to head out to the bus (minimal interaction with them in the morning is an important peace-keeping practice in our house, typically, because we're all a little more cranky in the morning). That led to passing back out and then running late for work later in the morning. I don't feel like the "stress" of that undid the peace of the meditation practice.

Weirdly, and I think it's worth noting, I woke up easily this morning at quite early (ten until five) without help, and usually I'm quite the late sleeper. I really think the meditation and stretching practice we did together the night before is the largest part of that, and I'm quite hopeful that it will be a continued effect of the practice.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Flavor Asceticism

I won't hesitate to admit it. I'm a foodie. I even blog about the food I make. One thing that really helps me truly enjoy food, though, is that I'm not hung up on things having to taste good. That's not to say that I'm interested in eating bad food because I'm not, but I am more than willing to put down quite a bit of stuff that tastes pretty bad, particularly if it's good for me. This is a skill that I acquired because it seemed like a good idea at the time... a challenge to rise to: can I "divorce myself from my taste buds?" I would ask, using my own creative wording.

Interestingly enough, I've been reading a book about internal things lately (particularly about the chakras, the book being Theories of the Chakras by Hiroshi Motoyama, which I found out about by reading one of my wife's yoga books: Yinsights by Bernie Clark). What I found in there really kind of resonated with some of the stuff that I've been thinking about since wanting to star this blog, and so I'm excited to talk a little about it, though I'll try not to be too technical because I'm not sure if I have even the faintest idea of what I'm talking about.

Here's how I went about divorcing myself from my taste buds, a practice that might be called "flavor asceticism," although it's not exactly that. Just as an aspirant might practice something like water asceticism to detach from comfort (water asceticism is the practice of pouring cold water over oneself, particularly in the winter, particularly exposed to the cold), this practice, though far less extreme, aims to separate one from the attachment that things must taste good. This is particularly useful for breaking the habit of soft drinks and whatnot. There are two main aspects to this practice that I engaged in:

  1. Eating largely only bland foods and drinking largely only water for a rather extended period of time (a week or two is usually sufficient);
  2. Exposing oneself regularly to healthy though not-that-good tasting things until they don't taste bad any longer (this recurs fairly often and is almost a test of will).
Step 1 is more important and easier, especially if someone already suffers from gastrointestinal issues. The goal is basically to eat some majorly bland stuff and drink pretty much nothing but water for a week or so. "Bland stuff" is really easy to come by: whole grains are almost all quite bland and boil down into a nice, nutritious porridge. Dried beans can also be made into a rather nutritious, only very mildly flavored soup, including only sparse amounts of vegetables such as cabbage. This isn't really a diet you'd want to live on, and honestly, I only did it full-out for a couple of days. After that, I had normal, though modest, dinners and very bland food otherwise for the other meals. The diet need not be vegetarian: boiled chicken with no salt or seasoning is really quite bland and can be eaten with plain steamed rice. Of course, the goal of this practice has nothing to do with time and has everything to do with learning to really taste your food, devoid of seasoning, particularly spices, extra salt, and sugar. Rice, for instance, has a very pleasant flavor all its own once you learn to find it. The same is true for oats in a starkly different way. For my purposes, I went for months without adding sugar to anything in my diet and avoiding all sweetened beverages after I started the process, though I only continued eating porridge occasionally (and only ate the beans stuff a couple of times). That meant drinking black coffee until I enjoyed it as well once I decided to reintroduce coffee into my diet.

In addition to divorcing myself from the perceived need for flavors and recognizing it as a want that I can do without, i.e. a preference, I also learned that many of the sugary drinks I used to like are far too sugary for my real tastes once I kind of reset them to a more natural level. To this day, I barely like to eat candy, have dessert-like foods only in serious moderation, and essentially never feel the need to drink soda, though I do have one every now and again (though only the high-end stuff now). I used to live on it, and I absolutely can't fathom how.

The second step is harder. A good thing you can use in the beginning, if you have a juicer, is carrot juice because it actually tastes good. If you don't like it at first, then start there, drinking a little every day until you like it (unless you just hate carrots). When you're ready for the real deal, get yourself some apple cider vinegar or something very "green" at a health-food store, like spirulina or chlorella. If you take herbal supplements of any kind, try putting the powder inside on your tongue instead of taking the capsule. Any of those things can be considered "good for you" while tasting rather crap. The idea isn't to blend up stuff that tastes bad purposefully so much as it is to not care if something tastes bad when you know it's good for you. To the lasting dismay of my wife and brother, I once got so exctied about cumin as a supplement that I ground some up and added it to a smoothie. It redefined the "Choco-Taco" entirely.

Eventually, if you can divorce yourself from your tastebuds, regardless of how you do it (bland food works fine if you're totally against "gross" stuff, but those green supplements are usually pretty good for you and help make you feel better anyway), I think it gives you an experience that opens the door to some very valuable perspective -- and remember, perspective is the gateway to wisdom.

For me, I've noticed, for instance, that since going through those processes, mostly to see if I could, I've become pretty discerning, and not just with food. My personal tastes no longer held so much sway over me, and I found that most of the things on the tv and radio were pretty pathetic. With kids that listen to the radio all the time and watch tv whenever they get the chance (we don't have cable, so it's rare at our house), I've been blessed with the opportunity to see how that discernment has worked out. Being teenagers of the sort that like anything with a driving base guitar line and angry undertones, they mostly like alternative rock. Some of it is good, some is alright, and some is downright the work of hacks. The kids usually disagree with my assessments initially, unless I like what they like, but more and more often, particularly the older one will come up to me and tell me that my analyses were spot-on. The younger one put a sign on her door that says the same thing in her own way: "There's nothing more annoying than arguing with someone who knows what they're talking about."

I mentioned the chakra book because I strongly suspect that this activity and the results I've experienced (not being swayed by my preferences so much and happy enough either way, so to speak) along with increased discernment in terms of the inherent quality of things is related to the third chakra (manipura, or the solar plexus/navel chakra). I'm not sure to what degree that's true, but it's an observation I made and felt was worth sharing in case anyone else that reads this is interested in that kind of study.

Most valuable from this experience, I think, is the freedom that I feel I have to enjoy things as I will and want instead of being a slave to them. If I make dinner for myself, and it's not so good in taste but made with good ingredients, then I'm fine with that. If I am in a situation in which I have to try something new, particularly with food, I'm almost never afflicted with a reaction of the "I don't like that" sort and am thus never nervous about whether or not I'll like some new food experience. In fact, I usually can safely assume that I will like it. I feel like I have the power to choose how and how much to flavor my food and that I can enjoy sweet things as a special time again, not as a standard, par-for-the-course taste experience. I know many people that do not enjoy drinking water because their tastes are so messed up on sugar that they "don't like the taste of water." All one has to do is give up sodas for a few weeks to notice a dramatic change in their overall feeling of well-being (or go back on them after that time and see how bad they make you feel!). It's a shame that there are people that feel like they can't have anything else.

A quick aside about that, to end this, because it bears mentioning. Has anyone else observed the skyrocketing popularity of drinks with trace amounts of vitamins and minerals in them (ones that happen to almost never be deficiencies in the West and are therefore not really needed in every food/drink product we purchase)? I'm particularly talking about the ones that teach us and our kids that water is supposed to come in vibrant colors and taste like candy. I think it's a sign that it's an almost imperative experiment to test out what life without added sugar is like for a few weeks or months.

So anyway, eat well, and note that things taste very good on their own if you take the time to start to pay enough attention to really learn what they taste like.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

A Favorite Story on Perspective

I told this story to one of the girls earlier in the week and find that I'm telling it quite often. I figure it's worth telling here, though I'm sure many people that are interested in this kind of content have probably read it or heard it before. I think the original is set in "ancient China" or some such, but the setting really can be any in which the time period fits the elements of the story. It could, of course, be adapted in a timeless way.

Once upon a time, there was a farmer who was wiser than he was taken for, and on his farm there were a number of animals that he kept including a few nice horses. One day, the horses broke loose and ran off into the hills, and by all appearances, the farmer had lost them. Upon hearing of his loss, many of the village folk came around to talk to him and to say to him, "Oh, what bad luck you've had!" and otherwise express their condolences at his loss.
To each of these people, the farmer replied the same way in a steady, patient tone, "Good or bad, who can tell?"

A few days later, his horses returned of their own accord, coming down out of the hills, and with them came several more fine wild horses of obviously high quality. The farmer, being no fool, stabled them all. Before long, word got around about his windfall, and folks came to talk with him, saying, "Oh, you were right! Look at those fine beasts! You've had a stroke of good luck here!"
To each of these people, the farmer replied the same way in a steady, patient tone, "Good or bad, who can tell?"

Not long after, the farmer had to rush into his field because he heard his son crying out in pain and emergency. He had been out trying to tame one of the wild horses and had been thrown, breaking one of his arms as he fell. The people soon heard and soon made their way to talk with their friend, saying, "Again you were right! Look at what has befallen you! It was bad luck after all!"
To each of these people, the farmer replied the same way in a steady, patient tone, "Good or bad, who can tell?"

A few weeks later, an official of the government came calling, addressing the farmer with his country's urgent call to war. There was a draft on, and each household was to send their oldest son to the war effort if he was fit to go, but as it turned out, the farmer's oldest son was the one that had broken his arm. Since he was unfit to go, he got to stay home. The people came around before long and told the farmer again, "Wow! You were right! You really are having good luck!"
To each of these people, the farmer replied the same way in a steady, patient tone, "Good or bad, who can tell?"

The story usually ends there, or at least it has each time I've read it. I gave the child that asked about it (not Clueless and Belligerent... the story kind of went over her head) an assignment: come up with another two or three rounds of how this story could progress, alternating in what seems like good news but later turns out to be bad news and then after that turns out to be good news again, and so on, until you're sure of the point of the story. She said something about the house catching fire and hurting the son that was spared the war, a treasure being found under the burned-down house that repaid the damage and made the farmer quite wealthy, and then the bandits that surely would try to take advantage of that. Then she kept going for a minute, really impressing me, saying the bravery of the farmer's sons was shown and so they were given a high position in the town guard, and so on and so forth. She actually wandered off, being a bit of a "floater" while exploring the scenario further or pretending to do so in order to humor me. I don't know how long she did it, but I thought it was pretty cool. Later, she told me she got the point:
"You can't tell if something is good or bad until the whole situation has played out, but since everything we do has a consequence or consequences, no situation is ever played-out all the way. That means we can't really ever tell if something is good or bad."

Of course, remembering and using that is the hard part!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Little Reminder

I was way off-center yesterday. The post I wrote helped me find it, and then I lost it again big-time thinking about all of the bull crap I had to deal with for work (in terms of incompetent people and computers, both of which usually frustrate me severely). After breathing a lot and talking with my wife for a while, venting mostly, I managed to sleep it off, but I kind of still feel the funk lurking just below the surface. I've got some techniques to try to deal with it, and when they work, I'll report them.

This afternoon provided me with a nice little reminder, though, that helped me laugh some stress off and relax. Laughing, by the way, almost always helps, but it's really hard to do when you're good and pissed off about something or really upset in some other way.

I heard my timer beeping like someone was pushing the buttons. The kids like to grab things and fiddle with them and wander off with them so I can never find them again when I want or need them, and that timer had a use to be put to in a matter of moments. Beep. Beep, beep. I called to the kids, who were in another room, "Bring my timer back please." It didn't come back. No children came into the room. Beep. Beep, beep. I paused, breathed a little, and then I congratulated myself for totally keeping my cool on something that in less ideal circumstances would have started a storm. Beep. Beep. "Seriously," I thought, "they've got to be kidding me." Beep. Beep, beep.

I still kept my head and finished the task I was already focused on. It only took a little time, and I could go calmly address the timer thing directly once I was finished. Focusing on what you're doing and nothing else is a good Zen habit, by the way, and it's harder than it seems to get into and keep. Then, just as I was finishing my little project, I heard beep, beep, beep, beep, beepeepeepeepeepeepeepeepeep.... "Whoa," I thought, "someone is going crazy with that thing!" At that point, having decided to wait to deal with it, though, I was in the clear for staying calm.

And that's when I realized it. The timer was in my pocket and was beeping because I was bumping it into the counter as I worked in the kitchen on my little project. I had thought that I had put the timer down and my cell phone in my pocket, but I had done the opposite. There I was fighting with myself not to lose my Zen over an obvious triviality, and then I found out that it wasn't even a real triviality -- things just weren't as they seemed.

I laughed out loud and thanked whatever was listening for the lesson: sometimes things just aren't as they seem, so until you figure them out, approach with curiosity and patience, not irritation and frustration.

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