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Archive for July, 2010

Today was a lot of fun. We went down to Boston and spent the day at the Children’s Museum with old friends and everyone had a great time. As I said this morning I was attempting to practice mindfulness as much as possible. Overall, I’d say it was a success. As I drove, I tried to just drive. When I played with the kids I just played. When I ate, I just ate. The eating was a bit of a challenge though. The place we went for lunch didn’t have their salad bar open and most of the foods were full of deli style meats and nowhere near healthy. I ended up getting an egg salad sandwich on a dark rye bread. I was able to sit and focus on the eating and stay mindful and it was the best egg salad I think I’ve ever had. Dinner was even worse. I ended up splurging and had something I haven’t had in over a month: a foot long chili cheese dog with mustard and onions and tater tots and a root beer to drink. I truly savored the experience. It was SO good to eat this fatty, salty and thoroughly delicious food and not feel guilty about it. I wasn’t eating to fill a void or to get a mental fix. I was just eating really yummy food from Sonic. It was also nice to know that this was a real treat now and that tomorrow I’d be back to my new eating lifestyle. I did regret it afterward though but not from guilt. Just like the Big Mac and Fries I ate a few weeks ago, the food gave me a stomach ache. I won’t miss not having it now that I’ve had this little reminder of what this food does to me now. A month ago, I would never have imagined craving a salad. Now, I can’t wait to dig into one.

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Today will be a challenge for me. We’re going down to Boston and going to spend the day at a museum that is going to be very busy. It’s going to be an exercise in distraction and interruption. My goal is to maintain a mindful attitude and to be as aware of my breathing and intentional in my actions as possible. This should be an interesting experience. Wish me luck!

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This is part 3 of a series where I answer some of the questions asked in the Savor book.

The Question:
Try to be fully aware of your inner motivations for wanting to reach your healthy weight. Why do you want to lose weight?

The Answer:
I have a few motivations for wanting to lose weight. One of the first reasons that I realized was that I was tired of being fat. I was tired of hating what I saw in the mirror and I was tired of worrying over what others think of me when they see me. When you are obese, you are carrying around a lot more than just extra weight. There are a lot of mental and social and psychological burdens that weigh on you as well. I was tired of the pain that my obesity brought and I wanted that pain to stop. Secondly, as I have said elsewhere, I didn’t want to die an early death due to complications from my extra weight. My weight has put me at risk of heart problems, joint problems, breathing problems, diabetes, stroke and other issues that I did not want to face. I was staring down the barrel of a gun and I decided to get out-of-the-way. Third, I want to be the best husband and father that I can be. If I have no energy and am suffering under great physical and psychological pain, I cannot be a good husband or father. I was setting a poor example for my children and teaching them habits that could put them in danger. I didn’t want to do that to my kids: I love them too much. I want to see them graduate from college, I want to see them get married, I want to meet my grandchildren. These are big motivators to lose the weight that is holding me back. In addition to the motivations to lose weight, I wanted to get a healthy mind. My depression and my anxiety were constant sources of suffering and through medical intervention and mindfulness practice, I have begun to get a healthy mind as well as a healthy body. I have found in Zen practice a way that encourages me to be aware of myself and my surroundings at all times and that encourages me to live in the now instead of being  sucked into the future or dwelling on anxieties about “what-ifs” and silly speculations about what others may think of me at some imaginary future time. With Zen practice, mindfulness has become practical. I find it impossible to sit and meditate without being intensely aware of the state of my mind. This mental exercise is helping me to lose the psychic weight that is in turn helping me to lose the physical pounds. These desires for a fit body and a fit mind go hand in hand in my case. Without one, I don’t think I could have the other.

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In a number of places in Savor, one is encouraged to be aware of ones breathing and to practice mindfulness while breathing. This is something that I have been working on and have been able to put into place even when I’m sitting at my desk at work. I find it to be a great opportunity to center myself and to calm myself in order to quiet my mind and my internal suffering. Today, while browsing the Plum Village web site, I came across the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing. This discourse list many of the breathing suggestions made in Savor (plus a few that are not in the book) in one place. It also helps to put it into context of a Buddhist perspective on the importance of mindfulness and breathing. I suggest you visit the site and read the entire discourse. If you are not interested in that, here are the 16 different breathing exercises that the discourse advises.

1. “Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath.
Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.”

2. “Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath.
Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.”

3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.” He or she practices like this.

4. “Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” He or she practices like this.

5. “Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.” He or she practices like this.

6. “Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.” He or she practices like this.

7. “Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.” He or she practices like this.

8. “Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.” He or she practices like this.

9. “Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.” He or she practices like this.

10. “Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.” He or she practices like this.

11. “Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.” He or she practices like this.

12. “Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.” He or she practices like this.

13. “Breathing in, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas.” He or she practices like this.

14. “Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the disappearance of desire.” He or she practices like this.

15. “Breathing in, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of all phenomena. Breathing out, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of all phenomena.” He or she practices like this.

16. “Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.” He or she practices like this.

These are great breathing exercises and I encourage anyone who is interested in mindfulness to begin to practice them. There are some terms in this list like “mental formations” that may not make a lot of sense to someone coming to this for the first time. In that case, I suggest picking up a copy of Savor and reading chapter 4 where these terms are defined much better than I would ever hope to be able to do.

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First goal reached!

Today, when I stepped on my scale, I was overjoyed to see it stop at 310. That means I have now lost 20 pounds! I have set a number of goals for myself in 20 pound increments and I am happy to have reached the first one. This was the easy one since it has really come about through changes to my diet and a limiting of my caloric intake. I am noticing that the loss is not as rapid as it first was and I know that I will soon need to ramp up my exercise and activity to continue the loss and I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully in the next week I’ll be able to start getting a good night’s rest again when I get a new CPAP machine. Right now, I’m dealing with the effects of sleep apnea and I’m constantly tired and have little energy for things like exercise after I am done working. I’m also sleeping a lot more because my body is not getting the rest that it needs due to my constant waking up just to breathe. With a CPAP, I need 6 hours of sleep and I’m well rested and ready for my day. Without the CPAP, I’ve been sleeping 9+ hours a day and needing a nap just to get through the day. I’m not letting my sleepless state keep me from eating healthy and even though I’ve been more tired than normal I’ve stayed the course in not drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages. This has been a real mental boost for me since I know that it means I don’t need them when I return to getting good sleep. With 20 down and 60 more to go, I’m pretty excited to start on phase 2 of my plans. Stay tuned to see my progress.

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Big mind: big problems. Small mind: small problems. No mind: no problems.
— Zen Proverb

We were talking about mindfulness at Sangha last night and I’ve had this proverb stuck in my head since then. Mindfulness is an easy enough concept to understand but it’s an entirely different thing altogether to put it into practice. When I sit for meditation, I find that my mind is very loud and unwilling to quiet down. The idea behind having a quiet mind, from what I’ve read and been told is to allow the mind to really live in the now. Beyond that it is the only way that we can experience unity with everyone and everything around us. If we each have a mind focused on “I” then we separate ourselves from one another. Only when we share empty minds are we really like-minded. This is still an idea that I’m trying to come to terms with. My mind is full of forms and attachments and they do not want to be put down. When I sit, I am amazed at the silliness of my own mind: the things that run through it as I meditate. For now, I will continue to try to stay focused on the task at hand. When driving, just drive; when working, just work; when eating, just eat. This is the best way to cultivate a simpler and simpler mind. It goes a long way toward quieting the silliness and the turbulence of a mind in overdrive and I do see some small progress being made on my part. I think that this will be a lot harder to do than losing the weight. For now, I’ll just sit and see where my mind attempts to go.

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I heard about this on NPR this morning and have now seen articles in Time and the New York Times about a study that was published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Library of Science. The study reviewed the results 148 other studies on social habits and have found that an increased level of social interaction is an important factor into determining overall health and life expectancy. While this is just one study and its findings are hard to quantify beyond the realm of meta-data, I have found that my own experiences mirror the findings of this study. My motivations for beginning this journey were to be the best father and husband that I could be. That means not dying early from complications related to obesity. If I did not have my family to motivate me, I would probably be still stuck in my previous lifestyle full of despair and depression.

One of the three jewels of Buddhism is the sangha, or spiritual community. The Buddha understood that we are all connected and that only through keeping strong ties to one another will we be able to work to end our suffering. I know that in the sangha I am associated with I have already begun to establish some friendships and have found them to be helpful for me already in staying motivated to keep up my practice. If you are attempting to put mindfulness or other ideas from Savor into practice and are having a difficult time with it, I would suggest finding a group of people to support you. I am getting support from my family and from my sangha. Without it, I would have already failed.

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