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Archive for November, 2010

This has been a difficult week for me at work. I have a project that I’ve been working on for months that I just want to get done with so I can move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. I need to get this project completed and deliver a high quality solution that will meet my customer’s needs. I was hoping to have delivered it yesterday except that the simple component I had to develop on Monday turned into a massive ordeal that has taken me four days to complete. Without going into a lot of technical details here, I’ll just say that it’s amazing how complicated creating an email message in one application and delivering it to another application that fills the task of delivering that message can be. It’s not like email hasn’t been around for decades. By Internet standards, email is a dinosaur. Oh, well, at least I have a solution I’m happy with now. I just can’t believe it took me as long as it did to fix this “simple” problem.

The reason I was able to solve the problem was because I was admitted that I couldn’t come up with a solution I was happy with. I could have been like a lot of technical people who rely on their own skills and egos to get things done but I kept my manager updated with my progress and admitted that I wasn’t sure how to solve this problem. Fortunately, he had experienced an issue like this once before and by working with him we were able to create a solution that I was able to implement in a matter of minutes. Sure, I spent three solid days working on the problem determined to find a solution but I didn’t let that determination keep me from seeking help when it was needed.

Determination is a very important trait to possess when you are trying to lose weight or learn something or accomplish a task. It will keep us focused on a goal and assist us in keeping to the path to reach our desired outcome. However, we can attach to determination just like we can attach to anything or anyone else. When we attach to determination it ceases to  be something helpful and becomes obsession. There are very few obsessions I know of that are ever helpful in the long run. Personally, I’m obsessive about breathing but I don’t see that as a real problem for me. I think that’s about it as far as healthy obsessions go. The problem is that we have a hard time seeing when we cross the line from determination to obsession because of that little thing we like to call the ego. It’s the job of the ego to cling to things like a possessive gorilla with a bunch of bananas.
Go ahead: try to take a banana away from a hungry 600 pound gorilla. It ain’t going to happen. Keeping the gorilla from grabbing the bananas in the first place is the best way to keep us from going bananas with our obsessions

How do we do this? It seems like there is always something that is crying out for our attention. Someone always needs us to do something or there are things we feel we need or must have in order to be happy. Those things cause us to be determined about something (either to achieve our goal or to avoid whatever it is making demands of us). So, determination is really nothing more than a commitment to put forth the required amount of effort to get something done. This is a good thing. There are a thousand good examples of determination I could use here: practicing for a race or to learn a piece of music or to lose five pounds or whatever. The ego becomes involved when we begin to identify with the object of our determination. Once we can apply the word “I” to a thing or a goal, the door for the ego is opened and the gorilla starts to smell those fresh bananas. It’s only a matter of time before he pounces on them. Once you equate your happiness or peace or whatever to achieving whatever you are determined to do/get/learn/etc. you become attached to it. At that point, determination goes from a positive to a negative. If I think I can’t be happy unless I’m able to bench press 150 pounds or win the affection of that cute girl in accounting I’ll never be happy: even if I do get strong enough to bench 150 or find myself with the girl of my dreams.

There are a lot of reasons for this and I’m not going to try to explore them all here. The one I would like to focus on is that when we attach to the object of our desire or become obsessed with something, we build up impossible dreams and ascribe mystical power to something other than ourselves to determine our happiness (or whatever we think the object of our desire will bring us). We build up a false separation in our minds between ourselves and the object of our desire and then we try to bridge that separation as if our lives depended on it. This never works. In the history of humanity, it’s never worked and it never will. That we keep believing it works and we keep acting as if it will work is the greatest affirmation of the phrase “Delusions are endless” that I’ve ever seen. When we are determined to do something, that is good. When we are obsessed, that is not good. Being aware of how we move from determination to obsession is the key. There is no one answer that I can offer that will work for everyone. You need to find what drives you and examine what your expectations are. When we see our motivators for what they are, the gorilla fades away and we can avoid the attachments that drive us to obsession in the first place. Then we are able to have our determinations and experience the real joy that comes from having that determination rewarded.

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My trip to Trader Joe’s the other night scored me another item for my pantry that comes highly recommended: Trader Joe’s Three Grain Tempeh. Instead of just making fake bacon, I did my research and found a recipe I just happened to have all the ingredients for. Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and made some minor adjustments to make it more to my liking and I was quite pleased with the results. In order to attempt this recipe you must like tempeh, chili peppers and onions. If you do, this is totally worth it. The sweetness of the onions really plays off the heat of the jalapeños and the soy sauce brings out the flavors. Then, the crunchy tempeh rounds out the dish very well. Unfortunately the pictures of this didn’t come out as well as I’d like them to but I was trying out the new camera on the phone instead of using my normal camera to get pics of the food.

Oniony Tempeh

Ingredients

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 package tempeh
1 yellow onion
1 red onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 red jalapeño
1 green jalapeño
1/2 tsp. low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar

Directions

1. Dice the tempeh into small rectangular pieces.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the tempeh. Cook the tempeh until it is crispy and brown on all sides.
3. Remove the tempeh from the oil and put aside
4. Cut the yellow and red onions in half from top to bottom and then cut each half lengthwise so that you end up with long strands of onion (think half circle onion rings) – incidentally,  this type of cut is referred to as Lyonnaise.
5. Sauté the onions until they are translucent and aromatic. While the onions are cooking, mince the garlic and slice the jalapeños into thin pieces.
6. Sauté the mixture briefly the add in the tempeh and stir around.
7. When everything is mixed well, add the soy sauce and the brown sugar. Stir continuously until the brown sugar has dissolved and the tempeh and onion mixture has been completely coated.

 

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I’m currently reading Brad Warner’s new book Sex, Sin and Zen and have been enjoying it a lot. His writing style in this book is very similar to his other books and he is entertaining, enlightening and educational all at the same time. As the title suggests, the book has a lot to say about sex. However, there’s a good bit of Zen in there too.

One of the topics Mr. Warner covers is a discussion on whether or not sex can be a path to enlightenment. It’s an interesting discussion and he doesn’t give a straight answer about the subject (when has a Zen master ever given a straight answer to a question) though he expresses his doubts that it could be done easily. Instead, he advocates sitting in meditation as a more effective path. I really loved his rationale for this: meditation is boring; it’s so boring that learning to be open to your true self in the midst of it will make it possible to be open no matter what you’re doing.

I’m nowhere near as skilled a writer or communicator as Brad is so I’m simplifying his argument quite a bit and I do recommend the book if the subject matter is of interest to you and you want to dig deeper into what he has to say about this. What he said really did strike a chord with me since I have found this to be true for myself. There are few things more boring than sitting on your ass for 20 minutes trying to keep a clear mind without anything to hold your brain in check. If you can find peace of mind while doing this, it really does become easier to find it at other times. I think it’s easier sometimes to have peace of mind while a small child is going “Dad, dad, dad, dad, DAD!!” at you every two minutes with one silly question after another than it is to find it while sitting in meditation.

I’ve only been sitting in meditation for 4 months now but I’m already starting to see the truth in this. When I’m in the middle of a frustrating or annoying experience, it is easier for me to deal with the feelings that I have in those times. Likewise, when I am happy or having fun, I’m able to focus on those good feelings rather than have my mind wander away from the present moment. I am able to be my true self with a little less effort. It’s still quite a struggle to do most times but I have seen some improvement. The fact that I’m even aware that it is what I should be doing is a great improvement in and of itself. To bring things back to the topic of eating and weight, when I was stuck in my old habits and patterns, eating was just something I did. It was like breathing or sleeping or having a heartbeat: I didn’t have to think about it and often couldn’t control it if I wanted to. Now I find that my enjoyment of food and eating has gone up quite a bit even though I do far less of it. That still strikes me as ironic since it is so counterintuitive to the way we normally think more=better. A lot of that new found enjoyment is a direct result of the time I have spent in meditation. I’m much more comfortable in my skin and more at ease with who I am. I’m learning to live with my self and be open to allowing my true self to come forward instead of the false self that I we are so often wrapped up in. I’m going through the chocolate into the rich creamy nuggety center of the real self. It’s even better than I thought it would be.

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Well not really but sort of. I guess I need to preface this with the news that we finally have a Trader Joe’s here in Maine. Now that the crowds have died down (a bit), I ventured over there last night. It was great to see all the old familiar Trader Joe brands along with low prices on all kinds of great things. One of the things picked up was the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice mix. It came highly recommended from another blog that I read a while back and don’t remember the address of right now. That blog included a few recipes for what to do with this spice mix. One of the recommendations was to put it into oatmeal. I tried this today and am pleased with the results. It’s a little odd at first but pumpkin pie flavored oatmeal works. Now, if I only had any coffee left at home I could try making my own pumpkin-spiced flavored beverage. I guess that will have to wait for another day.

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As of earlier today, I was considering my “official” weight to be 272 pounds. That’s a few pounds more than one of my scales reads and a few pounds less than the other. Regardless of which scale is right or closer to the truth, the fact is that I have continued to lose weight and feel really good about myself. In the next few days, I’m going to have to go out and get smaller pants for the second time. I was at a 44 inch waist and then I dropped to a 42 and now I’m down to a 40 in waistline. I probably need to get a new belt soon too since I’m on the last hole of the belt I bought a couple of months ago. I’m still on track to hit the 250 mark towards the end of the year so I have a goal that I am continuing to work toward. These are all great things to have taking place as they encourage me to keep working and losing the weight.

A few days ago, I noticed that I’m no longer ashamed of myself when I look in the mirror. I’m no longer seeing a fat man stare out at me when I go to see how I look in the mornings or when I wash my hands in the bathroom. Sure, I still have a belly and it sticks out but it’s not a huge thing taking up a massive amount of space hanging over the top of my pants and stretching my shirts too tight. I don’t feel skinny by any means but I’m also not ashamed of how I look any more. I don’t know how long its been since I felt this way. When you consider that most of my life I have felt fat and been unhappy with myself, these feelings really are rare for me. I’m pleased to share this here with the entire world. I am really and truly happy with myself and accept who and what I am as I am.

Often, it is our desire to be something we are not that causes us to suffer. Other times we suffer because we attempt to hold back time and prevent our self from changing. This is why the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment is critical to ending our suffering. Misunderstanding about the meaning of the word attachment as used in Buddhism has caused a lot of people to come to the conclusion that Buddhism is nihilistic or demands that those who follow it remove themselves from everything around them. This is not true at all. In fact, as I have been reading and studying and thinking about it, the Buddhist ideal is almost the exact opposite of this. When we attach to our self, what we are really attaching to is our imaginary idea of what we want our self to be. Instead of being comfortable with who and what we really are, we become upset that we are not what we wish we were: this is the Buddhist definition of attachment that we are encouraged to abandon. Non-attachment at its core means being able to accept things as they are in the moment and allow them to change over time. I think I am catching the smallest glimmer of this right now. I’m not concerned that I don’t weigh between 230-250 pounds, nor am I disgusted with were I actually am: my weight is my weight and that is all it is. I am becoming detached from it and see it in a new and, I think, healthier way.

When one sits in meditation, especially Zen meditation, the self is all there is. The constant chatter and noise of the mind and its incessant wandering from one thing to the next is all one has for company while sitting on the cushion. The reality is that the self is not something that can ever be eliminated or detached from. Living with the self that one meets on the cushion is the challenge one faces while in meditation. As I have spent more time sitting and learning how to calm my mind, I am finding that I am more comfortable with my self as it is. I’m nowhere near becoming some sort of enlightened Zen master but I’m able to see now why it is important to continue in the practice. Practicing Zen makes the act of seeing ones self under the cold harsh light of reality bearable. My image of my self and how I feel about it is changing. My self is changing on a moment by moment basis as I come into contact with everyone and everything around me and my comfort level with that change is greater. I find that I am having less trouble looking others in the eye and speaking to them clearly and with confidence. Is it because my confidence has grown? Possibly. However, I think it is more likely because I no longer feel like I’m not worth the attention of others. With a clarity of self-image comes the realization of “OK-ness” with the self and the world around us.

I hope that each and every person who reads this will be able to find the peace that comes from acceptance of their self for what it is. If I am feeling this way after having made the smallest of progress, I cannot imagine the clarity and peace that comes from further practice. I think I am seeing the reality of this Zen proverb played out

To obtain a certain type of thing, one must become a certain type of person. Once one is that certain type of person, that certain type of thing no longer matters.

As I become the certain type of person who is comfortable with their weight and lifestyle, obtaining my goals becomes a secondary focus that happens naturally and organically as a result of my effort. It really is amazing to observe these changes in myself and experience these things first hand. Whether I make it to 250 this year or not doesn’t matter to my. I’m just really excited to see where I’ll be heading in 2011.

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