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Archive for December, 2010

I have the opportunity to meet with others once a week for meditation. This is a great time for me but there are many others who, for one reason or another cannot meditate with others. For me, that’s the other six days of the week. Fortunately, I found the Online Meditation Crew to keep in touch with. They are a group of people who are joined via Twitter and sit together a few times a day. They stay in touch using the hashtag #OMCru. Even though it is a virtual connection, it’s nice to know that there are others sharing their practice and its a great motivator to continue to sit.

One of my problems is that I’m pretty busy so I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter. Ideally, I could configure twitter to send me SMS messages for when someone uses the hashtag #OMCru in a tweet. Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t do this any more. So, being the inquisitive and tenacious geek that I am, I have found a solution to always stay in touch with the #OMCru tweets whether I can visit twitter or not.

1. I have an RSS feed for a search for all tweets containing #OMCru. http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23omcru

2. Using Yahoo.com feed alerts, I set up notifications for “as they happen”

3. When a tweet is posted with the hash tag #OMCru, I get notified so I know what’s happening and can take time to meditate if at all possible.

Three simple steps to stay connected with others that I can share my practice with. Additionally, this helps me keep in touch with everyone who is a part of this growing group since new members are always joining in and it can be hard to follow them unless you’re on top of the tweets. This gives me a better chance of making sure that I can use twitter to connect with others who I am interested in following.

Online Meditation Crew

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I’ve been reading the book Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagan lately and have really enjoyed it. The book’s goal is pretty much outlined in its title. It aims to present a clear and simple presentation of Buddhism using language that is easy to understand. Mostly, it succeeds. In the middle of the book, there is a discussion on meditation and the hows and the whys around it. As someone who has been practicing for six months, this isn’t something that I really need an introduction to but it is still a fun read to see how he presents the information about meditation. One thing he does cover is just how difficult it can be to begin meditation. The fact is that sitting quietly and focusing on the breath while doing nothing is boring and difficult to do. However, Mr. Hagen then follows this up with a passage that really struck a chord with me.

You will gradually learn to sit like a mountain. Though thoughts will arise, they are merely clouds passing by the mountain. The mountain need not be perturbed by clouds. The clouds pass on, and the mountain continues to sit— observing all, grasping at nothing.

This is a simple, yet profound, metaphor. When we first start sitting, we try to do it with a goal in mind. I know this is true for me: even if the goal is to just sit with a quiet mind. However, approaching meditation with a goal is not going to benefit us at all. If we do that, we turn meditation into just some other thing that we do. In all seriousness, if I sit with a goal in mind, I may as well use that time to sit on the toilet because that’s a goal that I can actually accomplish by sitting. So, what’s the point? Why do it?

To our Western minds, it is quite strange to approach something with no goal or purpose to it. Even when we do something for enjoyment or entertainment we have a purpose to it. Meditation, on the other hand, isn’t going to allow us to approach it like this. There are many benefits to meditation and there have been an astounding number of studies that have shown meditation to be beneficial in dealing with a number of things. Even though it is beneficial, Zen meditation isn’t concerned with those benefits, per se. When we meditate we are engaging our mind in something completely different from its normal mode of operation. There’s nothing like meditation to illuminate the true nature of our minds.

The clouds pass on, and the mountain continues to sit— observing all, grasping at nothing.

If you want to see just how incessant your mind can get with its chattering and constant jumping from one thing to another, spend 10 minutes in meditation. You’ll be amazed at the hundred or more thoughts you will have in that short time. It quickly becomes apparent why the normal state we find our mind in is referred to as the “monkey mind”.

However, when we continue to meditate, a subtle change starts to take place. Eventually, quieting the mind becomes a bit easier. Moving your mind from a state of constant motion to a place of rest becomes almost believable. The mind will never really give up doing what it has evolved to do but it becomes easier to let it to do its thing without being a distraction. Once we have reached this point it becomes easier to see the world as it really is. It becomes easier to not confuse our thoughts with our self. Personally, I’m still waiting for this to happen but I’ve been told by a number of people that this is the case. Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of this and it is always startling when I do. However, trying to approach my meditation with the goal of getting another glimpse will guarantee that I won’t get it. Last night and this morning while I meditated I was able to get a glimpse of this and I was able to just let it be what it was. I was able to let the clouds pass by without grasping at them. It’s only taken about six months to get to that point. I figure I may have had about one minute out of thirty minutes worth of meditation in this state between the two different meditation sessions. It’s only a minute but it’s a start. Maybe I’ll get a few more seconds glimpse again soon. For now, I’ll just keep sitting and we’ll see what happens.

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The Christmas season officially hit our home this weekend. We got the tree, decorated the house and started to buy the gifts for the kids. A lot of Christmas music was played and hot chocolate was consumed with joy. I consumed a lot more than just hot chocolate though. After making it through the Thanksgiving holiday with no major setbacks and dipping below the 270 barrier and fitting into a 38 inch waist I got bit by the food bug. Bad. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a food addict. Fortunately, I didn’t go too far overboard with things but I definitely consumed way more than I have been used to. Most of it was also not good for me either. I had candy, soda, hamburgers, fries, soda, chili, nacho chips, doughnuts and more soda. I completely ignored my usual food choices and ate pretty much whatever I wanted. I did it with full knowledge and awareness of what I was doing and I didn’t let that stop me. Even though I ate more than I normally would I didn’t consume the way I would have once upon a time because I can’t physically do that any more but it was definitely calorie overload. I’ve already put the brakes on this behavior and have stuck to water, coffee and salads for today and I plan on having a nice salad for dinner tonight but this weekend really was an eye opener for me.

My brain is wired to respond positively to sugar and fat and salt and even though I’ve made some big changes, this basic issue hasn’t changed. I don’t know why I was craving sweet things so much this weekend but I was. When I took the kids to see Tangled this weekend I enjoyed, and I really mean enjoyed, a bag of Reese’s Pieces and a large Root Beer. I haven’t had a sugar rush like I had on Saturday in a long time and I enjoyed it. After this little “exception” to my normal food choices, it became very easy to make more “exceptions”. After all, I’d already “blown it” for the day right? And on Sunday it was easy enough to make another exception since I’d “blown it” the day before. See how the reasoning of an addict works? As I look at it now I realize how ridiculous it is though at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable. It can be quite a shock to come to your senses in the middle of a “food bender” like this and that’s the shock I had yesterday. I actually had the shock while I was pulling into the drive through of a Taco Bell. I really wanted something full of greasy meat and cheese and a big ass Mt. Dew to wash it down. Fortunately, my wife was there to ask me if I was making a good decision and right then and there I realized what I was doing and instead, because I had the window down and was ready to order, I got a few of their “fresca” items which aren’t really too bad when you look at their nutrition information and a bottle of water to go with it. I made it a point to not eat junk food or snack for the rest of the day and enjoyed a nice tofu dish for dinner.

My biggest regret about the weekend was that I didn’t get to the ice cream before I came to my senses. OK, I’m kidding (kind of). Actually, I’m not beating myself up over it or wallowing in regret. I’m putting the past where it belongs and I’m focusing on the now. Regardless of what I ate yesterday, or the day before, or the hour before now, I always have a choice to do the right thing with the next meal. Being regretful won’t help me in any way and make it harder for me to continue on the path of healthy choices. Why is that? It has to do with my motivators for why I eat what I do. Since I have these addiction issues, my brain wants to lift my mood if I’m feeling down or upset so wallowing in regret will give my brain even more motivation to try to “lift” me out of it by consuming things that are bad for me. It’s a horrible vicious cycle that quickly spirals out of control. This is where the Noble Eight Fold Path really shines as a way to put an end to suffering. Since I’m practicing right view and right mindfulness and right intention I’m able to keep this in perspective and move on. Instead of feeling upset about my “failure” or trying to force myself to “behave the way I should”, I allow the feelings and regret to fall away since my focus is on the present moment and my experiences right now. This also makes it possible for me to open up to the entire world about something that would be a source of shame for me if I were nursing regrets. This is what the Buddhist concept of detachment comes in to play. I’m detached from the past and allowing it to be what it is instead of clinging to it. Often in the West, we read or hear about the concept of detachment and we see it in a negative light or as some type of nihilistic approach to life but it’s not really like that at all.

If you’re struggling with a “failure” of your own or you are kicking yourself over mistakes of the past, I hope you can take something away from this. I screwed up, made a few mistakes, felt regret for a short while, applied the correct remedy to it and acknowledged it for what it is. After that, moving on was easy. Telling the entire world about it was just as easy. My brain is still trying to push me to consume foods that aren’t good for me but my awareness is making it easier for me to allow my brain to rattle on and scream and beg for something bad and I am able to resist it. I’m not resisting through an application of will power because anyone who has ever struggled with an addiction can tell you that will power is useless to beat an addiction. Instead, I’m applying the correct remedy to the problem and making the right choices at the right time. That’s the most that anyone can ever do.

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As I’ve said in my previous two posts, I’ve been thinking about attachment a lot lately. As I examine my own thoughts, ideas and attitudes about attachment, I’ve come to realize that a majority of my attachments are to mental concepts and ideas. Sure, I have physical things that I have attachments to but if I were to categorize them into what’s called the realm of mind or the realm of eyes, more of my attachments would be to things in the realm of mind.

One thing I’m attached to is writing. It may look like I haven’t been writing as much but that is in part due to a renewed interest I’ve had in a personal writing project that I’ve been working on for about a year now. I don’t know what it is about writing that I find so enjoyable but putting my thoughts into words really does seem to do something for me. This project I’m working on is nothing like anything else I’ve ever written and it’s much more involved than anything you may read here. No, it’s not some great work of epic intellectual showmanship. In fact, it’s very likely the opposite of that: I’m working on a graphic novel.

I had the idea that planted the seed for this work last December and I started to take notes about it back then. After that, I actually started to write the damn thing instead of just thinking it would be cool to do “some day”. Eventually, I met with an artist and had a full-fledged project on my hands! As things turned out, the artist couldn’t do the work since the pay (nothing) wasn’t enough for her to invest her time in. I’ve continued to look for an artist but haven’t had much luck so in addition to revisiting the 68 pages of material I already have written, I’ve begun to learn how to draw comic illustrations and I’m working on the visual aspect of the project as well. I’ve written 66 pages and have almost completed illustrations of one page. So, I’ve got that going for me.

Since I’ve been so preoccupied with writing and learning a new skill the blog has taken a bit of a back seat to the other project. This is because of the particular way that I attach to things. As is obvious to anyone who spends time reading through some of my posts, I am a hard-core no-appologies-about-it geek. Part of what makes me a geek is my ability to obsess over something. I’ve been that way all my life: books, movies, music, television, comics, cooking, programming, theology, philosophy, optics, sci-fi, Star Trek, Star Wars, the Internet, World of Warcraft and many other things that I’m not recalling have all been subject to my almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge/experience of something once I set my attention to it. The end result of this is that I have collected an impressive amount of knowledge about stuff that nobody really needs to know. Seriously, you don’t want to play Trivial Pursuit with me (just ask my wife).

This is what I mean by attaching to things in the realm of mind. For me, writing is just another thing that I obsess over. The past week, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the story that I’m trying to tell and I’ve had ideas for plot, outlines, story arcs and visual elements that I want to work into the book. When I attach to an idea, I do it with everything in me. This has been a source of a lot of enjoyment for me over the course of my life but it’s also worked against me. Regardless of whether an attachment is good or bad or indifferent, having it can and will cause suffering in the end. This is because when we attach to something, we begin to identify it as part of our “self” and we see ourselves as being a part of something external and other. Whenever we feel like we can attach a label to ourself, “I am a liberal/conservative”, “I am a writer/artist”, “I am a male/female”, “I am this or that” are all attachments that cause us to lose sight of our true self.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to stay aware of how I might be attaching to this latest iteration of geek obsession. It’s a fact that I love to write. It’s a fact that I am enjoying myself. It’s a fact that my natural inclination is to obsess over something to the point of harming myself. So, what am I going to do about this? I’m going to do exactly what you see me doing here. I will acknowledge it for what it is, I will be mindful and aware of my own behaviors and attitudes and I’ll do my best to remain present in the moment regardless of where I may find myself.

I think one reason that I am so apt to attach to mental constructs is that they can often be a way for me to block out the world around me. I often have a hard time trying to figure out how to deal with people and things so I think this is one way I limit my exposure to others. Who here thinks that it works or is a good idea? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? I didn’t think so. Usually, this just blows up in my face and I end up with bigger issues than I had when I first attempted to ignore them. My own weight is a great example of that: I spent years ignoring it until it hit 330. How’s that for blowing up? This time, I’m not going to ignore the attachment as I see it forming. Instead, I’ll try to apply the Buddhist approach and acknowledge it for what it is without judgement. I will not try to make it go away by force of will as that would not work anyway. This way, I will be able to allow it to run its course without causing undue suffering. The up side is that it should also let me continue to focus on doing other things that I enjoy (like writing for this blog). I’ll try to keep my progress with this self-experimentation updated here and record how it goes. One of the most basic tenets of Buddhism is to not accept anyone’s word for something but to experience it for yourself. That’s what I’m going to do with this latest budding attachment. Just consider me your friendly neighborhood Buddhist guinea pig.

My New Self Portrait?

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The title of this post isn’t a reference to my age. I’m not that old yet. It is, however, a reference to my shrinking waistline. Having lost over 60 pounds, I’ve gone from wearing 44 inch jeans down to wearing 38 inch jeans (almost).  I found some pants on sale the other day and since it was a really good price, I tried on a pair of 38 inch jeans just to see if they’d fit. Much to my surprise, they did. They were a bit tight but I was able to wear them and not feel like I was kidding myself. Needless to say, they came home with me.

They just keep getting smaller

I’ll probably hold off on wearing them in public for a few more weeks out of consideration for the welfare and well-being of my fellow humans but it felt good to see myself going down another size again. I mentioned on my Facebook status that I had just bought a pair of 38 inch jeans for the first time this century and a friend of mine was kind enough to point out that I should have said millennium. Isn’t it nice to have friends who help you keep things in perspective? All kidding aside, it feels weird to have gotten to a goal that I had set for myself such a long time ago. I knew that I’d probably be back to a 38 inch waist once I had lost 80 pounds so I’ve had this number in the back of my mind for a while now. I hadn’t really mentioned it because I feel that it is more important to focus on the journey where I am rather than on the destination as this leads to an improper perspective on things and can actually do more harm than good. Now that I’m here and the destination is where I’m actually at, I don’t feel the way that I imagined I would about it.

Back when I weighed 330 pounds and I was wearing jeans that had a 44 inch waist and a belt that was 50 inches in diameter, it seemed like reducing my waistline by half a foot in diameter was never going to happen. I might as well have set a goal to grow feathers and start flying. I guess it’s a good thing that I decided to go for the waistline changes as I imagine getting flight feathers has to itch quite a bit. I’m extremely happy to be here now and this is such a wonderful place to be but I’m already looking ahead some more. I still have about 20 pounds to lose before I hit the 80 pound mark so does that mean I’ll actually be at a 36 inch waist? What happens as I continue to lose weight beyond the 250 pound goal I’ve set for myself? Will I get down to a 34 inch waist? That will be 10 inches off of my waistline.

This is the nature of our reality. We are always looking ahead and thinking about the next thing. The focus of Buddhist practice is to just be aware of the present moment instead of being focused on the past or the future. In fact, Buddhism would encourage me to not even have goals to achieve or work for as they will only cause attachments and (even if they are “good” goals) suffering. I’m seeing for myself just how true that is. If I would have been more focused and attached to getting to a 38 inch waist, I would be upset because I don’t feel the way I imagined I would. If I had really felt that “once I get to a 38 inch waist I’ll be happy” I’d have been in a much worse place than where I started off. Yes, I’m wearing a pair of jeans that have a 38 inch waist and I’ll be able to expand my collection of jeans with more 38 inch jeans in the next month or two but I’m still far from being at a “healthy” weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be where I am right now, but I’ve been thinking a lot about attachments lately so this is how I’m thinking about this milestone. Living in the future is anxiety and living in the past is depression and both of these are types of suffering. So, I’ve been learning to be present in the present and be fully involved in where I am today, this hour, this minute, this second. Today, I’m able to wear jeans that have a 38 inch waist! I used to wear jeans that were a 44 inch waist! In the future, I will be able to wear jeans of an even smaller size! See how that works? Because I’m being fully grounded in today I’m able to have the same relation to the future and the past that I have to the present. Being fully integrated in the present moment means that fears and regrets diminish the same way my waist has.

Wherever you find yourself today, spend some time thinking about how great it is to be where you are right now. Celebrate the fact that  you are where you are. Don’t think about where you want to be, don’t long for or loathe where you came from. If you don’t have a toothache right now, be happy that your teeth don’t hurt. If you don’t have a broken bone, be glad that you don’t have a cast on. If you are reading your favorite blog, be happy that there is a new post two days in a row (and thanks for considering this your favorite blog). There are so many things that make this present moment good for us to waste our time on how it could be different.  If you really feel so miserable that you can’t think of any good thing at all with the moment you’re in right now, be thankful that not everyone feels that way. Regardless of how you feel, spend some time in introspection and work on seeing things as they really are without allowing your wants or regrets or fears or desires to cloud your perception of them. You’ll find that it’s not as easy as you’d think and you’ll find that it can be more rewarding than you’d imagine it could be.

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As I’ve mentioned here before, I usually weigh myself on two different scales and they are almost ten pounds off from one another. This has caused me some frustration as I try to split the difference between them to get a more accurate picture of where my weight really is. Lately, things seemed to have gotten even worse. My bathroom scale now has me under 260 while my Wii fit tool has constantly had me over 271. This morning I made it a point to pick up the Wii Fit board, blow on the feet a bit to make sure nothing was lodged in the sensors and really do my best to make sure the board was on a level surface. When I got on it today, it said my weight had gone down by 4.4 pounds and I was now under 270. Once again, my scales are both showing me losing weight at about the same rate regardless of what the actual number is. I don’t know if one of the sensors on the Wii balance board was malfunctioning or if there was another issue but a measurement that is more in line with what I am expecting to see is a welcome change. Even though I was not getting discouraged about a lack of any real change it was beginning to make me wonder if I was going to have to make any more drastic changes to keep losing weight.

With the 270 mark now in my rear view mirror, I am in the final quarter of my original weight loss goal. I’m down 61 pounds and have 19 to go. As I continue to live in a way that is as healthy for me and the environment as much as possible, I see the weight loss as a natural side effect of this effort. That’s been one of my goals all along: to change myself so that weight loss is a natural and organic component of, my life. If I were going into this with just the intention of losing weight, I would fail. Attachment to being healthy can be just as bad as being unhealthy. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Being on vacation really allowed me time to just relax and think about things that I normally don’t have time to. There’s something about having a couple of cross country flights to really give you time to think. Plus, there was the time change to get used to: I kept waking up around 4:30 A.M. for the first couple of days and this gave me pleanty of time to sit quietly and think as I waited for the exercise center to open at 6:00.

Attachment is a hard subject to really wrap your mind around. We do it without realizing we do it. Attaching to things, people, ideas, goals, desires, dreams, concepts and aversions are all a part of our mental makeup. We either want to get something or keep something away or we want to be something or control the actions or thoughts of another and in each case, it leads to suffering. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are right view and right action. These two parts really help us to deal with our attachments and to see them for what they are. When I first started to lose weight, getting healthy was my only goal. I wanted to be a different person. I had a lot of misconceptions about who and what I was. I was attached to my old lifestyle and I was attached to an ideal that I could never achieve. It is only as we practice and begin to examine things as they really are and attempt to see their true nature that we begin to see our attachment for what it is. My attachments to my overweight and my attachment to a skinny and fit body that I could never have were making me crazy. When we attach to something, we think of it as a part of us. We define it as our “self” and we have a hard time picturing it any other way. When we say “I” we refer to our mental image of what we are and this includes all of our attachments that we hold on to like so much baggage.

The reality of the situation is that we are not our attachments. We are not the self we think we are most of the time. It takes a lot of introspection to realize this. Letting go of our attachments and assumptions about the nature of reality is no easy task. I’m just getting the smallest glimpse of what that means lately. I’ve been working on this post for almost a week now. I’ve been sick and I’ve been busy and I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of things that have demanded my attention. However, throughout the stress of travel and sickness and busyness and distraction, I have been aware of my relation to these things. I have had an easier time of not attaching to them because I’m learning to apply the right view of them and take the right action in regards to them. So, this is where I find myself: weighing less, feeling better and feeling freer. It’s a nice place to be and I’m enjoying the experience. Now, if I can just keep from getting attached to it…

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