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Archive for January, 2011

One of the precepts that one takes in Buddhism is to not take anything not freely given. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying don’t steal. This is kind of a no-brainer really. If you steal you’re going to cause suffering: not only suffering of those who lost something but suffering for yourself as well. As with most of the precepts, the really interesting stuff happens when you examine its corollary. What is that corollary? If one is not to take anything not offered the corollary is one should give without being asked.

Stop. Think about that for a minute. Really—stop and think, hard, about that statement. How do you react to that? What do you think about that? Are you challenged or threatened by that thought? What’s exciting or threatening about it? Is this a challenge for you? Is this something that you already do? What does it take for you to be willing to give? When you do give, how much do you give? Is giving to someone else ever a sacrifice or do you give just to the point where it isn’t an inconvenience?

Right now, I’m in a position where I find myself giving a lot. I have been giving to someone who is in need of a lot of assistance. I am also going to be giving my professional skills to a friend who needs to have their web site updated and changed in order to help them grow their business. In the next week or so I’ll be giving blood again and helping a lot of people who, like me, have a less common blood type (A-) and could be in desperate need of blood to live. I’m giving my time and energy to my son and his friends as a leader of his cub scout den. I have also been trying to find very opportunities to help others in whatever small ways I can.

When you begin to look for opportunities to give to others it changes you. It makes you feel good and it changes the way you see those around you. I don’t know of a better way to be able to experience the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness than through an attitude of giving whatever you can to everyone. Here’s the dharmaloss challenge for the day. Every time you interact with a person today, and try to define “interact” as broadly as you can, ask yourself what you can give them or what you can do for them to make their lives better. Be mindful of those around you and try to see how you’re connected to them. It will do wonders for your outlook on life.

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Today I learn how to snow board. Or at least I’ll try to learn. I’m not a huge fan of winter activities and skiing/snowboarding are not my idea of fun or safe ways to spend the day. Once, when I was much younger I went skiing and it was a bit of a disaster. I did not enjoy the experience at all. That’s when I filed sliding down a mountain with boards strapped to my feet under “been there, done that, won’t do again”.

Fast forward 2 decades and here I am about to do it again. The word trepidation keeps floating through my mind when I think about it too much. I’m excited to be going but anxious about it too. It amazes me how I caved after a little prodding from my wife, kids, brother, dad and a friend who’s coming with us. Whatever happened to “Just say no”?   We’ll see how this goes and if I survive the experience.

The above two paragraphs were written before the snowboarding experience. Below is my report on how things went after the fact.

So, I went snowboarding. Or at least I tried to go snowboarding. First off, I did have fun…mostly. However, besides the fear, there is something else I have to face: gravity. Me and gravity aren’t always on the best of terms. See, it keeps trying to pull me toward the center of the Earth and when gravity is applied quickly I usually end up getting hurt. Stupid gravity. The other problem with gravity was that the skinny teenage one hundred and something pound “instructor” just didn’t have the ability to apply the appropriate leverage to my 268 pound frame to assist it in going from prone on the ground to upright. This meant that it either took two people to get my heavily padded butt up off the ground or I had to do it myself. Neither one of those options was ideal. In addition to landing on my butt a number of times, I also fell flat on my face whenever I tried to get myself up off the ground (see my previous thoughts on “stupid gravity”).

I actually did get the hang of snowboarding before the lesson time was over. I was able to stay up on the board and I was able to turn to the right by leaning forward over my toes. If those were the only skills required, I would have been set. However, you have to be able to turn left too. Turning left, for me, meant leaning back and shifting my weight over my heels. This is surprisingly like the motion one makes right before falling flat on ones ass. That’s exactly what I proceeded to do repeatedly every time I attempted a left turn. The falls on my butt began to hurt after a while. I still have a lot of padding back there but there are only so many times I can use it before the padding loses its efficacy.

In spite of this, I was determined to keep going. I wasn’t going to let a little snow stop me from having a good time. Plus I had spent way too much money on the lessons for everyone to not get my money’s worth. I also continued to improve. At least I thought I did. On my final “run” down the 15 foot slope we were learning on, I executed a left turn and it worked. I started to turn. I felt good. I felt happy. I felt gravity take over. I felt off balance. I felt scared. I felt panicked. I felt pain. I saw a bright flash of light. I heard a noise. I came to rest. I lay in the snow and began to assess my assets (hehehe, I had to say “ass” twice in that sentence). I took my body through a thorough inventory requesting status updates from all the important parts.

  • Bones intact? Check
  • Joints oriented the correct way? Check.
  • Ankles OK? Check.
  • Knees OK? The knees are in a lot of pain but that could be attributed to an earlier knee injury and strain from exercise so we’ll report a tentative check.
  • Hips OK? Yes. Though something doesn’t feel quite right. Wait, that’s just a hunk of ice that I landed on. Check.
  • Tail bone? Negative. The brain is receiving reports from the tail bone that it has taken a direct hit. The pain that is beginning to radiate through the body can be traced to the tail bone. Withhold judgement until receipt of reports from other regions of the body.
  • Spine? Spine? SPINE!! Oh, sorry, I got distracted sending pain signals from the tail bone. Check.
  • Shoulders? Cold but good. Check.
  • Neck? Shaken from the impact but OK. Check.
  • Head? After completing a self diagnosis, lights and sounds previously reported appear to have been caused by the brain not being able to process excess sensory input. I’ll be hurting in a few minutes but until then, check.
  • Muscles? We’re here, and we’re not torn let’s leave it at that OK? Check.
  • Blood? Still on the inside where it belongs. Check.
  • Tail bone? Still negative. Suggested remedy is to lay in the cold snow and hope for numbness to come quickly.

It’s amazing how fast I can perform an inventory like this when I have to. I think that took about 1 second to complete. The upswing was that I had all of the answers ready to go when everyone finally reached me. In the end, I spent some time laying in the snow waiting for the pain in my tail bone to subside. It didn’t take too long to start to feel better but even now I have some lingering pain in my tail bone. Overall, it was a fun experience but not something I’m going to be doing regularly.

At least I did it. If I’d have never tried, I would have never known. I didn’t let fear keep me off the mountain. I didn’t let gravity stop me. I probably wouldn’t have allowed the injury to stop me except our time was up and I wasn’t stupid enough to assume that I was capable of going out on my own and try to do some more. Eventually, the pain will go away (I hope) and the experience will be nothing but a memory. I kind of feel the same way about my weight loss. I don’t let me fear of the process or trying new things stop me. I don’t allow the pain to hold me back and eventually the experience of being morbidly obese will just be a memory too.

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On A Train

I’m writing this while sitting on a train to Boston. My family from Ohio is up here with us and that means doing touristy things. This and the snowboarding lessons tomorrow are the two big highlights of the trip. Yesterday, we went around Portland and I showed them some of the things that make it such a great city. As often happens when entertaining guests, rules about eating are relaxed a bit and I had some things I wouldn’t normally eat. I didn’t want to get on the scale today but I did. I was happy to see that my weight wasn’t impacted by indulging in fried foods and cheeses and white breads. It looks like the exercise is already paying off.

It’s great to see my family again. I hadn’t seen my dad since February and my brother since March. I’m very fortunate to have them here and it is a great reminder of how much they mean to me. It’s so easy to lose sight of what’s important in life as we get caught up in the demands of day to day living. Why does it take something so big as a vacation and a trip on a train to keep our priorities straight?

Take some time to think about what’s really important to you. Stop the madness and the rush of living and focus on the important stuff. It’s good for your mental health and well being and it reminds you of just how wonderful your life really is.

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Doing More With Less

I stepped on the scale this morning and waited for the flashing numbers to stop jumping up and down. After a few seconds they did and I saw my weight had not yet dropped below the 268 mark. The good thing about the scale is that it displays tenths of pounds so I can see the smaller changes that I’m making now. I consider my weight and I can’t help but think about how different things were now. This weekend, I will find myself on the side of a mountain learning how to snow board.

This was something I wouldn’t have considered this time last year. I have seen so much change in so many ways that it can be overwhelming at times. As I lose weight, I’m gaining confidence. As there is less of me, I feel so much fuller. I no longer feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. I no longer feel like life is a series of burdens to be endured. I feel happy.

I step off the scale and take a deep breath. The day is starting and there is a lot of promise that comes with it. The sun is not yet up but I’m ready to face it.

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At the recommendation of someone at the Zen Center, I checked out a new Gym a few days ago and I’ve decided to switch my workout location. I have been exercising at the YMCA and it is a great place with a lot of nice services. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a place to go for exercise and we’ll retain our family membership there because there are a lot of great things going on there.

I’ve chosen a new gym for a few reason. One, there are really low rates to belong to it. At $10 per month with no yearly contract and no other commitments, it’s not a financial burden to take on. Two, there is just a lot more equipment to work out on. The Y has 5 arc trainers and 5 elliptical machines and 10 treadmills. This place has rows and rows of them. Three, each piece of exercise equipment has its own television. I have actually turned mine off the two times I’ve been there since I listen to either music or audio books while I’m working out but it’s a nice perk if you want to have something keep your attention as you work out. Fourth, it’s only two blocks from my office and is easy to get in and out of. Location is important when you’re trying to find a place to exercise. I don’t have to go out of my way to get there. Finally, and this cannot be overstated, private showers. That’s a really nice addition. At the Y, there are 8 shower heads in a common showering area. While this isn’t a horrible thing, it’s nice to have an extra bit of privacy for myself and to not have to experience the visual assault that can sometimes occur as other people who are trying to get their bodies into a different condition stand near you dripping and naked.

I also have the option of going to a lot of classes. This gym offers classes every day and there are a wide variety of them to choose from. I’m looking forward to signing up for some of them and learning new ways to exercise and get my body into shape. I’m glad I listened to the recommendation from my friend and checked out the new gym. I was a little wary of doing anything like this before because, let’s face it, as a fat guy with little experience with exercise, gyms can be an intimidating place. This particular place does a good job of keeping the “intimidation factor” to a bare minimum. In fact, I think the only way I could feel intimidated there is if I were to bring the feelings of intimidation in with me. Maybe it’s because I do know what I’m doing now and have lost 62 pounds and feel more comfortable in a gym but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. They really do have a nice atmosphere and it isn’t staffed with people who don’t give the impression that they’re doing you a favor by helping you if you need something.

If you have been thinking about new ways to exercise, I would suggest trying to find a place that works for you if it’s possible. Up here in Maine, it’s just not practical to go out in 15 degree weather to walk/jog/bike/whatever in January. A comfortable indoor location is critical for getting exercise done. I think it’s also good to keep changing things around a bit. I’d been going to the Y for a long time and it was probably getting a bit more boring that I was able to admit to myself. Having a new place to go does add a bit of excitement to the mix and makes exercising seem new and fresh.

Getting to a healthy weight, and staying there, means changing your lifestyle. It’s not about diet or steps to lose 5 pounds in a week like we see in magazines. It’s much more complicated and involved. Exercise is an important part of getting healthy. Since I’ve gotten active again I’ve really noticed an acceleration of my weight loss. That’s an encouraging thing to see. That’s why I’m passing it on to you. Get excited and find a way to exercise that works for you and you’ll start to see the changes you want to see.

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Back on the Treadmill

I love Maine. It’s a beautiful state and a great place to raise our kids. Its slogan of “The way life should be” really is true. Moving here in 2009 was one of the better decisions my wife has ever pushed me into making (it’s not as bad as it sounds, I happen to be a creature of habit and often need encouragement to get out of my comfort zone). I really do feel at home here.

If you’re not aware of it, Maine does have a tendency to have, shall we say, intense winters. This isn’t as bad as it sounds but it does present some challenges and hazards. I didn’t mention it here but I came face to face with one of those hazards last week. In the blizzard that shut down the east coast, we got about 1.5 feet of snow and ice. Here in Maine that’s just a minor inconvenience for most and an excuse for the kids to go outside in the cold. Remember two sentences ago when I said we had 1.5 feet of snow and ice? The snow is the inconvenience, the ice is downright treacherous. I was leaving my house and my foot slipped out from under me while I was walking down the steps between the door and the driveway and I twisted my right ankle and knee. This was one of those times when you know, between the time your body starts to fall and when it stops, that the ending is not going to be good. I realized quickly that my right leg wasn’t turning the same way as the rest of me, but for some reason, I couldn’t get it to cooperate as the steps rushed toward me at the speed of gravity. Afterward, I sat in the snow and I evaluated. This is the lengthy process where you try and decide if you can actually get up off the ground and you’re unaware of the snow melting into your pants getting yourself wet and cold.

My knee and my ankle are still stiff and sore from the experience. Fortunately I didn’t hurt myself too badly and I think it was just a minor sprain. Going up and down steps or transitioning from sitting to standing were delicate procedures for a few days though but I’m feeling better now.

At least I thought I was. Today, I spent about a half hour on the treadmill since I’m trying to get back into a regular exercise routine again and I was really feeling the pain in my knee and ankle after I had finished. For the rest of the day it’s been a bit tender. In spite of the pain, I was able to get moving and feel good when I was done. I will definitely be going back tomorrow and trying to keep things a little more low key. I’ll also remember to take something for the pain before I even get on the treadmill.

It really felt good to be able to get back to exercising. I hadn’t really done any serious exercise in about a month. I was able to get my weight back down to where it was in November without exercising but now that I’m back to 268 I want to keep that loss going so I know that exercise is going to be critical as I move forward. At the rate I’ve been losing over the past week or so, I actually think I’ll hit 267 in the next day or two. That will be the lowest I’ve weighed in years. That’s also a powerful motivator to stay on the path I’m on. I really want to experience a new achievement rather than reliving the ones from a couple of months ago.

After I walked, I sat at a diner in Portland enjoying a veggie egg white omelet and thought about what I’ve been through. I realized that this weight loss journey is kind of like a treadmill. It just keeps going and going without end. Sure, it gets harder and easier from time to time but it’s all a part of the same loop. I’m going to keep going and going until I finally reach my goal. The first major goal (250 pounds) is only 18 pounds away. The next major goal (230 pounds) is only 38 pounds away. When you compare those numbers to the 62 I’ve lost already, they don’t seem to be that bad or impossible to achieve.

I hope to get to bed early tonight and get back at it tomorrow as the sun comes up. This should be a fun stage as I’m really feeling motivated again and I think that I’m back at 100%. Maybe I’ll do the elliptical trainer tomorrow since it’s even lower impact than the treadmill. Whatever I do, I’m sure it’s gonna hurt. But it’ll be a good pain.

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What a year! It’s been one full of change for me. The most obvious one is that I started the year at about 320, saw my weight go up to 330 and now I’m down to 269 with more weight loss on the way. Sure, I went into 2010 making a half hearted attempt at resolving to lose weight, just like everybody else, and by February I’d forgotten about it. And now, at the end of the year, I actually did it. Honestly, it still seems like I’ve pulled off the impossible. I’ve literally lost 18% of my body. Poof. Just gone.

My BMI was at 42.4 and now it’s down to 34.5. That’s an 8 point drop in my BMI in about six months. That’s an amazing change and the fact that I’ve been able to keep my weight moving down all this time has me very encouraged. I had a bit of a setback in December as I struggled once again with my depression but I have been able to work through it and not let it stop me. I think that’s the biggest victory I had in the past year.

There were so many other changes in 2010 too. I started the year really struggling as I was dealing with a serious inner conflict as I finally came to terms with the fact that the faith I had grown up with was no longer mine. Seriously, if I had to chose between losing my weight or losing my faith, I’d pick losing weight any day: it’s significantly easier to do.

2010 also saw me go through some of the worst of my depression. I’ve written about the worst of it in previous posts so I’m not going to dig it back up here. Even though the memories of this illness are not pleasant, they are cherished because they allow me to see how wonderful everything really is.

I started a new job in 2010 and it has been a great one. Moving back into an IT role as a programmer was one of the better things I could do for myself. I enjoyed being where I was as an analyst but I am much better suited for the mental challenges that come with creating software solutions.

I discovered Savor in 2010. This was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. It opened up a whole new world for me and gave me the inspiration to be able to make the changes in my life that I needed to make. Without this book, I would not have learned about mindfulness and I would not have come to a realization that Buddhism and meditative practices offer real, concrete answers to the struggles and pain of everyday life.

I had never meditated before 2010. Now, I meditate between 30 minutes to an hour each day. I find that meditation brings me clarity and helps me to see things as they really are. Living mindfully and meditating make it very hard to lie to myself about why I do what I do. I notice the difference on days when I don’t meditate: they just feel harder to get through than days when I do.

I started to write on a regular basis. I have always enjoyed writing and expressing myself through words but I had a hard time keeping things going. However, this time I have been able to maintain my writing and create a post every day or every other day (on average). The reasons for this are that it helps me to keep a record of where I’ve been, it helps me sort out my own thoughts about what I’m going through and it gives me a way to inspire and encourage others. I have made connections through this blog that have become very valuable to me. A small community has built up here and I’m blessed to have it as a part of my life.

I didn’t just write in this blog. I’ve got another writing project that I’ve been working on and getting over the depression and building up good writing habits has encouraged me in working on that project as well. I don’t know if anything will ever come of it but it’s a fun project to work on even it it’s only for myself.

The coolest thing I’ve learned this year though is the real secret to losing weight and keeping it off. People pay a lot of money to have someone tell them the “secret”. I’m about to give it away for free. The fact is that losing weight is not a matter of dieting or of exercising or of doing this or that or another thing. Weight loss, real permanent weight loss comes from changing ones lifestyle. Just going on a diet will not work for long term change. Exercise is critical to becoming healthy but if you aren’t able to do it for whatever reason (and I have not exercised nearly as much as I “should”) you will not be able to maintain the lost weight. No, changing the way that I live has been the key factor in becoming healthy and happy and lighter (both physically and emotionally). Changing my lifestyle has had serious implications on what I eat but the changes in lifestyle brought about the changes in my diet and this made it much easier to do. Since I wasn’t clinging to my old way of life and trying to eat differently, it didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of starving myself or going without. In the past six months, I’ve lost 60 pounds but I don’t think I’ve ever once felt like I’ve starved myself.

The lifestyle that we’ve adopted in the U.S. has been the key factor of our obesity epidemic. We won’t find a way to end the problem of obesity until we come to terms with the way we live. That’s why it’s going to be one of the hardest things we, as a country, have ever done. Harder than the Great Depression, the Great Recession, World Wars or Reaganomics (that last one was a joke OK?). We can’t go on living the way we do. We either change, or we die. It’s as simple as that. In 2010 I chose to live.

Now that it’s January, I’m sure there will be a lot of people making a resolution to lose weight. A lot of people may have already broken that resolution (or at least think they have) since it’s 8:30 P.M. on January 1. I hope that people who find out about this site as they look for resources to assist them changing their life for the better will be able to find something here that will help them. It’s not easy to do but it can be done. I’m 61 pounds into it. I’m excited to see where I’ll be in another 365 days as I look back on what I have gone through in 2011.

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