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Archive for February 12th, 2011

As of today, I’ve managed to lose somewhere around 60 pounds. I’ve also been exposed to a lot of new experiences and ways of living. A new life has been the best gift I could ever hope to receive.

One great new experience has been meditation. Another has been exercise. The most obvious one has been weight loss. These are things that will stay with me for a very long time. However, there are other experiences I’d rather not have again. Like all things in life, there are some new experiences with a down side. Usually, these experiences are ones where things don’t quite work out or ended in pain and tears. In order to help everyone else in my plus sized posse, I have put together a guide to these down sides so that they may avoid them. I call this my list of Things That Fat People Shouldn’t Do.

1. Snow Boarding – this was one of those things I really wanted to enjoy doing but in the end I spent weeks recovering from the aftermath of the application of gravity and snow to my joints and bones. Maybe when I’ve lost another 40-50 pounds I will be able to revisit this one.

2. Mountain Climbing – this one should be pretty obvious but stupidity, inexperience and denial are a deadly combination that can result in finding oneself halfway up a mountainside with a bunch of skinny Zen Buddhists panting and huffing and puffing while dreaming of the sweet embrace of death. Honestly, as a fat person, there were two words that should have tipped me off to avoid this activity: “mountain” and “climbing”. Live and learn, live and learn.

3. Walk – OK this one needs explaining. What I mean is walking on the uneven brick sidewalks we have in Portland, Maine. One beautiful summer day, I was walking down the street enjoying the beauty of the world around me and I just didn’t see that dip in the sidewalk. I had no idea I was going to go down like a ton of bricks but that’s exactly what happened when my foot went to step on a brick but landed on empty space. Bricks hurt when you land on them. They hurt your body and your ego as you sprawl over the sidewalk in front of a large group of strangers. Ouch.

4. Snow shoeing – This one needs a basic understanding of physics to get. Apparently, I don’t have a basic understanding of physics since I tried it anyway. The idea behind a snow shoe is that it distributes your weight across the surface of the snow to keep your body from sinking into said snow. When you’re fat, this doesn’t happen. They’re not magic shoes: they can only distribute so much weight before they sink in to the snow and you find yourself knee-deep with large, useless, snow shoes strapped to your feet acting more like snow anchors than shoes.

5. Plane rides – Just ask Kevin Smith about this one. Planes weren’t meant for one of my girth or one of my height. From now on, I’ll take the train. It’s much friendlier to people with my dimensions.

6. Roller coasters – see above entry about planes. There is nothing quite as embarrassing as trying to get the bar of a roller coaster down and not having it click into place. This was one of the first things I noticed about losing weight: I fit in roller coasters again. It’s still a tight squeeze but at least I can do it.

7. Pole dancing – even if you’re just messing around being silly, there’s no easy way to pick yourself (and the pole) up off the floor. If you’re lucky, the head wound isn’t too serious and the bleeding stops quickly.

8. Go shirtless at the beach. If you do this it can cause issues months later when your three-year old son asks basic questions about the anatomical differences between men and women. As it is explained to him that only women have boobies, he’ll be confused. Especially when his older sister insists that daddy has them, “Oh yes he does! I’ve seen them myself!!”

Everything above comes from personal experience—even the pole dancing. Notice a trend among the list? Most involve gravity. A few of them just involve trying to put a large round peg of a person into the small square holes built by the skinny people. Whatever the cause they have all happened because I became a person too big to live comfortably. Now, I’m working to undo the damage and improve my life. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. For now, there is still a list of things I can’t do. What other things should be on this list? How has your weight impacted your life? What are some of the other things that fat people shouldn’t do that serve as motivation for us to transition from fat people to skinny people?

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I like to read. A lot. I try for a book a week but don’t always hit that mark. This week I’ve been reading a decidedly non-Buddhist book called Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. It’s the best Buddhist book I’ve read in a while. For those of you who know who Richard Dawkins is, I’ll give you a moment for the cognitive dissonance to clear before going on.

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OK, all better? No? We should continue on anyway. Allow me to explain what I mean. Richard Dawkins is a leader in the “new atheism” movement and has written books highly critical of religion and faith in opposition to reason and scientific knowledge. He is an evolutionary biologist by training and a vocal advocate for science and science education. Needless to say, he’s not very popular among certain groups who feel threatened by his positions. He’s a polarizing figure to say the least.

In Unweaving the Rainbow, he is answering those who claim that science sterilizes and destroys the wonder of creation. The title is taken from criticism of Newton’s experiments with light by John Keats. The argument, as Keats put forth, was that by breaking light up into its separate components and explaining how a rainbow is made that the mystery and beauty of the rainbow were somehow lessened and robbed of its inspirational beauty. This is still a charge leveled against science by many different people from diverse backgrounds.

Dawkins argues that science does not rob something of its beauty or mystery but that an understanding of science leads to even deeper and more profound states of awe and amazement. He makes a clear and focused argument that learning how something works (a flower, a rainbow or a blade of grass for instance) only leads to bigger and deeper mysteries that need to be unravelled. The universe is an infinite place and there are always new things to explore and wonder about. According to Dawkins, there is always something to be amazed by.

I happen to completely agree with Mr. Dawkins about this. The beauty and wonder of the universe is as limitless as the universe itself and science is a wonderful tool to explore the rich depths of that beauty. The fact that I agree with Richard Dawkins on this did not surprise me at all. What did surprise me was just how much some of his statements and claims line up with those of Buddhism. For instance, in talking about the ways that lead up to the real miracle of our actual existence, he says the following.

Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

He adds

The lottery starts before we are conceived. Your parents had to meet, and the conception of each was as improbable as your own. And so on back, through your four grandparents and eight great grandparents, back to where it doesn’t bear thinking about.

And then, the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness is hammered home

…the humblest medieval peasant had only to sneeze in order to affect something which changed something else which, after a long chain reaction, led to the consequence that one of your would-be ancestors failed to be your ancestor and became somebody else’s instead. I’m not talking about `chaos theory’, or the equally trendy `complexity theory’, but just about the ordinary statistics of causation. The thread of historical events by which our existence hangs is wincingly tenuous.

It’s not only interconnectedness that is brought up in the book. Ideas like mindfulness also come up

There is an anaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness, which dulls the senses and hides the wonder of existence. For those of us not gifted in poetry, it is at least worth while from time to time making an effort to shake off the anaesthetic. What is the best way of countering the sluggish habituation brought about by our gradual crawl from babyhood? We can’t actually fly to another planet. But we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.

Keeping that sense of “having just tumbled out to life on a new world” is one of the things that mindfulness helps us to achieve.

There are a number of other passages where he examines the ways that we fit into the universe and the universe fits into us. Throughout the book one keeps hitting on ideas that have a resonance with the teachings of Buddhism. It is there for anyone to see if they have an understanding of them. The fact that they come from Richard Dawkins is irrelevant. He has found, through hard work and study and dedication, the same things that Buddhists have found—also through hard work, study and dedication. It doesn’t surprise me in the least to see these two points of view converging inside this book. If you have any inclination toward science or you would like to see how familiar Buddhist thoughts can be expressed in new ways using new metaphors, this book is worth the time it takes to read. It’s not a long book, can be read in a few sittings and won’t take up too much time.

If I was trying to make money from this blog, this is where I’d have a link to purchase it on Amazon or some other book selling site. Since I’m not here to make anything from this writing, I’ll just urge you to find it from your favorite source for acquiring the written word.

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