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Archive for November, 2011

I started to write this and it blew up to over 700 words and I was just at an introduction. I realized that to spare people from reading a huge post, I was going to have to make this a multi-part series.

I’ve been asked by a number of people from various backgrounds why I have chosen to follow a Buddhist path. After all, here in the western world, Buddhism is a little outside of the ordinary. It seemed so strange to so many people that I often find myself trying to come up with a good answer as to why I chose this path. The reality is that the experience of Buddhism is so profound that I cannot find good words to answer the “why” question. So, here is a bit of the story about the experience. I hope that it does a good job of answering the “why” question or at least making thimgs a bit clearer.

The problem of suffering had always been one that bothered me. That so many people in the world suffered so terribly and that the world seemed set up to destroy the lives of so many of the people who inhabited it struk me as particularly cruel and wrong. The faith that I grew up with, Christianity, attempted to answer some of these issues but I always found those answers to be lacking. If there really is an all powerful creator who is motivated by love for that creation, his sitting by as horrible things happened so frequently that no one bothers to notice them struck me as heartless and cruel. A promise of a better life in some heavenly realm for those who were lucky enough to pray the right way and believe the right things just didn’t seem to be a viable answer. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that if God exists, when it comes to suffering he is either impotent, indifferent or vindictive in relation to that suffering. If God wants to do something about it but cannot, for whatever reason used to give him an “out”, he’s impotent. If he is able to do something about it but lets things happen anyway, he’s indifferent. If he’s actively participating in the events that lead to suffering and death, he’s vindictive. None of those three options seemed like a very good reason to believe in or worship God. In the end, I came to the conclusion that God wasn’t any of these three things because God was an idea that we came up with as an evolutionary response to the many things that confused our ancient ancestors about the world. That is when I entered a period without faith in anything in my life. This was a hard time for me as I wanted to believe but found the object of belief to be unbelieveable. This period lasted for about 2 years. Throughout it, I kept active in my church and living a life that went through the motions of faith but it was mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.

Eventually, I realized I couldn’t keep living like that so I withdrew from the faith that I grew up with and studied and had, at one point, chosen to dedicate my life to. I cut myself loose and was living a life outside the confines of faith. I was no longer going through the motions of ritual and attempting to feel or experience something that wasn’t there. I had seen other people have deep, meaningful and fulfilling spiritual lives and it had always eluded me. I no longer chased after that. I was “free”.

Except I still wasn’t free. There was still the problem of suffering. I was suffering, my wife was suffering, my kids were suffering, everywhere I looked I saw suffering. Life sucks. That is reality for so many people. Sure, religion wasn’t able to do anything to really deal with the pain and suffering in the world but it still needed to be dealt with. I was just as lost without faith as I was with it. Through all of this, I kept dealing with depression and my own lifestyle issues that caused my weight to keep going up and up. I was miserable, fat, had nothing to believe in and saw very little in life that was worth living for. It was a very dark period of time for me and one that I’m thankful to have put firmly in my past.

How I did that will be covered in part 2.

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Mmmmm Spam

I love the spam filter that WordPress uses. If I let some of the garbage that pops up in the comments go through, you’d laugh your head off at it.  Just tonight I received a comment on a post from last week offering to show me how to hook up with nasty, dirty girls in my area. I’m still trying to figure out how my getting to know nasty, dirty girls in my area has to do with meditation and weight loss but maybe nasty, dirty girls are into fat balding guys with a penchent for meditative self analysis.

At least the comments offering me advice on weight loss surgery are slightly on topic. Sure they’re about 400 words a piece but I think that whoever is taking the time to write all of that information into a comment must care very much about weight loss surgery. If the sheer volume of words didn’t make it apparent that this is important information, the fact that they spent that much time trying to craft a message in a language that is obviously not their native tongue should really move me to approve them. But, I find myself sending them straight to the trash.

As much as I appreciate the offer of free generic Viagra without a prescription, I happen to know a few things about the drug industry and know that Viagra is a brand name with no generic equivalent. Plus obtaining it without a prescription would be breaking a few laws and I’m just not able to advocate that kind of behavior on this blog.

One of the things that this blog has allowed me to do is to connect with people from all over the world. I have readers from places like Australia. That’s on the other side of the world no matter how you measure it. It’s about as far away from Maine as you can get on this planet but my words still reach around to that far off place and I connect with people. Apparently, I also make some deep and meaningful connections with people in Russia and Eastern Europe. Why else would so many of my comments come from IP addresses and domain names registered in Russia and the Ukraine? I can’t let this go without an attempt to reach out to these important readers and so, a very special message to my Russian friends

Пожалуйста, не писать мне сообщения. Я не буду отправлять их на этом блоге.

Whatever the reason or the product or the motivation for attempting to clog my blog with digital detritus, I am thankful that I have a decent tool in place to catch this stuff and filter it out. If you ever feel the need to comment on a post here on dharmaloss or if you want to read the comments, I’m happy to report that there is no artificial canned meat products in the comment section. You’ll just find insightful and inspiring content graciously posted by people who actually want to have a conversation about the things that I put up here. For that I am grateful and encourage others to participate as much as they can.

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I just got back from an early morning 1 mile walk. I love the smell of the air on a crisp winter morning. It’s so fresh and pure up here in Maine and it still amazes me even after being here more than 2 years. Add in the beautiful colors of the sunrise and you have an almost perfect environment for walking. There’s just enough of a bite to the air that you want to keep moving and it’s relatively easy to work up a sweat.

Today as I walked I tried to keep a clear mind and really experience each moment as it happened. The single note of a bird just waking up, the sound of water running through the gully below me, the crispness of the air, the scent of a fireplace from one of the homes that are nearby but invisible because of the woods, the pinks and oranges and reds spreading out over my head in all directions; all of these things became a part of my walk. And I became a part of all of them. I’m not going into a lot of detail about that. Take my word for it. Spend time meditating and studying Buddhism and you’ll see for yourself.

Now, with my body having had its exercise and my mind getting primed and cleared, I’m ready to face what is the busiest day of my week. And now, it’s time for a hot shower and a spicy bowl of oatmeal.

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There have been numerous scientific studies done on the benefits of meditation. This morning I saw yet another article publicizing new findings. It turns out that “meditators seem to be able switch off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia”. Personally, I find this to be very interesting. I don’t know if I’m an “accomplished meditator” yet but I’ve spent enough time in meditation to no longer know how many hours it has been. I do know that when I am meditating I do notice that my brain does seem easier to understand and I am able to work with my mind in ways that I cannot when I am not in a meditative state.

The most apparent this kind of change meditation can have on the mind came to me in October when I went on a Zen retreat. It was two days of meditation and when I left the retreat, I was amazed with the clarity and control I had over my mind. The experience was incredibly motivating for me to continue in my practice and to continue to meditate as much as is possible.

Personally, I am also using meditation as I deal with depression and the mental fog that comes along with it. I am taking medication to treat it but I have found that when I combine it with meditation, I am much better equipped to handle the twisted reality that depression presents to those who suffer from it. There are times when I am feeling particularly down or feeling miserable about things and I remember to stop and to spend time in meditation.

A place of healing for the mind

As I breathe in, I focus on whatever is causing me pain. I breathe in the pain or anger or sadness or whatever else I’m feeling and breathe out a long, cleansing “Don’t Know” in response to that pain. This “don’t know” meditation is encouraged in the Kwan Um School of Zen in which I am a member. It serves as a focal point to bring my mind back to its original state. I repeat this process four or five times and this brings my mind back to a state where whatever I am struggling with seems much more manageable.

I am personally very interested in finding out more about the meditative influence on disorders like Asperger’s and Autism. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, I am always on the lookout for things that may allow our child to process the world that they see and to deal with it in a way that allows them to integrate with it. Meditative techniques may be another tool in our arsenal of ways to bring our child out of their shell.

I think the verdict is in that meditation is healthy and beneficial for a well balanced life. Now, the evidence just keeps piling up in new ways to demonstrate just how beneficial it can be. If you do not have a meditation practice, I encourage you to find one. You will be thankful that you did.

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Hope

For a long time this summer I felt like I was doomed to return to my starting weight of 330 pounds and just keep going. At some point when you feel that way, you reach a place of hopelessness and enter into a vicious cycle where it doesn’t matter what you eat since you’re going to gain weight anyway. Once you have eaten whatever you want due to hopelessness, your weight goes up and the feeling that you’ll never have things under control gets reinforced because, sure enough, your weight has gone up.

Stopping that cycle was the biggest challenge that I had to face this month when I realized I needed to get things back on track. I have realized that I’m probably going to have to deal with this kind of thing for the rest of my life. It’s the way my mind is wired. I think that realizing this will help me to stop the cycle if I ever find myself falling into it again.

Just as there is a vicious cycle that keeps me gaining weight, there is another cycle that does the opposite. It happens when I see that I can make changes and that my weight is manageable. This encourages me to make better decisions and then, when my weight goes down, it reinforces the feelings that I can do this and that my weight is controllable. It leads to me making better choices with more frequency.

The real benefit of this virtuous cycle is that instead of giving rise to hopelessness, it is a breeding ground for hope. I find that once again I have hope for a lifestyle that is as healthy as possible. I have hope that I will reach a weight that will move me to much lower risks of the numerous health problems that come with being my size. I have hope that when I look at myself in the mirror I will be proud of what I see.

Here’s to hope.

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Sausage

I like pork. There, I said it. It’s so versatile and delicious. It’s also full of fat and salt and calories and is generally speaking completely bad for you if you are trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Pork is also really bad if you happen to be vegetarian or vegan. Personally, I’m “flexitarian”. I try to eat as little meat as possible but I don’t get too bent out of shape about eating meat. Yesterday was a day when I really didn’t care about it and I had ham. It was so good. Juicy and sweet and porky and mmmmmmmmmm. However, as nice as it is, we must remember that pork is a “sometimes” food. It used to be that those times were breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe that’s how I ended up weighing 330 pounds. I’ll have to think about that some more.

What’s a pork lovin’ guy like me supposed to do? Really, it’s not that much of a dilemma. First, you wake up to the fact that too much of a good thing will lead to obesity, heart problems, diabetes, cancer and an early death. No matter how good something tastes it just isn’t worth all of that. Next, you get creative. Alternatives do exist. Here’s one I found this morning from vegancoach.com. It’s for vegan sausage patties. I stumbled across this while I was looking for something to do with the tempeh I have sitting in my refrigerator. I will be trying this very soon and will report back on the results. I am altering the recipe a bit. The original called for bouillon cubes instead of broth. I’m enough of a food snob to shudder at that thought.

Vegan Sausage Patties

  • 8 ounces tempeh, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz. vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 Tablespoons Tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon each of sage, thyme, and marjoram
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or other organic oil, for frying

1. In a small saucepan, add tempeh to vegetable stock. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove tempeh, cool and grate on coarse side of grater. Mix grated tempeh with oats, Tamari, water, oil and spices. Mixture should be moist enough to press into 12 patties. Chill on a covered platter.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown patties on each side over medium high heat, turning carefully. You may want to do this in small batches, using just a little oil each time. Patties will soak up the oil quickly, but will brown in the dry pan.

Makes: 12 small patties, or 6 large patties

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I have so many things to be thankful for. Even though I weigh more now than I did last Thanksgiving, I’m back on track and I’m making progress. A healthy lifestyle feels like it’s within reach again. I’ve gone through one of the darkest times in my life and been able to get through it. I am thankful for the newfound strength I have because of this.

I am thankful for all of the new friends I have made over the past few years since I moved to Maine. Moving a thousand miles from my home and family and friends was a difficult thing to do. It was another challenge that helped me to change and grow as a person.

I am thankful for my kids and the joy that they bring to my life. Their humor and energy and joy is contagious. I learn as much from my kids as they do from me. Being their dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I am thankful for my practice and my sangha. I have found in my practice a real and practical way to address the challenges and struggles that life presents. I have made many new friends and am thankful for every one of them.

Speaking of being thankful, I’m thankful for the people who visit this blog. I was remembering a discussion I had a few years ago with a friend and he was encouraging me to start blogging. I actually told him that I wasn’t one of the kind of people with egos big enough to think that others may want to read about what I had for lunch. Now, I blog about what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seriously, if you’re reading this, it makes me happy. And if you’re wondering, I had a big plate of bacon. It’s thanksgiving so I’m not worrying about it too much. Everything in moderation. I didn’t have anything else with it but a cup of coffee.

There are so many other blessings I have in my life that I lose track of them all. Sure, life is hard sometimes and there are things about it that I would like to change but when you add everything up, the good far outweighs the bad.

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