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Posts Tagged ‘attachment’

The other day at the gym, I was on the elliptical machine. It’s my favorite machine to work out on as it’s low impact but really efficient at burning calories. When I’m on the elliptical, I try to maintain a heart rate of around 150. For someone my age and weight, it’s a good speed. I spend 25 minutes on the machine when I use it and I find that the time usually goes quickly as long as I have some good music to listen to. Last week, I forgot my headphones. Those were the longest 25 minutes I’ve ever spent in the gym. I never knew how much music really contributed to my activity until I no longer had it. Instead, I had to look around the gym for lack of anything interesting to do.

In order to keep my heart rate at around 150, I usually move at about four miles per hour on the machine. This day, I was really pushing myself and was up to 4.3 mph and had sweat pouring off of me. I felt pretty good about myself, my progress and my ability. That’s when The Gym Guy showed up. TGG is a great person, I’m sure. When he goes home, his kids are probably happy to see him. TGG has a good job and he’s good at what he does, he just happens to also be really good at using elliptical machines. Probably because he’s there a lot. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. The Gym Guy steps up to the machine next to me and proceeds to move at a pace I didn’t know the machines were capable of. Because I had nothing else to do, I looked at the readout on his machine. He was going nearly 12 miles per hour! He was sprinting on the elliptical machine while I plodded along at about a third of his rate. I figured he’d slow down eventually but TGG just kept it up. I think he may have gotten faster as he got warmed up. TGG was master of the elliptical machine and I was getting schooled in what they were capable of. TGG was so good at it that he didn’t need to hold the handles I had to use for stability and to monitor my heart rate. TGG just moved while his arms pumped in much the same way as an Olympic runner’s. It was, to say the least, impressive.

The problem with being next to someone like TGG is the inevitability of the comparisons between yourself and him. Without my music to distract me, I couldn’t help watching the show as it unfolded. I had to wonder if it were even possible for me to get the elliptical machine to move that fast. If I did, could I maintain a speed like that? If I could, for how long? TGG didn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. Then, I realized he’d already traveled much farther on his machine than I had on mine, though I’d been there much longer than him. If we were on a track, he would have given me a half mile head start and then passed me without breaking a sweat. TGG was good and I was bad. I’m not stupid, I learned that lesson fast. I learned it as fast as TGG was running on his machine.

That’s when I remembered something: I’m not The Gym Guy and he’s not me. TGG has been working out on these machines for a long time. TGG is in good physical shape. TGG isn’t trying to overcome a lifetime of obesity. TGG is not celebrating every pound lost. TGG is (probably not) monitoring every calorie and making sure it’s the best possible one to ingest at any given moment. TGG is good but I’m good too. I remember the lessons I learn on the meditation bench: the mind makes good, the mind makes bad. With no mind, there is no good and there is no bad. If I were to finish my exercise without a sense of failure, I had to let go of my thinking. Attachment to thoughts and illusions of “goodness” or “badness” had to be put aside. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply for a moment, watched my heart rate drop though I was still moving at 4 mph and let go of my mind. It was time for elliptical meditation.

TGG was still there when I finished my 25 minutes. He was still going strong and his arms and legs moved with speed and purpose. He was doing what his body needed him to do. I had completed doing what mine needed. The last ten minutes of my exercise passed as quickly as if I had my headphones on. Without the burden of thought and the struggle against my mind, time moved forward with ease. My body moved while my mind was still. I was no longer “bad” and he was no longer “good”. We were both two people using the elliptical machines and we both benefited from the experience. I wiped down my machine and felt good for TGG and hoped he would continue to keep his body in good shape and know the joy of having a mind as fit as his body.

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I consider myself lucky. Actually, I think I’m very lucky. The fact that my weight is at an unhealthy level but I have not had to deal with the negative side effects of being obese makes me feel lucky indeed. When I think about all the things carrying around an extra hundred pounds can do to a person’s body, it scares me. However, I haven’t had to deal with diabetes, heart problems, GERD, high blood pressure or many of the other issues that come with extra weight. The question is, how long will my luck hold out?

I’m not stupid. I know that it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with me. I’ve known this for a while and it hasn’t been a big enough motivator for change. Lately though, I’ve been paying attention to the quality of life issues that being obese has already caused me. I have sleep apnea and have to use a CPAP machine to keep me breathing at night. I have knees that tend to be more sore than they should and I occasionally hear them make interesting popping sounds when I walk up stairs. My feet hurt a lot and I have to use inserts to provide the extra support that they need. Someone asked me the other day why I don’t wear my beloved Chucks any more and I had to explain that the inserts I use don’t work too well in them so if I do wear them, it causes my feet to hurt too much.

Some of my favorite footwear

I know if I want to improve my quality of life I need to get rid of these extra pounds. That’s why I’ve set goals that I can work toward other than just the number that pops up on the scale. I want to be able to wear my Chucks again and not feel pain after a couple of hours. I hope to be able to make it through the night without having a mask strapped to my face while air is forced through my nose. I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without listening to a creaking and cracking sound that is, when I think about it, quite disturbing. In the end, I’m not just trying to lose weight, I’m trying to have a better life. These are concrete and very real results that I can focus on and they help to motivate me to make the right choices.

Without these other goals, I would be trying to get to an idea. My weight hasn’t been in the lower 200s in such a long time that remembering what it was like to weigh that little is practically impossible. It doesn’t help that even when I had a healthy weight I felt like I was too big so I don’t have too many memories about what it’s like to be a “skinny person”.  That’s why focusing on weight alone isn’t going to cut it. Weighing less is a concept that is ephemeral and difficult to visualize. Not having sleep apnea is much easier to think about. Wearing black canvas shoes that come up past my ankles is concrete. Having the energy to do everything I want to do is something I can latch on to. When I think about it, this isn’t about weight at all, it’s about living the life I want. It’s about having the freedom to live a life free of preventable medical problems.

As a Buddhist I try to be aware of the problems caused by attachment to things, desires or dreams. It is possible to have a goal and not be attached to it but it can be hard. If I am to succeed again in losing this weight, I will need to set goals without attachments to them. Eventually, I’ll have to set other goals and have other things to keep me motivated to stay healthy. Being aware that eventually I will have to throw my current goals away as I achieve them is one way to refrain from attachment. I am also trying to be cognizant of the reality that having a healthy weight and having a better quality of life will not do a thing to change my situation. My self, my true self, will not have changed at all. My self will come in a smaller package but it’s still going to have all of its desires and demands and suffering and delusions. While goals are great for getting a better body, I need to maintain a perspective about them that won’t weigh down my mind. If I’m not willing to take the Chucks off my feet once I can wear them again, I won’t be spending too much time on the meditation cushion. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but meditating with shoes on is very uncomfortable.

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I’ve been gone for quite some time and am surprised to find that I am still getting visitors to the blog on a fairly regular basis. I’ve been absent for a number of reasons but the short version is that I’ve been going through an extremely painful and challenging period in my life. For the past seven months I’ve found myself in places I never expected to be. To say that my life has been stressful would be an understatement of the highest order. In response to this stress I have seen my weight go up again and I am just now getting to the point where I can think about addressing this.

The scale has sat on my bathroom floor unused and unloved for a few months now. I have an idea of where I am in regard to my weight but it’s just a guess. I know that I am not back to where I was when I started but my weight has definitely gone up since the last time I stood on a scale. Perhaps I’ll hop on tomorrow and see where I find myself.

Regardless of the reasons for and causes of my absence , they are in the past. I plan to leave them there. I am, once again, focusing on the moment I find myself in. Holding on to the past and my attachments to the causes of my suffering will not allow me to move forward. As long as I dwell in the past I will be anchored to it. If I want to move forward, I need to let it go.

Even though I have been through a painful and stress filled period the past few months, I’ve also had some really great experiences. For instance, I took a glass blowing class and learned how to create beautiful cups and ornaments and paper weights. It’s been one of the cooler things I’ve done in a long time. I went on an amazing Zen retreat and got a lot of insight into the way that my mind works and I experienced peace and tranquility unlike I’d had since before my life got turned around. I have started to learn how to play the guitar. That’s been a lot of fun and I have the numb fingertips to prove it. I have deepened my practice and have really begun to see the benefits of meditation and “together action” that takes place within the Sangha.

It’s good to be back. One of  the informal goals I have set for myself in this process of moving beyond this place of pain and suffering is to write on a regular basis. I am also going to be getting back to exercising and eating in line with a healthy lifestyle. Through all of this, I will be relying on my practice to give me the insights I need to get beyond my old habits and patterns. With that in mind, I’ll be back tomorrow. Promise.

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When I started this post, I was sitting in my favorite coffee-house in the world. If you ever have the chance to visit Portland, Maine, you must stop by Bard Coffee. It is the best coffee on the planet served in a great atmosphere by people who are crazy passionate about coffee. I don’t get to go there very often because it’s a bit out of the way from my office. That day, I happened to be walking by at lunch time so there I was, drinking a delicious latte and writing a blog post on my new Mac Air.

I’d just come from a meeting where I was told I don’t know enough, don’t have a good enough plan and don’t have the right focus in order to succeed. I was also exceedingly happy to have had this meeting as it was exactly what thought I would hear.

I’m not crazy (OK, not too crazy). I had a meeting with someone who is an expert in their field and I went to them for some advice on how to do a better job with a project I’m working on. I went in to the meeting with an open mind and made it a point to listen to the words of someone who has been quite successful doing what I hope to do.

I can’t go into a lot of details about the project I’m working on as it’s still too soon to be able to tell where it will go. This project will take a lot of my time and energy and will be quite rewarding for me personally regardless of the outcome. That’s why I found myself at a meeting with an expert who had graciously given me some time to grill him for advice and feedback.

In order to get anything out of this meeting, I could not go in with a lot of pride or an easily bruised ego. If I went in to the meeting already convinced of what I was doing and just wanting validation from another, it would be easy to get offended or to dismiss the advice of this expert. That’s not what I was after.

When an expert offers his time, free of charge, to review your project and provide candid feedback you’d be a fool not to listen to that feedback. I was determined not to be a fool. I went in to the meeting, presented my idea and showed what I had done so far. My idea and work was then dissected in front of me and laid bare so that all of its shortcomings and its strengths were plain to see. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fun experience but it was useful. Since that meeting, I’ve been able to take a lot of the free advice into account and I feel like I have a better understanding of how to proceed with my project and I’m excited about it being successful. I also know that I’ve avoided wasting my time following some paths that would not have worked out for me in the end.

It occurred to me that this is how things happen frequently in our lives. We see or learn something that could be helpful to us but our attachment to ideas/desires/possessions/passions keep us from paying attention to whatever it is. Our pride keeps us rooted. Buddhism teaches us a lot about attachment and how it leads to suffering in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I’ve been thinking about it, I have begun to see how true this really is. Being attached to our ideas means that we are unwilling to change them when the opportunity arises. I have seen this happen in every technical job I have ever had: someone is attached to their idea or method or solution and because of that attachment improvements are not made or are outright ignored. I’ve heard it said that the technology field is one of those rare few where hubris is a virtue and I see that virtue play out every time I interact with technical people.

If we allow our pride to keep us from making changes that move us forward, we suffer while trying to figure out why our wheels just keep spinning and progress isn’t being made. Pride is just a word that we use to define attachment to self. One of the reasons I write so frankly about my successes and failures in a public forum is because I don’t want to let my pride get in the way of my progress toward being healthy. Are you trying to make a change in your life or to get something done? If you’re not seeing the results you want, ask yourself some hard, penetrating questions about your pride and your ego. Without an intense awareness of your attachments, you will not see the success you hope to find any time soon. Once you are willing to admit ignorance or helplessness you are in a better position to move ahead. You may already be on the best course of action or have the right solution for your problem but until you are willing to give up your solution or your beliefs or your methods, you’ll never be able to evaluate them to find a better way. Laying aside pride is the first step to success.

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When you kick an addiction to cigarettes or drugs or alcohol, you can go through the rest of your life without ever smoking, snorting or shooting your drug of choice. Not so with food. You’ve still got to eat if you want to live. This is quite unfair and it annoys me greatly. You never see the “Crack Court” at the mall.  There isn’t a drive through down the street to get your fix. Food addiction sucks.

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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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