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Posts Tagged ‘family’

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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There’s a Bear in my Bed!

One of the many down sides of being overweight is sleep apnea. Each night, I have to put on a face mask and have pressurized air blown into my nose to ensure that I don’t stop breathing while I sleep. Tonight, as I get ready to go to bed, I find this waiting for me. My daughter has put a bear to sleep in my bed and, since the CPAP mask is what you wear if you’re sleeping in my room, she has hooked it up to Mr. Humphrey. And, to make sure he’s comfortable, there’s a friend to keep a close eye on him while he sleeps. My kids have the weirdest sense of humor. I wonder where they get it from?

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Heading Home

I’ve been on vacation for the last week. I’ve got a lot to write about but today, I’m heading home. We’ve been enjoying the beauty of Saba, a small island in the Dutch Caribbean. It’s where my wife grew up. We’ve been able to introduce the kids to family they’d never met, seen family we haven’t seen in years and spend a lot of time hiking and swimming and snorkeling and eating well. Today, as we get our bags together and get ready for the flight back to Maine, I’m feeling sadness about leaving and hope about going home. Every day, I’ve tried to go outside and meditate. It’s been an amazing experience to do that down here and I’m really going to miss this view. I’ll just have to learn a new lesson about attachment and impermanence.

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I Love My Wife

I love my wife. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am now without her love and support. Happy Valentines Day sweetheart. I love you.

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On Wood and Meditation

This week I did some woodworking with my brother who has been staying with us for the past month. It’s been great to have him with us and to really spend a lot of quality time with him. One of the many things we have done while he’s been here is to set up a shop in my basement for woodworking projects. The first thing we made was a meditation bench. It was a great first project for me as I hadn’t done any woodworking since I was in Jr. High school and had wood shop class one semester. I have always had a healthy respect for artisans and craftsmen who could make things out of wood and now that I’ve completed this project, it’s even greater. Because I am so proud of completing this and thankful to my brother for teaching me how to use the tools and build the bench, here are some pictures of the results of my labor.

I can’t wait to sit on this tonight and meditate. It’s going to do wonders for keeping my hips and knees on a level plain and keep me from hurting while meditating.

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As you may have heard, we got a bit of  snow here in the U.S. recently. It was only a foot or so here in Maine and it fit rather nicely on top of the foot we already had on the ground. Needless to say, today was spent securely indoors and out of the cold. It was the perfect day to finish up my first woodworking project: a meditation bench.

Once the polyurethane has finished drying, I’ll get some pictures and post them. For now, it’s a waiting game. I had a lot of fun putting this together and would never have been able to do it without the assistance of my brother who has been visiting with us. It was a great project to do with him and to learn from him and to just hang out in a workshop and make something together. I’m really pleased with the way that this has turned out and expect to see many hours spent on this bench.

When we weren’t working on the bench or playing with the kids, it was a lazy day. I actually took a nap and rested for a bit. There’s nothing like a foot of snow to bring out an instinct to hibernate. Especially after your belly is full of Caribbean Jerk Quinoa (one of my favorite ways to prepare quinoa). Overall, just a really nice day slowing down and spending time being a family.

One thing that meditation and living mindfully does is enhance your enjoyment of taking slowly the things that don’t need to be rushed. Obviously there are scenarios where time is of the essence and one needs to hurry but those scenarios aren’t as common as we like to think. I think this is because we, as a species, derive a lot of motivation from stress. It’s how we evolved. Since we no longer have to fear being eaten by wild animals or dying from a lack of food or shelter or from catching a cold and having it turn in to something worse, we invent artificial stress to keep us going. This is bad for a few reasons. One, we create states for our body to go into overdrive much more than it should. This causes health problems from “running too hot”. Two, in a lot of people, stress will trigger an emotional response to eat. This leads to a big source of overeating for many of us who have struggled with our relationship with food. It’s a quick way to weight gain since you end up consuming more than you need and your body stores away the calories as fat more readily than it would under normal circumstances. This is why a nice slow lazy day like today is really important every once in a while. It reminds us to slow down and take things as they really are.

It’s started snowing again while I have been writing this. At some point you have to say, “enough is enough!” and get tired of it. I’m probably at that point now but it’s taken all day to get there. The fact is that I have had a great day doing low stress and slow-paced work and play. Tomorrow, I’ll brave the elements and go back to work but that’s a post for tomorrow.

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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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Ever since I saw Tron: Legacy, I have been more aware of people’s search for perfection and the lengths they will go to achieve it. The desire to create a perfect system, and the impossibility of doing that, was one of the driving factors of the conflict in the plot of Tron. Maybe it’s also a seasonal thing: everyone always wants to have the perfect Christmas so it’s a theme you see popping up in a lot of television and movies that we see this time of year.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe this is the tyranny of Martha Stewart rearing its ugly and perfectly sculpted head. For example, I caught the last ten minutes of a cooking show a few weeks ago where a chef was searching for the perfect Peking duck recipe that could be made at home. I was happy to see that he achieved his quest before the show ended because he kept failing to get a crispy skin of the right texture and flavor and everyone knows that Peking duck is all about the skin. The solution was simple too. It involved removing the skin from the duck and sewing it on to a rack and then smoking it in an oven for almost an hour. Simple, huh? Anyone can do that right? Even at my most adventurous and ambitious carnivorous period, I would never have attempted to reproduce this chef’s “solution” to making the perfect Peking duck at home. Seriously, how many people have ever thought to themselves, “If only I could sew this skin onto a rack and then smoke it using wood chips in my oven, it would be just right”? Personally, I would never get past the “sew the skin” part of the equation. But, hey, perfection is a demanding mistress so we do what we can.

I found myself doing something similar late at night on Christmas Eve. I had bought my wife a new printer so she could print photos from home instead of having to go to a store to have them printed. She’s old school when it comes to preserving memories and a photo in a book just feels more permanent than a bunch of ones and zeros stored on a disk. I can’t blame her since I’ve seen enough digital data disasters to be concerned about preserving our photos and movies. I found a great printer that I knew would do everything we needed and I couldn’t wait to see her open it in just a few hours. I wanted the wrapping on the gift to be as perfect as it could be. After all, this was a gift from the heart and I wanted the wrapping of said gift to reflect that. Before I go on with this story, I should add that I’m just not that good at wrapping boxes. I guess I missed the class on how to fold paper over a box and make it look good.

Anyway, I measured and carefully cut the paper managing to mangle it just a bit with the scissors. I had freed a sheet of wrapping paper from the tube! To thank me for freeing it, the paper kept trying to give me a hug. While I appreciate the affection, I just wanted it to lay flat. Was that asking too much? I didn’t think so, but it was. This paper kept rolling up every time I tried to make it go in a straight line. It just wanted to bend and curve where I wanted it straight and folded. After a bit of struggling and fighting I was able to get it wrapped around the box only to find out that the “measure twice and cut once” rule is a bunch of BS. There was a gap of about an inch between the start and end of the paper. I think this was the first time I actually started swearing. It wasn’t the last.

There wasn’t enough paper left on the tube to start over. I would have to improvise. I ended up cutting a strip of paper out that was a little bigger than the gap and carefully taped it over the gap. Then I realized the pattern on the strip was upside down in relation to the pattern on the paper around the box. Oops. The little Christmas trees were pointing toward me on the little strip while on the big sheet they were pointed away from me. This would never do. I started to remove the strip and that’s when the thin paper started to rip and tear. This was the second time I started to swear out loud. It’s a good thing I was in the basement.

I made the decision to forge ahead and try to keep the offending strip on the bottom of the gift so that it wouldn’t be visible while sitting under the tree. I only had one more step left in the battle of the wrapping paper: the sides of the box.

I’ll spare you the gory details here but needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. I believe this is where I finished my rum spiked egg nog in one gulp and threw myself back into battle with the fierceness of a mongoose fighting a cobra. Remember how I measured twice and cut once? I really didn’t think there should have been a gap in the paper and while picking the box up to get at the sides I realized that the paper had folded over on itself while I was wrapping the box and now I had an extra inch of paper on one side. It was an extra inch that was creased and ugly and totally out of place in the location it was. This is when I contemplated giving her the printer still in the giant yellow Best Buy bag. I realized this would be tacky and I couldn’t let a piece of paper beat me. I moved ahead with the cutting and the folding and the creasing and the taping and eventually, I had a box that looked like it had been wrapped by a bunch of hung over elves coming off a three day bender. It looked like shit. Once again I told the box and paper what I thought of it and then moved on to wrapping the special photo paper that I had gotten to go along with the printer.

I’d like to say that the smaller boxes of photo paper were easier to wrap but they just mimicked the mess I’d already made but on a smaller scale. Eventually, I brought three poorly wrapped boxes upstairs and wearily placed them under the tree.

The next morning my beautiful children, oblivious to my suffering and pain and struggle the previous night were kind enough to allow us to sleep in until 5:00 A.M. I think the neighbors were woken up by the sounds of their protests as they were told, under penalty of death, not to touch the gifts or disturb us again until 7:00 A.M. Eventually they accepted our bargain of being able to keep their gifts in exchange for letting us sleep another two hours and left to do hard time in their rooms.

7:00 A.M. came faster than we thought it would and the kids were in the room in time to watch the clock roll over to 7:01. Our time was up and the madness would now commence.

It was an amazing flurry of paper and ribbons and boxes and hugs and “thank you’s” and cats. The poor cats. They had no idea what was going on. The little still gets jittery every time he hears paper crinkling. As things began to die down, it was time for mom to open her gifts. She went over to her poorly wrapped big box and, without stopping to critique the wrapping paper or notice the creases or bad folds or bulges of paper in the corners, opened her gift and was overjoyed by it. The paper I had fought so hard with was nothing more than a crumpled up ball on the floor soon to be moved into a trash bag. The battle was over and I had won.

Other than how bad I suck at wrapping, what have we learned from this story? For me, I learned that perfection is another one of those illusions that we love to cling to. My desire for the perfectly wrapped box led me to behave in a way I’d never behave in public. It drove me to drink. My wife never noticed all the little imperfections that stood out to me because they were different than my mental image of what it should look like. To her, it was a wonderful gift that was thoughtful and perfect. See that word in the last sentence? She thought it was perfect. I couldn’t see the perfection of the gift because I was too fixated on the appearance of the wrapping paper. She focused on the gift itself and the thought that went into it. That was where the perfection was to be found.

The entire idea of perfection is an illusion. It’s a lie we tell ourselves is attainable. One of the major foundations of Western thought, the philosophy of Plato, is built upon the desire to obtain “the Platonic ideal” of perfection. We build our cultures, our society, our lives on top of these lives and then we cling to them as if they are the supports holding up the structure of our existence. I see and hear the idea of making something “perfect” every day. I’m seeing more and more how that is only laying the groundwork for further suffering.

Sitting in meditation, I begin to shatter the illusion of perfection and it becomes easier for me to accept the messiness of life. Real life can be ugly. Reality can be harsh. Reality is anything but perfect. And this is OK. Really, it is. Doing nothing in the face of demands for perfection is the appropriate response. Anything else will end in suffering as perfection is grasped at only to slip away. The next time you feel the need or the desire to be perfect, remember this. Accept the reality of the situation and set aside the desire to be perfect. I’m not saying don’t do your best at whatever you do: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Just don’t get upset if the results fall short of your expectations. Release your expectations and take joy in what you have made or done. You’ll be better off in the long run and you will get more joy out of living life just as it is.

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Wow. That’s about all I can say at this point. It’s been an amazing week full of family and fun and lots of opportunities to practice right action and be mindful about what I’m doing. Wow. I’ve just returned from a great week in San Diego with my family. We spent Thanksgiving there and had an amazing time. We went to Legoland, Los Angeles where I met Stan Lee, Disneyland, the USS Midway, the Gas lamp District, the San Diego Zoo, the Air & Space Museum, the Old Globe theater to see How The Grinch Stole Christmas and hung out with family enjoying one another’s company. It really was a whirlwind of a week.

Now, I’m home in the crisp winter air of Maine where you can see your breath and the frost has finally found a home on the ground. My ears haven’t handled the return flight too well and I’m dealing with quite a bit of pain from them and I think I’ve gotten bronchitis and I’ve lost my voice but I’m too happy to care. Suffering happens, I’m not going to make myself any better by moaning and being depressed about my state. That’s the clarity that I’ve gotten on this trip.

One of my main concerns before I left was being able to eat well while I was gone. Except for the days I spent traveling, things were very easy for me. California makes it very easy to be a vegetarian. Everywhere we went to eat there was something vegetarian on the menu. The best thing was, it wasn’t something that sucked either. In California, having a good selection of vegetarian entrées is a necessity for most restaurants. I had the best vegetarian burger I’ve ever eaten at a place that really was more of a “how many things can we do with a cow?” kind of establishment. Even Thanksgiving dinner had some really good vegetarian options. My aunt made a curried lentil dish special for me and another family member who is also a vegetarian. She gave us the recipe while we were eating it and at the moment we both had a fork full ready to go into our mouths revealed that she uses two cans of chicken broth when making it! We both kind of looked at each other, shrugged, and popped it into our mouths. My aunt is not a vegetarian and made a mistake that many non-vegetarian cooks do by using something derived from meat and still thinking the dish was vegetarian because it didn’t have any visible chunks of flesh in it. Since neither of us is militant about it we embraced the thought behind it and enjoyed it anyway. We both had seconds on it and loved every bite.

I was also able to exercise a lot while I was there. The hotel’s exercise center was just down the hall from our room and I was able to use the elliptical machine and the treadmill on three different mornings. The other days we spent a long time walking around. I used a pedometer on my phone to track how much walking we did at the zoo and by the end of the day we had clocked in over three miles of walking around. I don’t even want to think about how much walking we did at Disneyland yesterday. It had to be more than the zoo by at least a mile.

I have a number of things that I will be writing about over the next few days but don’t have the clarity of mind to do it now. Any day where you see both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans is a long day and I’m feeling it. Tomorrow morning we pick up my cats from the cat-sitter and we check on our hamster who is nearing the end of her life (that’s another blog entry altogether). I have pictures to clean up and publish and I’ll be writing a lot both here on the blog and on another project I’m working on. Spending the week away from home has renewed my enthusiasm for a writing project that I’ve been working on for almost a year but haven’t touched in the past few months since I was too busy doing other things. There’s nothing like a change of pace and perspective to really help you get your priorities in line. Now, I’m going to go get reacquainted with my zafu and then it’s time for bed.

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