Posts Tagged ‘understanding’

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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It seems like as soon as my leg healed,  I injured myself again. This time it’s my foot. I was running around with my son and his best friend and managed to hurt the bottom of my left foot. Once again, I can’t go to the gym because I can hardly walk without limping. There’s no way I can exercise with it feeling this way.

At least with a foot injury I can still meditate. Unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to sit for long periods of time. The other morning I went to sit for 20-30 minutes but couldn’t get past the 15 minute mark because of the pain.

Even though I was hurting, I had committed to going to the Zen Center on Wednesday evening. I planned on sitting any way I had to in order to get through the night. As we began sitting, I felt my body begin to relax into the calm concentration of zazen and I began to focus my mind on the present moment and dismiss thoughts that arose. It didn’t take long before the pain popped up along with thoughts about it. This can be quite distracting when you are trying to meditate. Usually, pain is caused by sitting with your legs or back or feet being held in one position for too long. That’s pretty easy to address by gently moving whatever needs to be moved. This pain wasn’t going away that easily.

We were only 10 minutes into the first 25 minute sitting and I was having a harder time than I thought I would. I wasn’t sure what to do about the pain so I focused on sitting and keeping a clear mind. The beauty of keeping a clear mind is that when you are meditating in a group with others, you are all of the same (clear) mind. It’s one of the few times when one has a shared experience of that intensity. As someone who used to play music and as Brad Warner says in his book Sit Down and Shut Up, it is similar to the experience of playing music in a band when everything is going right. It’s a great feeling to be that connected to others and this happened to me last night.

This is not something that happens to me every time I go to the Zen center. It’s not something I try to force because that would defeat the purpose of sitting. When it happens, it happens and it’s nice when it does.

As I sat there in meditation, I felt a connection with the others in the room and a strange thing began to happen: I felt myself gaining strength from my connection with them. As I felt more “oneness” with those in the room, the pain in my foot subsided. I began to, literally, transcend the pain I was feeling. It was no longer an issue for me because the pain in that foot was just pain in one of my feet and, at that point in time, I felt like I had 16 feet. Before I knew it, the first sitting was over and it was time for walking meditation.

This was really a concern for me going into the evening since walking was harder for me than sitting. I’m limping pretty bad because I can’t put much weight on my left foot. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to spend 10 minutes walking or if I’d have to stand aside while others walked.

My concerns and worries were unnecessary. The diminished pain in my foot continued through the walking meditation and into the next session of sitting. It was an amazing experience for me to be that connected to others around me in practice. I have read about it and have heard about it but I hadn’t experienced it to that extent before. I had felt this kind of connection in small doses in the past but this was the first time that I had felt that connection for an extended practice period. Even after we were done, I continued to feel a connection to everyone and everything around me in a way that I don’t normally feel. It didn’t last forever but it was nice while it did.

Tonight, my foot still hurts. I really want to get back into the gym and I hope to do that starting on Monday morning. The pain is slowly going away and I am moving faster and without as much of a limp this evening. I just wish that the relief I felt last night would have stuck around longer! But, one cannot force something like that.

I think that this experience has really helped me to see how important it can be to practice with others. Practicing alone or sitting by oneself is important as a daily routine is helpful. However, last night reminded me that to be a part of a community, a Sangha, is even more important and can be even more helpful. If you are practicing and not currently a part of a Sangha, I can’t encourage you enough to find one to be a part of. It will challenge you and encourage you and help you to grow in ways that you can’t on your own.

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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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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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Believe it or not, I’m not an avid reader of Marie Claire magazine. I know: shocking. Last night, it came to my attention that there is a TV show called Mike & Molly. I’d never heard of it before and still don’t plan on watching it. Apparently, someone from Marie Claire wrote an op-ed piece making some disparaging remarks about obesity and people who are obese in response to this new show. Believe it or not, this didn’t go over very well with a lot of people. The writer then tried to apologize and retract some of her statements but this backfired on her too. It looks like her small post has gotten about 2000 comments so far and a ton of media coverage. That’s not a bad number when you consider I’m happy if a post ever gets 5 comments (including my own replies to others). Needless to say, I have a few opinions on this myself. Some quite strong. There are a lot of really good phrases going through my head that I really want to use to describe my reaction to this piece and some of the comments about it. However, I will refrain because I don’t think adding my rant to this “discussion” will do anyone any good.

Believe me, I could unleash a torrent of words about this subject that could burn your eyes if I allowed myself to let loose. Instead, I will attempt to state my thoughts on this issue as rationally as I can considering the vast emotional issues wrapped up in this topic.

First of all, as someone who is now just obese and not morbidly obese, I fully know the pain of being seen the way that this author views “fatties” as she so graciously refered to us in the title of her article. If you think it’s uncomfortable to have to see someone like me, think about how much more uncomfortable it can be at times to actually be me. I used to despise those plastic outdoor chairs that were always too narrow and somehow  magically buckled when I sat on them for too long. When a room of people turns to look and see what just happened as you pick yourself up off the ground and try to find a new chair to sit in, you feel every single one of those eyes and you don’t have to be a mind reader to know what they’re thinking. They very well may not be thinking what you assume but the perception of judgement is something you can never escape. When you are obese, you don’t need to read an article like this to know that you’re considered a second class person by others. However, articles like this do serve to put words behind the negative emotions that those of us who are obese feel.

The author makes a rather poor analogy between viewing the obese the same way she would a drunk or a heroin addict. While her analogy fails, she does hit on an important issue that needs to be discussed more: food is a drug. Especially the way that we eat food today. When was the last time you looked at a package of prepared food and actually knew what all of those chemicals were and knew what those long words meant. When food becomes more chemistry than cookery it’s an indicator that something is wrong. The food industry today does everything in its power to keep consumers consuming. It is in their financial interest to make these foods as appealing as possible. That means upping the fat, sugar and salt contents in a case of junk-food one-upmanship that has continued to spiral out of control. The largest drink offered at 7-11 actually holds more liquid than the human bladder can physically contain. Fried and salty fast foods assault our eyes and nose and mouth whenever we go out in public. Drive down a street in just about any town in the country and I’m sure you’ll see the same stuff offered by the same companies with the same negative impact on the health of the people in that town. Junk food is everywhere. It’s easier to get than drugs or alcohol and the unhealthy stuff often has the same hold on the brains of the obese as heroin or crack has on those who are addicted to them.

The article also makes the often-heard but grossly wrong statement that the obese could change if only they put their minds to it. We know this isn’t true of smokers, alcoholics or drug addicts and for the reasons I’ve stated above, this is true for those addicted to food as well. My weight was a symptom of a bigger issue in my life: depression and anxiety. No amount of will power would ever change my brain chemistry to allow me to no longer use food as a drug to self-medicate. There were times when all I wanted to do was stop eating but I couldn’t. I knew that eating all the chips or ice cream or candy or soda was wrong and bad for me but I had as much chance of stopping myself as I would stopping myself from falling if I trip down the steps. Many of us are obese because we no longer have the ability to make the choices that would allow us to make these changes on our own. For me, it took hitting an emotional wall where I was considering suicide and had chest pains and was suffering from such severe sleep apnea that I couldn’t even take a short nap without a CPAP to keep me breathing. Only then did I seek professional help from a doctor who helped me to see the underlying factors behind my weight and emotional state that I was able to begin to make changes.

The changes I made weren’t small either. I radically threw away my old lifestyle and embraced a new one in order to develop the habits I would need to break my cycle of eating and weight gain. I happen to be blessed with the Aspergers-like intensity that only a hard-core geek could have to make those changes. I used the same things that contributed to my situation to fight the effects that it had on me. Fortunately, most people aren’t like me. They don’t have something weird in their brain that gives them the ability to focus on one particular thing and learn everything possible about it to the level of obsessiveness that borders on madness. I’m one of the few lucky ones who just so happens to be able to throw myself into the deep end and learn pretty quickly how to float. I would never be so arrogant as to think that anyone else would be able to do what I have done the way that I have done it. Still even with that intensity, I would have failed without a lot of external support and assistance. Needless to say, it is very hard to make long-term lasting changes that will start to reduce ones weight. Having support and compassion from others is critical. Judgemental articles like this one do not help.

To answer the final question the author poses in her post, I do think she is being an insensitive jerk (her words not mine). However, she is also ignorant of a lot of facts about obesity and is lacking the understanding about what it takes to fight it. Having to look at a person who is obese should not be revolting. However, given the way that society does judge those who have been sucked into the obesity vortex our society has created, her attitude is in no way unique. What we need to do, as a society, is recognize how our choices have impacted not only ourselves, but everyone else in the world. We need to become more compassionate to those who have been labeled as “different” or “other” or “defective” regardless of what character trait, physical trait, preference or emotional issue may be causing them to be labeled that way.

Once upon a time, illness was pretty easy to understand. Germs and bacteria and viruses were the things that caused people to become sick and to die. Today, medical advances have made these issues much less severe. That has not made illness go away. Rather, it has made room for a whole new set of sicknesses to become the leading killers of people in the U.S. Depression, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. are all modern problems that should be treated with the same response that once fought tuberculosis, mumps, polio, measles, diphtheria, dysentery and cholera. Obesity is a sickness that has its own set of challenges and problems and if left untreated will cause an early death. Instead of turning a blind eye to this problem, I ask the author of the Marie Claire post and others who feel like her to rethink your own opinions of obesity and learn about ways to change our society for the betterment of all instead of pointing fingers and calling names. We know we’re fat. We do care. We are trying to change. We’re not the sole holders of responsibility for our present state: everyone is responsible. Just like the cost of treating obesity will fall on everyone, the challenge to make changes that will end it will also be the responsibility of everyone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to lock myself in a small room and rant at the walls and then go eat a salad.

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If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.
— Zen proverb

As I said in my last post, I am working on understanding my reasons and motivations and the causes of my suffering. This proverb acts as a reminder to me that understanding these reasons will not change anything about my situation. This is a good thing because it keeps me aware that the journey is not the destination. Even if I gain complete clarity as to why my weight ballooned up to 330 pounds, I will still be overweight. Understanding the causes of my suffering is only one step on the way toward a healthy lifestyle. The Four Noble Truths allow us to begin to enter into a right view but that is only the first step on the eightfold path. I am gaining understanding about my suffering and it is helping me to begin to work toward ending it and that’s a great thing but I need to remember that I have much work ahead of me. Where are you on your journey? What are you trying to understand and what will not change once you gain the understanding of it?

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