Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mental flow

With enough meditation practice, you can get in the groove to watch and know your mental flow without getting caught up in sub-stories.  Let's say that every time you think of that girl who suddenly turned inexplicably cool and distant, you get a little peeved.  No, not a little peeved, make that damned straight peeved as anybody would be who got treated that way.  When you think of the way you felt, the loyalty you had shown, blah, blah, blah….


That is the sort of thinking that shows getting caught up in the story.  You normally think of a subject and then you think about that subject: is the job finished?  What is the next thing that ought to be done…. and so forth.  But with enough awareness of your mind and the way you tend to use it, you see that you are thinking of that girl that you get peeved about or the job and its next step.  You can develop a skill of simply watching your mental flow for a while as a kind of meditation.


Sometimes, what you can observe of the flow is better than watching television.  You can observe that you do jump around mentally but it is not random.  One thought leads to another, things that have been in the back of your mind for a while come forth.  Your basic drives of hunger, thirst, affection, duty all suggest what you might get started thinking about.  You can get the urge to have a cup of coffee, it can build up to quite a strong level and then you can remember that you never called your friend back and have yet again put off sorting and folding that clean laundry.  You could almost decide it is good to sit with a pad and pencil since good ideas and important tasks can flow through the mind so quickly that you need to jot them down.


You can see that I have not mentioned any sacred persons, religious figures or holy texts.  As I have written recently, the advantages of meditation are many and one of the most fundamental is being closer friends with your mind and mental habits. If you have practiced concentration on a point, be it visual or physical like your breathing, for a while, you might want to try simply observing your mind's flow.  At first, there may be no flow since you are there watching.  But within 3 to 5 minutes, there will be.  In fact, by then, you may be thinking of a good dinner you are anticipating or be in some other area of thought.  If you catch yourself doing that, note the subject if you want but then go back to a blank-ish mind and take up observing to see what gets shown next.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Could it all be perfect?

This passage from The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein has stuck in my mind.

Maya's (Buddha's mother, who died within days of his birth) predicament mirrored one that the Buddha would confront over and over again in his adult years. People could not believe in their own Buddha nature. Even Gotama himself, in his pre-enlightenment years, could not believe in his inherent perfection. He thought he had to extinguish himself to find transcendence. His mother acted out of a similar belief. Unable to stay with the thrill in her human embodiment, unable to believe that her physical body could bear her joy, Maya was forced to take refuge in her celestial bliss body, the only one that could hold the feelings evoked by her child. In so doing, the Buddha's mother acted out an inadequacy that many a mother— like many a lover— is vulnerable to, an inadequacy fed by thoughts of doubt and fear that erode confidence and corrode connection. Doubting the capacity of her physical form to sustain the thrill of her motherhood, Maya was compelled to seek a self -state that split her off from her child. Like an infant forced to disconnect from his ruthless self when his mother fails to receive it, Maya could endure only by dissociating. Forsaking her body and her child, she survived by departing her physical form.


Epstein, Mark (2013-08-15). The Trauma of Everyday Life (p. 78). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.


I have read that the Buddha feared that he would be unable to explain in a convincing way what he had discovered about life and our minds.  Telling people they are inherently perfect would never work.  They can easily produce dozens of examples from their lives where they have sinned or erred or failed in some personal way.


Tara Branch has a book on Radical Acceptance and if one can take a longer view, it seems possible that the entirety of one's life might be accepted as ok, even though such acceptance might be difficult.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stories of feelings

A friend told me his rule of thumb for noting when an action or police show on tv should no longer be watched.  It's when the characters start falling in love with each other.  Some people prefer a story in which the police search for clues and then try to track down the bad guy (or girl! - it can happen these days and let's be open).  But when the very beautiful female detective starts getting long, lustful looks from the very beautiful male detective, he says the show has gone downhill.


You know what is going to happen next.  Feelings!  Jealousy!  Doubts!  A good writer or team of them can run on emotions for decades.  In fact, the early soap operas did exactly that.  Plenty of shows do so today, too.


Given our wiring bias toward bad news, we are going to notice when the very beautiful female detective has tears in her eyes because the very beautiful male detective is rumored to have spent the weekend with his former girlfriend.  WE know that the rumor is not true and that it was launched by that less beautiful other male detective who is hoping to have a close relationship with the very beautiful female detective, despite the fact that HIS daughter is planning to undermine his plans because of the way he treated her mother.


Our antennas are alert for threats and a threat to you or your area might become a threat to me and my area.  Besides, we are basically good-hearted people and we hate to see such a beautiful female detective, played by an actress who got the role because of her large expressive eyes, in tears.  Since feelings can change easily and actually do, spicing up the tales of pursuit of bad guys (or girls) with the goings-on in the police station extends the possibilities for the writers. If we do keep watching, we will probably develop a feeling of closeness with the story characters.  We will experience an extra level of delight when the usually gruff and possibly insensitive policeman manages to be quite poetic when he gives the best man's toast at the wedding.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Monday, January 26, 2015

All together

When I think of large coordinated efforts such as military operations, space exploration and even college curricula, I am impressed at what teamwork can do.


There is a recent TED talk by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor of medicine at Harvard, in which he explains that medicine has progressed to the point where individual effort is insufficient and more teamwork is essential.  He mentions "pit crews" like those that change tires and do other maintenance in very short time in a NASCAR race and puts such teamwork out as a model for medicine.


He says,

"Well, we've now discovered 4,000 medical and surgical procedures. We've discovered 6,000 drugs that I'm now licensed to prescribe." He explains the need for checklists, the subject of one of his recent books, to verify that all the important steps in a medical procedure, especially those frequently overlooked, have been taken.

From about 1920 on, Bell Labs and others relied on the work of Walter Shewhart and later on such people as W.E. Deming and Joseph Juran to work out the concepts and mathematics of very high quality manufacturing.  In the 1980's and since, many of the same ideas have been applied to other sorts of teamwork, such as administration of large organizations.


More and more people are getting trained in "Six Sigmas", quality circles and related approaches that aim to make very few errors in a large team effort.  Some Asian companies have reported such enthusiasm for improving quality and driving error rates toward zero that they have had to demand riled-up workers not come to work on holidays and in extra hours.  They were hooked on doing better and finding ways to make that happen.


Once a team of cooperating members gets esprit de corps, gets a real team spirit, they run on a high octane sort of fuel.  They can get very enthusiastic about bettering their performance.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Sunday, January 25, 2015

What is this minfulness goop?

We are taught critical thinking, in school, in research, in our purchases, in our media-saturated world.  So, when we read about "mindful" this and "mindful" that, it is easy to write the whole thing off as a big scam, some hot deal, some foolishness. I have been thinking and reading about the subject for about 20 years and I can appreciate all sorts of doubts and cautions.


I read about a school in Ohio that had been teaching and practicing meditation for quite a while but recently decided to stop when some parents of the students started to worry that the whole idea was anti-Christian and maybe some sort of subversion.  It happens that Ohio is the one state with a U.S. Congressman, Tim Ryan, who is a published author of a book on the subjects of meditation and mindfulness.  His book "A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance and Recapture the American Spirit" explains his own meditation practice, what it has done for his hectic life as a Congressman, and what he sees as a potentially valuable tool.


"Mindful" usually means "aware" as in I am mindful that my library book is overdue and needs to be returned.  So what's the big deal?  I am aware of my hunger, the time, the temperature, and plenty of other things all day.  Why should I strive to be aware, when I already am.  Well, in general, the hullabaloo is about being aware of what is going on in the mind, almost as if we can see into it from next-door.  If you can step back a little from the mind, not too far back but a little, you can see what is going on without being caught up.  Being mindful in this sense is equivalent to a very valuable source of self-knowledge.

 

So, it makes sense that as physician, marital partners, religious practitioners, athletes, law enforcement personnel, teachers and students gain better self-knowledge they can see what they think and feel more accurately, they can provide better feedback and correction to themselves and they can perform better, professionally and privately.  If you visit the home page of Mindfulness.org, you can be overwhelmed by all the claims and smiling faces.  You can suspect the whole damned thing is just a little too happy, smiley, pleasant and bright.  You can just see a kindergarten teacher or a long-distance flight stewardess (near the beginning of the flight) with a glowing smile plastered on her face which she intends to keep there, come Hell or high water.


The activity of trying to concentrate on a single point or place or word or sound for five or ten minutes has been part of every serious religion.  Such an activity is the basis of almost any meditation method and its purpose is to increase one's sensitivity to the placement of one's attention.  As that sensitivity increases, I get a little more likely to notice that I don't want Miss X's company or I really am going for another glass of wine or I drag my feet about doing housework.  I am in a better position to get to know Miss X better or do a better job at not being near her.  I can make it more trouble to have alcohol and I can begin some serious work with somebody to change my habits.  I can reconsider my housework, what needs to be done and who I can get to help with it.


So, when you read that mindfulness improves relations among workers, aids people in avoiding alcoholism and makes for cleaner houses kept by happier householders, it is true because we are referring to the basic mental tools that are behind and inside all human activity.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Senior citizen texting codes (an additional message for today)

Texting can be a big help.  Short, inexpensive and not calling for an elaborate response.  Why let the kids have a good thing all to themselves?

Here are texting codes just for senior citizens.  I was alerted to this new communication tool by Twitter.

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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Habeus Corpus again

In an attempt to fashion a government that could govern and at the same time, be fair to the governed, the practice of permitting a prisoner or someone acting on his behalf to have a review of the reasons and circumstances of his detention arose long before there was a United States.  Even if the prisoner had died in custody ("accidentally fell down the stairs" or some such) the prisoner or his body needed to be produced in a hearing.  The words "habeus corpus" are translated as "you must have the body", in other words, show the judge the prisoner alive or dead.

Since the writ of habeus corpus and its force and practice are fundamental to government, the words and the admonition to pay attention to the body pop up elsewhere.  The English playwright Alan Benet used the words as the title of his sex farce.  Once in the realm of sex, we revert to attending to our bodies and are very conscious of the body's fundamental place in our lives.


The importance of our bodies to our lives is basic, despite the fact that in this era, many people live in such a way as to emphasize their mental lives, their thinking ability.  The body responds to use, indeed, gets trained to the sort of use or non-use it experiences.  So, we have the current mantra on the importance of exercise.  All sorts of physical activity can assist in keeping a healthy and alert relation between the rest of the body and the head/brain/mind.


Actually, even the least use of the body still relies on many bodily processes.  The "corpse pose" or savasana in yoga, where you lie flat out, as in a hospital bed on your back, still requires the muscles of the heart and lungs to do their work. Your ears still hear and your liver and kidney still filter.  So, for any part of this earthly and complex and miraculous life, you need the body, even while much of it dangles from an office chair while you press little keys on a keyboard.


I believe our society is fascinated with the idea of effort.  Try hard and try harder.  When we try hard, we can feel and see that we are doing so and we can feel virtuous.  We do find that many goals, both important and frivolous, are reached when we try hard and then try harder.  So, it is not surprising that in an area like exercise and athletics, we tend to have a strong feeling that the only good exercise is a long and vigorous one.  When you are in your 20's, long and vigorous can certainly pay off.  Later in our lives, the idea that anything but long and vigorous is pointless can be a costly one.


Isometric exercise where the muscles are clenched vigorously without moving has long been known to be valuable.  For at least 50 years, it has been known that hold the muscle very tense for 6 seconds is enough to cause strength improvement.  Clenching muscles from the feet to the top of the head successively, in a form of body scan, can be a form of increasing body awareness and a good preparation for meditation.


The recent article by Alexandra Sifferlin in Time of 1/26/15 explained that one minute workouts have benefits:

"1 MINUTE:

Go as hard as you can. Gibala's team has shown that you can improve fitness in just 60 seconds.

The workout: Get on a stationary bike or treadmill. Give yourself a short warm-up and then pedal or run as fast as you can for one minute.

The benefit: Men and women who tried the one-minute workout for six weeks improved their endurance and lowered their blood pressure."



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

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