Friday, November 16, 2018

Having a full and friendly relation with yourself

Pema Chodron (an American-born superior in a Canadian Buddhist monastery:

The basic creative energy of life bubbles up and courses through all of existence. It can be experienced as open, free, unburdened, full of possibility, energizing. Or this very same energy can be experienced as petty, narrow, stuck, caught. Even though there are so many meditations, so many instructions, the basic point of it all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mindthoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call "me" or "I."

Excerpted from: Awakening Loving-Kindness

by Pema Chödrön,

page 40


Who is the "Witness"? By Jay Michaelson (Meditation Weekly #76)

From 10% Happier

You may have noticed that experienced meditators sometimes speak in code. For example, "I'm sitting with a lot of anger right now" is meditation-ese for "I am extremely pissed off at you." Or, "It's interesting to watch all of these thoughts come and go" is meditator code for "I can't freaking sit still for five seconds right now!"

One term meditation nerds often use is the word "Witness." Usually as a noun, though sometimes as a verb. "Rest in the witness," many meditation teachers say. What does that mean?

What the word means, in practice, is that there's a faculty of the mind – a capacity, if you like – to notice whatever is happening, and not be affected by it in the way we ordinarily are. To take a trivial, but common, example, suppose you're driving in your car, doing errands, and someone cuts you off. Reactions may vary, but if you're like me, you might get instantly swept up in anger, resentment, frustration – or, perhaps, fear, surprise, or anxiety.

As you practice mindfulness, though, you'll gradually begin to see that these reactions don't always have to happen, and you can instead "witness" what's happening without necessarily reacting the way you ordinarily might. You can, as the nerds say, "rest in the witness."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Retirement can be stressful and too busy

There are a million blogs and some are just too good to miss.  You are aging and I hope you are keeping all the right documents in good order and a secure place for your next of kin to do what has to be done later, when, you know, you pass.  But in the meantime, how about talking to the local Kiwanis club about that trip you took?

Some of your friends would love to have lunch with you.  But you can't do it over the next few days: you have that checkup, you want to talk with your investment guy and the car needs an oil change. It helps to exercise so get that morning walk in.  And, how long has it been since you attended your yoga class?

The evidence is strong that five or ten minutes a day devoted to quiet meditation helps you stay in good contact with your body, your mind and your feelings.  There are a ton of Great Courses and another ton of truly wonderful TED talks. Don't miss out on them. Your local library is full of good books and good videos that are free for the borrowing.  I hope you aren't skipping them.

When you are employed, you know what your job is.  When you are retired, the whole world is open to you.  How about a Road Scholar trip to Europe? Ok, at least Canada or the Caribbean.  The League of Women Voters could use a little help from you, the Boy Scouts and your favorite political party are both looking for help, too.

As the years pile up, as the body ages, you can see how a person might be quite drawn to just pulling covers back up and staying in bed. At least once in a while.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Thanks to two friends

An English prof and a librarian have given me the author and title I was searching for: "Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell.

What was that book?

Within the last year or so, I read a novel aloud to Lynn.  It was about a young, unattached man who was hired to come in at night and read the emails that employees of the company had sent to each other.  His job was to search for people who were violating company policy. He was fairly attractive and a pair of young women employees emailed each other back and forth during the day.  Their emails included comments about the young man and the interest in him that one of the women felt.

I am not sure if it was the structure of the story or what it was that stuck in my mind.  I know that I read it on my Kindle and I know that I read it aloud.

I recently joined a book club with some other men about my age.  We were supposed to recommend a book of fiction and one of non-fiction that the group might like.  It is no surprise to me that a very high percentage of the books I have purchased for my Kindle are non-fiction.  So, it is easy for me to select a book I liked for the non-fiction recommendation. I chose "Incognito" by David Eagleman.  

I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to track down the email story but I have not succeeded.  I did review many lists and I came across examples of fiction that I like. I thought I would fall back on "Big Trouble" by Dave Barry, a book that I have enjoyed and which is well-written, witty and worthwhile in my opinion.  I also saw on my iPad Kindle app, in the grid view which allows books covers to show in rows and is quick for review, some books by Donald Westlake. One of Westlake's characters is John Dortmunder, a thief who often barely escapes capture and injury and rarely makes a good haul.  I knew that Westlake's books would be a good recommendation as soon as I saw his name.

I was also reminded of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  That I listened to in audio form and it struck me as one of the finest audiobooks I have ever heard.  

I enjoy looking at Amazon's Charts (, which show fiction and non-fiction that has been sold and read over the last week.  I often hear how Google and others, like Amazon, are tracking me and recording everything about me. I hear that they can predict me every move and see deeply into my life.  My one little life, seems to have twists and turns that make it difficult for me to follow, much less a big corporation. For various reasons, like a Kindle malfunctioning a while ago and needing to be totally cleared, I cannot find the damned story about the email reader and his romance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Suspicious of superlatives

This is an age of marketing.  

  • Buy from us!

  • Get the best!

  • Our product is No. 1!

It helps if we only use a single rule, contest, criterion or variable.  

  • Ours is most popular! (in the continental US during 2016)

  • Our is most durable! (if used every other week)

  • We sell for the lowest price (today only)

I wrote a master's paper on Herbert A. Simon's idea of satisficing, as opposed to optimizing.  Maybe we don't seek the all-out BEST. Maybe there isn't really a single best except under special circumstances, measured in a given time and place.  Who is the best batter? The best quarterback? It may be better to aim to have a good product that serves us well, to have a good batter and a good quarterback.  

You may have heard the statement that 98% of statistics are made up on the spot.  I just made up the 98%. I chose it. Truthfully, I doubt that fake or unfounded numbers are quite that common. I don't doubt that there are claims of numbers and of quality ("Ours is the best!") that have little or no evidence behind them.  I also don't doubt that what's best in one setting may be "sub-optimal" (less than best) is another.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Research and real life results about head injuries in football

I don't usually pay much attention to OnWisconsin, the UW-Madison alumni magazine but the cover story on Chris Borland, college and pro-football player who withdrew from playing after reviewing research results by researcher Anne McKee, also a Madison alum now at Boston University's CTE (brain damage) center is very worthwhile.  As a fan of meditation, I am interested in the part meditation plays in helping players handle stress, strange circumstances, and transitions.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Gripping pictures and facts

The Atlantic magazine ran an article showing some of the world's libraries.  It was put together by Alan Taylor, the magazine photo editor.  My friend, retired pastor Ken Hansen, recently did a similar presentation about world libraries and bookstores so I looked at the article.  

Picture 11, taken by the photographer Adek Berry, shows a very different sort of library.  An Indonesian donkey with baskets of books hanging on his sides. The baskets are filled with children's books and the animal is surrounded by village children looking at the books, choosing what to borrow.  When I think of the selection and freedom available to me as a child in a large city's libraries, I realize I had access to a treasure. I feel that all kids should have such access.

I hate to think of children with good minds and good potential who don't learn to read or kids who don't have access to a good library.  

Another big contrast showed up in an article in the New York Times about Sundar Pinchai, the CEO of Google.  The man who heads one of the most powerful and recognized companies in the world grew up in India.  His house had no refrigerator and the family slept on the living room floor. Quite a contrast with what happens to me.  I imagine we all are better off with some CEO's who know other lives than our typical American ones.

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