Friday, July 12, 2019


I was thinking about my thinking and my appreciation.  Appreciation of every thing good. There are many good things to enjoy, to savor.  To taste, to hear, to smell, to touch. When I think of appreciation, I think of the French bus.  

The situation is well captured by my experience of a bus ride through beautiful French and Italian countryside. I was the leader of the group and responsible for day-to-day upkeep of financial records. The ride provided a chance to get all my records up to date and temporarily relieve my worries about getting behind and failing in my duties. But, the countryside was very beautiful and I would probably not be coming this way again. Much like life, eh?

It's a choice again: enjoy the scenery and appreciate where I am, or get the records shipshape and feel good about my duties and our money.  The records weren't that complicated and I could do them at the hotel. Observe while I can.  

I am surprised at how much benefit I feel from meditating for 5 minutes first thing out of bed. So, I think about thinking and reflecting.  When I think about my aging brain, I know that Bob Crane's "Pickles" cartoon perfectly captures my memory these days. I can remember and I do, just not as quickly as I used to.

It seems to me that just sitting is way more fun these days.  Using my conscience and comparisons, I often see that my ego and pride lead me to assert I am better than others.  Then, a little reflection and internal investigation shows me I am worse, not better. As it says in "The Elephant in the Brain":

"At every single stage [of processing information]—from its biased arrival, to its biased encoding, to organizing it around false logic, to misremembering and then misrepresenting it to others—the mind continually acts to distort information flow in favor of the usual goal of appearing better than one really is."

Simler, Kevin. The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (p. 8). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A gift to me

We are both rather practically minded.  We like to conserve our money and not throw it around.  So, today, when I visited Lynn in Q Gallery where she was host, I was wowed by a gift she had bought for me.  It is a wooden bowl made by the woodworker Mike Jagielo

There is great art all over Gallery Q

But Lynn saw that on most visits to the Gallery, I found that amazing wooden bowl and showed it to people.

I think it is amazing that anyone can make a smooth delicate bowl like that out of wood. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Expanding collections and culling

Culling or weeding is the act of going through a collection and removing items that are out-of-date, or don't "spark joy", if you use Marie Kondo's criterion. Years before Marie, I learned about Don Aslett.  He has several books about de-junking, de-cluttering and avoiding unwanted expansion of a mass of goods such as photos and books. Aslett wrote "Clutter's Last Stand" and other books because of his job, which was cleaning offices.  He and his crew often found that cleaning was fairly simple but clearing obstacles in the way of cleaning wasn't.

For older people, the thought of a bereaved relative facing all the stuff stashed in the basement, the attic, the garage and that rental storage unit across town is haunting.  Lynn is a librarian and a teacher of librarians so she has experience facing a library full of books. Most libraries have strong space limitations and must keep the collection limited to what will fit conveniently in their footage.  She has the patience to look at each photo or piece of clothing and decide whether it is worth keeping.  

You may know that Ecclesiastes 12:12 says "Of the making of many books, there is no end."  Further, archived emails, saved receipts, pictures of the kids all pile up. Aslett really helped me when he wrote that just because I get rid of the vase Grandma used to own does not mean I didn't love her.  I realize that books and vases often serve as reminders. I see that book and I am transported back to the place and the day I bought it. I don't need to open the book or put flowers in the vase.

Several of my friends seem to blanch at the thought of being forgotten.  The Disney/Pixar film "Coco" explains that our souls reside in a special place after we die as long as someone alive remembers us.  Once all those who knew us forget us or die, we vaporize completely. When I think of such oblivion, I think of all my ancestors I never knew.  I never have known them and I can't think about them. But I salute their contribution to my body and my heritage and my life.

Meanwhile, I actually can go through my shirts and my books every once in a while and remove outdated items that I can now see do nothing for me.  True, items that have survived the cull repeatedly attain a semi-sacred status but I can still live without them. Maybe, even live better.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Beware of messages from "me" that are fake

A friend just reported a phishing email from my Gmail address that was connected to "  Don't click on links in such a message.  Delete it.  Bill

Trying to help

My Quaker workshop each day last week was "Life Lessons of a Bad Quaker."  It was run by Brent Bill, author of the book by the same name. One of the things Brent did was show this video, twice.  It is called "The Honest Preacher".

Teachers, therapists, physicians, politicians, as well as preachers, have flocks of people to minister to.  We are reading aloud "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb. Much like the preacher in the video, the therapist often wants to say "Stop it!"  Hard as it may be to believe, people often don't know what they are doing that needs to stop. Sometimes, they have a clue, though, but don't know they are entering the problem area as they do.  Sometimes, they know, especially after the fact, and are punishing themselves even as they continue what they shouldn't. Smoking and drinking to excess come to mind.

All the leaders of flocks know that self-control, discretion and empathy are basic to doing their job well.  A sense of proportion can help bring patience to a long struggle to open eyes to a problem. Some small step in the right direction might be noticed and strengthen the shepherd's ability to perserve without naming names or accusing people in front of others.  Even a private session that uncovers the burden the leader has been carrying in dealing with one's journey can undo progress and send the client/parishioner/student back into pointless self recrimination. 

If any humor appreciated by both leader and client can be found and used, it can be very helpful.  Leader and client both use their conscious minds steadily but sub-conscious feelings of unity, camaraderie and mutual humanity can emerge on the side and below awareness, increasing the friendliness and appreciation of each other.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Can I have a word?

Lynn commented the other day that "scared" and "sacred" were very similar words.  Sometimes, old advice for good or holy living is "Fear God and uphold His commandments".  So, maybe the right sort of being scared is related to the Sacred.

Lynn plays many word games every day so it does not surprise me that she sees the letters involved and the way they can be arranged.  A quick search on "When did humans first begin to speak?" yields the answer "2 million years ago". Writing is said to have been invented in the last 10,000 years.  So, roughly, speech is 200 times as old as writing. Babies babble and I think I have read that babbling is similar the world over.  

But both activities, speaking and writing, have to do with language.  Susan Langer has a memorable example in her book "Philosophy in a New Key".  She says,"Say 'John' and John's dog will start wagging his tail while his wife will say "What about John?"  The human holds the CONCEPT of John in mind and thinks about the concept. Where, when, why, who, how about John?

I am intrigued by what language does for humans.  This blog post from 2009

salutes the power of language, which in today's world of iPhones and social media does not really need further emphasis.  Still, our wiring and our throats and our brains are such that we can use concepts and words, even alone, to distance ourselves from something scary or to get up close and analyze feelings, facts and events.  We get so used to using language, including internal language and notes and journals for just ourselves, that sometimes we have to re-learn and re-emphasize the difference between words or concepts and actual physical facts and events out in the world.

We often use the test that if we can put something into words, spoken or written, we understand it. 

We can store so much in a word that we can be blind to how much is not included.  I watched the final game between the US women's soccer team and the Netherlands. It is easy and companionable to ask "Did you see the US play the Dutch team?" and hear back "Yes, I saw the game" when what I saw and felt and remember might be very different from what you saw and remember.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Right now

I am interested in breathing, in continuing to breath and to learn about breathing as a tool in meditation and self-control and self-knowledge. I first learned about getting close to one's self thru Benson's "The Relaxation Response" and Gallwey's "The Inner Game of Tennis".  I needed to learn to keep my attention anchored and I chose a visual anchor.

But later, I learned that concentrating on the breath was an old idea and that doing so had some real advantages.  After reading for a while, closing and resting my eyes feels very good. I also read Gay Hendrick's "Conscious Breathing" and Larry Rosenberg's "Breath by Breath".  I read about square or box breathing, where I inhale for a count of 4, hold for count of 4, exhale for 4 and hold for 4. I read Andrew Weil's advice to use a count of 4 on the inhale, hold for 7 and exhale for 8.  I have read about the large and central vagus nerve in the body and how it is helped with an inhale of 4 and an exhale of 8.

Reading Rosenberg, I learned about his trip to Korea to practice with Korean Buddhists.  The group was to practice meditation from 3 AM to 11PM for 90 days straight. That seems too rigorous to me.  So, when I read that that group was going to spend a solid week without sleeping, I thought the idea was REALLY over the top!  

The problem was that, in addition to my fatigue, I was carrying around an extra burden: the concept of seven days without sleep. I would be able to get through the week, he said, if I would put that burden down, if I took every activity moment by moment, breath by breath, giving full attention to whatever it was. Every sitting period, every walking period, every break, every meal. Just stay in the moment, and I would be fine.

He was right. The week was still difficult—I actually got to a point where I was hallucinating—but I was able to get through it. My concentration increased dramatically, as did my confidence in sitting. As our presence in meditation deepens, we actually need less sleep. I myself don't use such practices in my teaching; they are brutal on the body,

Rosenberg, Larry. Breath by Breath (Shambhala Classics) (pp. 27-28). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

This business reminds me of Eckhart Tolle and his emphasis on the NOW.  I guess a person can concentrate on Now, just Now and get through a great deal.

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