Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Time Fears

I just wrote that all our days are numbered but that is only true in one sense.  If we know the date on which someone died, we could number each day from birth to death.  Theoretically, there is a number which equals the number of days some now alive will live but we don’t know what that number is.  But, yes, our time is limited.  In a month, I will be 70.  It is a good bet that I will not live for 100 more years.  Not 50 more years.  As Lynn says, looking at some of the late 80 yr olds and 90 yr olds we know, that is a good thing.
It feels inside that my interest in being “on time” for events and appointments is a separate matter.  I do not find myself reflecting on my remaining hours when I drive too fast to the dentist’s to be there by the time I have agreed to.  I find instead some sort of basic inner silent conviction that I will be a bad person if I am late.  Late!  Tardy!  When you are late, you are the faulty part of the machinery.  You are the reason work can’t proceed.  You… Blah, etc.
Those who are ‘tardy’ are those who are late.  We don’t seem to have an equally pejorative word for those who are early.  I mean if you are early, you may be sitting waiting for your time to arrive.  You may be reading magazines you aren’t really interested in or merely twiddling your thumbs.  You know how to twiddle, don’t you?
Because of my time conscience, I feel rather O.K. about twiddling, going into a trance, meditating or otherwise spending the time until my appointment.  I am able to feel that that time is not wasted and I am an OK person despite arriving early.  I suspect that the same kind of basic inner silent conviction in some people emphasizes how leaving now for the appointment is wasteful and foolhardy when some laundry could be folded yet or some bills paid. 
One solution to timing is to be neither late nor early.  However, given traffic and errors and just ordinary old chance, stuff, lots of unplanned unavoidable stuff is gonna’ happen.  We read about some Cambodian immigrants to America who noted the amazing punctuality their neighbors and friends showed.  When they discovered that the precise timing effect was produced by driving around the block to use up the twiddling interval, they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever heard.  They were totally speechless with laughter at the picture of an adult person circling the neighborhood waiting for the approved moment.  Hasn’t struck me as that funny but maybe it will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Don't be a donkey!

A friend mentioned years ago that cursing in Europe tends to be related to religion and fate in the afterlife while cussing in America tends to focus on bodily functions such as baby-making and elimination.  There are probably some good scholarly works on the development and paths taken when we are stirred to anger and either want to ask Satan to take someone to the underworld forever or call attention to the person’s dark, smelly and animal nature.

I tend to feel that when someone damns me that all that is happening is airwaves being released by the person’s larynx.  In Tom Robbins’s comic novel “Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates”, an Amazonian shaman places a death curse on an explorer that will kill him if his feet touch the ground.  The curse is taken seriously and the explorer spends a long time in a wheelchair.

From the scripts of most movies about sexually ripe young people, I gather that, like me, they have learned to express strong displeasure using words emphasizing the body and its processes.  I like to think of ‘cursing’ as the act of asking for a nasty experience for someone and ‘cussing’ as throwing angry words at them.  I am not in the habit of asking for someone who cuts me off rudely and dangerously in traffic to spend eternity in fiery torture.  Like other youngsters, I was intrigued by learning the bad words that I shouldn’t say but currently, they get used too much to have much weight. 

It is probably better brain exercise to actually construct an insult or slur about my target than to rely on pre-packaged phrases.  Maybe something modern and relevant such as “May your mutual funds fail” or “I pray your wine bottle burst” or “May your knees deteriorate”.

The part of our bodies that usually ranks highest for disagreeableness has been in the news lately.  For polite usage, we might say “butt” or “bottom” but for name-calling, adults use the A** word.  See Scott Adam’s on the suicidal terrorist use of rectal explosives and on the battle between the Church of Scientology and some of its critics.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who is ahead? Anybody?

Sometimes my great grandchildren are so cute and so funny.  They do things or say things that break me up.  Then, I realize that with a few adjustments for age, height, and other individual variables, I do the same thing.  I have learned to be cautious in feeling too amused or too superior because I sometimes find out it’s only funny when I am not the actor and I am not all that superior.
I am listening to a Teaching Company audio course on peoples and cultures of the world.  As I listen to an explanation of how the Trobiand Islanders use yams and gift-giving customs to establish honor and prestige, I find the practices complex and basically pointless in the great scheme of things.  Oops!  Same thing again!  When I picture myself explaining how money in the bank is important but yams in the yam hut aren’t, I realize that with a few adjustments, I do lots of things that are complex but basically pointless, temporary and without real profit.
In this time of questioning whether we have ruined the planet, obliterated the rainfall, dirtied the air and killed life around us, we are in a period of wondering who is the unenlightened ‘primitive’ and who lives a balanced, sustainable life.  It comes a shock to find the evidence pointing to hunter-gatherers having more leisure time than we do and less hunger among their people.  As I think about what I have heard of the Kalahari bushmen and their lives, I know I would miss my access to books, computers, tv, worldwide harvests and fruits and many other aspects of my current life.  I like having a car and roads that will take me across the country.  I like the medical care I get and the education we have. 
But I think I am open to the idea that my life may a kind that is too rich and too wasteful for people to live for very long.  I do believe that people all over the world are thinking carefully about ways to sustain and improve our lives.  I guess, like many other questions, we will just have to do our best and wait and see how things turn out.  Maybe we should be using sharpened stones and open fires instead of stainless steel knives and microwaves.  Maybe we weren’t so smart after all.
It is interesting that many cultures decide that the Western or ‘developed’ way of life is worth adopting when they learn about it.  We heard last year of original tribes in Australia where many children are ruining themselves by sniffing gasoline which quickly and permanently  injures their brains.  I have heard of other sorts of disasters when people adopt or try to adopt ‘developed’ ways of life.  I am curious about some sort of final tally of gains and losses.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Someone is sleeping

When I was growing up, anyone in the house who was sleeping was let alone.  Sleeping meant that sleeping was needed, so a sleeper was to be kept in mind.  Creeping around the house, avoiding any noise possible, going somewhere else for a while – that sort of thing was called for.  I have read that it is well established that teens really do need extra sleep and that our secondary schools are not helping when they start classes too early.
I think there are different conceptions of sleeping: a healthy activity that refreshes the body and the brain, an indulgence that encourages laziness and should be minimized and everything between.  As a teacher, I had the notion that families could arrange for adequate sleep for the kids even if they didn’t have much money.  I am very confident that the view a person has of sleeping has much to do with their upbringing and experience.  I have a relative that seems to be able to sleep for nearing any amount of time desired, from 4 or 5 hours to 8 to 9. 
I tend to fall asleep easily but I wake up easily, too.  If I awaken and think that I probably haven’t slept for long enough, I can easily go back to sleep.  Since July, I have been working on self-hypnosis and find getting myself into a trance helps me fall asleep even though Roberta Temes, PhD, and others assure me that brain wave research and other indicators show that trance and sleep are different.
Lynn is sensitive to light and seems to wake up if the sun peeps into the room, even without directly shining on her.  I am more sensitive to noise and awaken when there is an unexpected sound.  We both find that A.W.A. [aaaah, those dreaded words again: “As We Age”], we need more help in getting warm and staying that way.  We sleep better with more blankets than we used to.
True to practice in my childhood, we try to be very quiet and undisturbing if the other one is still sleeping.  I have a remote that allows me to turn on the modem and router from far away so I can use a laptop without tramping around the house.  Reading a book, taking a walk, eating a banana or other food that needs no preparation are good uses of time when there is still sleeping going on.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What Do You Do All Day?

Some friends have asked about retirement with doubt and fear in their voices.  Most of us have not been independently wealthy but dependent on a job.  We didn’t mind that.  We had worked to find work that appealed and satisfied and after 20 or 40 or 60 years of working, we were quite used to waking with the expectation of going to work.
So, is retirement heavenly?  Yes a little bit and no a little bit.  You still have to eat and that means shop or raise food, cook it and clean up afterwards.  By the time you reach retirement age, you are rather trained in realizing that neatness counts.  So does physical effort, imagination and planning. 
We do share the cooking and that cuts the burden.  We can afford more food than we can eat and we could probably afford to supply ourselves with candy, chocolate, steak and wine at every meal, with some similar snacks in between.  However, retired or not, we still age.  Our metabolism slows down.  We really can’t handle as many calories as we once did.  Even watching more carefully than we used to, we still sport-eat too many calories and have to work at keeping our weight down and our blood sugar low.
Yes, but what else?  Three round meals a day are nice but is that all?  Working on our money and bill paying are still there, just as when we had jobs we went to.  As we age [those fearsome words we have learned to dread from our doctor’s lips], we find more and more appointments with both the doctor and the dentist.  We work out as our bodies need more maintenance and stretching than ever before.
Some days are just storms of events.  My retired friends often find they are asked to babysit and they do want to have the grandkids over and stay in their lives.  But, forgotten animals that are essential to falling asleep and trips to retrieve them, shots, vitamins, sport events and sports injuries, musical events, recitations are all ways that claim time and energy.  Don’t forget: us seniors don’t drive as much, run as much or carry as much as we used to, either.
We do write, both correspondence and more permanent, challenging things such as Lynn’s family history of several hundred pages. I have been retired for nearly 5 years now.  Before leaving work, I had some counseling sessions just to see if a professional could spot any problems lurking in the back of my mind.  But by this time, I have a rough idea that when a person reaches retirement in these times, that person has developed more than enough interests, plans, hopes and hungers to see them through the rest of their days.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Follow up to Peace of Mind

Good follow up to the peace of mind post:

Seeking Peace of Mind

My stepfather was an interesting and active man.  He introduced my mother and us to Unitarians, he tried to read and improve himself and his life but he wrestled with difficulties and doubts.  As a young man with professional baseball aspirations, he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and that deeply affected his life and world view, naturally.

I remember seeing him read interesting titles and one of them was Peace of Mind by Joshua Liebman.  I remembered the title because I was intrigued by it.  What was peace of mind?  How could you not have a peaceful mind if you wanted one?  I was too young (under 10 years old), too unskilled and too egotistical to get close enough to him to learn about the book or his thoughts on the subject.

Now, I would say that having peace of mind is roughly equivalent to having a good time with this life of ours.  With peace of mind, if I win the lottery, I can accept the good fortune with grace and pleasure and look to ways to use the money well.  If I lose my fortune and my health like Job in the Old Testament, I can accept my fall and whatever follows with grace and interest in using what I still have and wringing what I can from life for myself and those I care about.

Roughly speaking, especially for Westerners and Americans, finding and re-finding peace of mind is what Buddhism and its practices are about.  In looking for a single author, it is difficult for me to find another as useful and clear as Jack Kornfield.  But nowadays, Lynn and I are finding another teacher who has been very helpful and that is Phillip Moffitt and his book Dancing with Life. A rough sketch of the life of the Buddha is available in many places but one good place is Herman Hesse’s book Siddhartha.  Basically, as a young married man of wealth and promise, Siddhartha, not unlike Phillip Moffitt, turned his back on wealth and set a course for discovering how to have peace of mind in all circumstances of life.  He succeeded probably as much or more than any other human being is known to have ever done.

"I Shall Be Pleasing" or "Placebo" in Latin

The brain and the mind continue to surprise and amaze.  In the interests of a so-called ‘gold standard’ in science, we try to test a drug or procedure against a worthy alternative.  We don’t want to get too tricky or complicated so we try to run a control group that gets something acceptable as a treatment but thought by the researcher to be null, void, dull, zilch.  As usual, it is not that easy to find something acceptable, attractive but genuinely empty of content and effect.
Wired magazine has a good article on placebos.  It turns out that aspirin vs. sugar pills that are red will give slightly different results for the placebo group from a group that gets sugar pills that are blue.  The article discusses the effects of different colors of pills.
Now the Mind Hacks blog has an article on research by Martina Amanzio and her associates who compared the ‘side effects’ found in the placebo groups of 3 different studies on quite different types of drugs.  They found that the ‘side effects’ from the placebo for one type of drug were more similar to the side effects of the actual drug than to placebo effects in a different study.
The link above to the Amanzio study mentions that all participants in a study get told the side effects that might come up so maybe the placebo group is primed by that information. 
The best single book I know about the brain/mind is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD.  It is exciting and wide-ranging.  [Note to Mike and Gyneth: it is also available in Kindle format, hope you get the device, you’ll see its value, only $299 now.] One aspect of the brain/mind that is fascinating but also confusing for theory is the growing clarity we have that the mind/brain and the body are connected!  They aren’t separate and they interact all the time.  In one way, that is totally obvious but it doesn’t make increasing our understanding of the whole human ball of wax neurons and other stuff easy.

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