The right amount of speak

Kind of like the right amount to eat — the ideal portion size and the mix of nutrients may or may not be regularly appraised.  We tend to speak on autopilot, whether to ourselves, our significant other, strangers, family members, work colleagues, yadda yadda.

It takes the right amount of verbalizing for the listener to digest well.

I’m not referring to our new form of exchange — texting made easy, otherwise known as genetically modified speak, although the right amount certainly applies to all types of talk.  I’m thinking of the sincere dialogues we have when sound is made from our vocal cords.

Lately, perhaps due to a cognition malfunction, I’ve been mixing large portions of junk food speak into otherwise semi-healthy discussions.  Moreover, I’ve been serving up meaty colloquies to fellow humans interested in a lighter buffet of breeze shooting.

When speaking, like eating, we’d like our messages to be easily digestible, no matter the portion size.  Ideal digestibility occurs when there are healthy ebb and flows to a conversation.  A wholesome back and forth is largely dependent on portion size; i.e., somewhere between sermonizing and stubby responses.  So there is a payoff to consider the listener’s taste preference and enthusiasm.  For important conversations, that may mean selecting a time when the listener is open to chow.  Many weighty chats are infinitely more satisfying with several well-planned courses full of balanced flavors, like sweet and sour, bitter and salty.

Broaching more serious topics may call for attractive appetizers to stir the hunger juices, making the main course more appealing.  At the same time, getting to the point shouldn’t require an entire meal of hors-d’oeuvres, leaving the main course overkill.

You don’t want the listener to become bloated before your pontification is well received.

Good conversations, like nourishing meals, contain natural ingredients, the right amount of spice and complimentary flavors.  Healthy exchanges lack synthetic components, such as exaggerations (except for entertaining stories where no one’s ego is exploited), untruths, and gossip.  Sure, there are times to nibble.  Sometimes one-word replies are more adequate than a bouquet of words circling the point.  And still, other times when the occasional lite fast (no speak) is more rewarding than grazing to fill in the silence with noise, whatever the portion size.

Now, in our relatively new global melting pot, fusion cooking has become part of our diets.  The evolution of fusion speak is not far behind.  Regardless of the mix or whether our spiels are to entertain, explain a position, persuade, inform, or just tell a story, the value of our utterances is determined by the listener’s digestion.  That may involve a feast or a nosh — in either case, keeping in mind the portion size of postulations that exit our mouth is worth the effort.

Post point and note to self: a dialogue containing discernment, even/especially on the fly, about portion size can make a significant difference in the reception of a message.

A new pesky pet

It greeted me New Year’s day, 2018, by nagging me non-stop.

At the garment factory I frequent, a couple of Indian boys visit periodically at the request of their employer (our customer) to perform random quality inspections.  With them, they bring their own eating utensils, including plates.  They are strict vegetarians and won’t eat off of dishes that have ever served dead animal, even if the remnants have been thoroughly washed off.  They also lightly sweep in front of them as they walk so as not to kill any insects.  It’s part of their religious culture and belief.

Who willingly exterminates such cute creatures?

Not to be critical, but the custom and practice aren’t logical.  I could be wrong if the washed plate still harbors negative energy from a piece of flesh that was once there, doing the eater harm (which seems over-the-top far-fetched).  But the practice of sweeping insects from your footpath to avoid squashing them is like saying “I only care about that which I can see, not what I cannot see.”   Science is showing us that the overwhelming majority of life forms are smaller than we can visually detect.  Therefore, this sect of religion must believe that the value of life is dependent on size.  But then again, religious beliefs tend to evolve with scientific discoveries.

Anyway, I digress.  Although I think it’s quite pointless and even silly, to sweep insects from your walking path, I have become softer on the outright massacre of nuisance insects.  Oh, I still annihilate, without regret, groups of small ants that appear in the kitchen, or another part of my home.  But it must be the books I’ve been reading about the connectivity of all sentient beings, that I now tend to leave the errant spider or housefly alone.  I do my best to prevent them spinning webs inside the house or landing on my food, so I shoo them away rather than squash them without thought.

The housefly has followed humans around the globe.

However, the menace who joined my household last week on New Years Day tested my newfound anti-assassination resolve because it seemed particularly attracted to me.  No amount of shooing kept it from landing on my exposed skin.  But I over-exaggerate.  It did give me a short break from every 15-20 shoos.  I tried coaxing it out of the balcony door or the windows but it would not leave.  The weather is pleasant outdoors.  I leave the apartment at every opportunity, so why was the fly so insistent on staying in my small enclosed habitat?  Hmm,…I guess that is why they are called houseflies.  They’ve been following humans around the globe for thousands of years.  They pester us on every continent from the Arctic Circle to the Equator.

Yesterday, after six days in its new digs, my new unwanted pet must have called a few of its cousins.  That kind of turned the corner for me.  Yes, they are sentient beings, but they also carry pathogens.  So I twisted a hand towel and snapped them out.  It took a while and I considered it an exercise in delicacy.  I did my best to scare them away without inflicting pain (I think).  But one remained.  I presume it was the original from one week ago as it had the same pesty insistence.  I thought about leaving it alone, knowing its average lifespan is only 15-30 days; nevertheless, I went about swatting at it with a renewed vigor.  I don’t think I killed it so it appears to have finally left.

Because the temperature is warm, the screen-less balcony door and window stay open when I’m at home.  So sure, one, or more, of those pesky flying insects will invade my apartment soon.  So only time will tell if my restraint will show a newer, softer, and kinder Freddie Spaghetti insect killing machine.

Selflessly Selfie

Rare is the request these days from the errant traveling couple “can you please take our photo?”  We’ve become a world of accomplished selfie takers.  Taylor Swift reportedly commented recently that no one asks for her autograph anymore.  A selfie request is the new signature.

To say that snapping selfies is a new phenomenon is like saying handheld devices are popular.  Yes sure, we’ve taken photographs of ourselves since cameras were invented and self-portraits painted for thousands of years.  But in just the last few, we are witnessing a self-image revolution.

A certain level of self-promotion is wired into our DNA. Nonetheless, the ingredients of the internet, the allure of social media, and functionality of handheld devices with high-end cameras have created a selfie-taking boom that is only beginning to mushroom.  Add to that the intoxicating desire for more, created by the instant feedback loop, and a large segment of humans have evolved to camera loving image specialists.  We are closing in on a world population of almost 8 billion people saying with frequency, “look at me.”

For every web article declaring that this recent self-photo rage is detrimental, there is an equal number arguing that imbibing in the act of frequent self-posing is healthy.  Smart people also disagree whether eating saturated fat is bad or good.  Like the eating fat argument, the health effects of selfie-taking is more complex than a blanket good/bad statement.  The wellness of a self-obsessed mindset may depend on the individual and the selfie purpose.  Narcissistic behavior to one is helpful self-branding and a networking tool to another.

The specialty of Asian girls – the pursed lips look.

Selfies, both the art of taking them and the frequency, will only continue to grow on its current exponential track, so why not get cozy with them.

Since there is no such thing as the ‘present moment,’ photos, especially a selfie, is the best example of us at a point in time.  So we might as well live for the moment and snap away.  We will then be able to review beaucoup selfies with proof that those moments (many, many, moments), actually existed.  Then, when we have ample future downtime, we’ll be able to sift through the stockpile to recall those fleeting micro-seconds.

Even monkeys have gotten into the act of a self-snap.

What would a selfie post be without a selfie?









The Plandid — The planned-candid selfie.

The Plandid — Benjakiti Park, Bangkok, Dec 31, 2017


I first ran across the word gestalt in my early 20’s reading an Ayn Rand book.  I may have tripped over the term a couple of times since, not sure.  The last time of note though was from the surgeon who performed my delicate ‘foot in mouth’ transplant (actually leg in mouth).

Pain can be a welcome feeling.  It tells us when, and where, corrective action needs to happen.  During the time I submitted to a couple of surgical operations, each involving trach holes and feeding tubes, it was important that I was able to describe the pain.  The surgeon told me that I was unique among his patients in that I distinguish pain with gestalt.  When I asked him what he meant, he said, that unlike most patients, I could explain in detail, the pain composition of an area of discomfort.  Maybe that was his way of telling me I was making a mountain out of molehills.

Fast forward to last week.  For the past 10 days, I’ve had a low, dull thud of sensitivity when eating cold or hot coming from, I thought, a tooth with an old cantilever crown.  As a rule, cantilever crowns are not made anymore.  Since I’ve got to be more careful than normal about what is done in my mouth, I contacted a dental clinic in Asia where I had been before, as well as the Maxillofacial specialist in NYC.  Long and short, after several back & forth between the two specialists, it was determined from my description that a root canal was likely necessary and using the old crown was doubtful.  The evening prior to my appointment with the local Endondonist, I realized I pegged the wrong tooth.  I don’t think it was referred pain or radiating discomfort.  I simply misdiagnosed the sensitivity’s origin.  After a more professional analysis, my last minute realization was correct.  I didn’t need a root canal and the cantilever bridge didn’t need to be messed with.  After the appointment yesterday I felt relieved to come away with a composite surfacing over the sensitive area.  Yet at the same time, I was nagged by a sense of gestalt-lessness.  Could I, after a couple of months of meditation practice, be losing my sense of pain origin?  Could I have lost gestalt? (note to serious reader: this is parched satire)

Well-known gestalt image.

Having a gestalt view has its advantages, especially looking at units like a family, business, organization, or even a country. Groups (of people) act as living, breathing entities, with unique characteristics, distinct from the individuals who make them up.  This perspective works similarly when looking inwardly, to our own bodies.

Hmm,…I’m feeling gestalt-less.  I’d better get cracking and do something about that.

How is your gestalt?

What is meditation? 

As long as I’ve been on the topic for the past several posts, I thought I’d give the definition of meditation a wholewheat-spaghetti stab.

For the record, I’m no meditation o-tar-a-ti, nor an experienced meditator.  I can barely sit crosslegged.  Therefore, the following is a grainy summary of what I’ve gleaned from other smart people who are in-the-know on the topic.

First, a few givens, confirmed by science and other advanced fields:

  1. Thoughts are electrical impulses, with real cause and effects.
  2. A large portion of the thoughts we generate is illusory, or made-up fiction.
  3. Most humans on the planet live their waking hours in a state of perpetual thought, and most of us are guided throughout our lives by those thoughts.
  4. The energy transmitted by the thoughts of those around us affects us much more than we consciously realize.  In other words, it’s easy to be whipped into a judgment frenzy when we are bombarded by the forceful energy fields around us.

Granted, it may be hard to find the time.

Second, what meditation isn’t:  It is not a goal, an end, nor something to achieve.

So what is meditation?

Meditation is an exercise to create pockets of space around thoughts.  It is training to help create gaps in our stream of thinking.  Meditation is a practice to, even if a little, quiet the mind.  And it’s a process to become, and remain, an observer, a witness, to our own presence.

And the benefits?  What does having gaps in the thought stream achieve?  How are pockets of space around thoughts of value?  Why invest (time) to meditate?  Hmm,…following is a partial list;

  • Thanks again to science, we know that meditation practice significantly improves brain health, particularly the part of the gray matter responsible for memory.
  • Through meditation, we grow more “mindful” of the impacts of our ponderings.
  • Meditation practice enables us to convert detrimental and useless views into positive ones.
  • Meditation helps, bit by bit, untangle the passive conditioning built up over eons.  In other words, it helps clear (some of) the natural muck that clouds our perspective.
  • Meditation equips us to become more fundamentally aware of our feelings and emotions, what affects them, and how to temper them.
  • Meditation gives us the poise to (be able to) respond vs react.
  • Meditation improves focus.
  • Meditation reduces chronic stress.
  • Meditation brings a deeper awareness (present-ness) throughout our lives when we are not actively meditating.
  • Meditation helps (some of) us become nicer humans.
  • Meditation leads to more joy.
  • Meditation (can) lead to enlightenment.  (Whatever that may be).

    There is a multitude of ways to meditate.

And I’ll go out on a limb and say, because everything in our body is connected, that if meditation practice has been proven to improve cognitive health and reduce stress, then it has upside potential for enhancing overall physical well-being.

Not that I’ve turned into a meditation advocate, but in our new digital age, with almost everyone on the planet cruising through life spending much of their time staring into handheld devices, our thoughts are not only more actively competing for our attention, but we are also turning them over to a growing influence of artificial stimulation.  Meditation can help mitigate the digital stranglehold.

A Wholewheat Spaghetti Summary

Meditation is a healthy, perhaps vital, habit that empowers us to more frequently, genuinely, and gratifyingly, smile to ourselves and others, for the overall experience of being human.  

Hmm,…I’d better get practicing…

Why Buddhism is True — a review

Disclaimer:  I am not a Buddhist.  And by admission, neither is the author.

The main title, Why Buddhism is True, is a bit misleading.  Throughout most of the book, the author threads interesting, up-to-date, and digestible logic as to the (potentially huge) benefits of practicing mindful meditation.  As a beginning meditator, Wright’s reasoning was compelling enough to have me hooked from the start.

If only we could all start young with this practice.

But you don’t need to be attracted to meditation to be captivated by the book.  In fairness, Wright does provide an abundance of thought-provoking (no pun) data not only from science, but also from modern psychology which seems to coincide with basic Buddhists concepts of not-self/emptiness, liberation from delusion (how we see ourselves is largely an illusion), and our thinking mind’s “default mode network.”

If anyone is, (shouldn’t we all be), interested in understanding the mechanics behind how feelings shape thoughts, behaviors, and perceptions, and how, through practice, we can become aware of “things in our environment that affect those feelings,” than the book is well worth the investment.  Some feelings, he says “are good guiding lights,” while others can “push us around.”  He provides first-hand examples of how we might successfully manipulate the feelings that may not be benefiting us.

Even Newark’s airport has a meditation room.

Wright speckles the book with his own experiences, mainly with dry, relatable, yet subtlely perky humor.  I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the book.

The value of meditation, he says, is its use as a fundamental tool, one that enables us to see the stories we build and how we can more clearly separate illusion from truth.  In other words, he says, mindfulness meditation helps us change our perception of the world, even with potentially simple annoyances like crabgrass, the buzzsaw of construction noise, or the impulse to respond to a pricky email.  He also describes the benefit of continued meditation as an evolving capacity of “seeing things with higher resolution.”

The key, he says, through daily practices of mindful meditation, is becoming more aware of “what causes what,” (causality).  But, he explains, the fruits of meditation is more than just awareness.  It’s active learning how to change negative into positive.

The crux of the book and Wright’s principal argument for our feelings, he outlines, is the  “conditioning” of natural selection, which is built into our core from millions of years of evolution.  But many “natural tendencies” which served our species well over time may also be working against us (in our relatively recent, densely populated global community).  He describes, through meditation, how we can “subvert the programming of (the undesirable aspects of) natural selection,” to achieve a measurable, positive impact in our lives and of those around us.  In effect, he is saying that Darwin confirmed the truth behind Buddhism.

After listening to his book (twice) it’s hard not to believe him.

Where did that thought come from?

It popped in from nowhere to grab my attention.

Before I could offer a reasonable objection,
I was whisked in an unknown direction,
following a theory that forked left, then right,
out of control and out of sight.

I could barely glimpse it morph and cohort,
and raising cain.  Was it half insane?

I was lost in the musing’s erratic wake,
when it circled back without mistake,
damn faster than the speed of light,
blasting everything in sight,
yet making sure I was alright.

The reverie directed its own screenplay,
imbued in the rumination,
a polished edge of anticipation,
and an alluring button called replay.

The outlook’s mirage cloaked in subtle fury,
slyly presiding as judge and jury.

But the clever impression was ripe for dissension,
slight nagging suspicions clouding the senses,
creating a hunch and a new speculation,
of egoic wit, masked in deception.

Then in a blink the marbles scattered,
a whole new topic was all that mattered,
replaced by another, less irrelevant notion,
the dreamy aim the same,
a beguiling spell of perpetual motion.

Even if the premise seemed all but real,
the resulting chapter had a fictional feel.

Forming an opinion was not my intention,
not with such limited discretion,
but the conviction’s goal seemed clear,
to plant a seed of apprehension.

So when it returns as it surely will,
I’ll embrace the belief with eager thrill,
smothering it with goodness and zeal,
trusting it will lose its appeal.

After all, there are thousands, millions, more,
poised like a readily armed corps,
not offering the prospect to sift nor choose,
nor win, nor loose.