Category Archives: health thoughts

Embracing Life Maintenance

You know,…those occupations we perform that keep life flowing.  Those (mostly) self-imposed duties that keep us from real living.  The perpetual actions that don’t contribute to noticeable forward progress.  The errands we execute that may even be termed drudgery.

When I lived in San Francisco some time ago, a good friend of mine commented upon retiring at 40, that he noticed personal maintenance constituted about 20% of his non-sleep time.  He had a small home and lived alone so he was talking about routine chores like laundry, cleaning, personal care, preparing meals, washing up the kitchen, etc., — all the small jobs that come with independently keeping a healthy home and body.

Thankfully, not many of my clothes need handwashing.

Housewives and homemakers with kids peg the maintenance percent much higher, closer to the inverse of my friend, 80% or above.  We all conduct maintenance, whether brushing teeth, going to the gym, or filling the car’s gas tank.

Our free time usually dictates our relationship to many of the day-to-day upkeep responsibilities.  They fall into categories of;  we accept doing them, we do them grudgingly, we avoid doing them, have someone else do them, or we don’t think they need to be done (as often as they should be).  Seldom are they actions we leap out of bed to perform with gusto. Wherever they land though, a key question is, do we embrace (any of) the maintenance?

In our small NYC apartment, we luckily have two bathrooms.  The one I use, the one visitors use, I’m responsible for.  Which means that when I’m there, at least weekly I am on my hands and knees scrubbing around the toilet.  Not a job many of us relish but one I’ve reluctantly come to embrace (at least the bathroom I use).

Exercise maintenance has its moments.

Daily exercise of some type is a non-negotiable physical service.  Sometimes it is pleasurable, other times it’s damn hard.  For me, it usually falls somewhere in-between and accepted as a necessary self-preservation habit.

During the last few years, because much of my time is spent living on my own in Asia and hiring help is not so convenient, I do the routine household chores myself.  Further, because I’m cooking more often, the maintenance category has increased markedly.  I’m kind of stunned at the amount of time sucked up by the entire food prep process.  Eating well is paramount, and basic.  But finding food with good ingredients is not always easy, especially when it’s prepared with industrial oils and sweeteners.  Hence, my maintenance percent has skyrocketed.  I may not be up near the busy housewife with five kids, but I’m at least in the 50/50 zone.  Buying, washing, cutting and preparing, food, then cleaning the dishes and kitchen is no small amount of time.  Besides food, the places I live, because I like the windows open, collect dust so fast that cleaning has become a daily labor I’ve been grappling to embrace more firmly.  Laundry — the washing, drying, folding, (I rarely iron and it may show), of clothing, towels and bed linen is another chunk of valuable time.

Buying, preparing, cooking, and cleaning afterward is a significant time-sucker.

The other day GV, who is visiting me in Asia, cleaned my refrigerator, which she said was disgusting.  It was a necessary maintenance chore I not only hadn’t been embracing but also didn’t realize was as sorely needed as it was.

Whether we fold laundry while watching a video or listen to audiobooks during the work commute, we try to find ways to soften life chores to make necessary tasks more tolerable (efficient).  Some outsource a block of maintenance (vis-à-vis maids, restaurants, or partner agreements).  But then again, there is subtle value in adopting even small rituals, such as making the bed in the morning.  I’ve known many, mostly males, who do the minimum amount of domestic work.  It’s not considered macho business.  Real men don’t clean toilets.  Although the understated value of cleaning up after yourself is not to be sneezed at.

The trick, it seems, is a little mental juxtaposition, to turn tasks from drudgery to willing acceptance.  It may just be, that if successful, the result is a more positive alignment of perspective, having a favorable rollover effect to other aspects of life.

Besides, last year McMaster University conducted a study showing that doing housework five times per week can cut the risk of early death by 20%.

Hmm,…I’d better start a more serious mental exercise program, digging deep to welcome with open arms, the mountain of life maintenance which seems to be growing, and be content that it’s only me I’m maintaining.

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

Gestalt-less

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.

An introspective life-changing question

That is, if you can remember to ask yourself — repeatedly.

The trick is keeping this short query-to-self in the frontal cortex and at the ready.

Is what I’m thinking that which is wholesome or that which is not?

I heard the suggestion listening to Mark Webber’s 15 recordings from his month-long Dharma retreat last year called “All About Karma.” (No I’m not a Buddhist, but the philosophy/religions’s most basic tenets “do no harm” is worthy embracing).  Webber says karma is causality, which is a different interpretation than most Asians or Westerners have.  Karma, he says, is the activity of doing, which is causation.  Karma is mental intent and the resultant activity.  The source is our thoughts.  To begin to see this, in his retreat Webber instructs his practitioners how to significantly slow down cognition.

To see, or recognize the causality of our thoughts, could make us healthier.

Apparently, what certain enlightened individuals in the metaphysical realm have realized thousands of years ago, and what our scientific community is recently discovering is that;

  1. Thoughts are chemical impulses with real consequences. Although thoughts are mostly stories (illusions), they are not innocent.  The chemical impulses, no matter how slight, create a cause and effect.
  2. Everything, meaning every human, animal, bug, plant, or thing on this earth is connected.

Is what I’m thinking that which is wholesome or that which is not? is a question one could ask of every thought, no matter how seemingly benign. Thoughts either spark a positive charge or one that is negative.  They either construct or destruct.  And while we may deem some to be neutral, every thought still produces a resulting consequence.

Of course, the topic is quite a bit deeper than a meager blog post could justify.  Listening to the retreat, more than 25 hours worth, left me realizing what an underdeveloped human I am.  Short of having the question on post-a-notes everywhere, most of us would need a lifetime of meditation to see causality as part of our stream of consciousness.

Except for a few individuals, most humans live with a busy thought voice every waking hour. The voice is usually too occupied to be interrupted for a self-evaluation.  But like the beauty of compounded interest, many tiny (positive) thought adjustments accumulate to much larger (positive) effects.  If, for example, just a couple of key times each day, especially those moments when someone does something we don’t like, or we must do something we don’t fancy, or when we are annoyed for whatever reason, we were to invoke this question-to-self and make small perspective adjustments from negative to positive, we could, without sounding dramatically gushy, contribute, in no small way, to changing our lives, and those around us, for the better.