Category Archives: random thoughts

A painting party

It was GV’s idea.  Suddenly on our list of things to do one sweltering day last month in Bangkok was finding a paint store.  “Let’s keep it simple,” she said.

I had six rectangular pieces of cardboard I was saving for a practical application.  So we picked up one tube each of three colors and a painting knife.  At the mall where we bought the paint, we sampled a Nespresso and they let us keep the plastic cup.  We were set with all the paraphernalia necessary.

We each had three pieces of blank cardboard. GV’s are on the top.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

fs

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.

Free-range Humans

At one time we were.  And in some way, we’ve circled back, except that we’ve spiraled around and landed on a different prairie.

Our new free range is an amplified ability and willingness to stretch and distort definitions to suit a wide variety of purposes.  The hijacking of words and dilution of their authenticity has become commonplace.

Not long ago, a US president demonstrated our new grazing land when he said, under oath, “it depends on what the definition of the word is, is.”  The economic meltdown of 2008 occurred, in part, because financial institutions went as far as roaming off the range by packaging garbage, then labeling and selling that junk as triple-A solid, pixie-dust lined, investments.

Our free-ranging technique of twisting the truth is especially blatant in food marketing.  Two, of many, recent examples: 1) In 2009 Kellogs Rice Krispies claimed the cereal would “support your child’s immunity.”  2) Nutella ads stated that their hazelnut spread “is a nutritious part of a kids breakfast.”

With our penchant for free-ranging food claims, what could natural flavors mean as a food ingredient? Bull testicles and sheep lips are natural, so is arsenic and formaldehyde.  Our legal definition of natural flavors is wide open according to the US Code of Federal Regulations and could include the aforementioned items.

Exaggeration and hyperbole have been used since there was language.  But when accuracy is elongated to harmfully fool others, then those doing the bending are better off put out to pasture.

The marketing campaigns labeling chicken and eggs as free-ranging and cage-free is a more literal example.  We’ve grown a sizeable appetite for chicken.  A few short generations ago, chicken consumption in the USA per person was, at best, a poultry few per year.  Today we gobble down, on average, more than 27 bloated, steroid & antibiotic-infused, mega fowl per person annually.  That’s not counting eggs (w/added synthetic yolk colorants).

The same dynamic chicken euphoria is happening around the world.  Travel anywhere, to any airport, any major city, and there is no shortage of chicken anything.

Chicken is the cheapest, most efficient form of meat to produce.  Chicken producers want us to feel good about eating more fowl because production has turned intensive.  It’s estimated that the planet is pumping out at least 50 billion chickens annually.  But where are they all?  Hmm,…there must be a reason they are hidden, tucked away, and out of sight.

World population is growing strong, and so is our appetite for more chicken.  China is the chicken heavyweight.  Stats show they produce more chickens than the next four chicken producing countries combined (USA, Indonesia, Brazil, India).  The KFC outlets, saturated throughout most China cities, stay more jampacked with hungry chicken customers than overcrowded industrial henhouses.   The Chinese also produce a mind-boggling 500 billion eggs annually.  And those hens are not free ranging.

Not enough of us care yet about the quality of what we stick in our mouths.  Just keep the buckets of nuggets coming.

But in fairness, some do care, a tiny bit, which is why demand for free-range is on the rise.  But in fairness to fairness, this is just free-range marketing.  The image of chickens running around, foraging and pecking the ground as is their nature, living part of their life in the sun, makes (some of) us feel a little better about eating them and their eggs.  No problem, we are free-range humans.  We simply expanded the definition of free-range to include the addition of a popup window to a giant, industrial overpacked chicken coup, containing thousands of birds. As long as the window is open for a few minutes per day, even if only a hand-full lucky enough to be near the window have a glimpse of the outside, voila, we have free range chickens — and free range eggs, and a warm & fuzzy image as a bonus.

But soon, thanks to,

  • a growing movement to improve the environmental impact of industrial chicken production,
  • an eagerness to significantly upgrade food quality, and
  • a new, determined focus to raise the standards for the humane treatment of animals,

a good portion of the world’s chicks destined for meat and eggs will soon be free-ranging, roaming the earth for real….along with fairies, leprechauns, and free-range humans.