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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

I had an interesting insight the other day.  I went through a period of about fifteen or so years (early eighties to late nineties) when I practiced a good deal of Vipassanna mediation.  I meditated daily, was in a mediation group that met weekly, and attended quite a number of formal meditation retreats – six or seven ten day retreats, ten to twelve three and five day retreats and a number of one day or half day retreats.  With that extent of involvement and time expenditure it is evident that I was certainly getting something out of it to keep me coming back.

About three years into it I became aware that I was often experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life.  I gladly accepted and appreciated that change and allowed that was the main enticement which kept me coming back for more.  I often wondered and reflected on what it was about the mediation practice which lead to an increase in the degree and frequency of feelings of well being and happiness.  What was the connection?  And therein lies the source of my insight of the other day.

Early on in my mediation retreat attendance I learned (as nearly all people who attend such retreats seem to learn) that I (we) often have remarkably little control of my own mind and am frequently unable to sustain a single minded focus on something as simple as keeping my awareness on my own breath. The meditation terminology calls it monkey mind – a good name for it – and I was blown away by how easily and frequently I am judgmental about others – [If she’s going to breathe so damned loud why do she have to sit near me!  My god will they stop whispering and just shut up!  We must be fifteen minutes past the lunch break – why haven’t we broken yet?  Does he ever bathe? –  Or outside the retreat environment – Where did he get his license to drive?  Is it against the law to use directional signals in this state?  Perhaps after that woman chats with the cashier for another twenty minutes we’ll make our purchase and move on.]

Upon reflection I concluded that I conducted about 98% of my judgmental fault finding as internal dialogue and relatively rarely expressed my verdicts aloud.  (Good thing or I’d have had quite a hard time maintaining friendships.)  I have since initiated a campaign to become much more consciously aware of when I’m engaging in judgmental thinking and strive to use it only when it is a necessary and useful tool for reaching a rational decision.

The connection I made, my interesting insight the other day, is that becoming aware of and intentionally restricting my running string of judgments about what’s going on around me in my immediate environment, my social milieu, and the larger world has lead directly to my experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life.  My conclusion is that while judgmental thinking is a very useful tool in decision making, when used inappropriately and unnecessarily tends to sabotage joie de vivre.  It seems that bringing it into my conscious awareness and reining it in has had a very positive pay off for me.  Thank you Vipassanna mediation.

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Tape notes

Record Becker yellow highlights chapter by chapter rather than waiting until you’ve finished the whole book. It will have more impact on your writing that way.  Go back through the introduction and highlight more carefully.

Write something about early life default yes/no and the different neural paths each uses and that when you become consciously aware of your default you can bipass it and reassess before deciding yes or no.

How do I explain who I am to myself in such a way as to know and decide how to present myself to society in a manner that affirms my self esteem through my behavior and my actions. (How do I decide to act in ways that meet my personal criteria for warranting positive self esteem.) How do I explain myself to myself to support my own self esteem?  These questions are worth reflecting on.

Crises of meaning are ALWAYS about self esteem. That is a primary component of meaning crisis. One is having difficulty explaining oneself to oneself in such a way as to retain or fabricate meaning and value in ones life and/or in the concept of life.

When I’m having a crisis of meaning how am I explaining myself and my existence to myself and how does that devalue me in such a way that I conclude that there’s no meaning to life.

I might evaluate my daily activities and rank them according to the extent to which they enhance or contaminate my positive self esteem.

I’m aware from the above notion of evaluating my daily activities that after the fact is when I’m apt to get a positive or negative self-esteem hit.

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Happy New Year.  Where will 2009 take me?  I’m at a rather good place in life and do like much of our living here in Juneau set up. Love the house, the shop is setting up bit by bit, my music learning is proceeding steadily, my health is good with one caveat which is that my blood pressure is too high. (more…)

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Self reflections

Last day of the year. Upon awakening at about 4 AM I found myself reflecting on where I am and where I want to be. I’m feeling mildly at loose ends with how I want to organize my time living here in Juneau.  I know the things that I have as priorities: guitar, woodworking, writing, exercise club, but beyond the generalities I’m having trouble (more…)

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On my 71st Birthday

First written: November 20 , 2006

         Today is my birthday, I’m now 71. And, as is usually, but not always the case, it falls in the same week as Thanksgiving. What do I have to be thankful for? Excellent health. A happy primary relationship with Pat. Kids and grandkids (about to become a great grandfather in January). An array of dear friends strewn throughout the U.S. and Canada. And sufficient resources to sustain this wonderful full time land-cruising lifestyle.

         On top of all that, I’ve developed a powerful resolution to learn to play classical guitar. I’ve been following instruction manuals and enjoying regular daily practice for the last few months. Then, last week in Eugene, Oregon, I found a place to take four lessons. To say that life is good seems like a ludicrous understatement.

         For the last couple of years I’ve been acutely aware of the privileged life that I lead. We are comfortable without concerns about danger or hunger or deprivation. We complacently spend too much and consume too much, often with never a thought and thus no awareness of our exorbitant consumption levels. In that regard, Pat recently read a quote to me from Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Up Side of Down:

“Consumerism has developed such a firm grip on the psyches of so many of us that, without a coherent notion of what will give our lives meaning, we try to satisfy our need for meaning by buying ever more stuff. In the process, the mental muscle that allows us to think and talk about values in complex and sophisticated ways atrophies. Reduced to walking appetites, we lose resilience.”

         I do indeed have much to be thankful for. Part of being thankful is remaining aware of just how inordinately privileged I am and making myself more generous and available to people who struggle to meet the most basic needs of life just so they can get through the day.

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My Heroes

First written: November 3 , 2006

         The other day Pat said to me, “Who are your heroes?” The question got me reflecting on who they might be. Who are the people, teachers, poets, authors, colleagues and friends who have most influenced my thinking and contributed to the shaping of how I see the world and who I am now?

         I don’t recall any especially strong adult model influences from my childhood and adolescent years. You’d think I’d have a few, but none come to mind. Not parents, nor teachers, nor the parents or older siblings of friends, nor relatives, no uncles or aunts or grandparents. No friends or classmates for whom I recall having strong admiration. I certainly had a network of good friends, but it seems I grew up without any real mentor.

         The first time I recall getting my proverbial socks knocked off psychologically and intellectually was when in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Kami Seya, Japan hanging around the barracks all alone because my entire watch section (about eighty strong) were off to Yokohama on liberty and I, being broke, stayed back on the base. I had run out of things to read, and, it being a Sunday morning, the base library was not yet open. I ambled around l the bunks and lockers until I came across an anthology of poetry lying open on an upper bunk. I picked it up and read Vachel Lindsey’s poem The Leaden-Eyed:

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull
It’s poor are ox-like limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly.
Not that they sow but that they seldom reap.
Not that serve, but have no gods to serve.
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

         I was stunned. How could something be so blatantly true while I had never noticed it or thought of it? And there it was so clearly stated. Who would ever guess that poetry could be so powerful?

         On that day I was hooked. I went from Lindsey to John Donne’s 93rd canto (No man is an island…) to William Blake to immersion in poetry as a way of making sense of the world. More powerful than philosophy or theology because it showed up with the emotions left in, and it even sang. Since that day some fifty years ago poetry has been a dominant influence on who I’ve become in life and remains a joy and delight for me.


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