Day Fifty Five: Division

Daily Journal:

docmartens

Dr. Martens 1460 Eight-Eye Aztec boots I bought this week.

I’ve spent the week shopping for new clothes, something I haven’t done that has been long overdue, especially following butt blowout on three pairs of old jeans in the last month. Lifestyle changes usually seem to result in changes to the wardrobe in my closet. For example, I spent about 10 years in cubicles in offices and call centers and have been working in warehouses for the last six years. I donated all “business casual” attire. Every last pair of Dockers-style slacks and every golf shirt. I’ve switched over to jeans (shorts in the summer) and t-shirt with comfortable shoes and backwards baseball cap for my present warehouse job. The other half of my clothes are “rock star clothes”, consisting of super tight stretching jeans, denims, cowboy boots, etc. (I basically mix rock fashion with western wear, a little 70s, a little 80s…) After getting out of the music scene, I’m finding that I no longer wear the rock star clothes.

I found some good simple men’s fashion advice from Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson, which I read probably two years ago. He says to buy a “black set” and a “brown set”: Brown jacket, brown shoes, brown belt. Black jacket, black shoes, black belt. From there, buy several pairs of jeans, ranging from light to black and different shades. About a dozen or so shirts. I went a step further, adding brown and black hats. I wear a lot of hats because (a) my hair is not easy to manage and look presentable and (b) I look great in hats.

As he says, start with jeans and t-shirt you want to wear. Then match with either brown or black. I thought it was simple and brilliant advice.

I bought a pair of brown Dr. Martens 8 eye boots, black Levi’s engineer boots, 4 pairs of jeans from American Eagle Outfitters, a brown leather motorcycle jacket, brown Justin cowboy hat, several baseball caps, $3.99 each, from Rural King farm store.

This week, I will declutter the closet, removing clothing that doesn’t fit, I never wear, I don’t like, etc. and donating it.

Deng Ming-Dao on Division:

Today is another simple entry in 365 Tao, it begins with a poem:

Problems cannot be
Resolved at once.
Slowly until knots
Divide to conquer.

You may have heard the old expression “Eat the elephant one bite at a time”. That’s what Deng Ming-Dao is basically saying today.

First, he breaks down into three types of problems:

  1. Puzzle- needs to be analyzed carefully, requiring patience.
  2. Obstacle- must be overcome. Use force or move around it.
  3. Entanglement- requires us to extricate ourselves from a “maze of limitations”

This is an area of my life that has improved a lot. Typically, I’m overwhelmed with problems I feel that I can’t handle sometimes. In the past, I would ignore them until they could no longer be ignored anymore. Over the last two years, I’ve gotten better at breaking down problems into smaller goals, especially in terms of getting out of debt, removing bad habits like drinking and smoking, improvements with cleaning the house, and so on. I loved Deng Ming-Dao’s phrase “maze of limitations”. More than ever, I have more limitations. Having children, you can’t just move anywhere you want, take any work schedule, or work too far from their schools, etc. Aging brings its own limitations as well.

As he says, fracture bigger problems down to their basic elements, which you slowly reduce until they are untangled.

Daily Stoic:

Today’s entry is another area where cognitive behavioral therapy owes a debt to Stoicism. Excellent quote from Epictetus:

“Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse.”

His point is that if someone makes you angry, it’s your opinion of the deed that is fueling the anger, not the deed itself. Obviously, Stoic advice doesn’t apply to situation of extreme harm such as assault or murder, but is very useful for navigating around ordinary, daily drama.

Tomorrow, I will visit the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky to purchase some p and probably another Thomas Merton book.

Peace.
B.G.

Day Fifty Four: Adversity

Daily Journal:

masterchoakoksui

The late Choa Kok Sui, businessman from The Phillipines and founder of Pranic Healing. He died from severe pneumonia in 2007.

Yesterday, I had the day off. Caught up on sleep, waking up around 7:00AM instead of the usual 4:30AM-ish time. Spent most of the day doing chores around the home, with a vague plan of going hiking somewhere. I went to Meetup.com, to sign up for the Wednesday hike at Jefferson Memorial Forest. Noticing the usual Wednesday hiking group is either disbanded or on haitus for winter, I decided to look for a Wednesday evening meditation group instead, considering that my Thursday night group at Loose Leaf Hollow was cancelled while Joe is in Haiti. So I found one called Pranic Meditation & Healing and decided to go. Being somewhat on a whim, I didn’t do much research on “Pranic meditation” and I was open to a new experience anyway. I decided I would drive to Louisville, hike a trail nearby somewhere, then go to the meditation group. I found a park nearby called Brown Park. Being a smaller park with all trails running less than 1 mile long, I had to do laps around the park, which I did for about an hour.

The Pranic Meditation & Healing meeting happened in Sherrin Square, some office condos in St. Matthews. The door for Suite 150 had a sign saying “InnerMost Solution”, and I was greeted by an enthusiast, friendly woman named Martha, who offered bottled water and chocolate candy,  showing me to a room with many office chairs and an altar with all the deities from the major world religions, a salt crystal lamp, some mala beads, and portrait of Choa Kok Sui. (I would later find out that she was Martha Paulin, a “certified colon hydrotherapist” who does business there as InnerMost Solution) I would describe the overall vibe of the place as more “New Agey” than Buddhist or interfaith, and giving off some hints of being a guru business, but it was hard to tell for sure. They were not aggressively selling anything, but did let us know that we could pay to attend classes if we wanted to and there were some brochures in the lobby.

beargrass-creek

Photo of Beargrass Creek taken during walk at Brown Park in St. Matthews.

Before the meditation began, we were guided through some exercises that were similar to QiGong, but not exactly. A small iPod played a recording of Om chanting and then we were guided through a visualization type of meditation, visualizing Earth as a small ball in our hands that we were healing of all its troubles and problems. We were also instructed how to release grudges and resentments, with gestures of “cutting cords”. Short periods of silence here and there. More QiGong-like exercises, then a healing demonstration. Having recently quit smoking, I have the usual quitter’s issue of coughing up some mucus. That was the only health complaint I really had, so the young man in the group, a thin guy with a beard and longish hair tied back, was instructed to “work on the throat chakra”. He was waving his hands around, spraying mist from a bottle, which had a really strong lavender smell. Reminded me of the Mrs. Meyer’s lavender scented cleaner I used to buy at Sprouts when I lived in Arizona.

I don’t know what to make of “Pranic Healing”. I did find the meditation was very relaxing and I felt an overall sense of wellness. I did have a day off after working 9 days straight, actually got some quality rest, the weather was perfect, and I was outside getting exercise. The meditation seemed to help that, but I felt unusually good and healthy yesterday. Was it the healing? I don’t know. Bullshit Detector was going off a bit, picking up on some possible pseudo-scientific nonsense, but showing no obvious signs of outright fraud. Interesting, they read aloud The Lord’s Prayer from the Bible. After I went to sleep for the night, I dreamt about the Lord’s Prayer (in Aramaic, not English) being read to me, which I have heard before on CD recordings.

Final verdict: Not sure. Maybe. The founder died of pneumonia, which takes away the credibility of “healing”, doesn’t it? I couldn’t quite shake a multilevel marketing faith healer vibe in the room either. Certainly nothing like Vipassana meditation I had done, guided “somatic” meditation with Reggie Ray, or anything associated with western Buddhism or interfaith I was familiar with.  Reminded me of New Age stores in someplace like Sedona, Arizona or something. Worth a try. Free, not super aggressive timeshare sales techniques, and the people were really nice.

Deng Ming-Dao on Adversity:

Nothing new here. The old idea of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” about how difficult experiences build moral character. He says we must rely on determination, and not be overcome by fear. He says “times of adversity can be crucial to the development of one’s inner personality”.

On a side note, I purchased an audiobook version of Deng Ming-Dao’s other book Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life  yesterday. Great book so far. Many of the ideas are familiar from 365 Tao, but a really good practical book for self-cultivation in Tao it seems. I’m about 1/3 through the audiobook, which I listen to at work.

Daily Stoic:

Circumstances Have No Care for Our Feelings. Today’s entry is more of the same. Don’t get worked up about things outside your control, etc. Holiday reminds us that circumstances are not sentient beings, so they are not capable of caring about our feelings. Thus, it is futile to get emotional or angry about circumstances since they are not able to care.

Overall, today both Tao and Stoic ideas were simple and familiar. Tomorrow, I may discuss diet, challenges with healthy eating, and so on. By the way, I will continue working through “Designing Your Life” exercises. I’ve been held back by all the overtime I’m putting in, but I haven’t forgotten.

See you tomorrow.
B.G.

Day Fifty Three: Imbalance

Daily Journal:

jeffdahl

Album cover of “Made in Hawaii” by Jeff Dahl.

Today is another really great entry in 365 Tao that I really need to hear, as I’m sure others do too.

Yesterday, I received the new album “Made in Hawaii” from my early mentor in punk rock, Jeff Dahl. It came in the mail, on a CD. It has been so long since I received a CD in the mail and probably 22 years since I last received a Jeff Dahl CD in the mail, which was probably his old album “Leather Frankenstein” in the early 90s. It was strange to get a Jeff Dahl CD in my mailbox on Kentucky soil again, all these years later. So Made in Hawaii just came out and you can buy it on CD Baby.

By my calculation, Jeff Dahl turns 62 years old this July. He’s basically an 80s & 90s indie punk rock artist and this entire genre of music now falls under the “Dad rock” umbrella, and much of it has also become thematic in its Dad rock as well. Take the brilliant last Michael Monroe album, “Blackout States” or the last several albums by ex-Government Cheese guitarist Tommy Womack. So these guys are all writing memoir books now, and writing songs that reflect on the past. CD Baby notes says this of Made in Hawaii: “This new album was written as little vignettes about Jeff growing up and coming of age in the late 60s and early 70s in Hawaii. Expect a few surprises… Enjoy…”

Anyway, this album is his first in 8 years, since Back to Monkey City was released by the now-defunct Steel Cage Records in Philly, and given a brief but positive review by David Fricke in Rolling Stone Magazine (which I imagine I’ve mentioned in an earlier post). It’s impossible to be unbiased, because Monkey City stands, to this day, as the only album I ever played bass on that I’m 100% happy with the way it turned out and have no complaints.

So far, I’ve only had a cursory listen of every track on “Made in Hawaii”. Basically there are two different Jeff Dahl eras: Up to the late 90s, more distortion on the guitars and backing bands. After the late 90s, he backed off the distortion and played all the instruments on his albums himself (for the most part, aside from Back to Monkey City and guest appearances here and there) I always preferred the albums where he used rehearsed bands to the completely solo albums and this one is a compromise in that way. Most of the drums were done by recording engineer Sam Bradley at Sonic Sculpture Studio in Hilo, Hawaii. Jeff plays guitar and bass. Actually the bass sounds really good on this too. Picked bass, a lot of basic rock n roll walking. I thought outsourcing the drums at least still gives the album a “band vibe”.

I’ll listen more this week.

Also, if someone happens to be on the page because they are interested in Jeff Dahl music, I want to recommend the book The Smell of Death by former Jeff Dahl bassplayer & journalist Bruce Duff. Although Jeff feels the book is “Bruce’s opinion” and doesn’t seem to be crazy about it as much, it’s a really enjoyable memoir about touring the punk dives of Europe in the 90s. At times, the book isn’t flattering to Jeff or others. My advice: Keep in mind that touring is a bitch, people get well past the point of being polite to each other, understand this is Bruce’s point of view and probably says as much about Bruce as it does about anyone else, and enjoy the read.

Deng Ming-Dao on Imbalance:

I’ll start with the short poem.

Sleepless nights.
Diet, mind, conditions
Hold the possibility of correction. 

He says “whenever you feel out of sorts, or cannot sleep, or find it hard to work and think, you are separated from Tao.”

If so, ask three questions:

  1. Am I eating right?
  2. Is my mind tamed?
  3. Is my world safe?

Deng Ming-Dao emphasizes the proper use of food, saying that it is far superior to medicine. I am presently feeling “out of sorts”, although not nearly as bad as in the past. Diet is improving. I’ve eliminated daily booze and cigarettes from my diet, but I’m still finding myself reaching for frozen processed foods out of convenience due to lack of time brought about by long hours at work. I’m not always resisting the temptation for vending machine junk food and carbonated sugary drinks either.

Is your mind tamed? That’s a great question. I have a very active mind. You’ve no doubt hear the (presumably Asian) proverb: ‘The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.’ The mind has its own “interests, habits, and excesses”.

  • Worry
  • Stress
  • Intellectualism
  • Scheming
  • Desires

I’m prone to ALL of this on a pretty regular basis.

The third question encompasses environment. “To cope with this, gain as much control over your environment as possible. Keep your home a haven, have control over your work place, and be independent enough to face emergencies.”

For me, this is probably the most important entry of 365 Tao I needed to hear. That really breaks down balance in 3 steps for you. Keep a good diet. Tame your mind. Keep a safe environment.

I am improving in all three areas, getting much closer to balance with Tao than before. My diet has improved, but is far off from perfect. It is mostly about conquering some temptations and cravings. I struggle with mindfulness all the time. Environment: My home has become less chaotic and disordered, but is not perfect. I am working overtime to make some savings goals to be able to deal with emergencies that arise. This is a long term project to create balance. I’m not even restoring balance since I’ve never had it in the first place. From there things go out of balance from time to time and these three steps will bring you back.

Daily Stoic: What’s Better Left Unsaid

Today, Holiday quotes Plutarch discussing Cato the Younger, and the entry is about thinking before you speak or act. Instead, think over it. Are you reacting emotionally, selfishly, ignorantly, or prematurely? I really don’t want to make this blog political in any way, but former president Obama and current president Donald Trump come to mind here. Trump would seem to blurt out statements without fact checking them first, make arrogant boasts, and react emotionally. Obama was a much more Stoic president. It is important to note that this has nothing to do with the issues and their positions, but Obama was a much more stoic president than Trump. The fact that I notice this “flaw” about Trump says that I also have this flaw in myself. If you are on Facebook, you may notice people lash out at Trump in the same way that Trump behaves himself.

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

-Lao Tzu

I’m off to improve my diet, mind, and environment. Have a great Wednesday.
B.G.

 

Day Fifty Two: Nonconformity

Daily Journal:

darkrestThis morning, I’m shopping for a new tent to replace my Ozark Trail L-shaped 12 person tent that was such a disaster for camping in everything except for perfect weather. I gave it two more chances after the nightmare fall camping trip in Flemingsburg, KY two years ago. Verdict: It could not handle high winds due to its shape. I’m looking at two camping trips this year: one in Brown County, Indiana and another at Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky. So far, I’m looking at two different 10-person instant tent models, one by Coleman and the other by Ozark Trail.

Deng Ming-Dao on Nonconformity:

The world is dazzling,
I alone am dull.
Others strive for achievement,
I follow a lonely path. 

Chapter 52 was very familiar, having so far had a somewhat unconventional life by the standards of most people, I’d imagine. It’s not that this kind of life is preferable, recommended to someone else, or lived for the sake of uniqueness. I was raised in a family environment where conformity was demanded. Having freedom as a core motivation of my personality it seems, I rebelled without even trying at all, doing things that would not have been considered rebellious at all in most other middle class families. Even then, that was superficial nonconformity, mostly about choice of activities, fashion, and intellectual pursuits.

A couple of years ago, I went into a deep depression after considering myself a failure in life compared to other people. It really was about listening to other voices, opinions, and advice. What I’ve really heard from just about everyone else for my entire life, or at least the message I always thought I heard was “YOU NEED TO CHANGE INTO WHAT I WANT YOU TO BE”. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to change into someone else, for someone else, and it has always failed.

The other day I had an epiphany and I wondered if anyone else had realized this. Looking online, I found a blog entry I really identified with called “Everyone Is Full of Shit”. I do not know what enlightenment is, but having this realization is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

I’ve often been thwarted by the attempt from others to “help” me, or give me advice that may have worked well for themselves but didn’t really apply to me so much. I heard a funny joke from Alan Watts the other day about thinking you know what is best for someone else:

“Kindly let me help you or you will drown,” said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree.

I’ve given up on fighting to become a conformist, or change for other people.

So, just to break down a couple of key points in Deng Ming-Dao’s entry today:

  • Conventional people may label our behavior as erratic, antisocial, irresponsible, inexplicable, outrageous, and sometimes scandalous.
  • We do not care about social norm. We only follow Tao.
  • We all have many voices, personalities, ambitions, and tendencies within us. (Those I find similar to ego, superego, and id. We want the ability to distinguish between them, and to silence all voices save for Tao (the reason for meditation?)
  • All that matters is constant cultivation with Tao, not self perfection.
  • There are others who follow Tao but it is not always possible to meet them. It is a lonely path. (Hence, the appearance of nonconformity)
  • You need to be sensitive enough to hear the call of Tao, and strong enough to walk the solitary path.

“So, tell me, pretty baby, are you still talking ’bout yourself?
You’re such a non-conformist, just like everybody else”

-The Dictators, “I Am Right”

The Daily Stoic: Wish Not, Want Not

Today, Ryan Holiday covers a subject in Stoicism that overlaps with Buddhism: The idea that desire is suffering. He quotes Epictetus, who says (I paraphrase): If we desire and place high value on anything external, not just wealth and status, even “good” things like learning, peace, travel, and leisure, that brings us under dominion of something external, which can create an obstacle for us.

When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?

Holiday, Ryan. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (p. 61). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message here is that it is okay to desire things, as long as you understand they are external and you do not rely on external things to bring happiness to you. This is a message that I’ve heard over and over in Buddhism, but would probably be found in all spiritual traditions as well as this Stoic tradition in Western philosophy.

Tomorrow, I have a day off and I hope to experience it with mindfulness.

B.G.