Interlude

I got a call from my sister this morning and an email from a friend this afternoon that helped me recognize an update was in order.

Vance has been discharged from the hospital. I brought him home Monday night. His hand is much better. There is still some pain and stiffness, and he will be on IV antibiotics for one to two more weeks and pills for a week after that – but he is home.

We will never know exactly what caused the odd giant hand syndrome exactly. What they can tell us is that this was most likely a cutaneous infection (something hanging out on his hand) that was introduced into the tissues by the puncture of a splinter.

Big V’s words of wisdom for us all: Hand Sanitizer – frequently!

Lucas is also doing well. He actually seems to be a little better now than he was a month or so ago. He is drinking a little less, has less urgent needs to go out, and is sleeping through the night (or at least until 4 or 5) every night. His hair has not grown back very much, but he did not seem cold in our recent snowstorm. He went on a long walk with my mom yesterday and almost caught two groundhogs. His mobility is still limited, but he is rolling in the grass some and trying to wiggle down the hills on his back. There has even been some limited running.

I put the Saturn on the list of Craig yesterday and had 8 hits inside 5 hours. At least 5 of those folks have had multiple follow-ups and intend to come and see the car. Three made appointments, though one has failed to show. It does not beat my record 6 hours from post-to-sold that i did with my last Explorer in AZ, but it is decent progress. Fingers crossed.

Sending out an Om Namasivaya to all my pals who can’t sleep and/or are overloaded with the stress. I did not make it through my recent time of extreme trial gracefully, but i did make it through.

Many moments in Buffy helped me out as well as two memorable quotes from Coach Eric Taylor:

1) Champions don’t complain. Champions don’t give up. You’re not Champions until you’ve earned it. – Wind Sprints S1 Ep3

2) We are all vulnerable and we will all at some point in our lives – fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts – that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us. And that when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls…It is these times, it is this pain that allows us to look inside ourselves. Pilot S1 Ep 1

Sabarimala

All of this talk and thought about Meditation, and doing a quick write-up on the CDs i sent to Karen has made me recall many things about my time in India. The CDs come into play because one of them is mostly devotional songs for Lord Ayyappa – the patron saint of Sabarimala.

The historical/traditional story of Lord Ayyappa will come later (soon) as will the story of my pilgrimage there.  For now i will just say that it is a holy site and a pilgrimage destination for Hindus from all over the world.

On the Way to Sabarimala - August 24, 2007

 

It is in Northern Kerala in a mountainous/heavily forested region.  There are purification rituals that you undergo as far as 45 days before making your pilgrimage (no meat, booze, smokes, sex, impure thoughts, and so forth).  You have a special pooja ceremony with a specific priest in the morning before you leave for your trip.

Depending on which of the two paths up the mountain you choose, you may (as i did) bathe in the holy river Pamba before making your ascent.

Cracker in the Pamba - August 24, 2007

 

You climb this mountain barefoot.

There are many, many other pilgrims with you on the trip.  There would be anyway, but the site is only open to pilgrims a few specific times each year.

I am bringing this up because i do feel that it is time for me to begin writing and sharing more openly about my time in India and in the Mid East.  I think that the story of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala may be a good place to begin.

Cows in the road - Way Home - August 25, 2007

 

Also – there was a terrible accident there last night and over 100 people died in a stampede.

The cause and details are a little sketchy right now and probably the “true story” will never be known.

It seems that vehicles were probably involved (there are not supposed to be any vehicles in the area) as well as incredibly poor infrastructure and planning for a site that gets predictably huge crowds at specific times every year.

While the whole incident is tragic and i am sending out good thoughts for all involved, i also do not yet know if any of my people we there at the time.

I have sent some mails out to my partners, employees, and friends and have not yet had any replies.

One of the reports states that only 5 Keralites were killed, though there are 8 unidentified bodies.

I do not think my guys were there at this time, but this is a special time of year cosmologically to be at Sabarimala.

A few of my guys - Red Bananas, Pettah, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India - 11/21/07

 

Anyway, some carefully crafted invective about organized religion, greed, poor leadership, poor government, and poor planning are sure to follow, but for now i just want to send out good thoughts and reflect on the unknown and the transitory nature of existence.

If ever we needed another reminder to make each moment count and to live each day to the fullest and to follow our dreams – to do what we love – this is a good one.

Over 100 people died on a holy pilgrimage to an ancient and sacred site where they hoped to share their faith and get closer to the spirit of God.

 

 


The Finger and the Moon

This story takes many forms – some more entertaining than others.  I do not remember any of the really exciting ones, but I do remember the framework and the overall point (or at least one of them).

Imagine a woman, an ascetic, returned to the village after months in the forest seeking truth, meaning, and enlightenment.

She begins preaching and teaching.  Sometimes she may speak at the well.  Other times crowds may gather around her as she meditates under the tress, and she will teach them.

Her words move the people and they begin to follow her and quote her and treat her differently – as if she was better or even more sacred than other people.

Seeing this happen and being unable to stop it – she gathers the village together for a final lesson.

She tells the villagers that this will be the last time she will speak with them and the last time they will see her.  She is going back to the forest.  There she found peace and some truth.  It was a simple and beautiful truth.

She came back to the village to try and share the truth – and more importantly to share some thoughts on the path to the truth so that everyone there could learn how to experience it for themselves.

But the people did not want to learn or seek, they wanted to be handed the truth.  They could sense something of the truth in her words, but without the desire to search for themselves, they associated her with the truth.  They confused the messenger and the message.

She said to them – the truth is like the moon, shining brightly in the sky for all to see.  I am like a fisherman on the shore of a lake on a clear night pointing at the moon and saying to you all – Come and look at the moon.  See how beautiful it is.  You cannot be bothered.  Instead of lifting your heads to look at the moon, you fall on your knees and worship my finger!

– – That is the essence of the Finger and the Moon parable.  I had been thinking of this yesterday as I wrote the piece on meditation techniques and even more after some comments came in from another meditator and seeker who shared some of his methods.

Moon over Desert - Doha, Qatar - 2004

Hebbe pointed out a really obvious flaw that I had totally overlooked when considering sharing information on meditation to an audience with various levels of experience from ‘none’ to ‘a great deal’.  I tried to focus on the flexibility of these methods and seeking a method that worked and felt comfortable for you.  But I stayed a little hung up on a specific time window.  In my tale, time is the finger and I was bowing down.  I probably made other similar mistakes that I have not even found yet.

That prompted me to want to share the finger and the moon parable.

Be quiet – listen to music.

Say the words in your head – say the words out loud.

Close your eyes – open your eyes.

10-15 minutes – 3 or 4 minutes.

Alone – kids and dogs and cats.

It does not matter.

It matters that you start.  It matters that you try.

As Hebbe says – “break the rules”.  I can’t believe I did not say this either (thanks Chris).

Through “breaking the rules” you may learn that they are important, or you may learn that they are not important at all.  You may be able to see why there are recommendations for one thing that may work for many people but does not work for you.

Anyway, I hope that helps.  I hope you will try a little meditation.  And, I hope I will do more of it as well.

I will not get back on the soapbox (not yet anyway), but when I was talking about all of this with my dad and the initial reasons for me writing about meditation to try to present a method to relieve anxiety to one of my friends he suggested that I mention exercise.

Regular readers know that I am working at getting back into better shape and that running is one of the main methods that I am pursuing (though I have been super slack since it turned cold).  Vance is right.  Exercise is a fantastic method to relieve stress and anxiety and to fight depression.

That’s it for now.  I am going to take down my gigantic finger and go look for the moon…

Moon over Desert - Doha, Qatar - 2004

Meditation Techniques

A break from the Mexico Updates –

I started writing this for a friend of mine and decided to post it to the blog as well.  We all need some more peace in our lives and our brains.  Here are some of the ways I try to get there.  Please do share any of your methods!

For Karen,

I do not have any idea how much or how little you know about meditation so I am going to write as if you know nothing and forgive me if that comes of pedantic or condescending – because that ain’t where I am coming from.

The two most basic forms of meditation are counting breath and repetition of a mantra.  For the purpose of this writing, I am just going to deal with meditation as a means to achieve some peace and relieve anxiety.  The further metaphysical discussions about bliss, enlightenment, nirvana, God Consciousness, and all that other good stuff are for another time.

Counting Breath:

This is the one I use most often.  There will be a few general notes at the end, but once you are settled and ready to begin – as you breathe in, count in your mind “one”.  You do not say it actually out loud, but you do say it with some amount of verve inside your head.  When you breathe out, you say in your mind, “one”.

Repeat the procedure for number two.  Sounds easy?  It is not.  Here is the catch.  Any time you have any thought at all – any thought at all – that is not “one” or “two” etc… you have to start over with breathing in at “one”.

I have been using this technique for over twenty years and I have never made it as high as seven.  There are two main reasons for this.  The basic one, and the first hurdle for everyone, is that I have too many thoughts and it is not easy to shut them down, even to just focus on one thing.

The second reason is better.  If I do make it past three – I usually enter a deeper meditative state and cease counting and cease all thought before I make it to seven.  This is a phenomenal feeling – though it can take years to accomplish.  For a guy with a brain like mine, a state of “no thought” is as close to bliss or paradise as I can even conceive.

When I first started, I did this meditation two to three times a day at least 5 days a week for months – then off and on over the years.  I wish I still did it more regularly.

You have to figure out what works for you with exactly “how to count”.  Your breathing should be deep and even – and relaxed.  Do you draw out “o n e” and try to make it last as long as the whole inhale, and then draw out “o n e” to last as long as your exhale?  Do you simply count “one” and then focus on the breathing in, then again a short “one” and a focus on the exhale?  I fall somewhere in-between.  I do not drag the number out for the whole breath – that makes my mind too active and I end up with unintentional thoughts related to the counting and breathing.  But if I go too short on the number, and just say “one” – especially in the early, first few minutes, the there is too much “empty space/time” as I complete the inhalation that my mind will invariably fill up with thoughts.

I know some people who do a more repetitive method – as they breathe in they count “one, one, one, one, one” (however many times) and then as they exhale “one, one, one, one, one” (however many times), and then move to “two, two, two…”.  I have tried this and if my head is super cluttered and will not shut-up, I will use this technique for a few minutes – just to get settled.

There is no “right way” – you have to do what feels right to you.  Since the whole point is to help you relax – using whatever method feels best to you is the answer, not trying to match your experience against the experience of others.

Repetition of a Mantra:

This has much in common with counting breaths.  There are a lot of mantras.  Some traditions believe that we each have our own special mantra that will help us achieve the best results.  I am not sure about all that, but I have had some great meditation using a mantra. “Om” is always a good place to start.  “Hari Krishna”, or simply “Krishna”, or “Om Namasivaya” or “Gayatri” are all good.  But you do not need to use Hindu words.  “Coco” or “Lego” or “Sunbeam” or “Orange” { ; ) } or pretty much anything else will also work just fine.

To begin, you could do it like counting breaths, just substitute your mantra where we spoke of numbers earlier.  Because it is a simple repetition, there is no starting over, you just keep going.  You can do the slow repetition “O r a n g e” on the inhale and again on the exhale – or simply “Lego, lego, lego, lego, lego….” over and over as you breathe.

While you do not start over, you have the same goal of focusing on your breath and the word and you do not want to have other thoughts.  As with counting, once you get really settled, you should end up no longer saying the mantra and just “being” with no thought, in a really beautiful place.

I do generally prefer the counting breaths, but I like the carrot and the stick, the risk/reward of advancing or starting over.  Sometimes though, I just want to chill and leave all that alone and I rock out with 15 minutes of “Om Namasivaya”.

General Notes:

As your body and your mind get used to doing this – they both look forward to it and will try to help you.  This is part of why no one ever makes it to “10” by counting breaths.  It gets to where even if you do not make it into a deep meditative state (which most of the time you – or anyone – will not) you still get some deep refreshment and peace out of the practice.  These days, with my life as crazy and up-in-the-air as it is, I might make it to “three” on counting breaths – but I can feel myself fully relax just by the act of starting the process.  The first time I breathe out “one” and I have made it that far – a breath in and a breath out with no other thought than “one” – “one” – I can feel the pressure and the weight and the anxiety roll off of me – and I consciously notice it happening – and that is a thought and I have to start over at “one”.

Form –

There are some particular positions certain disciplines use – but the most general and most basic position should work fine.  (Let me know if any of these physical descriptions do not convey meaning effectively, and I will try again.)

Sit “Indian” style – legs crossed, ankles close to ground, knees up top.  Many people recommend – if you are able, and comfortable doing it, sit “real indian” style with both ankles up on top of your knees and both knees closer to the ground.

I just use regular Indian – ankles down, knees on top.  The point is to be comfortable.

There are many different theories about “hand posture” as well.  I usually just leave them on my knees – left on left, right on right.

Sometimes I have them more in my lap – hands open, right over left – left “cradling” right – and right relaxed and open – as if ready to hold an avocado pit.

Some folks make symbols with their fingers.  Here again – find something comfortable and stick with it.

Here at the beginning, the point is to find a position that you can get into easily, that allows you to keep your body “open” with decent posture and that you can hold without fidgeting (once you get settled).

You can meditate anywhere.  It is probably best in the beginning to do it in a very quiet and safe room.  On tour with my metal band, i did it in the car, or the back of a bar.  Most people recommend that you close your pets out of the meditation room.  I never do this.  For me the infrequent times that my dogs have sniffed or licked me while I was meditating have been far less distracting than the gigantic uproar they would cause if there was a closed door between us.  And I have been a nanny for my sister before.  It is easier now that the kids are old enough to understand and respect “Uncle Nick needs 15 minutes of quiet time” and they can handle that without drowning or setting stuff on fire.  But my first nanny duty was with a two-year old.  I meditated during baby nap times.  I left the baby door cracked and did my thing close enough that I could hear if I was needed.  Believe me – even if you hit a really deep state – you will hear it and know if you are needed.

The babies and animals thing is definitely not the most ideal environment to meditate – especially to learn to start meditating – but as with all things, if you wait for perfect conditions, nothing would ever get done.

I generally meditate in bed.  I sit indian style near the head of the bed.  Maybe a pillow or two between me and the wall.  Some people prefer chairs – some cushy that you can sit cross-legged in, some straight back and you just do feet flat on the floor, or cross ankles.  Some like couches.  Some like the middle of the floor.  Some like against the wall.  I really prefer outside, but you have to get your game in shape before you can pull that off.  Sounds, bugs, wind, clouds, neighbors – they can all cause excess thoughts and defeat the purpose.

You want to do deep breathing, from the diaphragm.  But as with all other parts of this, do not let the guidelines become a distraction.  Breathe as deeply as you can easily and while relaxed, without ending up focusing on “how deep am I breathing?  Is this enough?” – just something comfortable.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  If out through the mouth is too hard or distracting, just using the nose is OK.

You do not want to close your eyes if you can help it.  Sometimes you need to, depending on the environment – and occasionally it can be useful just as a way to help shut down the brain.  But generally, let your eyes and your eyelids relax and you will end up with your eyes just barely open.  Again – do whatever is easiest and feels best.  If it is better or easier for you to just close them, then go ahead.

Posture – I get settled and try to sit with my back straight and shoulders back and chest open.  Because I have so many years of poor posture that I am trying to defeat – sometimes I can hold this easily and comfortably – sometimes not.  Once you get settled, take your mind out of it and let your body do what it wants.  Sometimes I finish a session still in perfect posture.  Sometimes I finish with my shoulders collapsed and my head almost in my lap.  Huge pools of drool are also very common in my case. (I don’t wear “good” shirts for meditation.)

You want to have your meditation sessions be about 15 minutes.  10 is fine if that works better for your schedule.  You do not want to start with longer than 15 minute sessions – or shorter than 10.

From years of practice, I am able to get into it within one minute or so of sitting down to start, and I get about twelve minutes of good time in.

When I first started, I would get set, and it would take probably 4 or 5 minutes of fidgeting and arguing with myself before I was able to shut up, let go, and get into it.  This is expected and OK.  For me it was stuff like “I think my sock is bunched up under my ankle.  That is probably gonna hurt.  I don’t know if I should move it.”   And so on for 20 seconds before I decide to fix or remove my sock – and re-settle.  Then it is my shirt bunching at the top of my pants near the small of my back.  I fix that, then it is my hair.  And on and on.  Like I say, these kinds of things are expected, normal, and fine. You want to be still and settle down, but it is better to go ahead and fix anything distracting in the beginning instead of worrying about your hair tie for 15 minutes.  If you can manage five good minutes out of 15 in the beginning sessions – that is awesome.

In the beginning, I set a gentle alarm to tell me when 15 mins was up.  In case you do go deep, you do not want a jarring loud sound.  You want to “come up out of it” gently.  An alarm in another room – the timer on the microwave with you in a different room – something like that.  These days, perhaps a cell phone timer or alarm set to vibrate would probably be decent (but not unless it would not make noise/motion for any other reason during this time – airplane mode?).  After a while, your body knows and you don’t need it anymore.  Do take a full minute at least before you stand up.  Open your eyes, gently roll your head to stretch your neck.  Slowly let yourself come back to full everyday consciousness.

A few other notes.  I hesitate to put these in because these are some of the things I used as excuses not to meditate instead of guidelines on better meditation – but I believe it is better to have more information.

Because one of the points of this practice is to settle down and stop your brain, it is useful to have your body doing as few things as possible.  This means that it is generally better to meditate before you eat or drink.  Wake up, pee, and meditate was how one guru taught me.

If you meditate after you eat, your body is going to be doing the work of processing food while you are trying to settle down.  If you have a cup of water, that may be ok, but no caffeine – though they say it is best to have nothing.  Then meditate again about an hour before you want to eat dinner.  This should be far enough away from lunch that your body has settled down, but not so far from dinner that your stomach will be growling from hunger.  Drugs in all forms are highly discouraged for people seeking peace through meditation.  In addition to the obvious ones like heroin and crack, this also means, tobacco, booze, caffeine, and sugar.

Karen, from the little bit I know about your daily affairs, I would imagine that once a day 15 minutes – probably mid-morning or early afternoon – whenever T-maximus takes a little nappy-break time, would be your ideal time.  Do not sweat the food part, but do keep it in mind.  I do not know where you are with caffeine these days, but that part is definitely good advice.

Meditating in front of a Kalianda mural - Thiruvananthapuram
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