Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron - A legacy of Buddhism?!

I had the childhood-fantasy-fulfilling, special-effects-sploding, Daft-Punk-rocking, Geek-tacular pleasure on Friday of seeing the (nearly thirty years in the making) Tron: Legacy movie, and surprisingly the first thing I wanted to do was write this post!

Why, you might - rightly - ask yourself, would I want to write about a Disney special effects computer geek movie on my weight loss and mindfulness blog? Well let me tell you....

First off, I held off writing this until a fellow meditating-mindful-blogging-geek-buddy of mine had a chance to see it simply because I know he reads this and I didn't want to spoil it for him or anyone else.

That said, I have read TONS of reviews all over the web, and all my geekiest friends have seen it now, so I feel free to write briefly about it here. Don't worry, I will not be telling anything at all about the movie EXCEPT for one thing....


For all you normal folks out there to whom "Tron" doesn't stir childhood memories and excitement, you can stop reading after the next line and you'll be just fine. If you are about to stop reading at this point, I have only one thing to say - GO SEE TRON LEGACY, because it's just a great, fun, excellent movie!

Now...for the rest of us...

I don't have a ton to say, again because I don't want to ruin anything for anyone, but I want to tell anyone who has an interest in both Tron AND Buddhism to be prepared to LOVE the sequel far more than you might have realized you would. Personally, I was not terribly excited about the Tron movie other than at the prospect of a new Daft Punk Tron Soundtrack! I felt that Hollywood was going to royally screw this one up. I had a bad feeling it was going to be Highlander all over again, where they take an iconic movie, years later, and bastardize it in to something you're embarrassed to say you watched.

Boy was I wrong. First of all, as you would expect, the technology for making a movie like this is PERFECT right now. The computer generated images that were a DREAM in those days, are a common reality today, so the look - we all knew - was going to be great. What scared me was the story. I was worried it would be horrible.

Suffice it to say that they came up with some really good, plausible stuff (stop laughing - I mean plausible with regard to the implausible movie idea). I won't get in to any details, but I sat in a full theater watching this movie and laughing at all the spots they expected us to, along with everyone else. I dropped my jaw in amazement at all the same things everyone else did, and uttered all the same "YEAH!"'s as everyone else when one of the bad guys got turned in to so many tiny blocks of bad data.

What was strange though was how often I laughed out loud at something in the movie when NO ONE else did. I kept seeing things pointing to a very Zen story line and it just made me chuckle at the irony, the well thought out story, and the GREAT delivery mechanism for the Buddhist plot. I kept laughing - incredulously and happily - because I saw so much of myself and my friends in this movie, and because Flynn is such a Badass Buddhist!

Jeff Bridges, who plays both Kevin Flynn and CLU, actually worked with Zen Master, Bernie Glassman to bring Flynn's Buddhism to life in the movie in the most realistic applicable way possible. You can find tons of interviews with Bridges discussing this, as well as Glassmans' site ZenPeaceMakers.org.

I'll leave it at that, but please - do yourself a favor - go see it. It's chock full of the Buddhist way! You will appreciate it for that regardless of your geekdom!

It's all summed up for me by old man Flynn when he says "It's BioDigital Jazz, Man!"


PS - One more thing....if you are a man of an age to have been mad about Tron when it came out, but you're still a kid enough to enjoy toys that you're probably too old to be enjoying....then you really need to check out the Tron Merchandise! There's some serious toys for big boys and there's kids toys that will have you pretending to shop for your nephew at Toys'R'Us!  Dig it:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"I'm JUST a Bill"

I write, and talk, a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness, essentially, is just being in the moment and not being distracted by other things. When you read books like "Savor" about mindfulness they often talk about things like when you eat, you should eat mindfully and enjoy the food, without watching television or listening to music and such. Another example is when you walk mindfully, it's a good idea to not listen to an iPod the whole time, but to enjoy the sites and sounds around you and live in that moment as well.

These things are all certainly true and helpful. I've done them. I used to use an iPod in the airport, when walking, while waiting in lines. I have stopped that, and thus have stopped a lot of music listening as well. This has been a bitter-sweet thing for me. While the quality of my mindfulness has exponentially improved, my time spent listening to music - a thing that I derive tremendous joy from - has greatly been reduced.

At least, that's how it seems at first.

However, when you really get in to mindfulness and improve your practice of it, you may find that when you take time to listen to music mindfully then that is greatly enhanced as well. See, I guess the point the teachers are making is that when you are walking AND listening to music, you are not necessarily doing either one fully or fully enjoying either one.

So, since I started my mindful walking and other mindful activities, I had been missing music a lot. I'm a life-long music lover, and I get tremendous enjoyment from almost all forms of music. So the purpose of this post is to talk about the moment I had recently (and the many times since then) when I realized what they mean by that whole thing about not doing either thing fully when you do both.

I was really wanting to listen to some jazz recently (again, I like all music for the most part, but I was raised on jazz and it's the first music I ever knew). I fired up the 'ol iPhone 4 and Pandora to get my Jack Sheldon Station going.

Jack Sheldon is a living legend. The guy's is a true genius when it comes to music and entertainment. Whether you like Jazz music or not, you are probably already a Jack Sheldon fan, even if you've never heard of him. He's been making incredible music for several decades and is still going strong. Most of us, especially those who were kids in the 70's, will remember Mr. Sheldon as the voice of "Bill" in the Schoolhouse Rock song "I'm just a Bill". Also, he was the voice in Conjunction Junction". He was frequently playing and performing on Merv Griffin, was a semi-regular actor on Dragnet, parodied himself as "Bill" on an episode of the Simpsons. He's played on Tom Waits albums, performed with countless others, and has run several of his own bands as well. Jack has also been an actor, made soundtracks, performed with many other famous artists, and more. The guy is simply incredible. To this day, he still plays live a few days a week in Los Angeles.

Anyhow, I had the Pandora Station playing and was simply sitting and listening to music, while doing nothing else. My only purpose was to enjoy the music. This Pandora Station I created played 1997's "Jack's Blues" from the "Live at Don Mupo's Gold Nugget" record and then some of his trumpet virtuoso work on other songs, and then moved on to other artists such as "Stan Getz meets Chet Baker" and more.

Listening MINDFULLY to this music, I not only liked it, not only enjoyed it, but I lived it! It was FANTASTIC! When you listen that intently to these songs (or any) you hear things you don't normally notice, you get the feelings the music is trying to put across and you are transported - as if by magic - to the place the artist wanted you to go. Ultimately, this is what most musicians want more than anything. They want their music to be heard and felt and understood in this magical way that expresses what they felt when they created it for us. It's something that you can't get when you're doing other things and listening to music as background filler.

This is nothing new, and I am not claiming to have uncovered a great mystery. I just realized that this is something that I haven't done in years...probably since when I first became a hard core fan of music in the first place! For me - a married man, with a kid and a full time job and all the life responsibilities that come along with that - it's easy to forget. It's so easy to listen to music while driving, to listen when working, but to never REALLY listen.

So whether it's Reggie Watts special brand of comedy/music, or Jack Sheldon's virtuoso jazz Trumpet, or Johnny Cash, or Nirvana, or Ben Harper, or Eminem or WHATEVER type of music you love...take some time in your busy day to listen to it only for the sake of enjoying strictly that music.

Then, furthermore, apply that same complete mindful attention to the other things in your life that you like to do but don't ever do without multi-tasking. When you read a book, don't have the TV going in the background. Breathe in, and out, clearing your mind before you settle in to read and marvel at how deeply immersed you get in the world of your book. If you ride a bike for enjoyment, put all your concerns out of your mind before your next ride, and revel in the feel of the wind on your face, and the ground flying beneath your feet.

You get the idea, and it sounds like such an obvious and simple idea. But you'll probably notice when you perform these favorite things of yours, that you will realize how long it's been since you've done these things to the exclusion of all else. I hope it will be as refreshing and enjoyable for you as it was for me.

When poor old "Bill" was lamenting that he was "Just a Bill, sittin on Capitol Hill" he was sad because he was focused on becoming a law. There's a powerful lesson there, one that perhaps wasn't even intended. But I would suggest that you learn that lesson from Bill as well. The lesson that you should enjoy being "just" a Bill. Enjoy every moment IN the moment.

Who knew Schoolhouse Rock was teaching us Buddhist lessons!?

Enjoy Mindfully!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

APP REVIEW (UPDATE): Meditate - Meditation Timer by SimpleTouch Software

A while back I wrote a review on Meditate - Meditation Timer by SimpleTouch. You can find that review here, but just recently they released an update for the app.

Since my initial review was so glowing, I was very concerned when I saw the added functionality of the app. The App Store page showed that it had new timers, new bell tones, in-app purchases, and more. I immediately feared that they had tried to reach beyond the simplicity of the single purpose app and in so doing feared that they had destroyed it's perfection.

I couldn't have been more wrong!

If there was anything at all wrong with the original, MondoSamu readers seemed to think it was the lack of bell sound variations. For me this wasn't an issue as I very much enjoyed the high, clear Tingshas tone that the app used. A few people said they preferred lower, richer tones. I can certainly understand, but felt it was a minor flaw, if one at all.

However, that is precisely one of the things that SimpleTouch has overcome with the release of the update. Basically, the app still works flawlessly and amazingly as it did before, but they found a nice, subtle way to include the new functionality.

As before, when you tap on the app, you get the main interface (used to be the only interface) for executing your meditation. You have the "Meditation" duration at the top with that button highlighted, the "Preperation", Interval, Cool Down and plus/minus buttons as well as the "Meditate" button that starts the timer. What's different is that you now have a tiny grid, remarkable only for it's subtlety, in the bottom left corner. Thoughtfully, this grid represents which of the four presets you are using. If you tap that grid, the screen recedes to the back, while four buttons merge to the front. This new screen is called "Meditation Presets".

Beneath the "Meditation Presets" header, are four buttons. Meditation 1-4. At the bottom of each button is a duration for that meditation. You can tap on any one of these to get the main interface again, but if you tap and hold on one of the buttons you get a screen that slides up to reveal the settings for that preset timer. It saves them on the fly.

What this does for you is allow you to have different meditations that you use for different times throughout your day. Perhaps, like me, you only have time for a 15 minute meditation in the morning (you can rename this to "Mornings"). If so, then just tap that button and the timer for that meditation comes up. Or maybe at lunch you grab a quick 30 minute meditation…there's a button for that as well. The very meaningful and thoughtful way that SimpleTouch achieved this fairly complex amount of control is by having you tap and hold on whichever of the preset buttons you want to tweak. Once you do this, a screen slides up to reveal the controls for that meditation.

From here you can change the name of the meditation, turn on-off the vibrate, set the sounds on or off, configure your various bells AND this is where you get to set the bell tones. You tap on those and another sliding screen appears with options for how many chimes, which tone (where you can also download tones in-app to suit all your tonal needs) and - and this is another minor thing they have addressed from the original version - you can set the bell to SILENCE!

I had received a couple of comments that people found the bell DURING meditation to be distracting and didn't really see the point. For me, it's great because I have one sound at 5 minutes and use that first five minutes to still my mind, then when it sounds I slide deeper in to my meditation. But, some wanted silence, and now that is a choice!

Anyhow, this is an astonishing amount of control that - while I didn't think it was necessary - SimpleTouch found a way to incorporate all of this intricate detail while still keeping "Meditate" VERY simple, elegant and agile!

I would like to see it go "Universal" so it works full screen on the iPad, but hopefully that's in our future! It does have some great new backgrounds as well, by the way.

So, I say "Whew! Good job, SimpleTouch!"

If you have a need for a meditation timer, I can't recommend any app as being remotely as good as this one for the job, and that's saying a lot because there are plenty of good ones out there!

Now I need to meditate!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unexpected Joy!

I feel GREAT!

Lately I've been struggling to get my normal exercise in. For the last two weeks I have had a lot of travel for work and the weather has been horrible. It's rained most days and has been cold as well. Between a crazy schedule and the weather, my normal 3 mile a day walking habit has been sporadic to say the least. I've been getting my Tai Chi in every day, and some days twice to make up a little for not walking regularly, but the rain has made walking a challenge.

So after being out of town last week, and returning to a jam-packed-bad-weather-weekend-o-shopping, I decided that I would return to my routine today NO MATTER WHAT! My morning Tai Chi and meditation went great and it was wonderful to be back in my comfortable home for my morning routine. I'm very grateful that I am able to do my Tai Chi from my hotel rooms, but I'm most comfortable in my home. Then after work, I came home and got dressed for a walk, only to find that by the time I picked my wife up from work the weather had turned extremely windy and cold!

I was pretty darned down about the prospect of not walking tonight, and kept changing my mind as to whether I was going to do it or not. Finally, upon arriving at home, I decided that I simply HAD to do it. I MUST walk. Interestingly it's not even about the calories I burn, but rather it was a burning desire to just walk, and to do some walking meditation.

I went in the house, added some layers to my walking clothes, a hat, mits, and scarf and headed out. The wind was raging at about 20mph, and blowing little mini-tornadoes of leaves all around. The trees were literally roaring! The cold was bitterly below freezing, and the wind made it painful. Luckily, as I was fully bundled up, the weather didn't bother me at all! In fact, quite the contrary! I had a GREAT walk!

I was warm, I felt energized by my decision to walk in spite of the conditions, I felt great to be exercising again the way I like to, I felt proud of myself for overcoming the weather and the desire to stay indoors. But most of all, walking amongst the howling wind, bitter cold, dark night and leaves swirling all around...I felt wonderful! I felt very much alive, centered, grounded - whatever you want to call it. I felt, you could say, MINDFUL!

The point, you ask? The point is that sometimes when everything about a situation is telling you NOT to do a thing, it's just your ego. The ego does everything in it's power to get what it wants. It tells you "the weather is too bad", "the cold is too cold", "the house is so warm, you will be fine with one more day of no walking, what's one more day??"

Next thing you know you are sitting in a comfy chair in a warm house watching TV. What's wrong with that? Nothing except you didn't do what you know you needed to, and you made it that much easier to cave in the next time. It's a common refrain you'll see amongst people trying to lose weight...they make one mistake and then another, and pretty soon they've fallen off the wagon. It's insidious the way it happens!

So don't fall for it. There are legitimately times when you CAN'T go for a walk or eat healthy. When you can, though...don't let a little discomfort like cold weather or more meal prep time keep you from making the better decision. At the end of that day, if you're being mindful, it's those decisions - one by one, each in it's moment - that determine your happiness.

And you never know when the decision might turn out to be a shining bright spot of happiness in your day that you never expected, or would have had if you let the ego have it's way.

Have a great day!