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.


Friday, December 9, 2011

99 Problems but to bitch ain't one.

Man, some days you look around and everything is great.  Other days you look around and it just seems like everyone everywhere is suffering and life's a bitch.  It can be overwhelming sometimes!  And, sometimes, you just want to bitch about it.

I have a friend whose ex-husband (and father of her two daughters) is in liver failure.  Another very dear friend who's in the hospital suffering from Lupus.  A buddy with heart troubles.  A few friends dealing with depression in it's various nasty forms.  One friend who lost two of his friends this week.  A couple of friends going through divorces.  A teacher who's lost his mother this month.  And on and on. 

When you see this much suffering, particularly amongst your own friends and loved ones - and to such a high degree - it's pretty tough to stay positive.  I'm doubly fortunate that I'm Buddhist AND a ridiculously positive guy for the most part (At least I think so!), but even for me it's tough.

This week, with so many important people in my life suffering so greatly, I've had Samsara on my mind heavily.  As the first of these things came to my attention, I rallied around the persons and buoyed them.  Later, as I learned of the suffering of a few of the others, I spread my support a little thinner, mentally speaking of course.  In the last few days, as the problems kept mounting, I've found myself a little more distracted.  At first I didn't realize it.  Eventually, I recognized (as I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to do) that my mindfulness was suffering and my thoughts were sliding away from the areas that needed them (such as compassion and equanimity), and more toward areas that I can do nothing about (such as fixing these problems for people, as I am wont to do).  I've caught myself, a few times this week, just bitching and whining about it saying some things very uncharacteristic of me, such as "Man, this sucks!" or "Jeez, she can't catch a break!".  I don't usually think in these terms.  Even before Buddhism came in to my life, I didn't tend to get down about things much, but these days I rarely ever think like this.

So, I guess this post is really about compassion and equanimity.  I was tweeting with a buddy of mine @SamsaricWarrior this evening for the first time in a while.  I had seen he was experiencing some sort of health issue and asked him about it.  He's the aforementioned person with heart troubles.  I only know Michael from Twitter and Facebook, but he's what I call "a good cat".  He tends to start the day off with a tweet to the world somewhere along the lines of "Good morning, me lovelies!" or some other positive thought.

@SamsaricWarrior - Good Cat.
So he tells me, when I asked how he was doing, "Yea, seems my heart isn't happy. No worries. I try to stay unattached to life and have come to terms with death.  I just try to enjoy every moment I can and hope I can be of benefit to as many as I can while I am here. :)"

What a badass.

Then, when I asked how serious it was.  He says "Well, you can hear it make lovely scary noises if you're standing within 5 feet of me in a quiet room. I have 2 valves that are fighting each other and every day it gets harder to catch my breath. Doctors are struggling to pinpoint the problem.  So for now it's tests, meds, and more tests. But like I said, it's all good. I don't let it bother me and just focus on my breath.  We all suffer in some way. This body is just a shell. I just hope that whatever happens, I can continue to try and help others."

What a total, Samsaric Warrior Badass Mother Effer.  (It says so on his wallet.) 

Anyhow, this conversation snapped me back to the present moment, collected all the concerned thoughts of my friends in to a neat pile and brought in to focus the fact that all I can do for all of this suffering is support my friends with lovingkindness and skillful behavior.  For myself, I must continue to practice, sit with all of this, and meet it all with compassion, equanimity and mindfulness.  Thanks for your practice, @SamsaricWarrior, and for reminding me that I got ninety-nine problems, but bitchin' ain't gonna be one!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gimme Samma Vaca!

I listened to a recent Against The Stream Podcast today (I highly recommend these free podcasts from the Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society as a resource of great Dharma Talks - Kick 'em a few bucks if you find it useful for your practice).  The Podcast was one by JoAnna Harper on Right Speech.  Samma-Vaca, I think, if you're keeping track in Pali.

Anyhow, the podcast was great.  JoAnna talks about all the types of wrong speech such as gossip.  She even goes in to things that she personally lumps in to that same category such as eye-rolling, door-slamming and so forth.  I like her talks and, as she's fairly new to it I guess, her down to earth and sincere vibe.  I especially liked that shortly after she pointed out that people need to learn to appreciate the silences and not feel the need to fill every moment with conversation (which she stepped right up and acknowledged that she used to do herself) she then muttered that she had to "keep turning pages" while she looked for something in her notes.  It was a very endearing quality to see her do exactly what she was talking about during the Dharma Talk.

Anyhow, it got me thinking.  Or, more accurately, it focused my lens on what had been running through my mind a lot lately.  I've had numerous situations lately where I've had to practice Right Speech very mindfully or have been keenly aware of the effects of Right (or wrong) Speech.

A couple of decades ago, a guy who was like a brother to me did many things which damaged his family and our brotherhood of friends.  I honestly, very seriously, considered him to be evil.  Evil like the devil, to quote from "So I Married An Axe Murderer".  So for two decades, I carried this fear and hatred around with me, and we never spoke again.  Until recently.  Recently he initiated a reunion, of sorts, and our brotherhood rallied together again in his home town.  I was in to the whole thing mostly to see the other guys I had lost touch with.  Building up to the event, I practiced a lot of loving-kindness meditation, and spent great quantities of meditation time pondering and practicing forgiveness, specifically toward him, so that I could get through the experience.  I fully expected it to go badly, but had hopes that we would at least get through it without drama.

I arrived in town and, after the gang got together, it was immediately obvious to me - let alone everyone else - that we had all lost out on almost two decades of friendship, fellowship and brotherhood because of wrong speech.  Unskillful words, and little else, had caused this.  And a LACK of compassion and a clinging to wrong perceptions, had perpetuated it.  In the end, open hearts and a lot of hugs had erased all the pain and suffering that those words had caused.  We all picked up where we had left off, and the reunion was one of the greatest, most healing weekends of my life.

I've had several other experiences recently that are similar too.  Old friendships that had been lost and rediscovered turned out to have been lost in the first place due to unskillful speech.  Old opportunities were missed because of a lack of using Right Speech.  Current relationships are protected from harm by the judicious use of Right Speech, my care for the latter having been now informed by the lessons taught by the former.  The list goes on.

Credit: Free images from acobox.com 

Thich Nhat Hanh says “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  This is so very, very true.

Please check out the Dharma Talks mentioned above if you have the time.  Ponder this post.  Consider and meditate on Right Speech.  It's only one aspect of the Eightfold Path, but take the time to practice it and consider it.  Don't let unskilful speech cause you to lose years of relationships, or miss opportunities that could be life altering.  All of that said, I have no regrets.  As I've written recently, I firmly believe that everything is as it should be, but these are all things that you should experience and deal with skilfully for yourself.  I wish you the best, most skillful results of your own Samma Vaca!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Everything Is As It Should Be

I recently enjoyed a reunion, of sorts, with a group of guys I started working with over 20 years ago.  Going in to this experience there were numerous opportunities for trouble.  There was a guy who battled addiction and has been clean for over a decade walking back in to the lion's den.  There was a guy who had been fired for being a jerk, and left numerous ruined and ravaged relationships with friends and family in his wake.  There were ex girlfriends attending this event alongside current wives.  There were guys who went on to have successful alternative careers, while others toiled away in the same career.  There were all sorts of things that made it challenging.  Two of the guys had spent those years on a spiritual quest.  They used to be united by this, but one found Christianity and the other Buddhism (that's me, of course) and are now, seemingly, divided by ones inability to accept the others ways.

In spite of all of these things, the weekend was stupendously amazing.  The bad blood washed away with hugs and handshakes.  The career choices mattered not at all in the face of a bond between this band of brothers that is still stronger than jobs and talent and charisma and which transcends time and practice.  Old flames were warm and friendly but cold by comparison to the heat of familial love.  Old demons cringed in the awesome power of life lived with love and presence.  It was simply, astoundingly, amazing.

It was rewarding for me to see in many ways, but watching all of this I couldn't help but be amazed by the dharma of interbeing everywhere I looked.  I looked around at these people who are really like a family to me, and I realized to my astonishment that any one of these great families, partnerships, friendships...any one of them...might not exist today if not for the choices we made back then.  Good choices, bad choices...they all led here.  And "here" was a beautiful thing.  It was just humbling and beautiful to see.

At the height of the celebration, in the middle of beautiful chaotic creativity, I stood - took a few deep breaths - looked around and smiled.  It was truly one of the greatest moments of my life.  I'm grateful, on this Thanksgiving Day, for all that has led me to where I am today and made me capable of seeing that moment for what it was.  I'm being intentionally vague here, in the interest of others' anonymity, but I hope you've followed the point.  The point is that everything is as it should be.  Enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Article On The Positive Effects Of Meditation

I love to see science exploring these sorts of things.  This is a good article on yet another study of how the human brain is clearly benefited by meditation.  Just wanted to share it here, as many of my readers are interested in this sort of thing.  One of my most popular posts was the book review on Buddha's Brain so I hope you'll find this interesting.  Enjoy!

CNN Article on How Meditating May Help Your Brain.

A list of Vegetarian Apps I thought was cool.

I saw this online yesterday and just wanted to share it with you all.  As you know, I promote the use of technology in helping us to lose weight, and if you're losing weight by becoming more of a vegetarian or if you're a budding Buddhist who's turning to a vegetarian lifestyle these apps might help out some.

Let me know if you have any successes with any of these you'd like to share!


Monday, November 21, 2011

SavorTheBook.com Interview with MondoSamu.com Part 2

While I was away, this weekend, having one of the greatest weekends of my life visiting with old friends SavorTheBook.com's Blog posted the second part of the interview they did with me recently.  I am pleased and honored to have been a part of this and would love for you to check it out.

Part Two of the Mondo Samu Interview with SavorTheBook!
Head over and check it out, and please let me know if you have any questions or comments!  Thank you for taking the time!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

SavorTheBook.com Interview with MondoSamu.com Part 1

I am extremely pleased and honored to have been interviewed by the great folks over at SavorTheBook.com for a series on my process of losing weight through Mindful Eating, and Mindful Living. 

Please head over there and check it out.  If you like what you see, share it with others.

Thank you for your interest!!

Get UP!

I'm so excited about the new gadget that Jawbone has released!  I'm hoping to get my hands on one to review.  I'll keep you posted.

For now, just know that it's a bracelet that you can wear 24/7 that will track your motion for exercise and sleep as well as work in conjunction with an iPhone app to track your food.  It's essentially a life-tracking device to help you track your days and make improvements based on the results.  It is, in my opinion, the best thing out there (so far, based on what I know) for using digital gadgetry in your mindful eating and living pursuits!

Check it out, and I'll post a review if I'm lucky enough to get my hands on one soon!

The Jawbone UP!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thank you, Thay!

I started yesterday off giving my daughter a box of 120 crayons (and there is little in life more exciting for a child than that!) and then going for coffee near home.  At the coffee shop she drew pictures for the employees, each of whom always treat her like a princess.  We went home to prepare for her belated birthday party, and while cleaning out the coolers we rescued a little tree frog who spent the day in the bushes outside our house in a meditative pose.

Tremaine, the tree frog, Meditating on life.
We then spent the entire day at the pool for her 5th birthday party.  We had many friends and family around and I spent most of the time in the pool with a handful of 5 year old kids alternately attacking me, then "saving" me, from getting swept away on the "lazy river" tide pool (I guess is what it is).  It was a great day of family and friends and FUN! 

Then I mowed our yard as soon as I got home and we had family story-time before bed.  What a GREAT day!  I'm writing about it because there were two things that were very significant about the day for me.  One was that I was extremely mindful the entire day.  That kind of mindfulness is really wonderful.  To experience it all day, and to be aware of it, was just amazing.  For many, it may sound crazy that I'm even writing about something so utterly mundane.  For some it will make perfect sense.  And for those of us who have lived with obesity, it will sound like a dream.  If you're thinking "So what?!  I am in the present moment with my kids every day and play with them at the pool all the time!" then KEEP AT IT!  Good for you!  Many people live their whole lives without being fully aware of how wonderful it is.  If you're of that obese group, and you've excluded yourself from family fun because of size, self-image or simply lack of energy, then I would urge you to read "Savor" or ANY book by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The simple, clear wisdom he delivers is life altering.  It was for me anyhow. We zip through life so much, so fast.  It is nice, for me, to be learning to slow down, and pay attention. 

The second thing that was so amazing about this day was that 1 year ago, I would have complained all day long about being outside in the 100+ degree heat, would not have budged from beneath the meager shade of the tables umbrella.  I would NEVER have gotten IN the pool.  I would have been mindLESS all day and miserable.  Oh wait...I did....I did exactly that, this time last year.  We had her party at the same pool last year and I was miserable inside, outside and couldn't have been any less so to be around.  Now, one year and 105 pounds later, I'm so different in so many ways, and the day was absolutely amazing! 

And to think...a little bald guy in a robe started all this for me by instructing me to stare at an apple, while eating it mindfully, and see the universe within it.

So thank you Dr. Cheung, for your wisdom.  Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Buddha before you, for your simple, elegant, eloquent teachings and flicking the switch on in my head!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Fist Full Of Water

I visited a couple of dear friends last week, for a few days, and I was amazed by how a certain theme seemed to run through the weekend.  What was supposed to be a weekend at a friends house, turned out to be a weekend overflowing with interwoven lessons all tied together with a common Dharma theme.  It was a little odd, and yet not at all odd, and it really effected me greatly.  I thought I might share a little about it here.

These friends are both Christians, though each follows a different path to their connection to the "Kingdom of God".  They also have kids.  They've chosen to provide their kids with a foundation in their Faith, but that has turned out to be a real challenge for one of them.  Without getting in to it too openly in this public forum, suffice it to say that they are at odds over this to a degree and want to resolve it, but have been struggling.  It doesn't matter why, the point is that they have this struggle and it's not getting resolved.

Add to that, a few other challenges.  We have a mutual friend who's lost in life and is creating challenges for himself and others due to his own dukkha.  We discussed work related problems that my friend is facing.  We discussed all manner of things.

The thing that struck me as so interesting, and compelling, about all this is that early on in the weekend we were discussing some people we know who are addicts.  In discussing how they've found God through recovery but now just seem to struggle with addiction to God, my friend mentioned how these folks we were discussing get caught up in their "White Light Experiences" where they "See God" and then spend their lives clinging to and chasing that.  He speaks with authority on the subject, I'll leave it at that.

We talked about how they seem to lose themselves in their religion rather than getting the point of it.  His point was that a lot of new Christians come to the religion in their lowest times, and they have some sort of religious experience (such as "seeing God") and then they spend the rest of their lives - or until they eventually "get it" - trying to cling to that experience.  Since we were talking specifically about addicts who find religion at the time, I agreed and said that I see the same thing in Buddhism.  I see a lot of Buddhists who experience an "enlightenment" moment, and then spend years trying to get back to that in their practice.  I said that they "have that moment, and then grasp and squeeze it" (this was how I conveyed attachment to him) until it runs through their hands like water, rather than cultivating the conditions for those moments to happen more often and learning from them when they do.

This theme, whether regarding addicts or workers or marriage, recurred over and over throughout the weekend, and in to the following week.  Each of these things that came up, ended with the realization that the person in question (sometimes one of us) was squeezing a moment of clarity rather than being present in that moment and learning from it.

I had the great pleasure of spending time with each of my friends individually over the course of the weekend, and was able to practice deep listening with them both.  Through that, and some mindful walking with them, I was able to witness my friends wife express her challenge verbally and openly and arrive at a solution which she credited me for helping her to see.  I didn't really do much, except listen and give her back what she had said to me, but in a slightly different way.  My advice essentially amounted to "You already know what you believe, you just need to stay connected to that in this situation instead of going in to it as if you are looking for what you already have!"

It was so beautiful and I felt privileged to be a part of this process for her. It remains to be seen if the solution will be effective, but at least when I left them they were both aware that they are aiming at the same target and had a new way of trying to work together to get there. Initially they were at a complete disconnect, feeling they were travelling in different directions.  When I left, mostly through deep listening, they were talking openly to each other about the matter and felt very connected.  Amazing.

Since I returned, we've spoken some more about the other issues that came up during the stay regarding some of our mutual friends and the challenges they face.  Also about the challenges those friends challenges are causing the two of us!  And again this theme of squeezing to tightly to what we want came up.  Both that we are grasping tightly to the outcome we want for our project, squeezing tightly to the idea of our friend as he once was rather than as he is now and to our desire for things to be other than they are seeming to be.

I guess all of this is really just a long winded way of saying that I was greatly enriched by watching the Dharma unfold over the last week, and being able to be keenly aware of suffering, of attachments and how they cause said suffering, and that letting go of those attachments leads to the cessation of that suffering.  It happens like this all around us, all the time.  It was a treasure to be so awake to it!

I feel as though I've only rambled here and not expressed my thoughts well, but I hope they've been of some use for you.  This quote from Thich Nhat Hanh came to mind often over the weekend as I thought of the interconnected nature of all these things:
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realizes it is water."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Spare Tires

(I apologize in advance for the crazy length of this post.  I've written and re-written it many times.  I've been struggling to write it and to express what I have to say.  Ultimately, I made the decision tonight to just put it up and be done with it.  I'm sorry it's so much, but it's my great hope that someone out there will find it motivational and that it will encourage them to find their way.  If you're that person, looking for a way, then read on!)

You ever try to visualize what weighs the amount of weight you have lost, or want to lose?  For most folks it would be a small hand weight.  Maybe a good sized bag of dog food.  Here's a short list of items that weigh the same as how much I have lost.  Try to visualize these things, and carrying them around with you, in your head.

~ THREE of my four year old daughter.
~ FIVE 20 pound bags of Dog Food.
~ TWENTY average bags of potatoes!

 You get the idea.  It's a LOT!  I don't point this out to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate how CRAZY it is that I was walking around with all that extra weight!  It's easy to look in the mirror and just see your "self".  But I promise you that if you look in the mirror while standing next to a stack of five car tires, it really drives it home what you are doing to your body!!!

On July 3rd, 2010, I stepped on the scale as I left the house for a vacation.  I was dismayed by the digits it reported.  THREE HUNDRED FORTY NINE POUNDS!  You can read all about that day by clicking here.  I'm not sure exactly when during this day I vowed to do something about my weight, but I did.  I swore I would never hit 350 pounds.  That's when I discovered "Savor" by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh.

By the time I finished reading "Savor" I had stopped the train, and thrown it in to reverse.  That train had been gathering momentum for over four decades, so it didn't happen instantly.  It slowed.  It stopped.  It switched gears.  And then, with a shudder, it lurched ahead, back the way it came.  The weight started coming off that first day.
My initial goal, to lose 100 pounds, was randomly chosen just based on one simple thing.  I asked myself what it would take to make me feel like I had a fighting chance of living a healthy life.  At 349 pounds, 249 sounded like a dream, but it also sounded like the most I could weigh if I wanted to live long enough to enjoy my family, watch my daughter grow up, and all the other things I would like to do.  Anything more felt like failure to me, and felt like not being serious about it.  ALL I was really after was survival, which at the time I was seriously starting to question my chances of.

I've blogged before, often, about the various tools I have used to lose weight and assist me on this journey.  The primary app I have used is LoseIt!  When I started using it, it asks if you want to lose 1 pound a week, or 2.  I chose 2 and it calculated that I would hit my goal in one year. Unfortunately, I didn't make a note of what day that would be.  I've always assumed my "start" date as July 3rd, when I saw my 349 pound weight.  In reality it was around July 23 from what I can tell in LoseIt!'s web site.

At first, the weight was coming off incredibly fast at several pounds per week.  Then, once I lost about 60 pounds or so, it slowed to a few pounds, and then a couple of pounds per week.  Ultimately, toward the end, there were some weeks where I didn't lose any at all, and I started wondering if I would hit the goal on time.  What was happening is that my goal was nearing the end, so the calories were pretty
well balanced out with what I was burning.  Ultimately, it took me about 11 months - almost precisely - to lose 100 pounds!  I can't even pretend not to be pleased with myself here, so forgive me that little self indulgent pat on the back now.

So here I am, at about 248 as I write this, and I am definitely still very much over weight for my size.  Don't get me wrong, I look and feel GREAT compared to where I started but I still need to shed a little more.  When considering future goals, I decided not to have any.  What I have found is that throughout this process, I have lost weight without much effort (more on that later).  Since I'm not on a diet, and I'm not doing anything specifically special to lose weight, I decided that I might as well just keep going with what I am doing.  The weight has already leveled off considerably, and I figure if I just keep up the efforts I am making, the weight will come off - or it won't.  Either way, I win.  At some point my body will be at a naturally comfortable weight, and meanwhile I can focus on starting to exercise a little more than my current walking and Tai Chi Routine.

People seem divided in to two camps immediately upon hearing that I have lost so much weight. One faction immediately assumes I'm on some crazy diet.  They can't believe when I tell them I eat whatever I feel like eating, that I finish every night off with a big bowl of frozen yogurt and that I'm NOT on any sort of diet, per se.  The other faction is of the mind that I have super-human strength and will-power, neither of which could be further from the truth.  When they say "yeah, but you're the most strong-willed person I know" or "you have such tremendous dedication" I always have weird reactions emotionally.  I get simultaneously insulted and proud.  Proud, because it feels good to hear this and I like to think it's a little true, although it's really not very true.  Insulted because it's so NOT true that I get a little offended I guess because I'm not getting credit for the proper thing.  They are crediting me with having the will-power to resist eating poorly, but they should be giving the credit to Mindfulness.

When I tell them "Mindfulness", in answer to their inevitable "How are you doing it?" question, they always look at me a little funny and immediately dismiss me as a crackpot, or so it seems to me.  They almost look like they think I'm about to sell them something.  In fact, that's EXACTLY what they think.  Bottom line though, I lost this weight by doing many things, but especially by being mindful as taught to me by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh in "Savor".

The secondary thing I credit my success to is watching my calories closely which can be done in any number of ways.  The way that worked best for me (and I tried MANY) was the LoseIt! app.  It's worth noting that the app improved massively over time, and especially improved it's web site over time.  The web site can be used FULLY without a phone, so it's really great now for anyone (not just us iOS users). I fully believe that if you use mindfulness, the rest will fall in to place naturally and organically with little to no effort.  The effort will come from trying to implement mindfulness which, to the degree that I have so far been mindful, was fairly easy for me.  When asked, I tell people (to their absolute and utter disbelief) that it was no effort at all.  My standard answer to "How did you do it?" is always the same - "Mindfulness".

While I am not a doctor, and have no authority with which to offer anyone advice on weight loss, I CAN speak to how it worked for me, and that is it.  One of the things I love about Buddhism is that it discourages you from believing what someone else tells you is true, and encourages you to experience it for yourself and then decide if it is true.  "Be a lamp unto yourselves", the Buddha allegedly said in his final moments, directing us to seek the knowledge from within, rather than from external sources.  Or, for you Christian readers, perhaps another way to say it is "The Kingdom of God is within".  Either way...try mindfulness out, and see if it works for you.

It's obvious (and if not I've written numerous blog posts about it that will explain) why I decided to lose this weight.  But what I would rather talk about is the not so obvious reasons why.  I'm grateful that I have lost this weight because:

~ I might live longer
~ I have already become a significantly better father.
~ I like to think I am a better husband.
~ I have confronted the one thing in life I've always felt powerless to defeat.
~ I have gained control over my eating habits.
~ Countless other reasons I can't begin to list.
~ I am more aware of life, and each moment it offers.
~ Perhaps most of all, I'm extremely grateful to have discovered Buddhism through this most unexpected of paths.

So, in summary, Please - If you want or need to lose weight, but think you can't do it - go get a copy of "Savor" and, well, SAVOR IT!  Read it, absorb the information, read it again.  Then just DO IT!  Start with the Apple Meditation and then repeat that type of mindful eating each time you sit down to eat.  You will not succeed every single time at being completely in the moment, but when you are not, just re-focus the next time.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat!  Before you know it, you will be well on your way.

Savor every moment of life that you are fortunate enough to have.  If you do this, I am walking evidence that you WILL lose the weight, and it's NOT some impossible goal that only that other guy over there has figured out how to do because he's some super strong willed guy.  And it's not something that only that other girl over there can do because she's on some crazy fad diet.

But don't take my word for it.  YOU already know exactly what to do, you just have to be mindful so that you know when to get out of your own way, and let your brain and body take care of themselves properly!  You'll likely find that they will.

Best wishes and warm regards to you in your efforts!  And special thanks to all the folks who rooted for me!  It was a big help, and you know who you are!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Want to be smart? Walk Hard.

Since I walk about three miles a day just for exercise purposes, I found this article interesting.  I also can't resist a slam dunk reference to Dewey Cox.  Anyhow, it seems that if you walk you actually become smarter (or is that 'get more better smarter'?).  So Walk...Walk hard!

Walking May Increase Brain Size and Boost Memory

And just for fun.....Enjoy:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lose 100 Pounds In One Year - CHECK!

I'll write at length about this, very shortly, but wanted to announce it right away.  About a week ago I saw the numbers "249" on my scale for the first time in many years.  This is different from 349 when I started!  Anyhow, I gave it a week to make sure and I'm happy to say I haven't gone up and I'm not dreaming.  I really have lost ONE HUNDRED POUNDS!

Again, I'll write about my thoughts and experiences with this, but just wanted to say it here!

Have a GREAT day!


Friday, June 24, 2011

I've never been so happy to be so wrong!!!

Jazz Times magazine mistakenly saddened the crap out of me today by reporting the death of Jack Sheldon!

Turns out it's completely UNTRUE, thankfully!



Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Recipe For Life?

I'm sitting in a bookstore, drinking coffee and reading "Friends On The Path" by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Just this, already makes me very happy and content.  But I ran across this recitation that Thay uses at Plum Village:

I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart. 
I vow to realize them. 
I vow to practice mindful breathing and smiling,  
looking deeply into things. 
I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, 
to cultivate compassion and loving kindness, 
and to practice joy and equanimity. 
I vow to offer to joy to one person in the morning 
and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon. 
I vow to live simply and sanely, 
content with just few possessions, 
and to keep my body healthy. 
I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety, 
in order to be light and free.

How cool is that?  Reading this, I felt it.  It was like a very deep, but brief, meditation.  A great addition to a practitioners day, and an all around great recipe for a good life.  I love things like this where I feel like if anyone were to ask me what Buddhism is about I could tell them this and feel that I gave them a solid, clear answer.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Against The Stream by Noah Levine

I read a LOT.  I also used to work for a band.  So when I saw Noah Levine's first book "Dharma Punx", shortly after having re-read Kerouac's "On The Road" and "Dharma Bums", the book really appealed to me.  You can read my review of that book, here.  While DP was Levine's memoir of his descent in to drug and alcohol abuse (and his subsequent discovery of the Dharma to regain his life), his second book "Against The Stream" was more of a users manual for Buddhism that was targeted to appeal to a certain audience.

Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries

I have read, and enjoyed, all of Noah's books.  In "Against The Stream" Levine's take on Buddhism, is - rightly - that it's a radical approach to life.  He views, and teaches, Buddhism from the perspective of the Buddha being a radical, Buddhism being a "Revolution" and the practitioner a "revolutionary". 

While I don't personally need Buddhism described in this sort of framework to make it appealing to me, I can certainly see where it would appeal to a younger audience who is looking for a more accessible read.  Luckily, I like his writing enough that this approach doesn't bother me.

He does a great job of stripping Buddhism down, particularly in this book, to it's simple concepts and ways to execute them in your life.  It's very clear and simple, with none of the usual dramatic flare of the books that quote the Buddha so heavily.  Some people prefer that dramatic flare, and might find this book a touch dry.  But for it's intended audience, I think it's a benefit.

One example I LOVED (due to the weight loss theme of this blog) is the part where he talks about Dependent Origination.  He lists out the steps and uses the idea of how much he loves Ice Cream and how he prevents himself from being overwhelmed by a craving for it.  I have cited this example many times to others, since I first read it, because it does a really great job of showing how these steps can help us control any craving in our lives by stopping it between Step 7 (Feelings) and Step 8 (Cravings).

So, the bottom line is that if you are a young person taking an interest in Buddhism and trying to find a brief, simple and clear guide to some of it's core information, this book is perfect.  If you're just in to reading about Buddhism and looking for something a little different from the norm, this book is great.  If you're looking for a scholarly text, this might not be your best choice.  But it's good solid information for anyone interested in Buddhism, and I recommend it.

As a side note, if you're not already familiar with Noah Levine, I highly recommend you check out his audio "Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society Podcasts" on iTunes.  The podcasts he offers are numerous and great.  Some of the podcasts are by other speakers.  His are particularly entertaining and informative.  Noah is, in my humble opinion, far more engaging as a speaker than he is as a writer, and that's saying a lot as he's done a great job with his books.  But do yourself a favor and check him out on audio.  You won't likely regret it.  Warning - He's NSFW in pretty much every talk though, so keep the headphones on! 


Sunday, May 8, 2011

MondoSAMU, Now With More Samu & 26% Less Fat!

I have not been writing as much as I would like lately. There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it has been my deeper exploration of the Buddhist path.  Since starting this weight loss process, when I read "Savor", I have taken quite an interest in the Buddhist aspect of it, and I have grown in that area steadily.  In fact, I would say that the weight loss has taken a back seat to the exploration of Buddhism in the  last several months as I slowly realized that the weight loss was a simple and natural by-product of my mindfulness and Buddhist efforts.  At the time of my post, some months ago, about my visit to the Dallas meditation center, I saw that I was at a critical juncture in the Buddhist aspect of my journey. 

That experience solidified a number of thoughts I'd been pondering such as my feelings about meditation and how beneficial I thought that it might be for me and my thoughts on Buddhism as it fits in to my life.  Most of all, I now had to decide what tradition of Buddhism I was interested in pursuing, if any. 

With those things solidified, new questions unfolded before me.  To assist with these, I really dove in to reading a lot of books, listening to a lot of audio books and podcasts, and talking with as many other Buddhists as I have been able to.  I also continued trying to find Buddhist groups that I could visit with to see which appealed to me.  When I was last at the Dallas meditation center, brother ChiSing suggested that I do this, and it has been excellent advice.  Specifically, he said that I wouldn't find anything exactly like the DMC but that there would be numerous similar groups and that I should try them all until one felt comfortable.

I'm still in the process of doing so, but it's becoming clear to me that I will ultimately need to try and get a Sangha started in my area if I want a group close to home.  But that's another story.  And a story I am working on!

So, I guess the reason I am writing today is that I feel like I have an overwhelming amount of things to share, and I am hoping to get back to writing here more often.  Due to my submersion in reading, I have tons of experiences and books to review.  Appropriately, I am writing this post as I am 38,000 feet in the air, heading to Dallas, where I expect to visit the DMC again and sit with them.  I'm sure I will write about that experience again as well.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences, but at least equal to that was the goal of any readers sharing their thoughts and experiences with me as well.  So it is my hope that anyone reading this will chime in and share their stories, questions and advice as well.  Here's just a few of the things I am exploring at the moment.  Any feedback or suggestion is most welcome.

- What has been your experience finding a Sangha near you?
- If you didn't have one close to home, how have you dealt with that?
- What tradition do you follow, if any, and why?
- How do you use technology and the Internet in your practice?

Lastly, I'd like to share two more things.  Today, I stepped on the scale before leaving for the airport (exactly as I did 10 months ago) and found that I have officially lost 90 pounds of my 100 pound goal so far!  Also, Happy Mothers day to all of the Moms out there!

Be well,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Brad Warner in Atlanta

Sad as I am that I am not able to attend any of the meditation stuff that Brad Warner is doing at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center this week, I was very happy to have spent a couple of hours at Aurora Coffee in Little Five Points Friday night at the Acapella Books Sponsored event hosting Brad Warner (author of Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate and Sex, Sin & Zen) and Jeffrey Small (author of Breath of God).

I didn't really know what to expect, and frankly wasn't expecting much, since it was in a coffee shop.  As it turned out the event was pretty darned cool.  It was the kind of thing where you're really glad you went because what you thought would be a large crowd turns out to be small and intimate.  When I walked in to the Aurora Coffee Shop, it was small and seemingly an impossible place to host what I thought would at least be a moderately large event.  I took a seat, and had a badly needed cup of coffee as other people started showing up.  I met a couple of like minded, interesting folks from the area.  A guy from Kennesaw who made quite a drive to make it to the event.  I invited him to sit at the table, as space was at a premium.  Another person from Macon sat down on the steps to the exit beside me and we chatted.  Eventually, she joined us as well.
Brad Warner on "stage" at Aurora Coffee in Atlanta

When the "show" started, they introduced the authors and used the stair landing as a stage.  The author of Breath of God, Jeffrey Small, got up and introduced himself.  He is an Atlanta native (very rare in Atlanta) and a World Religions graduate of Oxford University.  His book is a sort of Dan Brown-esque book about Jesus' lost years.  Or as he put it, "Da Vinci Code Goes To India".  It is a novel based on a real "legend" of sorts that Jesus spent a number of years in India and what he did and learned while there.  It is, in the authors hopes, a novel to start a dialogue about the intersection of the various world religions.  Small was an interesting guy, who seemed very interested in his subject matter and was clearly knowledgeable, so he made for good discussion.  I chatted with him after the event about the Axial Age and he pointed to sections in the book that are influenced by that idea.

After he stepped down from the stage, Brad Warner took over and did a great job of giving a sort of brief talk about his books, particularly the most recent one, and sort of tied a little Dharma Talk type of stuff in with it.  It was interesting and entertaining.  He's an interesting guy who is very unassuming, and sort of seems painfully shy but yet is a very engaging and interesting speaker.   The very shyness that he seems to have when hanging out is kind of what makes him so engaging.  Also, if you've read any of his books you already know, he has a great sarcastic sort of humor about him that is fun to listen to.

He spoke about sex and sin and the difference of how the two are viewed in America as opposed to Japan, with the central idea being that idea that when you contrast the two cultures you realize that the acts themselves aren't inherently bad or good...they are just viewed as such by society.  I'm doing some really big paraphrasing here, but if you want better, then get out there and see him live!  He opened the floor to questions and the small crowd seemed a little shy.  There was a couple of questions I can't recall, as well as one about Polyamory which he delved in to in depth and quite interestingly.  I asked a couple of questions as well about The Axial Age and so forth.  He and the other author both gave their take on it and it was very interesting.

When it was over, I was surprised by how quickly the place emptied out.  While I was chatting with Small, the shop mostly emptied and the merchandise was packed away.  I had to wrap up my conversation with one of the kind folks from the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and make my way to Brad in order to catch him before he left.  I told him how glad I was to get to hear him talk and how I have really enjoyed his books and have found them helpful.  I'm NOT an autograph kind of guy, myself, having worked for a band for years, I kind of find it a little weird.  I usually opt for letting people know I appreciate their work and shaking their hand.  I bought a copy of Sit Down and Shut Up because I only have a digital copy and it's the only one I don't have the physical copy of, and he offered to sign it, so I accepted as it would have been kind of weird for me to explain at that point.  I'm really glad I did too because he drew a quick Godzilla and autographed it.

As we were chatting I let him know that I was as much a fan of the fact that he worked with UltraMan as I was his books!  He was surprised by this and we talked about the weird regional showing of the UltraMan show in America and about the DVD series.   I won't print the details of that here, but ask him about it if you are interested.  Anyhow, he added a drawing of UltraMan to his autograph which really pleased me and made me glad to have gotten it!
Brad's autograph in Sit Down and Shut Up
(Never imagined I would get - much less
show off - an autograph, but I love this!)

All told, I went in to the event with a sort of "take what I can get" attitude, a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to visit one of the Zen Center appearances, and I left incredibly pleased that I met so many great folks and got to chat a bit with Brad.  Best of all, was the interesting talk the authors gave.

If Brad Warner is coming to your town, I highly recommend that you make it out for an appearance!  You can check his schedule here!


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are you "Seriously Buddhist, Seriously Geeky"?

I wanted to let everyone know about Buddhist Geeks.  As I've been seeking to learn more about Buddhism lately, I found Buddhist Geeks web site and podcast and they've both been a great resource for me. 

I started by downloading just the latest podcast to see if it was cool. Podcasts can sometimes be pretty lacking in polish, which can detract from the information even if it's great information.  I was very pleased by the quality.  I then went back and started with everything from 2010 forward.  When I finished that, I started at the beginning and I'm working my way to the middle…way.

Anyhow, I've been extremely pleased with the content, the production and most of all the openness of the whole thing.  They really tackle all manner of Buddhist related material and don't seem to bring any slant to the table.

Anyhow, perhaps my favorite thing is how they've evolved from where they started (their motto was "Seriously Buddhist, Seriously Geeky") to where their identity really surfaced through their work as "Discover The Emerging Face of Buddhism".  Now they are even taking a bold step and hosting a conference in California on this very topic that clearly is of interest to a lot of Buddhists and Buddhish people in America.

They've recently added a digital magazine aspect to the web site and also are hosting some coursework on Buddhism directly through the site from what it looks like.  The site, and all of it's podcasts and articles are 100% free.  They gladly accept donations and support if you are interested.  After consuming untold hours of FREE educational audio from them, I finally decided it was well worth it, and signed up as a Micro-Patron.  It's a VERY small price to pay for a vast collection of quality Buddhist audio.

I really encourage you to check Buddhist Geeks out and see if you find any value in what they have to offer.  It's TOTALLY free and you do not *have* to donate, but if you enjoy it, you might want to consider a donation to help keep it coming.  From my research it is some of the best material out there for free.  It's also worth pointing out that a big part of the reason I was willing to donate to them is precisely because of them not requiring it, but consistently and gently reminding me about it.  They managed to walk a thin line between annoying people by asking for money, and not asking enough.  They basically have each podcast tagged with a message about "If you like what Buddhist Geeks has provided" then please feel free to donate.  If I hadn't heard that message each time, I may not have done it.  If I had heard it MORE than I did, I certainly wouldn't have.  Good work on their part!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Savor the BOOK!

Last night I did my usual three miles of walking meditation.  When I had finished my usual meditative musings, I turned my thoughts toward an issue that has been on my mind lately.

Maintaining Mindfulness.

I have been very fortunate to have had an extraordinarily easy time losing my weight so far.  There's been a few challenges along the way, but all VERY minor.  The hardest time I have had has been recent.  I had a week long stretch where life simply demanded my time elsewhere and I was not able to do my Tai Chi in the mornings, or my walking at night for almost a solid week.  As those fell away, so did my drive to wake up and meditate in the four o'clock hour every day.  By the end of the week, I found myself struggling to get back in the swing of things.  But I am fully aware that this sounds very whiny when weight loss can be so incredibly difficult for us.  I know, I've been there...my whole life.  BUT, as it has been so easy for me this year, this minor challenge has been a little tough.  Tough enough, at least, that it got me thinking about just exactly "Why HAVE I had it so easy?"  And just exactly "Why IS it hard right now?"

That's when it came to me.  And, once again, I have Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung - as well as their book "Savor" - to thank for it!  The answer was in front of me every time I logged in to Twitter and saw "@SAVOR_the_book" or went to the web site for the Savor Sangha which is www.SavorTheBook.com.  The answer couldn't have been more perfect, if they had crafted it intentionally.  The answer was:


Instead of reading the book through, and then forgetting about it.  I recommend that you read it more than once.  Truly savor it!  Over and over again.  Or at least make highlights and notes and re-read those randomly.  Heck, if you do nothing except read "Chapter Two: Are you really appreciating the apple?" before your meals, I think you'll be reminded to be mindful while eating.  (This apple meditation has proven extremely powerful for me personally.)

I will definitely be revisiting my highlighted passages on my iPad regularly.   And, while on that subject, let me just say that the eBook version on an eReader is THE way to go for something like this.  You can gain instant access to exactly the quote or passage that you want, as well as your notes on that passage.  iBooks is kind of made for this.

Anyhow, I really loved this little bit of insight.  It made me smile, and it made perfect sense.  I'll let you know if it helps me maintain my mindfulness.  As for my week off, and subsequent struggles to get back in gear, it seems to have passed.  I'm back to eating healthier than ever, exercising daily and getting my weight moving again.  I am down 82 pounds as of today!

Are you having any struggles or issues, big or small, in sticking to your plan?  What are you doing about it?


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Savor: Mindul Eating, Mindful Living is Now In Paperback!

I saw a post on the SavorTheBook blog that they have released the paperback version of the book and they are celebrating by giving it away for *FREE*!

Anyone who reads here regularly probably knows that, while I use a variety of technology (iPhone, iPad, various apps, books and more) to assist with my weight loss and lifestyle changes, "Savor" is the foundation of my entire plan.  I aslo credit "Savor" as being the root of my success.  All the other tools are great and incredibly useful in their own ways, but without the day-to-day mindfulness techniques I learned in "Savor" I would not have been able to lose the weight.  I am thoroughly convinced of this.

Anyhow, if you want to check it out and give it a try for yourself click on the links in this post to go to their page and enter to win your *FREE* copy!  They are entering everyone who joins the Savor Community today, to win a free copy.  You can also "like" their post on FaceBook for a chance to win.

You can find them on FaceBook (SavorTheBook) or Twitter ( @SAVOR_the_book ).

I hope you'll check them out.  It's great stuff!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hi-Tech Helping Hand For Japan

I've been following the mind-boggling tragic string of events unfolding in Japan with great sadness, and yet have been very impressed by the people of Japan and how well they are handling these various challenges.

I posted a link to the Google page that has a lot of humanitarian helpful links and information resources a few days ago.  I've been amazed by the people wanting to help, and disappointed by the seemingly equal number of people wanting to capitalize on the suffering in Japan.

One thing I keep seeing is a lot of people who WANT to help, but are (rightfully) very afraid that their money isn't going to a good cause.  There are PLENTY of scams out there, so DO be very careful.  One of the best things I have seen is through iTunes.  If you are an iTunes user, you can donate through their web site using your iTunes account.  100% of the funds go to the Red Cross to help out in Japan, and you are anonymous through iTunes while donating through an account you already have set up most likely.  It doesn't get much easier!

I gave this way, and I recommend it for any iTunes user.  You can give as little as $5, and every bit helps!

Here's the link if you would like to check it out. 

A Lotus for Japan,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Help With The Crisis In Japan

Today is a gorgeous spring day in the southern United States.  Reports coming out of Japan say it was there today as well, until the Tsunami hit.

Watching the footage today of the carnage in the wake of the Tsunami and Quake, I have found it very difficult to write my thoughts down.  I decided to simply post the notes I jotted down as I watched it unfold.  It's just words and phrases, but it's straight from the heart. 

What the...
Oh my god...
drive, drive, drive!
I can't believe that's real!
Is that real??
That house is on fire AND is riding the wave!!
I've never seen anything like this...jeez...
those poor people...
How many...
shrines, businesses, temples, farms, food, cars, boats.....lives.
hurts to look at...
repulsed, captivated, amazed, overwhelmed, saddening...
Maybe the world will calm down and focus on suffering.
Need to do something.

I'm still completely overwhelmed by this as I post this, so don't really know what to say, or do really.  I did want to make sure I posted the link to the site Google has set up for resources related to the tsunami.  Hope you'll all go there and see if there is anything you can do to help.


Thoughts with Japan,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Dharma Punx by Noah Levine

A big part of the Buddhist practice is experience.  This could also be put as "Question Authority".  If you're a Buddhist to whom a big part of the appeal of Buddhism is this very aspect, then there's a good chance you like Punk Rock, or at least appreciate the Punk Rock ethic.  And if you're all of those things, then there's a really strong chance you've already heard of the Punk turned Buddhist teacher Noah Levine.
Dharma Punx

Contemplating suicide by the age of 5, smoking pot by the age of six and regularly in trouble with the law not long after.  He grew up bouncing between splintered halves of his broken home.  His Dad in Santa Fe, NM and his Mom's in Los Angeles, CA.  He had an angst about him from an early age and used drugs and alcohol to try and find happiness, or at least escape.  When he got a little older, he discovered Punk Rock and felt, for the first time, that he had found the answer to his life long unhappiness with the status quo. 

After spending years bouncing around, doing drugs, living on and off the streets, and popping in and out of jail, Levine eventually hit bottom.  He woke up in a padded cell, to the full realization that he was out of chances.  This time, he was headed straight for prison.  He spoke to his dad on the phone, who gave him some mindful meditation instructions to hopefully help him calm down.  It worked.  And BOY did it work!

Noah had heard this stuff from his Dad his whole life.  His Dad was a tree-hugging hippie, to Noah's mind.  Turns out his Dad actually knew a thing or two.  Noah's Dad was Stephen LevineStephen is very well known in his own right as the author of "A Year To Live" and many other books.  He's also a poet and teacher who was part of a group of like minded individuals who helped introduce Theravada Buddhism to the Western world.  You usually see his name along-side Sharon Salzburg and Ram Dass (one of Stephen Levines close friends).

Noah had always dismissed, and distrusted, his Dad's hippie advice.  On that day when he was facing a prison sentence, he finally listened.  He followed his Dad's advice and did a very brief mindful meditation exercise and found that it actually helped.  He did some more.  I'll leave it to you to find out the rest from his memoir, Dharma Punx, but I can tell you it has a happy ending.  At least for him.  Many of his old friends weren't so lucky, but Noah has survived, and even thrived, on the path of Buddhism that he discovered. 

He's now clean and sober and is doing everything in his power to spread the teachings that saved his life to others who need it most.  Actually, he's trying to spark a revolution.  A spiritual revolution.  A mindful revolution.

Noah Levine, with his book Dharma Punx, has taken the first steps down his path.  His path seems to be to help others find the peace and revolution that he has found, and his second book "Against the Stream" (Which I am also currently reading, and will review soon) as well as his web site and related DPunx Nation Meditation Groups around the country is how he's doing it.

I invite you to read this book and see if you find encouragement, interest or even just entertainment there.  I found them all, and I think just about anyone can find at least one of those things to love about this book.