Cat’s Eye

Cats’ eyes in the dark are creepy. Dimly glowing little orbs of ancient feline wisdom, humanly incomprehensible contemplation, and murder. Lots of cold-blooded murder.  Absolutely unremarkable until they are pointed directly at you, and then it’s as if an ocular toggle has been thrown from <off> to <on>. I always feel creeping, gradually intensifying discomfort when confronted with that not-quite-blank stare shining from an indistinguishable distance, clearly intent on me. <meow>

Various sources on the internet place the domestication of cats in a huge range, 5,000 to 12,000+ years ago. In either case, they’ve been living with us, in our homes, for a long time and roaming the planet even longer…and they are generally thought to be solitary in the wild. Though I’m not entirely convinced that we know shit about shit. Dogs, derivative of wolves, have been with us (arguably) longer than cats, though throughout most of our tangled history as de facto tools and vaudevillian entertainment. That is, we use them to hunt, search, pull, protect, sit, shake hands, roll over,  and walk on their hind legs as we play the Macarena. Cats, though. Cats, I believe, have given zero fucks about such tomfoolery forever. (I think this is where we humans, with our limited capacity for creativity, dispassionate observation, and accuracy […just turn on your television…], ended up concluding that cats are “solitary in the wild” instead of “as collectively sick of your shit in the wild as they individually will be in your home.” I tend to think that cats communicate and congregate on a higher level and in a way that is not obvious to our human brains.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t domesticate cats as much as cats decided, “You know what, fuck this shit. It’s dangerous out here, and I’m sick of eating disease-ridden rodents and these goddamn flying rats with their feathers and beaks and bones. Too much planning, training, and work for way too little shitty-tasting meat. You know what, I’m going to live with those fat, furless, declawed, blunt-toothed walking monkeys.” And so it was. And so it is.

And now, I must go feed Emmy, the tortoise-shell tabby with PTSD, an inflammatory gut disorder, and feline Autism; and Lizzy, the skittish, nocturnal tuxedo cat with an intellectual disability. Because they demand it.

And here, for you, the oddly compelling, if not mesmerizing sounds of Emmy eating, then licking the plate clean, then drinking. In stereo. Enjoy.

Christmas 2008 109
(Lizzy: “Huh?”)       (Emmy: “I will kill you.”)

An Open Letter From a Grateful Clinician

Dear Families of Unique Children,

(Indeed, yes, that’s all of us.)

This is a non-traditional “note.”  Free of baseline data and measurable outcomes.

Rather, it is more a traditional expression of gratitude during a time of year that inspires such sentiment.

I’m constantly inspired by your children.

I want to borrow just a few minutes of your time to thank you for supporting me and for trusting me to work with you, your children, your family and your children’s educators and related professionals.  Many years ago, in the vicinity of 1994 as a university undergraduate, I made a decision after having viewed a complex and disturbing human-to-human interaction while walking back to my apartment.  The details, at this point, are unnecessary.  Nonetheless, what I viewed stopped me, literally, in my tracks for 5-10 minutes and roused an epiphany.  I decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career for money or prestige and that I didn’t want to work with the false perceptions of “us vs. them,” of “broken people vs. fixed people,” or from any platform of superiority.  Rather, I decided that I wanted to bring unconditional positive regard (…remember, I was an undergraduate and thus needed to make everything deep and complex…), otherwise known simply as “love,” to the children, families, and people with whom I would interact for as long as I lived and breathed.  Further events and experiences would deliver the insight that, indeed, these endeavors were appropriate for any interaction with any person, any time.

That’s it.  Love.

The journey from that experience in 1994 to the very moment your eyes process these words has been an unpredictable roller-coaster of ups, downs, plummets, elevations, spins, twists, dark tunnels, stunning insights, depression and exhilaration.  And while that core decision; burned in my brain and stamped on my heart when I was a pimply-faced, awkward, chubby, not-quite-man; has matured over the years…it ultimately remains intact and, in large part, hasn’t changed a damn bit.

I do love your children and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to bring whatever it is I have delivered to you and them.  It has been both my job and my pleasure to serve you.  I believe that we are all at a better place today than we were yesterday, and that we will all be in a place of further growth and joy tomorrow.  But today is pretty awesome, too, isn’t it?

Nobody’s broken, we all just need a little support to realize the intended version of ourselves.

Thank you for helping me to become a better…me.

I-appreciate-you_zps3c141464

-G

 

Gratitude and Resolution

Right from the start, Greg is half kicked in the ass.

Jen?  “Ehhhhh…I’d say about 40%”

The beers:

To start, we share a Lagunita’s Hop Stoopid bomber. (“A bawmuh, kid.  Like it’s owuh jawb.”)

Then, Jen  has a  Southern Tier Gemini and Greg, Ommegang Three Philosophers.  There was also a Sam Smith’s Winter Ale in there somewhere.  Lots of beer.  “Well, we’re anticipating a 40 – 50% chance of kicked-in-the-ass.  Back to you, Ron.”

The topics:

We start with gratitude.  And whiskey.  (Yep.  After all that beer.)

We open a gifted bottle of Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn Bourbon.  This is a mash bill that would have been used through the infancy of the state of Kentucky, just after our yinzer forefathers moved from Western PA to the newly minted “Kentucky,” when Thomas Jefferson offered, in essence, the very first corn subsidy.  1838 is the year Woodford Reserve erected its first distillery, and indeed it is the oldest distillery in the state of Kentucky.

And holy shit is this bourbon good.  Triple distilled in a copper pot still, 45.2% alcohol by volume (90.4 proof).  The mash bill is the same as the typical Woodford Reserve expression, just with the white corn that pays homage to originators and innovators, Dr. James Crow and Oscar Pepper: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.  (Today’s bourbons use yellow corn which is cheaper and more ubiquitous.  In the late 1700’s and 1800’s, and indeed in 1838, white corn would have been the grain used by Pepper and Crow.)

We dream of hiking mid-winter through snowy forests (…Cook Forest to be precise…), breathing the clean, crisp air that seems to alleviate allergies and chest colds, with flasks of high proof spirits.  Specifically, one flask with this very bourbon and another with Wigle Landlocked Spiced and Oaked…which is akin to rum except using Pennsylvania buckwheat honey instead of sugar or molassas, then spiced with a giant tea bag of sorts, then aged in used whiskey barrels.  Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it.

Kate licks her coot-coot, which transitions us into our second topic:

New Year’s Resolutions.

The resolution that Greg eventually stated in last weekend’s post, “Driven to Resolution (2015),” was not his initial resolution.  Here you’ll hear the initial musings of what would have been a self-serving, shitty resolution that placed Greg firmly in that false, judgmental position of superiority that he seeks to extinguish.

“You need to have more acceptance.”  That’s literally what she (Jen) said.

Acceptance.

To not only strive toward breaking free of fear and judgment but to also acknowledge and accept oneself, and others.

Jen’s personal goals, as gleaned from the conversation: To improve myself, to stop feeling like a victim, to bounce back, to empower myself and take control of my life, take control of my health, be more patient and accepting, to cherish the good things, be more present, and celebrate all that’s positive.

Big stuff.  Good stuff.  Doable stuff.

Musically, you’ll note a “Thank You” sandwich, with Led Zeppelin up front and Dido at the close. Not Dildo.  Dido. Thank you.

We present to you, “Gratitude and Resolutions.”

grace-def1

Driven to Resolution (2015)

As you likely know, I am a passionate, opinionated person. (Understate much, Del Duca?)  In the great, nay…grating tradition of my Scots-Irish and German yinzer ancestors, I will fight like hell for a just cause…even if I don’t quite understand the cause, or if justice is even a related issue; scream like a banshee to make a righteous point…even if the screaming means I’ll miss any counter-arguments and likely sh(o)ut-down the people around me, including those who agree; (emotionally) tar and feather an em effer who I decide is wrong…even though I know nothing of said em effer’s story or intentions.  I too often act before I think, leap before looking, talk THEN listen, and dive headfirst into the ocean of worry, anxiety, and suffering born of counter-productive clinging to emotions that bring only further suffering.  It’s fucking exhausting, and I know it’s shaving productive, healthy minutes off of my life.  Please send messages of compassion to my wife, step-daughter, and parents…and I will continue to express my astonished gratitude to them for continuing to love and keep me.  I am a fortunate man indeed.

This year, I’m considering a resolution…one that I’ll ask all of you to contemplate and then call me right the hell out when I break it.

Fun, huh?

I’ve begun wearing a wristband again.  The reason?  To build a habit of not judging others harshly, not saying mean-spirited, unkind words about people from a position of false superiority.  The wristband starts on my left wrist, and any time I catch myself acting on those tendencies (…is it merely coincidence that “position of superiority” and “piece of shit” share an abbreviation?  Perhaps not…) , I shift it to the opposite wrist.  My goal?  To keep the band on one wrist until I’ve shifted the habit, until I’m no longer (in) a POS.  Apparently, (here’s my source) the amount of time it takes any person to change any habit varies greatly…anywhere from 3 weeks to a year or more.  For a simple behavior, one that isn’t powerfully established…21 days.  Yay!  That’s not bad.  However this thing, I’m sure, is quite deep-seeded, perhaps built into my DNA but also reinforced over a lifetime of douche baggery.  So…I dunno, maybe a decade?

I wore the wristband a few years back, and I made it to a month without shifting.  (To be entirely honest, I often gave myself the undeserved benefit of the doubt, so who knows how long I’ve ever gone without POS behavior?!)

So, I’d like to open myself up this time.  I’d like to invite each of you to feel entirely free to call me on my POS bullsh*t any time you perceive it.  I promise I will accept your input graciously and shift the wristband without argument, without retribution, without taking that oddly deflating step of unfriending or unfollowing you on Facebook.

The resolution is this.  No more interactions, including social media, from a position of superiority.  It’s a biggie people.  A fucking tsunamic endeavor.  But I want to do it, and I fear that the wristband and my own skewed perception will not be enough.  Old habits, as they say, die hard…and this habit is very old indeed.  My hope is that this cognitive behavioral therapy, so to speak, will impact my actual thinking and emotional functioning.  In other words, I want to change my brain and ultimately achieve true internal peace and joy.

I appreciate you, and again I invite you, starting January 1, 2016, to knock me off of my high horse.  And do it as many times as I return to the saddle.

Yippee Ki Yay, Mother Effers.

-G

daffy

Take Care, Let Go, F*ck That

Hi.  How are you?  I hope well.

Me?  Also well, thank you for asking.

What you’ll find here are a couple of self-improvement mini podcasts. It’s just me…expressing thoughts mitigated by life, by readings, by spiritual podcasts, and by experiences. Interspersed will be lovely meditation music.  Then, I’m going to close the whole thing by attaching my favorite mini-meditation, “F*ck That: A Guided Meditation,” by Jason Headley, which is available on YouTube as a video and iTunes as audio only.

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts, articles, and reports regarding, in essence, “Things (not) to do to be a better/the best parent/partner.” Healthy doses of unequivocal, dismissive, judgmental, “I’m/We’re right” and “You’re/They’re wrong.” And while I’m a certified master of such endeavors (…lest this kettle be caught once again calling the pot black…), my goals are to be less certain when certainty is impossible (…which, regarding human behavior, relationships, and emotions, is nearly always…), more accepting when acceptance seems unprincipled, and keep my ears and eyes open more than my mouth.

Thus the, “Take care of yourself” mini.

I’ve also spent time driving, sitting, running, and hiking with the podcasts of Jack Kornfield, Thich Naht Hanh, and Ram Dass…and these men spend considerable time focused on personal responsibility, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and the reality of the universe beyond our sensory experiences.

Thus the, “Heal yourself” mini.

I also don’t want to take any of this too seriously. To be earnest is human, but to be cheeky is divine.

Thus the, “Fuck That” guided meditation.

I also recently realized that the second word of my last name, “Del Duca,” or “of the duke” in translation, is homophonic with the Sanskrit word, “Dukkha,” which translates as suffering, anxiety, stress, or discontentment. So, Del Dukkha would mean: of the suffering, anxiety, stress, or discontentment. And that, ladies and gentleman, is a coincidence that hits very close to homophone.

We present to you, “Take Care, Let Go, F*ck That.”

lotus-pond

The Ten Amendments

There is one secular document whose name is often lobbed like a conversational grenade, intended as both litmus test and dogmatic soap box: The Constitution of the United States of America.  Much like bits of the bible for certain Christians seeking and even modifying evidence to prove preconceived values or beliefs, the constitution has become a societal wedge wielded by many only when useful and confirmatory.  And precisely like so many hypochristian bible-samplers, these confirmation bias seekers seem to have not actually read the document.

Yes, I’ve read the constitution straight through multiple times and have returned to articles and amendments occasionally.

No, I’m not attempting to exert moral or intellectual superiority over any other person.  Really, I’m not.

Ultimately, it’s really difficult to understand the constitution.  It’s downright headache-inducing, particularly if you attempt to take it in all at once, actually process the language, then consolidate the ideas into a cohesive framework.  Like the language of the bible – ancient and disparate and many times interpreted like a several thousand year version of the telephone game; or that of Shakespeare – conveying the dialects, colloquialisms, beliefs, and culture of people biologically precisely like us but functionally quite alien; the narrative of the Constitution is cumbersome, dated, jargon-filled, and wrought with the necessary and, indeed, intended ambiguity and contradictions of the groups of men, federalists and anti-federalists, who really never fully agreed on what the damned thing should communicate.

September 11th, 2001 changed everything; in ways we’d never before experienced and apparently hadn’t seriously considered.

Terrorism, which is defined as the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims, has changed everything.

Politics, by the way, is defined as the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area/entity, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.

So again, to be as specific as possible…terrorism, which is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of influencing the governance of a country, area, or entity, has changed everything.

Consider the days, months, and years between September 11th, 2001 and right now.  It’s like a sixth verse of Billy Joel’s, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” after a dozen years of relative quiet between its release in 1989 and the day the towers fell.

Homeland Security.  The TSA.  Wire tapping.  Email surveillance. Edward Snowden.  Unmanned drone strikes.  Guantanamo.  Is waterboarding torture?  Rendition.  Internet ubiquity. Artificial Intelligence. Donald Trump. The last time the U.S. constitutionally declared war was 1941 even though we’ve been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001.

(Obviously the list is neither exhaustive nor ubiquitous.  It’s mine and it’s off the top of my head.  Feel free to add, subtract, or modify as your interests and passions dictate.)

But hey…there’s that word: Constitutionally.  I know, I used it for a purpose; to communicate more than the literal words, perhaps revealing my bias.

I would like to highlight here, if you’ll permit, just the bill of rights, that being the first ten amendments to the constitution.  Certainly you can read the core document and the subsequent amendments.  But for now, the bill of rights.  Let’s start there.  I’ll neither paraphrase nor interpret , but offer them as originally written.  (Except Amendment IX, for which I’ll add what I believe is a necessary note.)  And as you read each of these, I encourage you to think about the past 14 years…even the past 14 days.  Think about the news, the traditional and social media, your experiences, the experiences of those around you and those about whom you care.  Also, think about the ambiguity of the language and, perhaps, the intention or spirit of the framers of the document.  I don’t want to plant any more of my ideas in your head.  I would like to offer, from this point forward, a distraction free look at the ten things our founding fathers nearly immediately attached to the ratified constitution.  But again, please think about these words in the light of your, and our, “state of the union.”  Further information spanning first-person accounts, dispassionate historical narratives, philosophical musings, and archival data is at your fingertips.  Right now…on the same device with which you’re reading this. So please, use them.   And before you finish, thanks for your time.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX**
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

**The Ninth Amendment clarifies that the specific individual rights stated in these amendments does not constitute an explicit and exhaustive listing of all individual rights possessed by the people and cannot be used by the federal government to increase its powers in areas not stated.

We-the-people-schoolhouse-rock-001

Get In to Denver

Today’s podcast includes two minis sandwiched between a couple of wonderful songs.   Here’s what’s on tap:

Mini 1: Denver…in which we find our Driven to Drink couple uncomfortably stuffed, with food and booze…and the energy they intended to bring to this fades quickly, which is why what was supposed to be a full-on podcast becomes a mini.

High…or perhaps lowlights:

  1. Greg uses vocal fry and effeminate prosody, which is not wonderful.
  2. On the other hand, we love the Aussie accent and its apparently oft-used rising intonation that might typically be interpreted as a question in the U.S., but perhaps not in Sydney.
  3. Downtown Denver, in terms of food and drink, gets two enthusiastic thumbs up.
  4. The Roosevelt” is an exceptional modern speakeasy near the convention center. Greg went classic with a Sazerac and a Manhattan. Jen leaned modern with two proprietary, fragrant, time intensive drinks.
  5. Lots of local beer and spirits.  Lots.  And also other things quite legal in Colorado.  Fun, kids.  Very fun.
  6. We went to “The Kitchen” and it is an outstanding place. Go there, em effers. They had the best pork tacos on the planet. It was like duck confit, but pork based.  If Greg were placed on a deserted island with only one food item forever and ever, he would choose the pork tacos from The Kitchen.  They are the wind beneath his wings.  Greg also tried Montanya rum and A.D. Law’s 4-Grain straight bourbon and rye whiskeys.  All of it was, like The Kitchen, outstanding.  Really, people.
  7. Denver is dry as fuck. Dehydration is impossible to avoid.
  8. Denver International Airport’s architecture is outstanding.

Mini 2: Post-Denver…in which your faithful companions go all-in with Lagunitas.  Jen has, of course, Hop Stoopid (102 IBU, 8% ABV). Greg goes with Brown Shugga (51 IBU, 9.8% ABV). We read the wit and oddly deep prosetry (…it’s like prose but it’s like poetry…) on the Lagunitas bottles, and we wonder, “How do you say Eschew?!”

On a side note, Jen had an imperial IPA in Denver, “Jagged Mountain Triple Bypass” coming in at a whopping 450 IBU, and an almost impossible 14.5% ABV. Very sweet.  Kind of syrupy.  But delicious.

Beware Jen’s big sneezes in the midst of the IBU conversation.  They are loud and they are abrupt, and if you’re wearing headphones it might be less than a pleasant experience for you.

The Music:

Get Out of Denver” by Bob Seger
Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
“I Can Read Your Mind” by R.J. Heid

We present to you, “Get In to Denver.”

limo-service-denver-international-airport-a

Serenity Now

Perhaps the greatest daily human challenge is to remain positive and/or professional (i.e. actively attentive, mindful, kind, and considerate) in the very moment(s) when one feels like doing absolutely anything but interacting with another human.  Most people walking the earth are underpaid, undervalued, underrepresented, and overwhelmed.  These are valid excuses for all manner of Scroogely behavior.  Really, quite valid.  Chips on shoulders don’t just land there like anti-Manna from heaven.  I can easily understand and accept any amount of frustration lobbed my way.  We all have a back-story that is mostly or completely hidden from all but a precious few of the people with whom we interact daily, and it helps to acknowledge all of this.

I suppose this is the anti-rant to last week’s Thanksgiving rant.

Last week, in the moment that I committed word to page, I could only conceive the worst of intentions and motivations of many, perhaps most of the people surrounding me.

Last week, in that same moment, hyper-vigilance and anxiety informed my every thought and opinion.

Two weeks ago, I was able to express sincere gratitude for mounds of obstacles across the entire year. {Driven to Gratitude (2015)}

However, last week even the most benign behaviors surrounding me appeared nefarious. {Happy Thanksgiving Rant! (2015)}

When my consciousness is oriented toward loving kindness and mindfulness…mountains become mole hills.

Conversely, when my consciousness is oriented toward judging misanthropy and reflexive pessimism…mole hills become mountains.

And yet…all along mole hills simply exist as mole hills and mountains remain mountains.

Except in my brain.  There the world is shaped and molded into whatever my emotion-colored glasses perceive.

So then, what to do?

My goal, ultimately, is to live as long and healthy, happy, and full a life as is possible.

Anxiety, stress, worry, fear, anger, hatred, despair, and misanthropy are all names for suffering, and suffering minimizes the very possibility for which I strive. But here’s the rub: suffering is a very natural state of being for all of us.  Suffering is a substantial part of the human condition.  Right?  Think about it.  It is absolutely natural to experience any of those emotions mentioned just above at some point.  Sometimes, it’s natural to experience all of them.

So then, how do I alleviate suffering?

How do I increase the likelihood of the life I want by reducing the emotions that guarantee the opposite?

I’ve approached a few of these behaviors in a previous post, “Six Undeniably Simple Things You Can Do to be Happier Today and Healthier Tomorrow.

Those are the absolute basics…the things that are fairly easy to accomplish.  The following three endeavors, however, “The Three M’s,” are more challenging and require more work.  Any amount of work you put into these, or behaviors from the happiness post, helps.  A little work, a little help.  A lot of work, a lot of help.  Work on one thing, and desired change happens specifically.  Work on many or all things, and pervasive positive change is inevitable.  It’s quite simple, with both the happiness tools and these additional behavioral changes…what one puts in, one gets out.

Before continuing, I should note that all of these endeavors require practice, or consistent work.  Like with diet and exercise, it’s quite challenging to make habitual that which is new and different.  Furthermore, our old patterns, the ways we’ve always done and perceived things, are locked deep in our sub-consciousness and behavioral patterns.  It’s easy to forget, for example, to drink enough water.  How simple is it to drink water? (Very simple.)  However, if that is not our default mode, then it requires practice.  It’s easy to work toward 8 hours of sleep per day, to get out into the sunlight and move ourselves about (i.e. exercise of any sort), to say daily prayers, mantras, or meditations.  None of these things are difficult to do.  However, all of them require conscious practice and work if we wish to do them consistently or even habitually.  I feel it’s important to state this disclaimer because I become frustrated with so-called spiritual leaders or gurus who make this all seem easy…when in reality it isn’t.  The actual behaviors ARE easy.  However, becoming happy and healthy physically, spiritually, cognitively, and emotionally requires study, planning, practice, and work.

So please, take another look at the behaviors from the happy post and continue here with the 3 M’s.

  1. Mantra – A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to remind yourself of some truth, to help you maintain focus and mindfulness (…see #3 below…), to help you push through adversity, or just keep your brain occupied when it wants to spiral off into any number of tangential, unproductive directions. I remember the first time I ran a 10k many years ago.  I wasn’t quite ready for it but I felt I could get through.  I began to chant to myself, “One more telephone pole.”  That’s it.  I’d make it to the next telephone pole, then repeat, “One more telephone pole.”  While a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, I traveled with a group and several guides to summit Mt. Kenya.  There were times during that journey, particularly as sleep, oxygen, and other altitude induced discomfort exhausted me near the top, particularly through the monotony of the latter hikes, that I simply wanted to lie down and quit.  I began internally repeating, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”  I did this until I could become mindful again and enjoy the experience.  Hare Krishna followers and many reborn evangelical Christians utilize this very strategy for spiritual enlightenment and to connect more completely with God.  Be it chanting, “Hare Krishna, Krishna…” or “Praise Jesus,” or “Thank you, Lord,” all of these mantras serve a deep, emotional and spiritual purpose without requiring extensive work from the devotee.  Mantra is quite important in both meditation and mindfulness training.  I might, during a walk in the woods, repeat, “Touching the earth, I’m reminded of my connection with the earth,” “Looking at this tree, I’m reminded of my connection with nature,” “Taking a breath in, I’m present with my body.  Releasing a breath, I’m present with the universe.”  In any case, the repeated phrase grounds me in my body and my surroundings, brings me internal calm and peace,  and helps me to understand whatever deeper truths I seek.  And let’s not forget about, “Serenity now.
  2. Mindfulness – Ram Das said, “Be Here Now.” Thich Naht Hahn wrote, “Peace is every step.”  The Dalai Lama offered, “How to See Yourself As You Really Are.” Pema Chodron, “When Things Fall Apart.”  Mindfulness implies that we behave, react, respond, speak, relate, and eventually think in a manner that is deliberate, aware, purposeful, and deeply connected with the realization that all things are interrelated and interdependent.  When I’m driving my car, I am driving my car.  When I am speaking with my wife, I am speaking with my wife.  When I’m sipping my beer, I am experiencing the sip entirely.  When I write these words, I am simply and solely writing these words.  At any moment, you are processing, feeling, and experiencing any number of sensations, thoughts, and/or emotions.  But all too often, we become unaware of it all…and not only unaware, but imprisoned by these things.  Our negative thought patterns.  An uncomfortable and lengthy seated positon.  A row of high frequency fluorescent bulbs.  The sights, the sounds, and the smells in our immediate vicinity.  We begin to believe that people and things are intentionally making us uncomfortable.  We conversely forget that we are in control of all of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the sensory world.  Mindfulness comes through mantras.  Mindfulness comes through focusing on the very thing you are doing at any moment.  Mindfulness comes through returning to your in-breath, pause, out-breath at any moment that you feel out of control or disconnected.  Time magazine recently included a short article on the health and well-being benefits of breathing.  I also found this on their website, which is quite accessible and understandable.  Mindfulness requires constant practice.  Otherwise, we return to the reflexive reactions and emotions that have landed us in the very challenging spot where we so often find ourselves.  Mindfulness is freedom.

    mindful-funny
    I can’t find the source for this. Sorry.
  3. Meditation – You may also use prayer. A context in which you take some amount of time, at least 5-10 minutes, to sit quietly but actively and contemplate certain concepts, plans, or ideas; or project emotions, hopes, and desires into the universe; and ultimately delve into a mind-journey towards understanding extra-sensory, otherwise hidden and unknowable, connections and truths.  Think about stargazing.  If you attempt to stargaze in the middle of a vibrant city…you will see nothing but the layers of artificial lights and materials blocking your view of the cosmos.  On the other side of the scale, if you find yourself in the country, on a mountain, or anywhere where there is little unnatural light, little distraction, you will see literally countless stars, clouds, constellations, even the very universe in which we spin and expand.  Meditation is the process of clearing your consciousness of the light pollution…light pollution in the forms of attachments, emotions, worries, and anxieties, and bringing yourself to a spiritual place where you can see the cosmos for what it is.  The cosmos…in the form of your true self.    You could certainly start with a recent post on our site, “A Thought Experiment.”  You might also visit the authors I’ve mentioned above, along with Jack Kornfield, Ghandi, The Tao Te Ching, Vedic texts, or Abrahamic scripture.  There is so much available…free of charge…to help you move through this process.  And, there’s this wonderful guided meditation that recognizes the need, at times, to let loose a mindful f-bomb, or 20, into the universe.

So then, what to do?

Smile. (Really, there’s evidence that smiling has massive benefits.) Seek people and experience that bring you joy and peace.  Seek to bring joy and peace to the people and experiences around me.  Sleep and hydrate as sufficiently as you can manage.  Eat real, preservative-free, unprocessed food and a balanced diet with minimal sugar and simple starches, when possible.  (And eat sugary, processed shit, too…because sometimes there’s nothing in the world like a handful of Oreo cookies, a maple and bacon doughnut, a freshly made S’mores at the fire.)  Read that which brings you either knowledge or joy, or both.  Get outside.  Exercise as much and as purposefully as possible.  Use mantra.  Practice mindfulness. Return to your breath. Make time for meditation.

And, suffering floats by like overhead clouds.

Serenity now.

(Insanity later.)

-G

Cat-Meditation-by-Rippafratta
(source…very cool by the way)

Of Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Men

Hot on the heels of having watched the Scientology documentary, “Going Clear,” on HBO and recorded our “Going Clear (Oh Dear!)” podcast, Jen uttered a word utterly unknown to Greg.

That word…was, “Pastafarian.”

But before we go there, let’s start at the beginning. Beer. (There is a beer volcano in Pastafarian heavan, so that’s good. And a stripper factory. But again, we’re ahead of ourselves.)

Beer, as we all know, is a wonderful thing. Beer, as we’ll come to know, is the only reason Jen agrees to do this damn podcast…and so Greg will continue to deliver the goods because Jen always delivers the laughs during discussions.

The Beers (“Daaaaahbears”):

Tonight, Jen consumes, “The Walking Dead” by Terrapin. A fragrant, mildly but certainly pleasantly sweet, happily (…and hoppily…) bitter and well balanced brew described as a red IPA with blood orange peels. It’s 6.7 alcohol by volume. “It’s big enough,” Jen spoke, and it was so.

Greg is excited to be drinking “Our Special Ale” by Anchor Brewing. Generally amazing, and specifically so this year. It’s a dark Christmas Ale with hints of traditional holiday spices and the unique, delicious, mildly metallic flavor that only a steam beer can achieve. Fun fact, this is Anchor’s 41st special ale and Greg is 41. Here’s hoping they both make it to a century of specialness.

The topics:

We begin with a fifth grader telling Greg, “I don’t want that creepy dude looking at me.” The creepy dude? Bill Murray…from the movie “Stripes,” on Greg’s shirt. Later, Jen causes Greg unexpected laughter and obvious déjà vu by saying, “I want Bill Murray to stop pointing at me.”

bill-murray-stripes_MAIN

Greg is enjoying a few squares of “Endangered Species” 88% dark chocolate, and this starts a phonological debate. (Phonology, described in plain language, is the way you say sounds in speech.  The difference between “DOWN-tin abbey” in England and “DAHN TAHN” in Pittsburgh is phonological in nature.) So we’ll ask you, our faithful readers and listeners. Let’s do a bit of an experiment. First, say the word, “Species” out loud. Go ahead. Do that. (Yeah, right now!) Now, put it in this sentence, “I’ve never conceived such a species of sparrow.” Did you say, “spee-shees” or “spee-sees”? Okay, number two. Say, “association.” Now the sentence, “This homeowners association is getting on my damn nerves with all of the rules regarding sparrow species.” Did you say, “ass-so-shee-ay-shun” or “ass-so-see-ay-shun”? Try doing this all while inebriated, and overthinking the damn thing. By the way, if you listen(ed) to the podcast, did you happen to catch how both Greg and Jen reflexively said each word? (Stop making me do work, Del Duca!) Okay, okay! Sorry.

Jen then has a deep thought. Really, quite a deep and profound thought.

“Weird is not a mental illness.”

Let that sink in.

We moved through a discussion of goths, vampires, fetishists, and then here is where Jen said, “It’s like the Pastafarians.” Greg’s face obviously shone confused, and the discussion turned quickly to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You may have recently read about a woman in Massachusettes, one Lindsay Miller, who successfully fought to wear the “traditional head covering” of CotFSM members. “What’s that?” you ask? A colander. Yep. A fucking colander. Like Johnny Appleseed…but not. We explore the website of the CotFSM and watch a wonderfully cheeky, quite British, video (…you should link through and watch it.  It’s only 3 minutes…) explaining the church and the monster and such. It’s like Douglas Adams’ ghost come back to form a satirical religion with an important larger social-historical message. We discuss the prophet Bobby Henderson, who apparently wrote a letter to the Kansas Board of Education after they attempted to insert intelligent design into the Kansas curriculum.

We finish by discussing the mind-boggling genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone…and South Park. (Check out the “Production” section.  They crank these things out weekly so that each show can touch upon current, like absolutely literally current events.)

Have fun people, and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster (…yeah, I capitalized it…) always embrace you in his noodly appendages. May your pirate ancestors welcome you to the beer volcano and may you ever nibble upon the FSM’s delicious, sizable meatballs.

The music you’ll be enjoying:

Intro: “Flying Spaghetti Monster” by Doctor P
Outro: “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley

We present to you, “Of Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Men.”

744pxpirateflagofrackrazs0
(Source)