Tuesday, July 31, 2012

M - Hear Out - First Try

FYI - I'll put an "M" prefix on all meditation journal posts from now on.  See the first post for additional details.

Hear Out is one of the options of "The Way of the Physical Senses," which is one of the Five Ways.  The premise is simple:  listen to physical sounds (as opposed to the voices in your head!).

Most of the Ways involve "noting," which just means a type of active observation, and in this case means noting when sound appears, when it goes away, and when there is silence.  I had (possibly?) misread the instructions, because I thought that they said to note every individual sound, but the text just says to note sound in general.  In the See Out option, you note everything that you visually focus on, so I wonder if this generalization is a typo.

So, anyway, as I gave it my first try, I started noting every sound.  This is a little cumbersome, at least in my house.  Bird chips are not continuous, nor are cricket songs, and a whole host of other noises.  They are impulses.  But I didn't let that bother me.  I didn't obsess over every little peep of sound.  I mainly focused on listening.

As I had said in the other post, I've done some of these methods before.  I mean, listening?  Who hasn't listened?  And I've listened intently too, straining to hear every slight sound to fully immerse myself in the experience.

This is different.

I opted for a half hour session.  Focusing on what you can hear for half an hour is... interesting for sure.  I started on my porch, but moved inside when my neighbor started mowing.

I heard birds calling out, and being answered in the distance.  I hear birds all the time, and love their melodies, but it's rare, for me anyway, to observe other birds answering their calls.

When I moved inside, it was much harder to hear the birds, but I still did.  And the mower.  And the humming patterns of the air conditioner and dehumidifier fans.

I could hear my breath.  I could hear my heartbeat.  I could hear myself blink.

When you focus on hearing, you definitely gain an acuity for it.  All of that stuff that your brain hears but processes as unimportant before you even realize it... all of that becomes audible.

Even now, an hour after my session, I still sense that I am hearing more that usual, but I could just be fooling myself.

One other curious thing happened.  I sat inside a bedroom in my house and just stared at the wall near the base board while I was having my Hear Out session.  I don't know if it was the continuous, repetitive stimuli or the result of focusing on a different sense, or both, but my vision faded away a bit.  Details became less and less defined.  At one point, the colors briefly faded out, and I just had a semi-blurred gray-scale image I was seeing.

So, overall, it was a pretty interesting experience, and I am looking forward to the next session.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Initial Thoughts on the Five Ways

Sorry, this is going to be a journal-style post more for me than anyone else, jotting down my first impressions, and not really explaining anything.  See the original post for more details.

It was quite interesting reading the first five chapters of Shinzen's The Five Ways.  A little repetitive, but not necessarily in a bad way, as the technique was similar across several of the Ways.

I was surprised to find that, to some extent, I had already been practicing several of the Ways in my own quest for better knowing myself.  I just didn't have such a consistent or formal manner.  I get a sense that this will help drive my self-exploration to another level, for sure.

Shinzen is obviously a spiritual person, and ties in this meditation with a form of Christianity, especially in the Way of Flow.  That doesn't bother me at all.  From what I can tell by the "brochure" on meditation in general, there are some experiences to be expected that are well outside normal perception.  There's not really good vocabulary already built up and recognizable to describe what is experienced.  So, spiritual?  Sure, why not.  It is perhaps fitting a metaphor for that which taps into the primal essence of ourselves.

Fan Mail - From a Lady Type

God works in mysterious ways, that's for sure.  ;-)

In the intro for my previous fan mail post, I mentioned SPAM from allegedly interested ladies.  Ask, and you will receive.  Here's on hot-off-the-presses that arrived in my SPAM box this morning.  Take a read for a little Monday Morning chuckle:

My name is Benedicta Kassala, Interested in you,
and wish to have you as my friend,
for friendship is all about Respect, Admiration and love. Also
Consist of friendship is sharing of ideas and planing together,
i intend to send you my pictures if you reply me.
please contact me through my private email address today so that
i will send you my pictures,waiting to hear from you.
from Benedicta.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Meditation - A Beginning

I don't know about you, but I've been wanting to try meditation for a long time.  Why?  If you do a little research, you'll find that there are all sorts of studies suggesting that it's good for you in a plethora of ways.

There's just one problem.  The rational side of me, not fully knowing the possible benefits, has sapped my motivation for a long time.  I mean, seriously.  Who thinks it's a good idea to sit around for a half an hour or so doing absolutely nothing when there is so much which needs to be done and so much that is highly desirable to do?

So I've got a real cost/benefit struggle going on in my head about meditation.  But it's gone on for so long that another rational side of me is making the argument to go ahead a try it, see if it works for me, and then forget about it if it doesn't work.  That way it will be finally resolved one way or the other.

Sabio recently suggested meditation to me in one of our comment exchanges.  He recommended following Shinzen Young's teaching of The Five Ways.  That has turned out to be just the kick-in-the-pants I needed to give it a try.

Have you ever tried meditating?  Have you ever wanted to?  Shinzen's The Five Ways appears to be a very methodical way to practice, which is outlined in easy to understand language.  Would you like to give it a try with me?

This weekend I plan on diving deeper into The Five Ways; committing to reading the first five chapters.  Sometime this week, hopefully multiple times, I'll be beginning my practice of meditation.  I'm going to post my experience with the practice along the way.  If nothing else, it will be a way to motivate myself to keep going, but hopefully you will be able to see the value and struggles of beginning meditation as I muddle my way through it.

If you'd like to give it a try yourself, or follow along, Shinzen has graciously made the PDF teaching of The Five Ways available for free download.  That's pretty awesome, I think.


I hate to break my word, but I am not going to post anything regarding the Rocket Scientist's email.  It turns out that the guy is a veteran.  While I don't give veteran's a free pass for everything, I've decided in this case to use discretion in his favor.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fan Mail

Ahh, fan mail.  I get a lot of it.  And by a lot, I mean pretty much none.

Usually the fan mail I get is from strange-named "ladies" with a noticeably poor grasp of the English language who allegedly have seen my profile online, think I look cute, and would like to get to better know me.

Not that I am knocking people communicating in a language other than their own.  I mean, I wish my Spanish was half as good as some of the English in these emails.  It's just that it's a pretty telling indicator that such a random email with weird names, illicit interests, and poor grammar are kind of a give-away that it is a scam.  ;-)

Anyway, I recently received an email which was not exactly what you would call fan mail.  In fact, its intent was more reminiscent of what you see in the picture on this post.

Ordinarily (which is a stretch of that word because of how infrequently I receive emails like this) I would handle the matter privately in emails.  Plus, the content of his email is not really going to be news to anyone.  There is not going to be any shocking revelation in his words.

However, this particular individual is (at least according to the information he provided) a Reverend AND a rocket scientist!

Yeah, that's right.  A rocket scientist.

So for those of you who like to study human psychology, and are particularly interested in outliers, this may be of interest for you.  That is why I am going to go public with his email.  He asked a number of questions, which I intend to publicly answer as well.

Right now I am figuring out a way to post the rather loquacious email in a fashion which will not bore your socks off, or turn you off from the negativity in the email.  Give me a few days.

Then my intent is to get back to the History of the Devil stuff, as well as a bunch of other topics.  Who knows what order they will actually be posted in...

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Failed

A couple posts ago, I invited readers to grade me on how I conducted a debate.  I thought I would have kept everything civil, thus the invite to grade me.  ;-)  As it turned out, that debate went very poorly, in fact it was probably the worst debate I've had in many years.  The strength of my argument was still good, but the strength of my tone was just too much.  I was enjoying belittling my opponent's mistakes a little too much.

And the worst part for me was that my opponent just didn't get how badly he was being beaten!  :-p  It was like having a battle of wits with an unarmed person.  ;-)

Seriously though, I've reflected on what happened... how and why did it go the horrible way it went.

Ad hominem attacks.  My opponent started with one, and then it was downhill from there.  But that's not the whole story...

I strive to enlighten people, but you can only enlighten people when they are ready for it.

I had dealt with this opponent before, and he had not exactly been a pleasure to deal with.  It is hard to interpret just from text, but he seemed to be one of those types of people who do not fully consider what you say.  Instead, they just instantly bounce back with why their opinion is right.  That's difficult to discern, because if you have a strong knowledge of the topic, it can seem as though you are not giving the other side its proper consideration.

With this being the second time I had dealt with this opponent, and based on how he started the debate without having done proper research of my position which he was attacking, I had gotten the sense that he was just out to try to make me look foolish.

I really don't need his help.  I can look foolish all by myself, thank you very much.  :-)

So, I think the little switch flipped in my brain which said "this guy is not into a meaningful discussion," and so I treated it that way.  I defended my points, but I insulted him too often along the way, as it was convenient.  In that process, if he really had been there for a meaningful discussion, well, he surely would have changed his mind to align with my prejudiced perception of him. ;-)

Therein lies the fault. You can't convince people in a debate when you are insulting them.  In what I am trying to do, I should be acting more like an ambassador, and keep my arguments concise to the topics at hand, not the character of my opponents.

So I am going to promise to myself to keep debates as topic-focused as possible going forward.  But you know what?  It is really fun to be snarky at times.  I'm going to miss that.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Obama's Paycheck

Yogurt.  Banana.  Maybe toast.  And a quick chance to catch up on the news.  It was your typical free hotel "continental" breakfast.

Some places I go, FOX news is guaranteed to be on the TV.  Others, it's one of the seemingly fifty different-but-the-same ESPN channels.  Maybe the balance 25-35% have a hodgepodge of other network news and local news.

Anyway, yesterday, it was FOX.  As I peeled back the foil on one of my single-serving yogurts, the story breaks...
"This year, all of our proud, American Olympic athletes will be wearing uniforms which were made completely in China!"
The only other person sharing the breakfast nook with me, a lady, turned back to me with indignation.
"That's horrible!" she gasps.
"It is kind of a shame, isn't it." I say.
"That should cost Obama his paycheck!" she snaps.
Scccrrrreeeeeech!  That's the sound my brain's train of thought made as it came to a halt ASAP with full reverse engine.  This conversation was over for me.

Right there, right in front of me, was what comes to my mind as the stereotypical FOX news consumer.  And I know stereotypes are not fully accurate.  And I know several people with better capacity for thought than this woman who also watch FOX.  But there she was... a living, breathing representation of my greatest fear for the political future of our country.

The news report segment was not even done, but FOX had gotten through.  The details were not yet fully revealed, but this woman assigned the blame on Obama, as if Obama had anything to do with the Olympic uniforms.  To her, this was a political abomination orchestrated by the White House.

FOX would go on to report that Ralph Lauren, the American apparel designer, had donated the uniforms.  That sets the true argument, the same old argument, at American companies for sending their manufacturing overseas in the name of profit.  Because, trust me, at the ~$1000 dollar retail price of the uniforms, companies like Ralph Lauren are making a killing.  These techniques have grown our companies into massive entities which, arguably, they could never have become with the more-restricted profits derived from U.S.A. based manufacturing.  But these profits have come at a cost.

As I left the breakfast area, it seemed to me that the woman was still indignant about the President's responsibility in this situation.  Heaven help us all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grade Me!

If you're bored, and if you like debates...

Have I lost you yet?  :-)

Good.  There's a short (so far) debate going on between me and aservantofJehovah in the comments of the Luke in Hell post on my other blog regarding Hell, and Mark's version of it in particular..

I am trying to be reasonably respectful, yet firm.  I don't mind throwing a jab or two as well, but I don't want to cross the line into being a jerk.  So feel free to check it out if you've got the time and the will to do so, and let me know here how you think I've handled it.

But, please, don't feel obligated to do so.  Debates aren't everyone's cup of tea, and I get that.  Believe me, I get that.  :-)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interview with Deity Shmeity

Recently, self-proclaimed "Evolution's gift to women," Grundy, started popping up in the comments of some of the blogs I frequent.  You always wonder about newcomers, don't you?

Well, Grundy runs the Deity Shmeity blog, and there he does a pretty darn good job of highlighting some of the foolishness of religion, and sharing his approach to the major questions surrounding faith.  Check it out!

If that isn't enticing enough for you, Grundy is working on a series of great, short interviews with semi-prominent atheist bloggers which is definitely worth a read.  I'm not sure how I got into the mix, but, if you follow this link, you'll find an interview with me!

The interviews are quite engaging because of two factors:
  1. The people interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds.
  2. Grundy actually took the time to read a little about each person and ask them some specific questions based on their histories, as well as some common questions to all.
Enjoy!  I know you will.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I've been promising for about a month or two that things were going to return to "normal" in my blogging world, but that has been difficult.  I thought this past week would be that chance, but my nephew's visit had several unexpected twists.

It may be odd, but I am a Godfather of one of my nephews, the one who visited last week.  Let's call him Animal, a reference to Animal in the Muppets and apropos to his nature.

About seven years ago, when my younger sister asked me if I would be Animal's Godfather, I said "you do realize that I do not believe in God, right?"  Ultimately, through a little more dialog, she answered something to the effect of "you are the most moral and right-minded person I know."  I thought, hmm, she doesn't know me very well!  ;-)  No, actually I was flattered.  I knew that I had faults she was not aware of, but I took the mantle of responsibility with the mind to do what I could.

But how do you be a Godfather without believing in God?  For me, the focus was clear; not necessarily to help Animal become a worshiper of God, but rather to foster a spirit of morality from within.

So the focus is clear, but the execution... not so much.  Animal lived about an hour away at the time of his baptism, and now is several states away.  My job schedule is often crazy and unpredictable, such that I missed his baptism, and typically only saw him on random, one-day visits.  I had trusted that his parents would provide the basic structure of ethics and morality, up to a certain age, and my role would gradually become larger as his maturity waxed.  Now, I'm not so sure.

The problem is that Animal has always been, well, an animal.  Not that he is vicious or mean, but certainly a bit on the wild side, stubborn, and careless in physical play.  Don't get me wrong here.  Animal is a seven-year-old boy.  I expect a healthy amount of rambunctiousness and immaturity.  So it's been tough for me to judge where he is at in development with my historically brief and random visits, but having him stay for a week at my house was revealing.

Animal's parents came with him, but my sister had to leave early due to a previous commitment.

Naturally, I am an expert parent, because I have no children.  ;-)  So it became clear that Animal had some real problems, and those problems centered around a lack of effective discipline.  Animal's problems were symptoms of his parents problems in how they were handling him.

To overly simplify it:

My sister, who is close to being a stay-at-home mom and thus provides most of the discipline, almost exclusively goes the route of redirection, meaning that if Animal is doing something she doesn't want him to do, she'll offer something else for him to choose to do.  So usually he still ends up getting his way, even if it is a different way than he was going originally.

My brother-in-law, let's call him Bill, does not seem to play the redirection game with him.  Instead, he expects Animal to respect his requests to stop doing this or to go do that.  Animal does not seem to yield that respect, at least in most significant cases.  Instead, he often throws a tantrum.

When Animal throws a tantrum, almost without fail, one of the two parents will give in to his demands or offer some kind of compensation to calm him down or cheer him up.  I am not sure which parent is most likely to do this, because I didn't see my sister actually do much of this, but Bill tells me that she does.

Also, my sister will argue with Bill in front of Animal about how to handle him, which I had always thought was taboo in parenting.

Just to complicate matters, my sister tends to be volatile at times. While she has managed to express her anger more wisely as she's matured, her passionate feelings and their instantaneous outbreaks have not diminished in the least.

Oh, and she does not think she wants to stay married to Bill.  Bill does have a lot of problems himself, but is in no way looking to divorce.  While I can definitely see that living with Bill would be difficult, I haven't seen him exhibit any behavior which would unquestionably justify a divorce.

There are a lot of other dynamics at play here too; far too numerous, and some far too personal to even blog anonymously about.

All of that just to say I am feeling a little powerless.  By the second day, while my sister was still there, I did gently express my concerns regarding their discipline of Animal.  My sister reacted unpleasantly, and said some really hurtful things about Bill and his family.

Drawing from my vast repertoire of parental experience, and taking advantage of cooler tempers the following day, I made some recommendations about increasing discipline, and they were actually received better than I had expected.  Some ideas were even implemented later that day.

Then we had a massive storm role through on Friday, which knocked out power for the remainder of the time while Bill and Animal were in town.  Animal has become addicted to digital entertainment, but he was able to handle the power outage just fine; partly due to other activities, partly due to the new discipline plan, and partly due to the storm and the power outage making him a little scared.  Yet by the end of the week, despite the positive changes already seen in Animal, I could see Bill slipping back into his old discipline habits a bit, and see Animal slip into his regular tantrums.

I think I can help with Animal, but I think that there is much in his parent's relationship which needs to be healed before most of the constructive changes for Animal can be made manifest.  So I am attempting to help on multiple fronts.  Yet ultimately it is my sister and Bill who need to lead the charge and the change.  I certainly can't do it alone, or by ordering them around.

It's times like these when I wish that there was some benevolent puppet master in the sky, one you could get to change the dangle of the strings by a mere friendly request.  Because, right now, I have to tread firmly on eggshells.  That is so much more difficult to do than to talk to an imaginary friend.

By the way, if you have any advice, I'm all ears.  :-)