2Q2016 Review

On New Year’s Day I wrote a post laying out some paths I expected to follow in the year to come. Three months later I wrote a first-quarter review, and now it’s time to recap the second three months.

Word. I don’t know now if integrate will be the word for the year. It served me well for the first four months, but as I worked on integrating what I’ve learned I also discovered some important gaps that needed filling, so I’ve focused more on that this quarter. Once I get comfortable with the groundwork I’m doing in those areas I may return to integration–but there’s no rush, since the groundwork turns out to be its own reward.

Studies. One of the items on the original list was mindfulness, and as I reviewed what I knew, I discovered I was ignorant of vast swaths of the territory. So I set out to remedy that, both in knowledge and in practice, by taking an extended tour of western Buddhist thinking.

I have no interest in Buddhism as a religion, only as a psychology and an epistemology. Fortunately for me there is a 50-year tradition of westerners who have approached Buddhist thought, stripped it of its religious elements, and translated the rest into a western-friendly framework. Writers I’ve found especially valuable for this are Joseph Goldstein, Stephen Batchelor, Mark Epstein, and Daniel Ingram. A good popular introduction is Dan Harris’s book, an entertaining memoir that gently but accurately conveys the basics of vipassana (insight) meditation and Buddhism.

Anyway, I’ve read a lot of introductory material about Buddhism, and my to-read stack is still pretty deep.

Meditation. Buddhist thought has a heavy practical/empirical emphasis. Over and over again you will hear teachers (and the Buddha himself) say, “Don’t take my word for it, try it out and judge the results for yourself.” Seems fair, so I began daily meditation (90 days ago, according to my timer app). I don’t have much to say about this yet, except that (a) I’ve found it worth continuing, even working at, and (b) without the practical experience I don’t think I would understand much of what the Buddhists are actually saying.

Some practical notes:

  • The moment I finished Dan Harris’s book I sat down for a 10-minute session, and have meditated daily since, so it goes on my short list of Books That (Actually) Changed My Life.

  • I started in a chair, and everyone says a chair is just fine. Although I generally use a cushion now there are times when a chair is more convenient, and the session is no less for it.

  • One reason I started in a chair was that I worried my back wouldn’t tolerate sitting on the floor. Now I find that I prefer the floor. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the year-plus I’ve spent on improving my posture using Esther Gokhale’s method.

  • Six weeks in I signed up for a beginner’s course meeting weekly in Louisville (two more sessions to go). I already knew most of what the teacher has said, but hearing it from a teacher in the company of students is different and has been helpful. It is also a good way to break the ice regarding group meditation, something that might be otherwise intimidating for a first-timer.

Writing Privately. None of this. Perhaps this is because I’m currently busy learning and digesting … or perhaps that is just an excuse.

Handwriting. I finished Fred Eager’s exercises for both calligraphic and cursive script, but since then have not worked on this, partly because the time I used to spend on it now goes to meditation and reading, partly because of laziness. I still expect to resume this, in the form of copywork, but not right away.

Eating. My eating routine continues to be the new normal—or, really, slightly below normal, since I have lost another 5 pounds over the course of three months, with a bit more still to go. I don’t think about it in pounds anymore, though I weigh myself daily as part of monitoring myself. What needs to go now are small deposits of fat here and there, a few pounds total (I’m guessing). And I really don’t care how long it takes for them to go, as long as they are going and not returning. I no longer prepare a separate supper for myself, but almost always eat whatever the family is having. But I still skip breakfast, eat a salad for lunch, and fruit in the afternoon, and I expect to continue that pattern from now on.

Posture. I don’t work on this actively, and there are parts of Esther Gokhale’s method I have not tried at all yet. But I continually monitor myself based on what I’ve learned from her method, and I think it has changed my posture for the better. I stand and walk differently, and am able to sit on a stool without a back for long periods without pain. And bouts of back pain seem to be a thing of the past.

Walking. This is now a daily morning routine, 30 minutes in Frankfort and an hour in El Paso, walking the neighborhood. I don’t fret about missing a day when the weather is bad or the timing is inconvenient—rare enough occasions—but I never skip a walk out of sheer laziness. Part of what has helped me stick with it is that I don’t view walking as a calorie-burning activity—I do it for general health, maintaining flexibility, getting some fresh air, having an enforced break, trying out concentration techniques, etc. I’ve come to enjoy it.

Garden. The potatoes grew like crazy, and the vines are beginning to die back one variety at a time. We’ll probably be digging the first ones in a few weeks. Our homegrown seedlings, on the other hand, did not grow properly. Fortunately Maggie had some extras from her own garden which she contributed to ours, so we have fifteen plants which need to be staked in the next few days. None of the greens made it, but Elizabeth loves to grow basil so I picked up some seedlings for her at Lowes, and they are doing well. The horse manure composted well and we’ve been using it on the garden. Chris is away for the summer, but when he returns I expect he will haul multiple loads to the house so we’ll have it for next year.

Board games. These have tailed off, with the kids forgetting as they find other things to occupy themselves with. But I keep myself available on Sundays, and when they remember I play a few rounds with them.