3Q2016 Review

This is the third and likely last recap using the framework I started with, since what I set out to do is either mostly done or was dropped from the list. Meanwhile, new games are afoot.

Word. It started as integrate, but morphed into re-evaluate. As the year wore on I turned up some large gaps in my knowledge—not new enthusiasms, but topics that aren’t covered well by my accustomed sources of wisdom. So I’ve been dipping into different wells, mainly Buddhist philosophy, evaluating its core principles against what I know … and re-evaluating what I know in light of what it teaches, at least the parts which ring true to me.

Studies. Mindfulness continues to be my main study, but I think I am familiar enough with the basics, and have identified teachers who are not only solid but accessible to my extremely Western mind. My reference shelf is now in place, and I’m adding mostly personal histories—biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs—seeking glimpses of how it feels to move this knowledge from head to heart.

Meditation. I’ve continued this daily for 180 days now, but without heroic inclinations. I’m pleasantly surprised that sitting upright on a cushion for 25 minutes is possible and even pleasant—that’s all the encouragement I need. My top goal right now is to continue—what I accomplish during a sitting is less important.

But not unimportant. I experiment with different suggestions about how to detach sufficiently to observe thoughts, emotions, sensations, and even observation itself. Progress is slow, but the process itself holds my attention, and I’m certain enough of the path that I don’t need short-term payback to keep me going.

At some point I would like to take the plunge and attend a 10-day silent retreat. That’s an easy goal to set, though, because it will be many years before my responsibilities will let me be completely out of touch for 10 days.

Writing privately. None. But I’ve had an idea or two about how to get back to blogging regularly.

Handwriting. For copywork, I started copying a short book that I’ve read twice now and regard highly, Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs. Wow, it takes awhile to do just a couple of paragraphs, at least for me! I am nearly through the first chapter. I only do this sporadically.

My other practice is copying my Twitter archive onto index cards. About five years ago I began using Twitter to record favorite aphorisms, collecting a thousand or so before deleting my account. But I did download my tweets beforehand, and a few weeks ago I thought it would be pleasant to work through them by copying them onto cards. I also have some vague hope that a library of index cards with good thoughts will be of help in organizing my thinking overall.

Eating. The new normal continues to be highly controlled eating during the day, then a normal meal with the family at supper. I no longer skip breakfast, not due to hunger or because I missed it, but because I wanted to increase the protein in my menu, and a simple way to do that was eat a bit less in the afternoon and add a high-protein morning item.

First I tried a couple of hard boiled eggs, which are fine but not as protein-filled as I’d like. Then I learned that tofu is very high in protein, and it turns out I like it a lot, especially accompanied by just a bit of soy sauce/rice vinegar/sesame oil. I also added cottage cheese to the rotation, also high in protein. And in the afternoon I kept the apple but dropped the banana and grapefruit in favor of 1/4 cup roasted salted soybeans.

Posture. Nothing to report beyond ongoing gratitude to Kelly Cumbee for introducing me to the Gokhale Method, which eliminated my back pain.

Walking. I continued my daily morning walk until the heat became too unpleasant—and during my summer visit to El Paso, it was very unpleasant, highs over 100 for the whole three weeks. Since returning to Kentucky I’ve walked off and on, depending on the temperature, and now that it’s cooled off for good I’m walking daily for 30 minutes. Definitely a habit now.

If we define meditation broadly as practicing being in the moment, then I have begun experimenting with meditative walking. That is, I work at staying focused on the walking and the sensations it brings, rather than allowing a train of thought to carry me into the future or the past or just off into some fantasy.

Garden. The potato yield was disappointing, maybe 2:1, but the potatoes themselves are fantastic, full of flavor, dense rather than watery. Tomatoes as always were well worth growing, and not much trouble—early and diligent weeding kept the plot clear for the rest of the summer. We ate tons but had more than enough, with the first ones ready about August 15, and the last picked on September 30. I’ll be dreaming about them as I shift back to store bought in my salads.

I don’t know if we’ll plant garlic again this fall, since last year’s yield was so pitiful.

Board games. The kids are interested in other things for now, which is fine with me since I’m only mildly interested in the games, they were just an excuse for a shared activity. But we have plenty of those.

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8 thoughts on “3Q2016 Review

  1. Do Buddhists have weekend silent retreats? I know Catholics do (or they have monasteries with silent monks where you can also be silent the whole time).

  2. Do Buddhists have weekend silent retreats?

    Servetus,

    Yes they do, especially in the West. I’ve seen one-day, three-day, five-day, seven-day, and ten-day (and for the hardcore, multi-week and multi-month). I will likely try a weekend retreat within the next year.

    However, ten-day retreats seem to be the bottom rung of a different ladder. Most of the skeptic-whose-life-was-changed accounts I’ve read center around a ten-day retreat, with breakthroughs coming on the seventh or eighth day. Here’s one by Robert Wright that doesn’t run too long, and this recent long piece by Andrew Sullivan spends some time describing his own experience.

    I don’t think there’s anything magic about the numbers, but that’s the pattern I’ve seen.

  3. I know Catholics do (or they have monasteries with silent monks where you can also be silent the whole time).

    Servetus,

    I should mention that the usual mindfulness retreat has a much narrower focus than Catholic or Anglican silent retreats, at least as I understand them—you will spend 8-10 hours per day meditating, alternating between sitting on a cushion observing your breath, and walking very slowly while closely observing how your body moves.

    I only bring it up because, as good as silence itself is, it is also only the context in which the work of mindfulness meditation happens. I wrote a couple of years back how I improvised a weekend silent retreat, only to discover that it wasn’t all that much different than my everyday life, which leans pretty heavily towards silence.

  4. Servetus,

    Sorry, I do go on at times! Maybe I should focus more less on being silent and more on being laconic :)

  5. LOL. No criticism was intended. (Had you had a “like” button I’d have just pressed that.) But it’s an interesting point, actually; I also currently speak very little in daily life (to the point that my voice is becoming rusty) but say a lot on the screen.

  6. I’m eternally grateful to Esther Gokhale for her video and book! After spending a few months in physical therapy last year because of problems I have from a childhood injury that cause changes in my gait, I started focusing on my feet during my morning walk. That led me to occasionally focus on my breathing and other aspects of the act of walking that I had been neglecting. I’ve never been fond of listening to music or audiobooks while walking — I prefer seeing, smelling, and listening to everything — but just being aware of my body while walking has made the whole experience so much better — more relaxing. I’ve even been able to add an occasional sprint to my time walking, which is such a joy. I used to love running and haven’t been able to do it in decades.

  7. I started focusing on my feet during my morning walk. That led me to occasionally focus on my breathing and other aspects of the act of walking that I had been neglecting. […] just being aware of my body while walking has made the whole experience so much better — more relaxing.

    Kelly,

    You’ve zeroed in on what for me is the essence of mindfulness meditation, namely a means of strengthening one’s connection to the real world. My current novice experience is a sort of virtuous circle—by repeatedly attemptiing (and failing) to stay in the here and now, I see more clearly how disconnected I actually am in many ways, which inspires me to continue.

    Joseph Goldstein says that failing in this way is the heart of insight meditation, and that the key act is to simply begin again.

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