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I’ve moved! Be sure to subscribe, bookmark, favorite, shout it from the rooftops, whatever:
See you on the other side,
A shortie-but-goodie. I have no idea when this video was made, but it’s never been more relevant than it has today.
Whoever said being a kid was easy doesn’t remember being a kid.
Seriously, y’all, I had a great childhood. Not normal, by any stretch, but fairly carefree. But you couldn’t pay me to be ten years old again.
Before I came to Georgia, I taught preschool. It scares me a little to think of becoming a mother, because I can’t imagine loving anyone more than I loved my little hellions. I tried hard to never scoff at their “problems,” no matter how tiny. Being a kid is hard work. You’re learning new things all the time. You get thrown into situations you don’t understand. You’re not yet equipped with all the tools you need to deal with things. In short, it’s just plain scary.
When I was little, around eight years old or so, I began to have trouble sleeping. I would find myself fretting about things. (What kinds of things? Kid things, I’m sure. I don’t remember specifics, but they kept me up at night, so that is all that matters.) I wanted to keep my mind from racing. I wanted to be at peace, to get some rest. So I “invented” a technique to help myself get to sleep.
I pictured myself in a plain white room. No floors, no walls, no ceiling, just a white void. A little like Mike Teavee, now that I think about it, but disappointingly lacking in Oompa Loompas.
Every time my mind would begin to wander, I would catch myself and bring myself back into that empty white room. It was calming and effective. I used this technique for years to help myself get to sleep when I was stressed.
I didn’t know it then, but I was basically engaging in a rudimentary form of metacognition. In other words, I was “kid meditating.”
If eight-year-old me can do it, than anyone can do it.
So here is your first meditation exercise. We’re going to start with the basics.
First, your position. You might want to sit in a chair, or your bed, or the couch. I just prefer to sit on the floor in a lotus or “Indian style” position. (As an aside, I learned teaching preschool that nobody sits “Indian style” anymore. They sit “criss-cross-applesauce,” which is less offensive and more fun to say.) However you sit, make sure your spine is straight, your shoulders are back, and that you are in a position that will be comfortable for a while.
Closing your eyes is okay, but if it makes you sleepy, don’t. We’re not 8-year-old me; we want tranquil, not zonked out. It’s often best to stare at the floor or wall, focusing on a point about 10 feet beyond or behind the floor.
Time for the “meat” of your meditation: breathing.
We take what we put into our bodies so seriously. Smoking is stigmatized, and so is high fructose corn syrup. Diet guides are everywhere. People obsess over getting 8 glasses of water a day (well, some people). But if I cut off your food, your water, or your air… which would kill you first?
Take time to fully inhale. Exhale. And again. We’re talking deep, soul-cleansing belly breaths here. When you’re stressed, your breathing often becomes shallow, rushed. Focus on your breathing, and imagine you’re nourishing your body with the oxygen filling your chest. In and out, rhythmically.
At this point, you can pick a word to meditate on with each breath if you wish. Many people take comfort in a soothing or prayerful word, like “love” or “Jesus.” You can even use the sacred syllable “om” if you want to be more traditional about it. If the idea of repeating a word is too Zen for you, you might just want to picture yourself in my plain white room, or an idyllic place of your choice.
That’s pretty much all there is to it, but the hard part isn’t over yet.
You are training your brain here, and it’s not going to like it. Everyone in the world has a little ADD. Whenever you catch your mind wandering from your meditation, don’t beat yourself up. Take note of what you were thinking about, dismiss it, then return to your focus and your breathing. This is how my entire meditation usually goes. Distract, return. Distract, return.
If you begin to make note of your thoughts in this way, you will begin to notice your thinking change. I have always been a pessimistic person, but I am learning to rein it in by realizing how often negative thoughts dominate my mind. I worry about things about which I have absolutely no business worrying. But just catching myself worrying is often enough to chasten me into changing my attitude about my situation.
I try to meditate for at least 15 minutes a day. It’s really better to do it for longer, at least half an hour or even an hour if you can handle it. Even if it seems like you are only sitting around, this is not a waste of time any more than exercise is. When your mindfulness muscle begins to grow, the quality of your life will soar. You will begin to notice your thought patterns and what you need to change to be the person you want to be. You will stop wasting time with unproductive thoughts, so distractions will be far fewer.
Your brain is who you are. Everything that makes you, well, you… is up in that noggin of yours. Why not give it the exercise and attention it needs to flourish?
If nothing else, it will help you sleep better at night.
Let me begin by apologizing to you. I’m sorry I didn’t see Atlas Shrugged when it came to my local theater.
I meant to, of course. I’m a good libertarian, I promise I am. I read Lew Rockwell. I think business owners, not namby-pamby lawmakers, should decide whether people can smoke cigarettes inside their establishments, even though I personally think smoking is disgusting. The ever-more-omnipresent commingling of government and capitalism makes me feel all icky inside. I get tired of movies that beat me over the head with messages about how evil capitalism is, but I see them anyway, even though it’s this country’s freedom that drives the money into those capitalist filmmakers’ pockets.
Yet I didn’t see your movie, even though it came to my local theater. Because the reviews were bad. The critics hated it. The populace hated it. I love Ayn Rand so much, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. And because of me, and other similarly traitorous free market fanatics, your movie didn’t really do all that well.
Tonight I finally got around to watching it. And now I can safely say that I agree with you. I think a large part of the slamming is that America hates capitalism. As for me….
I was enthralled the entire time. The acting was phenomenal, especially considering that most everyone in the movie was a relative unknown. (Except my buddy Snyder.) The cinematography was quite beautiful. I loved the rich colors (as opposed to the blue-and-orange palette so favored by basically everybody these days). The mountain scenery was gorgeous. And seriously, I could gaze at Taylor Schilling’s sweet face all day long. She was perfect for the role of tough-as-nails Dagny Taggart.
Most importantly, the movie had a message for anyone willing to listen. My father and I kept remarking on how eerily accurate Rand’s predictions have been even 50 years later. Skyrocketing gas prices. The condition of the economy. The government’s finger in every pie. Twentieth Century Motors. I’m only astonished that so many people could watch this movie and fail to recognize the state of this country, in every industry that has fled the country due to our oppressive regulations and suffocating cronyism.
The final scene of Part I was so well-done, I cheered right there in my living room. So imagine how thrilled I was to hear that you are still planning on making the second installment, despite the mediocre reception of the first one. I am delighted you believe in this project enough to keep backing it with your hard-earned money. And I promise that this time, I will be the first in line for a ticket.
Good morning! Can you imagine the typical university student today in a debate like this? (Well, I’ll post one of those later.)
“Is there one of you who is going to say that you don’t want a doctor to treat you for cancer unless he himself has had cancer?”
For all this talk of America’s failures, what Mr. Friedman says at the end here is right on the money. We are still a relatively wealthy nation. I don’t understand how so many people around me can continually scream about the failures of the free market while our country is barreling down the same road that Europe was not so long ago. We are on the fast track to Greecedom.
If free-market capitalism is not the perfect solution, it’s only because there is no perfect solution. The capitalism we have now is not true free-market capitalism. If certain private businesses receive favorable treatment or bailouts from the government, the blame rests squarely on that government’s shoulders. There’s a lot we can fix here, but let’s also realize that we are still one of the wealthiest countries in the world overall, and capitalism is to blame.
A little bit on Blaise Pascal.
Okay, you caught me. French class is over, because that is all the French I know. Now it’s time for your history lesson. I think this one will be of particular interest to my law student friends.
“Love or hate alters the aspect of justice. How much greater confidence has an advocate, retained with a large fee, in the justice of his cause! How much better does his bold manner make his case appear to the judges, deceived as they are by appearances! How ludicrous is reason, blown with a breath in every direction!”
Allow me to introduce you to Blaise Pascal: physicist, writer, philosopher. He was an all-around fascinating dude. His Pensées (Thoughts) have inspired me so much over the past couple of years that I thought it might be appropriate to ponder his genius a little. I mean, we named a unit of measure after the guy!
Pascal was a brilliant man who, like many brilliant men, began as a child prodigy. His father Étienne was a tax collector; his mother died when he was just three years old. Étienne never remarried, choosing instead to dedicate his life to teaching Blaise and his two sisters, Jacqueline (younger) and Gilberte (elder). (Jacqueline herself was also a prodigy. She wrote a five-act comedy at the age of eleven.) When Blaise Pascal was only sixteen, he wrote a treatise on what was called the “mystic hexagram.”
At the time, Descartes (yep, totally a friend of Étienne’s) laughed at the idea that someone so young could produce such prodigious work and attributed the treatise to Blaise’s father. (I’m not sure, but this could be part of the reason that Pascal slams Descartes so much in his Pensées.)
“To write against those who made too profound a study of science: Descartes. I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God. Descartes useless and uncertain.”
These days, Pascal is mainly known for his awesome triangle, which he didn’t actually invent. However, he was the first to arrange all the information in a tidy little box as well as develop many applications for it.
Move over, Leonardo da Vinci! Pascal was also an inventor. Perhaps the most important thing he helped develop was the syringe. Not for medical use, more as an application for another one of his wacky theories.
“Thought constitutes the greatness of man.”
My favorite invention of Pascal’s has to be the “Pascaline,” though.
What is it?
A rudimentary calculator. That’s right. It’s the 1640s, people are dying of smallpox left and right, and Blaise Pascal has already conceived of something we didn’t really put into common use until the last century.
For anyone who wants to dip their feet into some interesting philosophy without wading too deep into some theoretical quagmire, I recommend Pascal’s Pensées. He was a Catholic philosopher, so there is a lot of religious discussion in there, but I think there is truth and relevance for everyone buried within. If you don’t agree with this, I have nothing more for you…
“Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
“All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”
Why is it so hard to count your blessings at Thanksgiving?
This is the time of year, they tell us, to truly appreciate what you have around you, and think about how grateful you are for everything you have. Count your blessings- your family, your friends, your home, your health, the fact that unemployment is still in the single digits. It’s nice to picture that Norman Rockwell holiday, life’s troubles suspended for just one day as everyone gathers lovingly around the turkey.
I have been to enough Thanksgiving dinners, mine and others’, to know that this does not happen. Most people I know consider themselves lucky if they escape from their family gathering kids in tow, casserole dishes unbroken, relationships fully intact.
If you don’t get along with your family, it is especially hard to set aside feelings of isolation and be thankful at the peak of holiday stress. If your health is poor, it is difficult to watch everyone around you enjoy themselves, free from pain or disease, and be happy for them instead of envious. If you have little (or no) income, watching your friends and family exchange expensive presents can make you feel guilty, or worse, jealous.
Nobody’s life is immune to ups and downs, and our brains are wired to respond to those. It’s hard to avoid being yanked along on that emotional roller coaster. You’re riding high on praise from your boss one day, the next you’re rear-ended by some schlub with no insurance.
You can’t control your family, your boss, or idiot teenage drivers. The only thing in your life you can control is you. That’s the mantra of my mission. Your mind probably has some pretty bad habits. You’re never going to get into the holiday spirit one day of the year when you don’t have the holiday spirit the other 364.
Mindfulness, a secular practice with roots in and connections to almost every major religion, can change that.
Are you serious?
Close friends of mine know how obsessed I am with situational awareness. The zombie apocalypse will spare no one, and I aim to be sure my nearest and dearest are ready for when life attacks. Many people think I am insane because of this, and they are probably right.
But I believe I’m even more right when it looks like everyone around me is walking around blind. In January 2005, the University of Illinois published this terrifying study where most commercial airline pilots landed directly on top of another plane during a simulation… simply because they were not expecting it to be there.
You may have previously seen this famous selective attention test from 1999. If not, I encourage you to watch it, as silly and dated as it may be, just so you know where I’m going with this.
If situational awareness is noticing the gorilla on the basketball court while counting shots, then mindfulness is noticing the gorilla, the basketball,the players, the jerseys, the shots, the court, right down to the players’ shoes.
But what does a gorilla have to do with Thanksgiving?
I’m not going to tell you that meditation was the solution to all my problems. I still have traffic jams, fights with my parents, and even occasional Paper Chase moments that make me want to curl up and die right there in class.
But ever since I began practicing mindfulness, I have found my quality of life has improved so dramatically, I want to share the practice with anyone who might benefit from it. (Full disclosure: I truly believe that everyone could benefit from it.) Because, and allow me to repeat, the only thing you can control is you.
You know that saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it? I believe it’s more like 100% how you react. I know some people who don’t even notice the 10% of life that is happening to them because they are so hung up on something that happened years ago, or something that will happen in the distant future.
Mindfulness pulls us out of the stress and worry and confusion of our minds, and into the present. If you want to get serious about counting your blessings on Thanksgiving, then you have to notice your blessings first.
Most of us walk around on autopilot, doing the things we need to do (or the things we think we need to do) to be successful: studying for class, going to work, getting the oil changed, eating lunch, grocery shopping, going to the bank. The whole time, we think about the next thing on the to-do list. What we need to do tomorrow.
Ugly or beautiful, when is the last time you really looked at your bank? The walls, the molding, the windows?
When is the last time you really enjoyed your food? Savored it, chewed it? Without reading, texting, or spending the whole time chatting with the person next to you?
To wrap up….
Next week, I’ll be posting a primer on meditation and some mindfulness exercises to try. Until then, do me a favor.
Attempt to eat at least one meal a day mindfully. Chew your food completely and savor it. Enjoy the textures, smell the aromas, ponder each ingredient- how it got to your table, how it works in harmony with the others to create a pleasurable eating experience. While you’re at it, say a prayer of thanks for your taste buds and that you can eat with a knife and fork instead of through a tube. If you truly feel that you have nothing else to give thanks for this year, you will at least enjoy your turkey and dressing.