Saying Goodbye to my Teaching Career: and perhaps to my battle with Asthma and Psoriasis (My July 2019 Update)

Living in a way that aligns with one’s virtues, and moving in the direction that aligns with one’s potential and core truths has benefits that at times are only visible in the rear-view mirror. Sometimes it has felt like I have been wandering around listlessly, until I made one step in the right direction, and everything just started feeling right.

I have only had this experience twice, and both times were connected to leaving a job behind. This 2nd time, it is a career- most likely, on the chopping block. I say most likely, because there seems to be some possibility that I will return to the education domain, albeit in a different way, style, and/or subject matter.

The first time I had this corporeal sensation of rightness, for lack of a better term, was when employed at a distance from my wife and one-year-old son, whom I had to take to nursery school, breaking my heart each and every morning. One day, after returning to work after two weeks off spent together with my son, I just decided in my head to give notice of my departure at my 2nd full-time job ever, after an 11-year stint there at a private after-school language school in Japan. The memory of it all is now very fresh, the anxiety, the unease at how we would handle the income decline, etc. Yet above, or perhaps below all of those feelings was a feeling that I had woken up somehow- started listening to that deep self that knows when you are moving (or not moving) in the right direction. I recall a specific sensation I had never felt up to that moment- a tiny muscle in my lower back that instantly released its tension, and relaxed completely and totally. Was it my body’s signal that I was on the right track perhaps?

This time around, now 5 years later, as of last week, I was in the same boat. A job that didn’t seem to be fitting me anymore, a direction that didn’t propel me forwards but rather in a circular keeper (to use a waterfall reference) which keeps me locked from escaping the current suffocating reality.

This last Wednesday, I had an interesting day at work, when only one student out of a usual seven showed up for class. I had the chance to catch up on some meditating, and my own reality started becoming clear. My school was near its end, and I was ready to let it die. I had been subconsciously limiting or preventing the growth of my school at first, but then intentionally later, not recruiting new students, and avoiding the chance to grow or even maintain the size of my school.

The main reason was the social/emotional energy that my growing boys required of me forced me to minimize how much I used at work, and so I chose to focus on my boys over my education career-which I never felt comfortable with anyway.

Perhaps most clear to me, for the last year or so, is that my emotional and social energy has finite limits (as of yet), and since becoming a father of two very demanding and wonderful boys, I must make priorities of where I use that energy, lest it be watered down to the point of being effective at neither teaching nor parenting.

Also, my need to refuel, so to speak, through creative pursuits, exercise, diet, meditation, etc. also became blatantly clear, after years of psychological and physical issues: psoriasis, asthma, delusional parasitosis, alcohol and tobacco dependency, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, to name a few.

Similarly to the first time I experienced this corporeal message, my body gave me a quick signal that I was indeed listening to myself. My asthma had been quite manageable for the last few years, since I quit smoking, and became vegan. But suddenly, around 6 weeks ago or so, I started needing my inhaler at night, sometimes before bed, sometimes mid-sleep. Then it was regular, nightly, and at times two times during the day or night. Something was worsening my condition, and I had no clue as to what it was. Everything else in my life was going in a better direction, I had given up sugar about 2 months prior (now 3 months ago), was riding a bike and walking more than ever after getting rid of my car, and I had started taking Calcium supplements and doing pushups etc. to strengthen my muscles and bones. At first I thought, maybe the calcium and magnesium supplements were the cause of my sudden and mysterious worsening of my asthma, as I had started taking them at the same time my asthma worsened. Then I thought maybe the lack of more vigorous running that I had given up due to a much more active lifestyle was to blame, but that internally didn’t make any sense either.

Then, unknowingly, as I made my decision internally to close my school, and change my path- my asthma completely went away.

Similar to the tiny muscle instantaneously relaxing five years ago, my breathing problems suddenly vanished. It has been about a week now, 5 days since the final decision was made, and I have not needed to use my inhaler even once.

Not only that, but when considering my options last week, weathering a self-induced mini-panic attack, and discussing a strawberry-growing opportunity with a not-so-supportive wife, the psoriasis on my hands suddenly erupted into full-blown mode. My psoriasis is kind of a blessing, for it is a very visible and painful reminder when my body is in a tail-spin, and can serve as a warning that I am pushing myself down the wrong path, not taking care of myself, or not doing enough to replenish my social/emotional reserves. Like the asthma, my psoriasis went into almost immediate remission upon coming to terms in my head and heart about my school closure. Even as I write this, the eruption’s remnants are still visible, but mending faster than usual- with a different look to them, a finality perhaps to the roots of the condition perhaps? Have I found the source of my own psoriasis and current bout with asthma? If so, what is this source?

Perhaps the answer goes back to my 10-day Vipassana retreat in Kyoto a half-year ago. During the break times, when not meditating, I spent much of the first few days obsessed with my work. Mentally, I was working out a fantasy of  transforming  my  language school into a learning center, where I would volunteer rather than be paid for my efforts. The students and parents would donate rather than pay a fee. The students would choose to come rather than be forced to come. Students would have control over the content of their learning rather than me or what the parents expected. It is/was a beautiful vision that I hope to one day implement, to steer the field in a good direction- away from the profiteering and business-side that has ruined me as a teacher.

In the end, a lot of my personal problems seemed to revolve around my work, not what perhaps, but how I was doing it. And of course, money was integral to the problems and solutions, as it tends to be. Education, like medicine, should exist in the public domain, in my opinion. I understand the argument for private schools and after-school programs, but I think it is a path that leads to a world that no one wants to live in. The goal indeed of my transformative idea was to remove money as the personal motivator for teaching, and changing to a donation-based NPO where volunteers share their time to support students would likely do such a feat. Of course, the hard part is how to earn a living if one is not earning a living teaching. The same can be said for writing, music, (my other interests), etc. -those areas that are particularly fragile to the corruptive influence of money. That is a subject for a future post perhaps.

In March, I indeed attempted to put such a plan into action. I even had a trial for two students who were trying to change classes.  Maybe the idea is ahead of its time and society doesn’t know how to handle it yet, or perhaps my implementation or explanation of it was flawed. For whatever reason, it flopped, and I abruptly ended the idea after exposing all of my students to the possibility of a “self-directed learning” class, with no interest received. Perhaps I can revisit the concept once I have the funds, emotional/social energy, or time to devote to developing it. Emotional/Social energy and funds are things of which I do not have in abundance at the moment- at least I have other foci at the moment towards which I want to focus my efforts.

So, here I am. Essentially broke. Essentially having been teaching on fumes for the last few months. Three weeks to go before the doors close for good. Knowing the end is in sight will likely propel me forward enough to close in style, with my chin up.

Where will this decision lead? Somewhere new, decidedly, and that is a great thing, and my body knows it too.

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Personal Growth is Hard. Period.

There is a tendency to only show the best, most-positive side of oneself on social media. I did not consider blogs to be social media, but one could easily make the case. I too fall into this “look how amazing I am” trend. What is the real me though?

I have been eating a bag of potato chips daily recently, or two as in the case of yesterday. I have gone three days without doing my morning strength-building routine. I am about to watch a (potentially-disturbing) movie- The Girl in the Spider’s Web, after swearing them off only two weeks ago. I get frustrated, and get angry at my kids- despite wanting to be the most kind and gentle father I can be.

There is a line I will not cross though, as far as habits go. I will not venture back into the cheese, meat, cream realm of food-although when I am most stressed, Domino’s cheese pizza beckons to me from across the ocean. I will not smoke, or drink to calm my nerves, as I know these are even bigger monsters which can gobble anyone up, bit by bit. I will not use people or imagery to satisfy some internal attachment cravings either.

All that said, failure is a part of learning, and meaningful change/growth does not come easily, or there would be no blog posts about it. The bigger the change, the harder it is to stick with. I am content with my direction, as well as the current pace, but today is a conscious break from my newer, better self. I do feel, though, that sometimes it is not as hard as our imagination would suppose to break a destructive habit or start a positive one. Sometimes, as we approach our limits, our bodies start to show us, or rather make us feel, that we are on a cliff- about to fall off. These limits could be anything, but for me they are social, emotional, and physical.

As an introvert, the social limit maxes out the more I am in social situations, whether or not I am talking or not! I do not drink alcohol anymore, which used to be my bridge to the social kingdom. Taking that out of my arsenal also made me restrict my social engagements, which altogether makes me a happier person.

The emotional limit reaches dangerous levels when constantly dealing with people in distress, like my 4-year-old who is battling frustration left and right, or people around town, or in my family who are in obvious misery. I am an empath, no doubt about it. When I teach, and a student gets upset- it devastates me as well. That is one reason many thought I should go into counseling as a profession, but that would take me off the tracks, no doubt. I seem to be a strong receiver of mental and emotional energy, sometimes I internalize it, but I am trying to use music as a way to channel it back outwards. Perhaps, in time, I can learn to be a conduit for this powerful energy, and put my natural abilities to use, through music, writing, or some yet undiscovered way. I do try and meet all misery and suffering with compassion and kindness- all the more reason to keep up my meditation practice (twice daily). It is clear I am past my emotional limit when I cannot meet the suffering around me with calmness, patience, and understanding- something every parent and teacher should be able to do every day. Should is the key word.

As a regular meditator, I can feel the dis(ease) in my body today, something is not quite right. misaligned? merely overwhelmed?  This physical limit shows itself in getting sick, exhausted (which often preempts sickness too), or disinterest  in doing anything of value- work or personal. It also shows itself in breakdowns in the body’s immune response or state of mind. I often have psoriasis outbreaks on my hands or feet as this limit or the other two reach a danger point- but always recedes with meditation. I have even had delusional parasitosis in the past- more than a decade ago- which was the result of perhaps all of my limits reaching their breaking point simultaneously.

As any of these limits reach their breaking point, the tendency to lose positive habits, and fall back into negative, destructive habits rises. Also, new more harmful and dangerous habits also lurk around every “bad day”. I am very conscious of this, yet I must be practical- I must be resilient in protecting my new good habits, and be warrior-esque in warding off old unhelpful habits, while at the same time- I must be compassionate and kind to myself. I know when I am near the edge now, and can fall back for a bit, rest on the knowledge that I am on a great path, and it is better to slow down in a marathon than to stop.

So time to get real with my audience, if I have one. I have been making many personal changes, some small, and some big- which have increased the quality of my life more than I can express in words here. Some of them include: serious meditation, daily biking instead of using a car, no smoking, no drinking, no meat or dairy, no sugar, daily music playing, no more tv, daily reading, daily writing, etc. But I am human, and there is still a long way to go. I still have a prolific potato chip eating habit (almost daily when under high stress), strong coffee dependency, and today I am going to give myself a respite, and watch a movie.

Do I know what will result? Yes, it is a conscious decision, one step higher than where I was before- unconsciously zooming out to movies or tv regularly and without recognition of consequences. Not the case now, but it is on the way to a day when I have complete conscious control over all my habits- that day is coming!

I am not there yet, but I wanted to share that with those who are also struggling to become a better person. It is not easy, and you are not alone in this quest.

No TV for 1 week, No sugar for 2 months, and 1 Week doing regular strength-building exercises. Altogether, a June update that continues to show consistent and continual improvement, the essence of Kaizen and William Deming’s philosophy in the realm of personal development and discovery.

 

Quite a few things to report this time, particularly some epiphanies of import regarding society’s use of smart phones, added sugar, video games, TV, and some extra goodies as well.

My daily routines are continuing well- several blocks of creation (writing, website, and music) and deliberate practice with regards to writing and music performance. I have added a strength-building routine connected to doing the laundry- 4 short exercises (push-ups, planking, handstand pushups, and shoulder lifts while holding a heavy box). I have also started taking Calcium supplements- this and the exercise designed to strengthen my bones, which can be a critical issue for vegans. There is not much in the way of fortified non-dairy milk here in rural Japan, at least with no sugar added.

I have also eliminated TV from my routine, with the exception of listening to podcast interviews of relevance to self-development. So no more fiction, at least for awhile- I reckon I may eventually allow myself an occasional trip to the cinema when a film of high quality makes an appearance, like Avatar II. I may even allow myself a DVD on occasion, if high-quality, and serves an educational/philosophically-expanding purpose, otherwise, I am out of the consumer loop.

I have 2 young kids, and it seemed increasingly unfair to not allow them to watch TV, but then allow myself some TV when they were asleep. The more they watch, the worse their behavior- no question, even when we are strict with the content. I have no issues with Sesame Street, but it rarely ends with that. Pandora’s box, if you will. So if kids are affected adversely, chances are we all are. I noticed it with Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad- I became devasted by the plot each episode, and my kids are likely just as affected by watching a child-“suitable” show, in a different way.

Which leads to the main point of this post-whenever we try and minimize something, or set personal or family limits on something ( i.e. screen time, candy, video games, alcohol, drug of any kind, etc.), are we wise to try and focus on control when we should be focusing on elimination?

How about smart phones and social media? All the advice coming from the mainstream is about control- leave your phone in another room, turn it off, etc. in order to gain some control over the device, or social media in general.

If less is better, then logically- isn’t none best of all?

I will now expand this to the use of sugar in cooking, processed foods, etc. Isn’t it better to eliminate sugar from one’s diet (as I have done, with great physical and psychological results), than to try and minimize it- since as long as it is in the diet, it continues to haunt through cravings. Once it is out of the diet, and the associated enzymes die off (as per my limited understanding of the biological mechanisms of craving), there is freedom from the craving to consume even a little bit, much less an unhealthy amount. I know this firsthand, I noticed yesterday that I craved grape juice a lot when I first went no-sugar, which is allowed- as it is natural sugar. But now, 2 months later, I don’t crave even the natural sugar of grape juice! I do like a good apple every day, but I see that as only positive. I can now enjoy my food or grape juice, without the fear that they will make me miserable when I want it and it is not available- as is the nature of craving and ultimately addiction.

There is one more epiphany I would like to share:

The quality of the content that you have available in the house, either food, or stimulus (learning/entertainment/games), will determine the quality of your activities, and more importantly- your mental and physical health.

The other day, I put some sugary, salty snacks out on a plate next to some sliced juicy apples. My kids didn’t even think twice before reaching over the fruit to the processed delights which awaited them. I realized the same is true for TV in the living room- or comics in the bookshelf, or your smart phone on the dresser. Just having it around, and in existence creates a choice of lower value and quality which makes it too easy to say no to the more meaningful, high-quality means of not only passing the time, but enjoying one’s time alone or with loved ones.

Perhaps you know this, but lack the resolve to do something about it? All it takes is resolve the first time-(get rid of candy in the house, switch your phone for something more functional, move the TV or remove access to cable, etc.) and then your options become easier every time, and you don’t need resolve. It becomes easier, every day, to use your time as you really intend- in a quality, conscious, beneficial way.

With that, I leave you with my best hopes that you will do something with this perspective that I share with all- merely for the benefit of all who care to improve. Also, an interesting interview that may help those who are suffering, or living lives of misery. The content very much resonates with the teaching I got at my Vipassana mediation retreat- seems to be along the same lines.

Enjoy, and may all have a lovely, peaceful day.

The Game of Thrones Finale: My Reaction- No More TV!

 

Game of Thrones is finished, and with it, my TV watching as well. I decided to challenge myself to cease watching all TV and movies prior to watching the series finale, due to one reason- the final season upended me.

Perhaps the reason for being upended was a collection of things going on in my life: trouble with spouse and in-laws, identity crisis with my employment, trying to come to terms with the ills of society and what I can do about it, amongst other things.

Perhaps meditating more seriously for the last few months has instilled a sense of peace that imploded with the violent and horrific imagery and emotional charges that the final season contained. I assume all of those elements above play a role- but one good thing has emerged- resolve to stop watching TV altogether, and focus on reading non-fiction for awhile. How long will I be able to resist is an interesting question, but if my successes in stopping to consume alcohol, meat, dairy, and sugar contain hints toward the answer, then I have the right to be confident, and somewhat daring with my goals- as I am getting good at going through with them.

Game of Thrones was the pinnacle of modern television, in my opinion. Breaking Bad was also up there, and interestingly, that show as well had the ability of ruining my evening- or weekend, as I would become distraught with the unraveling of Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and other characters of the show. It is hard indeed to trick the body that what you see is not real, even if your mind is well aware that it is only fiction. The body feels it, and meditating regularly has strengthened my connection to those bodily sensations- so when I feel them, I am much more conscious and aware of them and their causes now. So with so much low-quality entertainment out there, the only content I have come to respect ends up destroying my peace of mind, and inner tranquility. The solution is simple- respect Game of Thrones for what it was- a gorgeous, genius, and yet horrifically intense display of talent, creativity, and performance from multiple disciplines of art. The result was the creation and ultimate destruction of ultimate beauty. I was glad I witnessed it. I am glad it affected me enough to give up TV for good. Perhaps that is its best achievement- nothing after that will match up to its potency, its intrigue, its magic, so we are left with some choices to make about how to respond.

I, for one, will take my cue, to use my time to better myself, and the world- rather than sheepishly look for the next distraction to undue me once again. This time was enough.

Thank you Game of Thrones, for liberating me, too.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Next Level: May Update 2019- sugar crash, start of a “new” story, and how selling my car has changed my life.

About a year ago, as I have written in a previous post, I went to Costco for a resupply of my favorite “American” goodies and was shocked by the post-Costco crash of all self-control when eating and snacking. It lasted about a week, and I realized it was my body’s reaction to the cheese pizza, as I had been pure vegan up to that point, and thought that a minor lapse would do no harm. I was dead wrong. The body started craving all sorts of things, probably subconsciously looking for that cheese, oil, fat, and salt hit that it got with the Costco food court pizza. All it took was 2 slices to throw me into a tailspin for at least a week. I gained about 5 kg- 11 pounds in just that week, and it took about 2 months to recover. That is one month a slice. It would be interesting to add in the after effects of one slice into the price of a pizza…it would be tremendous, as my spending costs went through the roof afterwards, trying to satisfy that craving for —- ?, what exactly?

The reason I mention it again, is because I have been following a strict no-sugar diet for about 7 weeks now, and yesterday morning, I got slipped a hit of non-traditional sugar in a fruit juice drink at the end of a job interview at a fruit juice stand. The sugar derivative is called オリゴ, or Oligo, in Japanese. The English equivalent is oligosaccharide, which is a “milder” plant-based sugar in my understanding. I wondered how my body would react as I combed the aisles of the supermarket before going home. It is remarkable how much more self-control I have when shopping for food now that I am sugar-free. Things just don’t pull at me like they used to, and I find myself buying for nutrition much more than pure taste or stress relief (as I often used to do). It took a few hours to set in…but once back home, my first stop was another supermarket for some fruit, then convenience store for some potato chips (my go-to comfort food- which by the way I am doing much much better at not even craving lately), then once I got home after work, I was constantly munching on things, peanuts, raisins, cereal, etc. but could not satisfy my hunger and craving…. then I realized what had happened- the same as my Costco experience, yet perhaps much smaller scale this time- like an aftershock of an earthquake. 

It is indeed amazing how unconsciously we put things into our bodies to regulate our moods, and try to satisfy our cravings. I was aware at 11 am, and by 8 pm, it was completely out of my mind what was going on- merely the urge to scratch an itch.

 

It is for this reason that I know this company will not match with me long-term, even if I get the job. That is ok, for my whole concept of this venture, The Next Level, is to improve what currently exists- to push the envelope in a better, more humane, more self-control-oriented direction.

Perhaps the best test of the quality of the food or drink that you consume is the after-effect on your body: the conservation or loss of self-control that the food/drink causes in the hours and days that follow its consumption.

The post-car life

It has been about a month now post-car. I am loving it. No questions about that. The lack of stress and worry about car-related issues, insurance, taxes, maintenance, etc, etc. itself is enough to go car-free in my opinion. It is not so easy with kids, mind you, particularly as I am the one in charge of getting to and from nursery school, and the rainy season is approaching and waits for no one.

One thing that has been nice- I no longer need to exercise, as it is built into my daily life. If I want to do anything, then exercise is part of the deal- which lessens my need for resolve in the exercise arena- which frees up my resolve focus for more work-related tasks, like writing and improving my cooking, and music.

I have, in fact, started writing a story, which began when I was still in elementary school. It was my first attempt at fiction, or any writing outside of school. I actually sent it off to a publisher, only to have it returned to sender. unopened, years later, for some strange reason. I guess I picked the wrong publisher.

It is nice to flex my creative writing muscles once again- they have been dormant, with the exception of writing this blog- so it is nice to delve into the symbolism and story development that comes with fiction. I understand though, that there never is any true fiction- it all comes from some part of our experience- at least partially before imagination and creativity shape it in a novel unrecognizable way. Perhaps it is a self-delusion, a way to release some deep energy that needs expression in a non-threatening, and comfortable context, so as to allow the writer to wrestle with the associated issues involved with said energy. I hope that the writing benefits others, after all I am writing it for others, but I must admit that I am already benefiting more than I expected.

I will share the opening chapter here on this blog soon, once I am content with its structure. It is loosely called The Journey of Troy, about a  unique boy lost in a park.

Last but not least, is my mini-meditation weekend. I had the fortune of 3 days to myself at the beginning of the month, so I used it to do a self-managed 3-day refresher Anapana and Vipassana home retreat. I made a room just for meditation, blocked out the lights, cooked all my food in advance, downloaded the 3-day retreat audio from the Vipassana website, and went deep once again. The benefits I received from the 3 days were noticeable, and the most visible, or should I say audible, was through music. It seemed each of my old songs got a new part or twist, that completely altered the feeling, just by playing through my original songs during the weeks that followed the 3-day retreat. I must say that the music alone is enough to warrant such an effort. I recommend for anyone who has already gone to a Vipassana retreat.

That concludes my May update- I will share the image of my future food shop and park with the next update! Until then- Enjoy your life!

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Sleep Quality Focus is Misguided-Quality of Time Awake Leads to Life Quality Leads to ?????

This blog post is of a different sort: a metaphysical, yet also very relevant topic- life quality, that is- how we live, and what happens after we die.

A video on sleep got me thinking about the concept of striving towards quality of time spent awake instead of quality of sleep, since every minute awake is giving us minute amounts of brain damage that need to be repaired during sleep. While awake, we inflict damage to our brains, either through chosen activities such as watching stimulating content on a screen,  going to a party and stressing the mind and body through socialization (and likely some form of intoxicant), or through involuntary acts such as waiting in traffic, or answering work calls/emails, etc. Focusing on one’s quality of sleep, by turning off screens several hours before sleep, getting up consistently, completely blacking-out the room where one sleeps, getting an adequate amount of sleep etc. is a great way to feel great when one gets up in the morning.

The quality of one’s time awake throughout the day though is what we perhaps should focus on more in order to take our lives to the next level.

What activities increase the amount of damage that the brain endures? Likely to fill this list: any form of television; screen time on any electronic device; any form of non-soothing music; watching violence of any sort (whether live sport, on tv, or seeing two people arguing in front of you); engaging in said violence; focusing on mistakes from the past; worrying about potential problems in the future; noticing and dwelling on the fact that things are not as you would like them to be in any area of your life; any intoxicant (coffee included), separation from nature; socialization (if one is an introvert); loneliness (if extreme or if one is an extrovert and the socialization is lacking), and the list goes on.

How about activities that decrease the amount of damage, or perhaps may even repair the brain outside the sleep cycle? The things that come to mind are as follows, as they seem to work for me: meditation and/or mindfulness; time alone in nature (as I am an introvert, I tend to find my replenishing connections with nature); playing and creating music; listening to select music (Enya, Chopin, and Coldplay (the old stuff); looking at beauty (in any shape or form, as long as not on a screen); and being around circulating water. This last one seems to be of significant benefit- which is why so many people who are suffering burnout go to the beach or a river/lake on vacations. All of these activities seem to repair or help in the process of replenishing/repairing the mind and body rather than damage it. That all being said, whenever I visit a nearby river for a few hours, I generally feel the need to nap afterwards, but it is usually very good quality napping. Perhaps the nature inflicts more easily repaired damage than time indoors, or the increased melatonin produced when outdoors helps to deepen the sleep and increase the level of repair during sleep. I am on the fence on whether being in nature inflicts the same kind of minute brain damage as normal living does- it would seem to be a different class of “stress”.

Of course, what you put into your body also has a big effect on what the body needs to filter out or replenish: either nutritious and natural foods or processed and artificial products can soothe the body or wreak havoc depending on one’s choices and level of control. Also the amount and frequency of intoxicants: caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs can inhibit reparative sleep so much that you need to add extra hours and still don’t get enough.

Also, what you do with your body, light to rigorous exercise, sex, yoga, sports, etc. all have effects on not only the quality of sleep, but the quality of one’s time awake.

Finally, staying up too late tends to force extra time sleeping as well, the longer one stays up past the normal bedtime, it seems like a 200% (completely unscientific number) jump in sleep necessity for every hour awake past normal.

A video from London Real made me think about taking this topic to the next, metaphysical level. The guest, Rupert Sleldrake was asked, “What happens when you die?”, and he replied that it depends on what you do in life, and how you lived, that perhaps one experiences death much as the way that one dreams while asleep. This thought made me consider the link between our awake state and our dreams, and how we can improve our dream content and experience if we merely improve our quality of time awake: getting away from harmful activities, reducing stress, increasing replenishing activities, etc.

If we are able to do this consistently, wouldn’t that over time make increased quality to our lives as a whole? And then accordingly, would that translate over to our dream quality? Finally, would that translate to our spiritual lives at the next level of being once we are ready to move on from this physical being? One can only believe that it must, since our energy flows or does not flow according to our way of being.

I, for one, have had enough misery and suffering (much of it self-induced) for one lifetime, even at the age of 41. I know there is much more potential misery, suffering, and catastrophes that lurk in near or distant futures or potential futures, depending on my approach and actions in this life.

I choose to believe that I can alter my quality of life starting now, for the single purpose of being at peace. I will curtail activities that detract from that sought after peace that is tasted only for moments, and I will increase those activities that bring serenity, and joy to the present moment. Not mere pleasure, as I feel pleasure-seeking is its own form of misery, but peace and serenity-inducing thoughts, actions, and ways of being. If I can achieve that, then a beautiful life can only result, and after that, perhaps that also, is up to my actions now.

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The No-Sugar Challenge! + No-Car Challenge to Boot! April ’19 Update

I have had my personal challenges: quitting smoking and alcohol, becoming vegan (took a year to get off of cheese), exercising regularly, meditating regularly (now at about 1 hour twice daily!), stopping eating out, focusing on saving, etc., but this new no-sugar challenge tops them all for its initial difficulty.  I was somewhat prepared for a tough time mentally, and physically- but I was not prepared for the slog I was about to endure. The first two days were the hardest, but as the wise teacher Goenka says, “Anicha”, or “all things eventually change” (at least that is my current understanding of a core tenant of my Vipassana experience).  Any unpleasantness, or pleasantness that results from any change will be temporary, and the more one keeps that in mind, the less misery and greater peace of mind will inevitably follow.

Why cut out sugar in one’s diet? For me, it was and is about establishing more control over myself, my moods, cravings, and even over my monetary spending. I did not know that my spending would be affected when I started out, but now it seems to be so clearly connected; I am surprised that I did not see the connections sooner. More control over food consumption naturally leads to more control at the supermarket, but I also feel that increased control in any area spills over into other areas of one’s life. I have some experience now in gaining control in various aspects of my mental and physical life: decreased cravings (tobacco, alcohol, meat, dairy, sugar now all completely eliminated from my diet), increased use of proactive stress-management techniques (daily Annapanna and Vipassana meditation, daily music practice and composition, creative work, being physically active), and now starting to gain control of the bigger reins of my life (my work life, my future plans, my use of free time, etc). There is enough to write on this subject of control that I am considering a book on the topic, and my journey towards acquiring more of it.

So how did my body react to taking sugar out? First, I must mention that I allow myself natural sugars in the form of fruit, and occasional fruit juice, and any natural sugars that appear in their natural form. It is hard enough to eliminate just the added sugars. I also allowed myself some maple syrup with my oatmeal, as it is also a natural sweetener, and I am not abusing it. My body went nuts physically and mentally for the first few days, craving anything sweet- as I went through all my foods in the cupboard I realized that ALL of my so-called “comfort foods” not only contained sugar, but were one of the principal ingredients, thus the reliance on them when stressed or tired. I was also a bit irritated, or on-edge constantly for the first week or so. Despite meditating, my ability to handle small stresses seemed weakened, yet I knew this was all temporary, as my experiences with quitting smoking, etc. had been.

Sure enough, after a week or two, my inner resilience, for lack of a better term, came back, and stronger than ever. I took a stroll down the aisles at the supermarket with very little pulling at me to buy- I left with a bag of peanuts and raisins, having only spent 500 yen ($5) which is 10-20% of my pre-sugar challenge receipts. I was surprised at the number of things which had trace amounts of sugar in them: the fortified soy milk I used to drink, peanut butter!, Ritz crackers, and fruit granola cereal- all of my favorite snack foods off the shopping list for good. So not only do I have increased peace of mind as I lack the constant internal gnawing/craving for pleasure foods when idle at home/work, but I also have the increased money, and increased health. I should mention that my energy levels took an initial hit during the first week, but I have had no problems since, and perhaps I am gaining an additional gear- time will tell, but I can also feel the belly fat that I still have slowly dropping off my waist.

This is combined with my other challenge- The No-Car Challenge. I would love to say that it is 100% voluntary, but timing be what it is, tax season and all- it made sense for me to get rid of my car of 10 years- and see how I go. It has been challenging so far, but worthwhile, physically and ethically- I feel like a better human all-around now, and perhaps I will be an example to others too. At the moment, though, all in my wife’s family including my wife just think I am nuts, going further and further into the realm of the crazy. I will allow them their ignorance and unhealthy judgements; I know and feel that the path I am on is a just one, and one that will only strengthen as I follow what is in my heart and ideal mind. If we all did that, it would be a wondrous world indeed. Happiness and peace to all.

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