The 2nd installment of my debut novel, an adventure story for all ages.
or if you prefer the audio
The 2nd installment of my debut novel, an adventure story for all ages.
or if you prefer the audio
Here it is, the beginning of my first book, to be released free and online as I complete the text, art, and audio for each chapter.
and the audio, free to listen/download on Jamendo:
May all benefit from this creation in progress, including you!
I am on Day II of my new personal challenge- to wake up at 4 am every single day.
It came about through an interesting concoction of events:
The first day (yesterday) was tough, just like when I tried the 5 am challenge last year. My body crashed mid-morning, and had to nap to recover. But today, Day II, I have been in the most amazing mood all morning. Everything seems more positive, more clear, and less stressful. I must add that getting up at 4 am has helped me to return to my twice daily Annapanna and Vipassana meditation routine, so that is likely part of it- yet I feel that it is getting up at 4 that is the real reason. I have yet to crash, and I feel like a steam engine is behind me pushing me steadily along.
Granted it is only 12 pm., a long way to go before this habit is cemented, but if I can attain it, it will do wonders for the rest of my day, most importantly to my meditation consistency.
As this is an update blog, I must report that this morning I have set up my first job interview since closing my language school last month. I am excited at the prospect of working on a strawberry farm. I am not sure of my chances, or how long I will want or need to work there, but it would be a great springboard for my future berry-growing, smoothie shop/park venture.
I also have been nurturing some strawberry seedlings of my own this month. I received a group of parent plants from a family acquaintance, and in just a couple weeks I now have more than 100 young seedlings. They are still growing, not mature yet, so now I must focus on the yard preparation of cutting grass, tilling the soil, adding fertilizer and lime, and deciding on my options in regards to environment controls. This is a tall order considering the limited resources for this.
It just so happens that this month I restarted reading Critical Path, a book by Buckminster Fuller, which has helped my mindset immensely. It is a must-read for anyone who is on the ropes vocationally, or is making a job/career switch. It is not mainstream (but hopefully someday will be!), and that is what is good about it. Among the gems of wisdom that I have thus far accrued from this masterpiece:
In any case, a great read, I highly recommend to anyone and everyone. Don’t work for the man! Work for us all, in your own way. That is my aim, and this blog is all about helping us all reach that next level of human and global development- where we no longer look at each other as adversaries, but as fellow humans trying to achieve some level of peace and happiness.
As another shout out to Jim Kwik, from KwikBrain (a self-development podcast I highly recommend), he said something in an episode that was very profound to me:
“People are getting really good at things that don’t really matter.”
That hit me hard, as I was in that category in my previous job. Likely, you too. But it is never too late to start getting good at something that does matter.
Getting up at 4 am, writing this blog, learning how to grow berries, opening a vegan eatery/park, that is my way, at least for now, to start doing something that matters. It feels right.
By the way, my asthma and psoriasis are still at bay, thanks to quitting and closing my school, and listening to that inner self that seems to know when you are on or off track. I have successfully stopped eating potato chips, (referenced in my post Personal Growth is Hard), and am now almost at the stage where I am putting only extremely healthy things into my body. Saltine crackers and white flour are next on my list of things to purge, but I am content with my vector for the moment. Can you say the same? I hope so. Have a great rest of your day. Thanks to my new 4 am start and consistent meditation, I think I am going to have a great rest of my life.
I have taken my morning smoothies to the next level, and they are ridiculous. I am not sure if it is due to their nutritional content (which my body likes), or their taste (which my mouth and brain like). Whatever the case, this is a shoe-in to be the anchor item on the menu for my up and coming vegan take-out/eat-out shop-farm-park. The name of future shop, you ask? Super Smooth.
Try for yourself, it is unbelievable.
All-natural, no sweeteners, and of course- vegan.
That does it, blitz it, or blend it, and add toppings of your choice.My current favorites are dried goji berries, and fresh or frozen blueberries from my garden.
Here is a screenshot from Cronometer, a nutrition-tracking site (free to use basic service).
As you can see, quite nutritional for a beverage, or for breakfast for that matter. I am still fine-tuning, trying to improve the quality, taste, and nutritional efficacy and density. Stay tuned for further updates! Till then, enjoy this! I do, every day.
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.
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.
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.