How to meditate (kinda)

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Om…

Om…

Om…

Ohm…

Ohm….

Ohm….

Ohm….

Ohmy…

Ohmy…

Ohmy…

Ohmy……

Ohmygod….

Oh my god!

Shane Jones.
English teacher.
A man barely alive scratching the surface of his potential.
We can rebuild him.
We can make him He can make himself better than he was before.
Better. Happier. Healthier.

In my 2017 “Let’s make Shane into a better version of himself” resolution, this blog was just one of many things I challenged myself to do this year. Another one was to start meditating. I’ll list other ones as I go, but these two are at the top of that list. They have become a part of morning ritual and I’ve found them to be a great way to start the day.

I doubt many people these days question the benefits of meditation. But just in case you haven’t heard much about it and have managed to maintain a level of ignorance on the subject much like I have in my knowledge of anything Kardashian, here is a very small sampling of the benefits meditation gives you:

1. It calms you. It calms you a lot. It slows a racing heart, soothes frayed nerves, and keeps anxiety-causing thoughts from running amok. It works because it is really hard to sit calmly, breath deeply, rest peacefully, and then entertain thoughts about punching someone in the face…you know like that idiot who cut you off in traffic the other day.

2. It helps you concentrate. Concentration is a major reason why I started. Being able to focus on something for longer than just a few seconds at a time is hard for me to imagine. My mind tends to jump from one thing to another like a dog running from tree to tree in a new-found forest. Hundreds of landing spots must be sniffed and analyzed before deciding on the best place to poop. Someday I hope to achieve the kind of laser-like thinking that let’s me see only one toilet-worthy tree in the middle of a great forest. Although when I do, I will have to change the name of this blog to, “On a Straight Line with Shane.”

3. Meditation increases happiness also. Studies have shown that regular meditation increases activity on the left side of your prefrontal cortex which is your happiness center as it decreases activity on the right side (also known as “The Dark Side”). The right side of your prefrontal cortex is where the Death Star of your mind creates all of your fears and doubts which prevent you from having the kind life you want and deserve. Meditation feeds the left side of your prefrontal cortex where the rebel alliance has set up its base. Meditation helps funds X-wing fighters and train the pilots to destroy fears and other targets of negativity no bigger than a Beggar Canyon swamp rat. Simply put, meditation aids the rebellion in keeping hope alive.

Come on! A Star Wars reference when talking about meditation? That has GOT to make you want to try meditation a little, doesn’t it?  

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OK. So now that I have just motivated the pants off of you to try meditation and you are  very impatient and chomping at the bit to get started, I have to say, Whoa there, Nellie. Cool your jets. We’ll get to the good stuff soon. Just relax. Wow. You really do need meditation to learn how to calm down a bit, don’t you?

As I said, I just started meditating at the same time I started this blog in January; meaning I have no idea what I’m doing. So if you are an experienced meditation guru, you might say to yourself as you read this post, “What the hell is he talking about? That isn’t meditating. That’s just sitting on your ass trying not to fall asleep!” But if you have never tried meditation before, who knows, you might just find a word of wisdom or two here.

…Wouldn’t that be something, finding “wisdom” in one of my posts? Yeah. Good luck with that.

Whatever level of meditation wizard you’ve achieved up to this point, read on to see if, at the very least, this post doesn’t put you into a deep state of relaxation that just may inadvertently bring you some zen-like peace of mind.

HOW TO MEDITATE
Advice from people more knowledgable than me

PART 1  Getting Ready
1. Find a peaceful place to relax. Whether you are going to meditate for five minutes or one hour, you don’t want to be disturbed. Some good places to meditate include, your room, an empty office, outside in a field, on the beach, even in a tree. Some places I don’t recommend are at a construction site, in a snake pit, or at a Super Bowl party (closing your eyes and praying for your team to come back does not constitute meditating).

2. Once you’ve found your snake-free meditation zone, get comfortable. That means wearing comfortable clothes. The reason you never see super heroes meditating  is because tight leotards and meditation don’t mix. If you are at the office in a suit, do the best you can. Take off your shoes, loosen your tie, undo your belt.

3. Set a time. Start off slow. Don’t decide right off the bat that you are going to sit still and meditate for one hour. You won’t do it. Build up to that. Start with five minutes. Set the timer on your phone to alert you when you’ve gone five minutes. But, make sure you turn the volume down first so it doesn’t scare the shit out of you after you’ve reached a nice tranquil state of bliss. That last bit comes from the voice of experience. Jumping three feet into the air while screaming and peeing your pants totally negates any benefits you may have received from the five minutes of peace prior to the alarm going off.

4. Stretch out before starting. I know you’re not going to do any running or anything physically strenuous, but being loose will help you concentrate on not thinking. …Concentrate on not thinking? Is that a thing? I like it. I think it should be a slogan for something. Can a blog have a slogan? “Welcome to Off on a Tangent with Shane. Concentrate on not thinking.” Anyway as I was saying, if you’ve been sitting at the computer for a long time, stand up and do some stretches. Make sure you stretch out your lower back and your neck. If you’ve just woken up, some stretching will help jump start your mind…and help you not concentrate?  If you’re going to sit in the lotus position, stretch your inner thighs. It’s hard to clear your mind when your leg is cramping up.

5. Sit in a comfortable position. What constitutes a “comfortable position” is up to you. Get into the lotus position if you can. If your spine rounds a lot, sit up on a pillow or blanket to raise your bum. Be comfortable. You can sit in a chair or sofa if getting down on the ground seems as daunting as reaching the top of a mountain. Just make sure your head is over your heart and your heart is over your pelvis. Keep your torso straight.

6. Either keep your eyes closed or…if that congers up all sorts of frightening images…keep them open with a soft focus.

PART 2 Different Ways to Meditate.
There is no wrong way to meditate. That is unless you think you can meditate by getting drunk, jumping up on a barroom table, gyrating your hips, and singing along to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it” without making a mistake. If that’s your idea of meditating, then I was mistaken; there is a wrong a way to meditate. And congratulations, you have found it.

Don’t get me wrong. The ability to sing all the words to “It’s the End of the World as We know it” is an impressive feat. You have obviously practiced a lot in lieu of accomplishing anything worthwhile. So be proud, but know that drunkenly screaming, “Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn. World serves its own needs, Don’t mis-serve your own needs…” at the top of your lungs is not a form of meditation I’ve ever heard of. I would call that being in a sort of zone…which is another form of zen I might cover at a later date.

Some more widely accepted ways to meditate without making an ass of yourself are to:

1. Get down off of the barroom table
2. Sober up.
3. Clear your mind.

There! That’s basically it. See how easy meditating is? Be sober and clear your mind. Nothing to it. Don’t think of anything and you will easily reach the perfect state of tranquility.

What?
You can’t clear your mind?
Whenever you try, the Staypuff Marshmallow man pops into it?
Really? What’s wrong with you? You’re weird.

OK. OK. If you are one of the 99.9999999% of people on this earth who can’t NOT think of something, here are some other options for you to try. Mix and match these until you find one you’re most comfortable with (let’s restart the count):

1. Focus on your breathing. Imagine a lotus plant in your stomach that opens its pedals wide as you breath in and closes them as you breath out. Or imagine a buoy in the center of your stomach bobbing up on your in breath and back down on your out breath. Those images should be enough to keep your brain busy for a little while.

2. Repeat a word or a mantra over and over again. The most well known meditation word is “om.” I actually did a little research for you so I could tell you the English translation of the word “om.” Aren’t you proud of me? But, geez. For such a small word, it has worlds of meaning behind it. If I tried to explain it here, we’d never get to the end of this post. So let’s just say it’s a pretty good word to meditate with. If you prefer a word you can wrap your head around, try something simple like peace, calm, or tranquil. Just repeat one word over and over again. My theme words for 2017 are hope and happiness. So I’ve been using those.

3. Focus on one object. For those of you who see monsters when you close your eyes, don’t worry. Keep your eyes open and look at one object like the flame of a candle, a flower, the tomato sauce stain on the wall that you should have cleaned up years ago after that infamous spaghetti incident. Whatever you choose to focus on, make sure you don’t have to bend your neck or body in an awkward position to see it. Focusing on a mole in your armpit isn’t the best way to relax. Keep the object in front of you at eye level. Stay comfortable. And, no. Porn is not an acceptable object of focus.

4. Visualize. Take your mind to a peaceful place and explore it. A beach, a meadow, a forest, the mountains, etc… Do you see a theme in those suggestions? Nature. I guess if being in a Las Vegas casino relaxes you, than you could try that also. But, maybe you should first think about getting some professional help. There are groups you can go to, you know.

When you are in your peaceful place, explore it thoroughly. Don’t just imagine things like, “Oh look waves. And, here are some flowers crushed under my heavy boots…” Actually, feel yourself there. Use all of your senses. Don’t only focus on what you can see; imagine the smells that are there. What can you hear? Is there a wind on your skin or sand between your toes? Can you taste the salt air? Smell lilacs? Are your walking? In a hammock? On a blanket in the middle of a grassy field? See it. Feel it. Hear it. taste it. Smell it. Live it. Make sure all the images are relaxing. Again, avoid snake pits, sea monsters, and evil oversized marshmallow men bent on world destruction. Once you’ve created this perfect place in your mind, you can return to it as often as you like whenever you feel the need to relax. But, for God’s sake, take off your boots: those poor flowers.

5. Do a body check. This one is best to do laying down in bed before going to sleep at night. The object here is to focus on and relax one part of your body at a time. Imagine there are fully inflated balloons in your body. Feel them inside of you pushing out and making your muscles and skin tight.  Start with the balloons in your toes. Concentrate on deflating all of the air out of them. Once your toes are “deflated,” move up to your legs and on up your body until you feel totally relaxed.

So there you have it: the secrets to meditation. Remember that it is a journey. For a long time, you’re mind is going to wonder off every time you close your eyes and try to meditate. It takes a lot of practice. But, you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy positive results. If someone throws a handful of M&Ms into the air and you try to catch them in your mouth, most will fall to the floor, but you’ll get to enjoy a few of them. That’s what you need to do. Enjoy the chocolate that does end up in your mouth. And, with practice you’ll catch more and more.
Man, that’s a bad metaphor? I apologize. Let’s move on.

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So now that you are an expert in meditation…or at least as expert as I am, I’ll tell you about my extensive experience with it. Since I started practicing in January, I can only tell you my winter experience with the practice. I’m sure I’ll develop a different style as the seasons change. But, since I am not some super master meditator yet, the weather does affect me. I’m sure at some point I’ll be able to sit naked in a snowbank during a blizzard and peace out like I’m on a summer beach. But, until I attain that Chuck Norris level of awesomeness, pardon me while I park my butt in front of my heater and let the artificial warmth wash over me.

Houses in Japan don’t have central heating. So the inside of my house is the same temperature as the outside, unless it’s a room with no direct sunlight. Then inside is colder than it is outside. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check to see if the water in the bottle by my bed is frozen. I find it easier to get out of bed if it’s still in a liquid form. I then reach over to turn on my three-coiled electric heater to high and wait for the room to reach a level of warmth I like to call “inhabitable.” Once I’m certain I can safely come out from under my heavily layered bed without suffering any permanent damage, I put on my socks, slip on my slippers, and get started on those early morning rituals sleeping all night make essential.

Of course in order to accomplish those things, I have to leave my room. And since my little heater has no affect on the rest of the house, the temperature that hits me when I open my door is a nice gentle greeting saying, “WAKE UP, SHANE! IT’S MORNING AND IT’S STILL WINTER!!! HAVE A NICE DAY!!!” So if I did wake up groggy, the polar plunge into the hallway takes care of any residual cobwebs that happen to be left in my brain. Once all bodily functions have been satisfied and my breath is minty fresh again, it’s time to meditate.

I sit down on my extra thick yoga mat right in front of my heater…I mean RIGHT in front of my heater; close enough to feel the heat searing through the layers of clothing I have on, roasting my chest and singeing a few whiskers on my chin, but far enough away to ensure my clothes don’t catch on fire. Once I assure myself that the rising vapors I see is just heat hitting the cold air and not smoke from my burning hoodie, I set my timer to seven minutes…that’s right. You heard me. SEVEN minutes. I’m way advanced from the rookie five minutes I used to do… Then I cross my legs and start meditating. Closing my eyes in a room where the only light is from the heater’s orange coils and feeling its heat wash over me is a very peaceful feeling.

I meditate in the lotus position. But, I don’t rest my hands palms up on my knees like I see many people do; simply because when my knees are spread out wide, they are outside of the heater’s narrow blast zone. And although the coils keep my torso and head nice and toasty when I’m perched in front of it, anything out to the sides is exiled into a tundra not unlike the one Han Solo and Luke Skywalker found themselves in while fighting the Empire on the icy planet of Hoth. My knees are able to suffer through the winter bitterness because they are covered with very special arctic-proof sweatpants found only at your finest survival stores. I got mine at JC Penny’s.

My hands are a different matter though. They are delicate and would never survive out there without a dead tauntaun to stuff them into. So when I meditate I keep them in the heat zone on my lap: a place just as warm as the inside of an animal carcass without the smell.

Yeah. I know what you’re thinking, “But, Shane, if you just rested your hands on your knees, they would eventually get so cold that you wouldn’t be able to feel them anymore. Why don’t you do that?” Sure. You may have a point, but remember I set the timer to seven minutes. I’m afraid in that limited amount of time I could only achieve minor frostbite at best. Maybe when my meditation powers and stamina levels up, I will be able to meditate long enough to turn at least a couple of my fingers blue. Thanks for the advice anyway.

So there I am: in the lotus position, eyes closed. feeling all warm and content, trying to fend off the random thoughts that pop into my brain while trying to reach a new level of consciousness. I have to admit though that at this point in my meditation journey, most of my meditation time is spent mentally dodging those arbitrary thoughts the Death Star keeps shooting at me from the right side of my prefrontal cortex in order to keep me from reaching even the most basic level of zen. I swing and swipe at them with my lightsaber, but I’m still a novice jedi so I miss a lot and those thoughts often succeed in distracting me from my goal.

I take a deep breath in and imagine a lotus flower in my stomach opening up.  When I breath out, I imagine it closing. On my exhale I try to expel all of the air in my lungs. I push my navel back to my spine to get them as empty as I can. Often times I do a breathing trick I learned years ago. As you breath in, count how long it takes to fill your lungs. Then multiply that time by four and hold your breath for that long. For example, if you breathed in for five seconds, hold your breath for twenty seconds. Then exhale for twice as long as it took you to breath it in (ten seconds). Then I repeat that 1-4-2 pattern: breath in for one count, hold it for four counts, and let it go for two counts.  This accomplishes two things. First, it oxygenizes your blood which is a good thing.  And secondly, it gives you something to focus on and keeps your mind off of other distractions (supposedly).

Here’s a glimpse of the inside of my mind as I meditate:

Breath in…one, two, three, four… What do I have to do today at work? Shhhhh. Hold your breath for one, two, three…I really need to wipe that spaghetti stain off the wall. Shhhhh…five, six,…I wonder what that girl I used to date is doing right now?…seven, eight, nine, ten… Is she thinking about me? Focus, Shane. OK…fourteen, fifteeen, sixteen…Did I really eat a whole pack of Oreos last night?…twenty. OK. Now breath out. One, two, three..Why is my computer and bookshelf shaking? Oh crap. That’s an earthquake! Oh. OK. It’s over. It was just a small one. Now back to your laser focus, Shane. …seven, eight, nine… Crap. I’m, going to have to go to city hall and deal with my insurance stuff today....Ten. Breath in. One, two, three… You know if the door handles in “Jurassic Park” were regular knobs, those dinosaurs could never have caused so many problems. Breath out. One, two, three...Chuck Norris lost his virginity before his father did. …nine, ten, eleven…Shane, stop it! Think about the lotus plant in your gut. Not about Chuck Norris jokes…Remember that movie where he kicked a guy through the windshield of a car? I didn’t like that movie very much. Focus on breathing…Where were we? OK. Let’s start again. Breath in one, two, three, four…Those Oreos don’t feel so good this morning. Let’s not eat those before bed anymore. Hold for one, two three, four...OK. No more late night snacks. I have a snack-food hangover. Remember that time in Tokyo when you got really drunk and… wait was it Tokyo? Was that in Kyoto? Anyway…

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Wow. Was that seven minutes already? That was a good session. I really did focus on that lotus flower for a few seconds there…Kinda…I think.

So I’m not perfect when I meditate. Sometimes my thoughts do get away from me so when the timer goes off, I realize I had totally abandoned the lotus flower in my soul and had just spent the whole time thinking about the day’s schedule, what I’m having for breakfast, or about someone. I’m not sure if I gain any benefit from those days. But, I won’t give up. I will keep at it every morning because, even when I do spend the whole time jumping from one random thought to the next, I do feel relaxed and better when I’m done.

There even have even been times when…just for a split second…I felt something special; a sense of release or a flow through my body. ...I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fart. It was a very sudden and brief sense of catharsis. It’s like I’m watching TV and something very wonderful passes outside my window very quickly and I only catch it in my peripheral vision. By the time I turn my head, it’s gone. But, I know it is something that I definitely want to to see again.

So I won’t quit meditating. I believe if I continue at it, I will be able to create that feeling more and more often and have it last longer. It’s a better feeling than eating TWO packs of Oreos…without the junk food hangover age has decided to grant me.

So if you have never tried meditation, please get down on your butt, cross your legs, close your eyes, grab your lightsaber or sideblaster, and fight off those pesky stormtroopers trying to invade your mind.

6 Steps to Starting Your Day Out Right

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t

This sucks.

Ignore him. Keep writing.

Really? Ignore me? I’m the voice of reason. You can’t ignore the voice of reason.

Stop saying it that way?

What way?

Lowering your voice and trying to sound like the deep booming voice of God.

But, I am THE VOICE OF REASON!

Stop that. You are not the voice of reason; you are the voice of self-doubt and you’re starting to piss me off.

Fine. Fine. But, you need to start this over again from a different angle.

[type. type. type.]

I’m telling you, you’re just wasting your time with this article.

I’m almost done with it. Just a little more.

Great. “Just a little more” bad writing. Congratulations.

I’m just going to wrap it up.

Wrap it up and throw it away. You will not be happy when you’re finished.

There! Finished. Now stop complaining.

I will if you go back and read what you just wrote.

[reads it. sighs. deletes the whole thing.]

I told you.

Shut up.
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The above is the kind of conversation I have with myself often while I’m writing.

So let me try this again.

TAKE TWO!

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would sit down every morning and start the day off writing. It didn’t matter if I had no idea what I was going to write about, I was just going to sit down and start banging away at my keyboard until something clicked. It’s something I learned in a creative writing class I took a long, long time ago.

The objective was to keep your pencil moving for five minutes. The teacher didn’t care what you wrote about; I’m not even sure she read them after. But, you could NOT stop writing for a whole five minutes. If she saw your pencil stop, you failed the exercise. I remember writing something like:

“This is a dumb exercise. Why is she making us do this. I can’t write for five minutes straight. This is dumb. My hand is getting tired. This is dumb. This is dumb…”

I planned to repeat that sentence for the next four minutes and 45 seconds, but eventually something to write about would pop into my head that would stop me while writing, “This is du…” and I’d start telling a story or I’d just put one of the conversations always running through my mind down on paper. Teachers aren’t as stupid as I had once thought. They knew what they were doing.

And I’m happy to report that since making the pledge a month ago to write every day, that it is so far so good.

I mean the actual sitting down to write is good; I haven’t missed a day this month [pats himself on back]. The writing? Well, I won’t say that it’s good, but I will say it’s accomplished. And I don’t mean that in an “He’s an accomplished writer” kind of way. I mean it like “mission accomplished. It’s done. I do the writing every day and it gets done.” Hopefully after some time, the writing will improve.

Writing isn’t the first thing I do every day. But, it does come before my morning shower.  I find morning is when my brain is at its finest…which, I guess, really isn’t the best advertisement for my night lessons. I’m pretty much a zombie by then. But, don’t tell the students who come to my 8:00 or 9:00pm classes.

Actually since I started this blog, I’ve kept a pretty good morning ritual. The writing portion of my morning ritual started just a few weeks ago, but having a real morning ritual started last February.

Wow! One year ago.Congratulations to me. [another pat on back]

In January of 2016 in the space of one week, I heard a book mentioned from three totally unrelated sources: a friend, a podcast, and on a teacher’s forum. They all said the same thing: it really helped them a lot. After I heard about it for the third time on the podcast, I thought, “OK. OK, Mighty universe beating me over the head with a hammer, I can take a hint. I’ll read it.” So I downloaded it, read it in a day and was so excited, I started implementing it the next day. The book is called “Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod and I highly recommend it. Check online for it, read about it, and see if it’s for you.

I’m not trying to sell you on it or anything. I’m just telling you what worked for me. I haven’t read it for a year so I can’t tell you exactly what it says. I can’t even remember enough of it to paraphrase it for you here. What I can tell you is that he recommends starting your day off right.

No. Not with coffee and a dozen donuts. That is not what he means…or at least I don’t remember him saying exactly that.

What he is talking about is getting yourself into a rhythm and getting more accomplished before you leave home in the morning than you used to do all day. I’m going to have to go back to the notes I took when I read his book so I can get this next part right.

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WARNING: using notes that I took on something doesn’t necessarily guarantee I will be getting the facts straight. Just ask my old teachers. As a student, I had a very predictable academic process that went something like this:
     1. Listen to what the teacher says in class
     2. Write it down
     3. Study and memorize it
     4. Take the test on it.
     5. Get the graded test back
     6. Quickly hide the test paper in backpack before anyone could see the score.

Somewhere between steps 2 & 4 things broke down. So be warned. What follows next is from the notes I took on the book “Miracle Morning.” But, you should really read the book yourself if you want to get it right.

*Oops. Speaking of getting things wrong, after looking at my notes, I had to go back and edit what I had written here because I’d been calling it “Morning Miracle” instead of its real name, “Miracle Morning.” I think for the past year I’ve been calling it by the wrong name. Those are the kind of mistakes I’m always making. Proceed with caution.
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So anyway, Hal Elrod outlines a morning ritual to get your day started off right. He uses the acronym LIFE SAVERS. But, my notes say only the “savers” part of the word is acronymed. I’m not sure if he had some special meaning for “Life” or not. If he did, let me know. Anyway, the letters in “SAVERS” stand for:

Silence: meditate for at least five minutes every morning.
Affirmations: get a mantra and repeat it to yourself out loud and with feeling every day.
Visualize: Picture in your mind where you want to be and how you are going to get there.
Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Read: not fiction. Read something that will help you grow. Learn something new (self-help books, biographies, how-to books, etc).
Scribe: Keep a journal

It is a great list and great advice and it’s a shame I didn’t follow it to the letter.

Wait! Is that where the idiom “to the letter” came from, acronyms? Or is that just a happy coincidence.

Anyway, at the beginning and for a short time I did follow the S-A-V-E-R-S plan to the letter, but one by one the letters fell out of my morning ritual until only the E remained, Exercise. I did and I still do yoga every morning (a story for another time). And one year later, I can say that I am in 100% better shape than I was at this time last year. Thank you Hal. I only wish I’d kept the SAVR_S in my morning routine too.

There’s a famous quote that gets passed around Facebook a lot and periodically finds itself on my feed that says, “In one year, you’re going to wish you had started today.” It is so true. I’m so happy I started exercising a year ago, but I’m equally disappointed I didn’t follow through on the rest. So this is my promise to myself (and to you too since you’re here). I am going to do all six letters this year.

Of course, this blog covers my obligation to the scribing part of S-A-V-E-R-S.
Now I have _ _ _ _ _ S.

At the same time I started this blog, I started Silence, too. By “silence” Hal means to meditate. Meditating is not easy for me. My mind is like a hyperactive puppy who just spent the morning eating bowl after bowl of Chocolate Covered Sugary Go-Go Rocket cereal with Red Bull poured on top; it jumps all over the place to see how many random places it can get to before I finally try to reel it in. My experience in meditation is worthy of its own post (I have just discovered after over an hour writing about it). So I won’t delve into it here. Suffice it to say that I have kept it up every morning so far.

Yeah, me!

OK. So I have the S_ _E_S down (Silence. Exercise. Scribe). Now I just need to fill in the blanks with the A, V, & the R.

Affirmations are easy to do and kind of fun once you get past the initial awkwardness of talking out loud to yourself so everyone:
1. hears you
2. wonders who the hell you are talking to
3. asks themselves why you are so passionate about the conversation your having, and
4. worries that you’ve gone off your meds again.

But if you don’t mind the weird looks you receive once you walk out of your room or wherever you were bellowing at yourself, then affirmations can be quite…quite…what’s the word I’m looking for?…affirming. For a breakdown on how to do them right, read “Miracle Morning” or go online and find one of the million other sites that talk about them.

OK. That is SA_E_S

Next letter is V for Visualization. This step is an exercise I feel I should really excel in. I have a crazy, vivid imagination so this is right up my alley. The only problem is that it’s supposed to be “focused” thinking.

FOCUSED thinking? Focused? As in concentrating on one thought for more than two seconds? Damn! There is always that one caveat thrown in to an otherwise perfect scenario, isn’t there?
     “Sure you can have one billion dollars…as soon as you swim to the other side of this alligator-infested swamp.”

In order for visualization to work, you are supposed to think about where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.
-You shouldn’t let thoughts of having a pet monkey disturb your concentration.

Think about your goals very clearly and be as specific as you can be.
-This is not the time to think about what you’re going to do about your neighbor who always seems to be outside your window while you are doing your affirmations.

Think about your goals as if you’ve already achieved them.
-Try to ignore any images that may pop into your head of beautiful women hurling their underwear at your rock star feet….did you leave your space heater on? That could burn down your whole house. If you did, did you leave a towel or something flammable in front of it?

And while thinking clearly about your goals as if they have already been accomplished, make sure you add the emotions you will feel once you have accomplished your goals: what body posture will you assume after your goals have been met? What thoughts will be running through your head? How proud will you be of yourself: actually feel those emotions. Sit how you would sit. Walk how you would walk. Now you are free to let your imagination go and think about the dream vacation you’ll take after your goals are met.
–Do NOT think about getting hit by a meteor.   

So visualization is still a work in progress for me. I am getting better at it though. It would be kind of cool to have a pet monkey though, wouldn’t it? I think that is a remnant of a  dream I had in childhood when BJ and the Bear was my favorite TV show.

SAVE_S

Almost done. The last missing letter is R for Read. This isn’t hard. I can do this. I’ve been reading since mom gave me “Hop on Pop” for my birthday a long, long time ago. I have many books I’ve purchased over the years that I’ve meant to get to; I have just never taken the time to bury myself in them…and I’m not just talking Dr. Seuss books either.

I love reading. In fact, one of my favorite times of the day is lunch because I have around two uninterrupted hours to myself to relax and read while I eat. Since that is my time to unwind, I usually stick to fiction. But, there are a lot of great non-fiction books out there that have many of the answers I am searching for if I would only sit down with them. So spending a few minutes every morning reading a chapter, a page, or even just a paragraph of a book that isn’t full of magic spells, spies, wars, mystery, romance, or violence might help me find some of those elusive answers.

S-A-V-E-R-S

That’s it.

Silence Affirmations Visualize Exercise Read Scribe

Done. I think Hal recommends spending 10-15 minutes on each one. Again, read his book and see for yourself. I can’t remember. The time I spend on each step varies from day to day. Scribing and exercising always take up most of my time. Those are the two I definitely won’t start my day without. But, a few mornings every week I have enough free time to devote more than just a couple minutes to the others as well.

To get through SAVERS, you are going to have to start setting your alarm to annoy you earlier every morning. But after awhile, you get used to the sunrise and I have found that when I get into the shower after all has been accomplished, I feel great; much better than if I had just rolled out of bed and gone straight to the bath.

So try one, two, or all of them for yourself and let me know what you think. And, if you do read the book, feel free to come back and correct every mistake I’ve made here. I’m used to it. I only wish I had a backpack I could stuff the corrections into before anyone else sees them.

Do you remember the song that goes…?

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They say that of all of your senses, smell is the one most connected to memories. Something about the olfactory part of the brain being a neighbor of where the memories hang out…in case you wanted the technical reason (I’m such a wealth of information).

I can’t disagree with whoever ‘they’ are. There are certain smells that evoke very strong feelings in me and bring up past events more clearly than merely thinking about them ever could. The smell of baby powder will always remind me of my mom. The aroma of  cigarettes and coffee are also sharp elbows to the ribs of my sentiment that it’s time to think about her too. But, those two have been diluted some due to the frequency in which I encounter them. Instead of just reminding me of her, there are many other memories scratching to get to the surface of my consciousness when I get a whiff of the coffee and cigarette combination.
My 17-year-old son, who last met his grandma when he was nine says the cigarette and coffee combination still reminds him of her kisses and hugs.
I like that.

I also like the idea that he hasn’t had many other memories associated with the two. I’d worry if he said the smell of cigarettes and coffee reminded him of junior high school.
So I’m not going to argue with ‘them’ about smell evoking the strongest memories. You know how ‘they’ get when you disagree with what ‘they’ say. But despite all the time I just spent on it, this post isn’t about odor-induced memories.

It’s about one specific memory I was just clubbed over the head with after hearing a song I swear I hadn’t heard since I was 12 years old. The place in the brain where we store music might not live as close to the memory center as the smell area of your brain does, but it is definitely in the same neighborhood. A song is another great way to send your heart back in time and, not only remember a certain event, but also to remember and actually experience the same emotions you went through during the event.

Like those special smells that are capable of bringing up a vivid picture of past events in my mind, there are many songs that also take me back and make me remember certain times in my life:

-The Beatles’ “Elenor Rigby” reminds me of being 7 or 8 playing with my green army men on the floor of our living room. That’s a weird one.
-Carly Simon’s “Nobody does it better” reminds me of a highlight reel I saw about Walter Peyton on CBS Sports. He was pretty damn good.
-John Cougar Melencamp’s “Jack and Diane” reminds me of being 16, in Grace’s driveway telling her she had just made a big mistake by getting older and turning 17. The song clearly states to hold on to 16 as long as you can. I was still 16 at the time, but have since made the same mistake she did…repeatedly.
-Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” reminds me huddling down in the cellar of my grandma’s farmhouse in Indiana with my cousins waiting for one huge and two smaller tornadoes to pass above us. Actually, a whole host of songs remind me of the great summers I spent with my cousins in Indiana.
-And of course, there are the thousands of songs that remind me of the numerous crushes I had on various girls through out my life and of all the girls I actually had relationships with.

Did you see what I did there?  “…ALL the girls I had relationships with,” like I was some kind of player back in the day. I like the sound of that. I think it’s even better if you stretch out the word when you say it, “Aaaaall the girls I had relationships with.” Yeah. I like it. Let’s keep that in there.

The thing with all of those songs is that, like the smell of cigarettes and coffee, the memories have lost some of their intensity due to following me and being part of the soundtrack of my life. Take for instance Steely Dan’s song, “Hey, Nineteen.”

I was still in elementary school when it came out and I loved it. I loved it so much that I got the 45.
-Do young readers know what I’m referring to when I say, “45?”
I listened to that record a lot.
-It’s a record. A 45 is a record with one song on each side of it.

Then when I finally got one, I recorded it onto a cassette so I could hear it on my brand-spanking new Walkman as I walked around the lakes of my hometown. I listened to it throughout junior high and high school. And, in college I bought one of those new-fangled CD players all the kids were raving about and Steely Dan was one of the first CDs I bought. Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” was the actual first CD I ever bought. Anyway, now I could finally listen to the song without that annoying scratch and skip that was in the middle of my 45 (record). I had gotten so used to the little skip in the song, that I’d forgotten it was even there. Boy, was it weird to hear the song for the first time without it. It was like someone just turned off a vacuum cleaner that had been running in the background for the past three hours. You notice the sudden absence of something you forgot was even there. I assume there’s a psychology term for that, but I have never heard it. I just assume it’s such a common occurrence that it warrants its own word. It actually took me awhile to be able to listen to a clean version of “Hey, Nineteen” without expecting the words to jump over one part. All these years later though I can’t even remember where that skip was.

Anyway after college, I came to Japan and brought the CD with me. And, now the song is on my iPod occasionally getting shuffled to the front of the cue and playing as I drive. I’m not saying “Hey Nineteen” is the best song ever; I don’t think it is even the best Steely Dan song. I only use it here because it illustrates my point so well.

My point is that when I hear that song now, I don’t think about the first time I heard it in elementary school and wondered, “What the heck are Cuervo Gold and fine Colombian?” I do however remember thinking how cool I was that I knew who Aretha Franklin was…although at the time, I wondered if Dan needed her permission to use her name in his song (I thought Steely Dan was the singer’s name then).

So the memory of when I had first heard “Hey, Nineteen” in my basement bedroom on the old clock radio my grandma had given me is still there. It just never pops into my mind when I hear it. When I hear it now, I don’t really think about any particular time or memory. If I feel like singing along, I do. If I don’t, my mind wonders onto something else. “Hey, Nineteen” like many other songs that have followed me throughout my life, has been watered down.

But the other day, when I heard a song I hadn’t heard since elementary school,
-in Muzak form
-at the restaurant
-while enjoying my sliced pineapple dessert
…I couldn’t believe the overwhelming rush of thoughts, memories, and the strength of the emotions that swept over me in such vivid technicolored detail. I had to put my pineapple down, cock my ear toward the speaker, block out the restaurant din and listen. The song dug deep down into an old treasure chest of memories long forgotten, brushed the dust off the lid, opened it up, and pulled out a little gem that had just been sitting there patiently waiting for its turn to be brought to mind again. I didn’t even know this memory still existed until that moment and that made it all the more beautiful.

The Memory

I was in sixth grade on a Saturday afternoon at the Valley View roller skating arena…I think that was that the name of the place anyway…and yes, we did use to go rollerskating every Saturday. It was the big social event of the week. It was during a Snowball dance where the boys asked the girls to skate with them…or did the girls ask the boys during the Snowball dance? It doesn’t matter. Whoever asked whom, I was skating for the first time with my wife.

(cue the sound of a needle being scratched across a record as the reader pieces together what they’ve just read)

Your wife? Sixth grade?

That’s right.

I got married in sixth grade. We had a ceremony after school in the playground and everything. Beth S. was my lovely wife. Can I use her name without permission? I need to ask Mr. Steely Dan about that. Tom R. officiated it. He was the son of a minister or pastor or something like that; so you know it was all on the up and up.
That was something I couldn’t get my head around at the time. I was brought up catholic and knew priests couldn’t get married. So how did Tom’s dad have a kid? Why was Tom even here on earth, much less officiating Beth and my wedding? I didn’t want to ask anyone because I figured maybe I had stumbled onto some deep family secret and I didn’t want to get anyone into trouble.

Anyway, Tom performed the ceremony and Beth and I even kissed at the end. Bruno took a photo so there may be proof floating around in someone’s attic somewhere.
Ultimately, like many marriages between young people, it just didn’t work out between Beth and I. I can’t even remember it ending or how it ended. Did someone actually break up with someone? Or did a new season of Charlie’s Angels start thus occupying my time with more important things? For whatever reason it ended, I’m sorry, Beth. I hope you have found the strength to move on.

But, in that one brilliantly true-to-life moment captured so vividly in a single memory, brought to the surface by a muzak version of a song I hadn’t heard since childhood, Snowballing around that skating rink with Beth, I knew the two of us would be together forever. I remember holding her waist and thinking how soft she was. I remember her being soft. Is that weird? I guess it’s because, up to that point, the only bodies I had had contact with were the boys I wrestled and played football with…oh and my brothers, whose favorite hobby was beating up their little brother.

I find it pretty amazing that I could even think about how soft her waist felt at that moment because I was really a terrible skater and all of my focus should have been on not falling and bringing her down with me. During Snowball, the guy has to skate backwards so he can hold the girl’s (soft) waist and she can rest her arms on his shoulders. Why is skating backwards the guy’s job? Equal rights to women is what I say.

So this slow song came on while I was discovering for the first time the excitement, the beauty, and the joy to be had by being this close to a girl who wasn’t your yucky, cootie-infested sister. The single moment that changed the course of my life and which almost every decision I’ve made since then has been based on the sudden realization that, “Hey. Girls aren’t gross.”

Years later I won a class Haiku contest at university with my submission:

I used to be free
Running like the wind with friends
But now I like girls

I’m pretty sure even by college the memory of rollerskating backwards with Beth had been placed in its treasure chest, locked away, doomed to wait another thirty years before seeing the light of day. But obviously the lesson I had learned that day wasn’t forgotten.

The song wasn’t very romantic at all in an “Oh, we love each other so much. I’ll never get you off my mind. lalala…” kind of way, anyway. It was more of a sad song than anything else. I guess the DJ’s only criteria for choosing songs for the Snowball portion of the afternoon was the tempo. The lyrics to the song didn’t matter to me though. For those three plus minutes I was in heaven. Just me and my wife slowly making our way around the floor, me trying not to make a fool of myself and her thinking I was the greatest guy in the world.

Ok. Ok. I don’t actually know what she was thinking, but she could have been thinking that. Shut up! You don’t know.

And until I heard that song at the Japanese Big Boy restaurant (Yes, they have them here too), I had forgotten all about that dance. And, probably because I hadn’t heard the song since that Snowball with Beth, it hadn’t lost any of its magic at all. It was a pure, unadulterated hit of childhood crack, still retaining 100% of its potent excitement, hope, dreams, and smiles that only a twelve year old could conger up.

And conger I did.

Physically, I was in the middle of a Japanese Big Boy, hovering over a plate of discarded pineapple rinds with my head cocked and my eyes glazed over, staring into a place only I could see. In my mind though, I was far, far away; transported to a different time and place where it was just Beth and I on the dark skating rink with only the light of the mirror ball showing me when to make feeble attempts to push out with my left foot and try to turn so we didn’t crash into and over a wall. I could even remember clearly the sounds of the pinball machines accompanying that old song I had not heard since my misguided marriage in the late 70’s.

If you’re under thirty, I doubt you’ve ever heard the song. I obviously haven’t heard it on the radio or anywhere else in the almost forty years since that day. But, if you’re from my generation, you probably know it. It might bring back many memories for you too or it might have followed you through life and become your own “Hey, Nineteen;” essentially wiping out any deep, intense feelings you once associated to it.

Alright already, Shane. Tell me what the damn song is.

Sorry about the delay. I tend to wax nostalgic on occasion and I didn’t want you leaving in the middle of my story to check out the song on YouTube. It’s there by the way. I listened to it when I got home that night. I didn’t remember who sang the song, but I certainly remembered how to sing the chorus. Not that you’d want me to. Trust me on that one.

Oh, and don’t worry. The song isn’t “The Pina Colada Song” either. I don’t know about you, but even the mere mention of that song will cause it to get stuck in my head all day. And, I wouldn’t want to do that to you. So I won’t bring that song up. You know the one that goes, “If you like pina colads and getting caught in the rain…” I do like the song. But after two or three hundred laps around my brain, it does tend to wear out its welcome.

No. The song was actually Michael Martin Murphey’s “Wildfire.” Do you know it? Do you remember it? Do you have any memories associated with it? It’s about a horse that dies in a blizzard and a girl running after him. “…She ran calling, ‘Wiiiiiiiiildfire.’ She ran calling ‘Wiiiiiiildfire.  She ran calling ‘Wa-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahld fa-iire.'”

Now after what we we call the “Big Boy muzak experience,” I’m wondering how many other deeply buried memories I have hiding away in the attic of my mind just waiting for the right trigger to bring them to the surface?  And, what exactly are those triggers?

Another question that comes to mind, and the more obvious one that you’ve probably been asking yourself this whole time, is whose decision was it to make a muzak version of that song?

Food, Food, and more Food

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A quick rundown of my holiday eating habits:

First, there is all the candy consumed on Halloween. Even now I tell myself, “It’s Halloween. I can have a Butterfinger or two.”

Then Thanksgiving comes around. The stuffing was always my favorite along with mom’s famous (store bought) pumpkin pie with a healthy dollop of Cool whip. In the days after Thanksgiving, turkey sandwiches galore.

No need to worry when the turkey runs out because Christmas is right around the corner with all the treats that holiday brings. I was never a huge fan of those powdered cookies my grandma used to bring over every year, but she did go through all the trouble to bake them, and there always was a whole tin box full of them. It’d have been a shame to let them go to waste. So I never did. Then there were the candy canes which I also didn’t love, but it was Christmas, you know. So I had to have at least one or two of those. And of course, the infamous fruitcake, which I’ve only actually eaten a couple times, enough to understand all the jokes surrounding it. Christmas dinner was the best though. When I tell my students what Christmas in America is like, I always tell them my mom would cook another huge turkey not long after we polished the one from Thanksgiving off. But, right now I honestly can’t remember. Did we always have turkey at Christmas? She may have baked a ham a couple times too because I also seem to have a recollection of that..at least I think I do.

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? Did you know that when you look back and think about an event from your past, that you’re not actually remembering the event itself. You are remembering the last time you thought about that event. And the next time you think about the same event, you’ll just be thinking about this time you’re thinking about it. Weird, uh? That’s why police have to really probe people’s eyewitness accounts; each time they think about what happened, they are just remembering the last story they told about it. It’s the reason the fish gets bigger each time you tell the story of the one that got away. And, it’s why I’m convinced now that I captained my high school football team to the state championship and after the big game, Mary Lou, the head cheerleader, and I drove up to Inspiration Point and celebrated.

That last memory might have gotten a bit distorted over time though.

So what comes after all the food you eat on Christmas? New Years, baby. New Years isn’t much of a food holiday. Alcohol seems to rule that day (or the eve anyway). In my case, alcohol meant pizza. There was no better combination when I was younger than pizza and…any drink. But, pizza isn’t a New Years food. What is? I’ve been to parties where little appetizers were served. Cheese and crackers are really good, but they don’t scream, “PaRtY!” to me.

OK. Let’s just leave New Years at alcohol.

Then you’re done, right? You’ve survived the holidays. It’s January first. Your head is killing you. The parade is on. The college football bowl games are on. You wonder how those players can butt heads like that so hard when just pulling the covers over your head as it rests on your pillow feels like it’s in a vice. Anyway, you’re alive and it’s time to do something about how you’re feeling.

How did the narrative get changed from “I” to “you?”

For me the best hangover food was always grease. So New Years morning I went through the check list:
Any left over pizza?
No. It was a New Years Eve party not a Saturday night party.

OK. Any leftover turkey? It’s not greasy, but it is substantial enough to help.
It doesn’t matter though because it’s all gone.

Ham?
No.

OK. Anything is fine. White powdered Christmas cookies?
No. Start panicking.

Candy canes?
Nada.

Um…Butterfingers?
Not a one.

Damn. Damn. Damn.
Looks like it’s time to go to McDonald’s.

And so the year begins on a high note. The holidays may be officially over, but you know there is one more food-laced day of celebration to get through before contemplating getting back into summer shape: Super Bowl Sunday. The day when football aficionados and laymen alike get together for a great feast of chips, beer and of course, pizza.

That’s how I remember Super Bowl feasts in America anyway. I understand now that some people go nuts and lay out a very wonderful spread. But, I’ve always been a simple man; give me pizza, a comfortable chair and a good view of the game and I’ll be happy.

I always love Super Bowl Sundays, even though ultimately it is between two teams I don’t care for. I always end up choosing one to root for though because it’s no fun watching a game without any emotion invested in it.

I was born and raised in Minnesota so I am a die-hard Viking fan: the most snake-bitten team in the NFL according to NFL Network. Viking fans understand. If you don’t know what it’s like to be a Minnesota Viking fan, then go to the kitchen, look in the fridge and find your absolute favorite food. Not there? No problem, go to the supermarket and get all the ingredients you’ll need to put heaven on a plate. While you’re shopping, dream of how good it’s going to taste and all the praise that will be heaped upon you for the masterpiece you’re about to create. As you’re cooking, think about the newspaper articles that will be written about your meal, the endless, 24-hour news coverage, the T-shirts, posters and banners that you will buy, all celebrating the wonderful feast you’re putting together. Check the oven. It isn’t burning, is it?

Good.

Man, that smells great. Wait. Is that the president on the phone congratulating you on your perfect meal? It’s just about ready. Set the table and call everyone around to eat. Oh, it’s nice hearing all the comments on how wonderful it smells and how excited they are to dig in.

DING! It’s time to eat.

OK. Great! Now go outside and walk around the side of your house. Look back in through the dining room window. There’s your kitchen. It looks warm in there. It certainly isn’t outside. Too bad you didn’t bring a jacket. Everyone is in there laughing and having a good time. There’s the chair you always sit in. There is your beautiful meal you slaved all day to make and are looking so forward to eat. But, wait. There is something wrong. Everyone is changing their clothes.  They are putting on green jerseys and triangular head pieces. Wait. They weren’t invited. You don’t want them there. Why are they eating your meal? Stop! Get your lips off of my food!!! Nooooooo!

Rats! Oh well, maybe you can heat up a can of Dinty Moore beef stew over a fire in a barrel.

That’s what being a Minnesota Viking fan feels like. But, just wait until next year.

…sigh.

Super Bowl Sunday is actually Super Bowl Monday morning here in Japan. This year my American friend, Joey, hosted the 8:30am kick off party for a few of us ex-pats. He’s a very good host. There wasn’t any pizza, but there was French toast. French toast is great football fare if you ask me. I contributed my part also and brought hashed browns from McDonald’s for everyone–also a recommended hangover food. So, like our counter parts on the other side of the Pacific, we ate, talked and kept one eye on the TV. We kind of lost interest when Atlanta started running away with it, but got quiet and tuned back in when Brady started connecting with his receivers, and we were as amazed as everyone else when The Patriots finally won.

Oops. Spoiler alert. I hope you already knew the result.

That was the most exciting Super Bowl I can remember, even though I wanted the Falcons to win. Not because I hate the Patriots or anything like that; simply because NE always wins. Isn’t that a weird human quirk that we root against teams just because they are successful? It’s the same reason I didn’t like the Yankees growing up.

I think it’s lobsters…..are the words Shane chose to start his next paragraph with; completely baffling the readers of his blog, who collectively asked themselves, “How the hell did he get from the Super Bowl to lobsters?” Yet, undeterred by their confusion, our hero gallantly went on to finish what he had started, secure in the knowledge that they’d be able to keep up with his train of thought if they just gave him a little more time……but I could be wrong about that. It may not be lobsters. I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of watery crustacean though. Anyway when crowded in a tank, they will try to escape by climbing out. Pretty good instincts if you ask me. They know what’s in store for them if they don’t. But, if one of the lobsters somehow gets a promising start on its jailbreak and looks like it will be successful, the other lobsters (…are they lobsters?) will pull it back, thus ensuring none of them escapes. I read that in a book years ago. So the details are fuzzy, but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

Yes, lobsters are weird. But, we aren’t that different. I’m not going to delve into a big human psyche shtick here. I’ll just leave that thought there while I get back to the Super Bowl.

…well, not the Super Bowl exactly. I’m done with that.

The problem with having the Super Bowl on Monday morning is that the game usually ends before noon (this year Brady’s heroics pushed it to 12:30) and then you’re left with kind of an empty feeling. I know everyone back in the states is watching the post game show (which for us means listening to the Japanese announcers) or they are watching all new episodes of great TV shows or they’re hanging out with family and friends. Or, if you’re a Falcon fan, crying and cursing the football gods.

But, here it’s Monday.

Monday.

I don’t actually teach on Mondays, but there is a lot of prep work to be done for the next week. So in a very short period of time, I have to switch my mind from “Football! WooWoo! I want more French toast!” mode to “I am a professional teacher. It’s time to make some lesson plans” mode.

It’s hard not to be influenced by the game though when planning a lesson.

So next week’s theme has turned out to be, in deference to Falcon fans, choking.