On Worry

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “The Spanish Prisoner”: “Worry is interest paid on a debt that never comes due.”

A wonderful illustration of this happened to me over the weekend. I got an automated phone call that said “This is not a sales call. it is very important you call … during regular business hours.” It sounded like a sales call to me! So I googled the company, and it turned out to be a collection agency. My first thought was, “Oh no, what if one of the doctor bills I’m contesting got sent to a collection agency? How dare they! My credit will be ruined!” But then I took a deep breath or two, and realized that I had no idea what the call was about. And that there was nothing to do but call on Tuesday. The next day or two my mind would every once in a while wonder what it was about, but I was careful not to worry, but just to let the thoughts go.

Today, Tuesday, I called, and it was for someone who used to have my number, not for me at all! So if I had worried all weekend, it would have been for nothing. I’m so glad I didn’t waste more than a couple of minutes on it.

What are you worrying about?

Being open to spirit

How open are you? How open are you to spirit? the universe? God? People? Yourself?

Most people are so full of “things” that there’s no room for being open.

Here’s another enlightening passage from a book I recently read, The Curse of Chalion (which I mentioned in a previous post)

“The gods love their great-souled men and women as an artist loves fine marble, but the issue isn’t virtue. It is will. Which is chisel and hammer. Has anyone ever quoted you Ordol’s classic sermon of the cups?”

“That thing where the divine pours water all over everything? I first heard it when I was ten. I thought it was pretty entertaining when he got his shoes wet, but then, I was ten. I’m afraid our temple divine at Cazaril tended to drone on.”

“Attend now and you shall not be bored.” Umegat inverted his clay cup upon the cloth. “Men’s will is free. The gods may not invade it, any more than I may pour wine into this cup through its bottom.”

“But have you really understood how powerless the gods are, when the lowest slave may exclude them from his heart? And if from his heart, then from the world as well, for the gods may not reach in except through living souls. If the gods could seize passage from anyone they wished, then men would be mere puppets. Only if they borrow or are given will from a willing creature, do they have a little channel through which to act. They can seep in through the minds of animals, sometimes with effort. Plants … require much foresight. Or” – Umegat turned his cup upright again, and lifted the jug — “sometimes, a man may open himself to them, and let them pour through him into the world.” He filled his cup. “A saint is not a virtuous soul, but an empty one. He –or she– freely gives the gift of their will to their god. And in renouncing action, makes action possible.”

This is reminiscent of the Zen story:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”


“The Curse of Chalion” (Lois McMaster Bujold)

Sleeping like a mortal

After 3 weeks of doing polyphasic sleeping, the experiment is at an end.

It was great to have all that extra time, but I found that it was too difficult to maintain. Perhaps I never “turned the corner” from the adjustment phase, and thus my naps might not have been the all-REM that they needed to be. Whatever the reason, it was just too hard to maintain the schedule. Most of my waking periods were good, even great. But then every once in a while I’d have a time when I was awake that I could hardly keep my eyes open, and the sleep was just dragging me down.

Maybe the worst side-effect of polyphasic sleeping, for me, was being cold. My hypothesis is that my body was trying to go to sleep, so it’d lower its temperature. Whatever the reason, especially at night, I felt extremely cold. I’d sit with a space heater blasting on me and still not feel warm. (that cannot be a good sign!)

It was also socially very hard to maintain the schedule. I had many events over the weekend, none of which I wanted to miss, and couldn’t seem to fit a nap in in the right place. So I missed two naps in a row yesterday and decided to call it quits. I slept a regular night last night (8 hours) and feel perfectly normal today. I didn’t even get tired just before my nap times, as was happening before.

I also realized that the sleep schedule and its side-effects were keeping me from doing things that I really enjoy. This morning, I was able to cuddle in bed with my son for the first time in three weeks. When on polyphasic sleeping, I wouldn’t have dared to lie down in a bed like that because I would surely have fallen asleep. I also felt like I had to be “on” all the time, that there was no rest. Any sort of relaxing time would probably have led to me falling asleep — but I like to relax. And I missed my morning routine. And especially missed green tea.

I wouldn’t rule out trying it again if the need arose. But for now I’m back to my early riser schedule, which seems to suit me just fine.

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World Tai Chi & Qigong day

Saturday, April 29th is World Tai Chi and Qigong day.

These are gentle martial arts designed to get the energy in your body flowing properly. And whether you believe in “chi” or not, mindfully doing these light stretches and exercises produces and undeniable feeling of well being. The daily workout I do is part Qigong.

I’ll share with you one of the most centering Qigong exercises that I’ve encountered. I learned it as “Standing like a mountain.”

  • Stand with your legs about shoulder width apart
  • Bend your knees slightly
  • Straighten your arms so that they are pointing at an angle into the ground
  • Be aware of your breath
  • Visualize yourself as the tip of a great mountain extending downward into the earth. Your head is the tip, and your arms are the sides of the mountain
  • Feel yourself as a part of the great earth. Realize that your body is a part of the whole of the earth. Everything that your body is made up of came from the earth and thus you are the earth.
  • Being the earth, you have a sense of calm solidity.

Check out Ken Cohen’s course on qigong for an introduction:


“The Essential Qigong Training Course: 100 Days to Increase Energy, Physical Health & Spiritual Well-Being” (Ken Cohen)

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Polyphasic sleeping

It seemed inevitable that I would one day try to go polyphasic with my sleeping. After some good-natured badgering from a friend who is on the system, I’m now sleeping only 20 minutes every 4 hours, around the clock. I’ve been on the new paradigm since April 9. For the most part, it has been a good experience, so far.

It’s ironic that I change to this kind of sleeping at about the same time as Steve Pavlina switches back to monophasic sleeping. He had some good reasons for leaving polyphasic sleeping, some of which I also note as downsides, below.

For those not familiar with polyphasic sleeping, the theory is that the body/brain only really need a certain amount of sleep (perhaps mostly REM) and that the body will compensate for lack of sleep by making any sleep you get the proper kind of sleep. And 2 hours (or so) of sleep is apparently enough. So with a schedule of 20 minutes 6 times a day, I get about 2 hours of REM sleep.
Links for more information are at the bottom of this post.

I sleep at around 5:30AM, 9:30AM, 1:30PM, 5:30PM, 9:30PM, 1:30AM. I set my alarm for around 25 minutes. And most of the time I just go right to sleep, have some nice dreams, and get up easily. Most of the time…

Polyphasic sleeping is like treading a very narrow bridge across a deep and swift river. Your goal is to cross the bridge, and if you fall off, you have to swim back upstream and start crossing the bridge again. The path is narrow because this is the bare minimum of sleep you need. If you have one mishap with a nap (any caffeine, kids running around yelling, etc.) then things are going to get screwed up, you fall off, and have to start over again. But it is possible to get across, and when you do, you feel great.

Advantages

  • Obviously the big reason to do polyphasic sleeping is to have more time. You get 5 or more extra hours per day. Remember, though, you need to do something worthwhile with those hours.
  • Refreshing naps. You feel good and refreshed from each nap. My feeling of alertness is as good or better than monophasic sleeping.
  • More vivid dreams, that you remember. I’ve never really remembered my dreams, now I have a dream six times a day and remember most of them.
  • Excellent, jaw-dropping, thing to talk about at cocktail parties.
  • You feel really great when the system is working.

Disadvantages

  • You’ll be very, very tired sometimes. If I get off the schedule, or have any caffeine it takes me over a day to get back in synch. And the nighttime hours of that day are spend being painfully tired.
  • Social awkwardness. You really have to nap within an hour of naptime, If you’re out, or at work, etc. it’s hard to do that. It creates strange situations, but I have usually been able to work something out. (sleep in the car, postpone a nap up to an hour, etc.)
  • You feel awful when the system is not working.

Observations

  • Having no long sleep period makes each moment run into the moment before it. There are no defining moments to mark time by. If I continue with the paradigm, I’m going to try to work something in that I do at the same time each day so that I can use that as a reference point. (the naps don’t work because there are too many of them.) The words “Yesterday” or “tomorrow” really don’t mean anything to me without a long sleep period. When I’m doing polyphasic sleeping, it’s hard to know when to use those terms. During my two oversleeps (where I accidentally slept the whole night through), the words made complete sense the next day.
  • My daily routine is nonexistant. I try to do each of the things I like to do somewhere in each day, but the Magic of Every Day has gone away. Making a scheduled time for these things (exercise, meditation, guitar), will be important. But right now, there are times that I’m too tired to do some of those, so can’t necessarily do them when I want to.
  • Caffeine screws everything up. I really miss green tea. Sometimes I think I can have some at the beginning of a waking period, or if I’m tired and need to stay up through a nap. But every time I’ve done this (twice) it as completely derailed me, and I’ve overslept.

Informative Links

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Death

My wife died almost 2 weeks ago, which is why I haven’t written an entry in a while.

Dealing with her long term illness, and ultimately the death of my spouse has bestowed upon me distilled life experience. It has been quite an honor to go through this with her, as I learned so much about life and about myself. But if I had to sum up everything I learned about death, it would be the same advice I’d give about anything else: “Be Present.”

To be present is to fully face what you’re dealing with, to not shy away from it, to not try to lay blame elsewhere, to not regret, or wish, or even hope, but instead to accept what is, to look deeply at it so as to learn what it is and why it might be there.

As the one who is dying, being present is to not “fight” death, but to enjoy life. My wife’s decline was somewhat slow, and her ability to do things left her over some weeks. With each loss of something that was once part of life (walking outside, eating, standing, drinking, etc.) each of the remaining abilities became more precious. As her ability to drink lessened, I remember how each sip of juice or water was ecstasy to her. Perhaps it’s subtle, but she never cursed the fact that she couldn’t drink much anymore, but instead she enjoyed the few sips she could drink. Or when she couldn’t stand on her own anymore, she was filled with pleasure when I would hold her in a standing position. Again, not “I wish I could stand,” but instead, “I’m glad I can be held up.” Instead of regrets for what we should have done differently in our marriage, we looked forward and missed the time we’d not be together.

As the caregiver of a dying person, being present meant to not have anger at death, but to do what I could to assist the life that was left. Hospice facilitated her caregiving at home (which was a blessing!) and their focus is on comfort and reduction of unwanted symptoms. This is being present. They are not trying to cure the disease, but just to remove the pain. Not fighting, but facilitating.

After her death, we did a three day vigil. Friends came to sit with her body. Some read, some meditated, some prayed, everyone said goodbye in his or her own way. It was not a “celebration of life”, which will come at the funeral, but instead it was an acknowledgment of the transformation she underwent, the wishing of “bon voyage,” the celebration of her continuation in other ways. And it was a time to ponder one’s own impending death, and thus how you live your life. It really underscored for me how important it is to live a worthwhile life. I highly recommend having an after-death vigil; it was one of the most moving and spiritually fulfilling events I’ve experienced.

One effect of having the vigil for three days was that by the end, her body had started to change. It was dehydrating, and while not gross, you could very clearly see it was just a shell. A chrysalis. Everyone who visited got to witness, first hand, that the body isn’t the person, but just a place for the person to reside for a time.

So it goes…

Travel daydreaming

This is a big planet we live on. I’ve only seen a little bit of it. These maps make that pretty obvious.

When I sat down and wrote down the big themes of my life, travel is one of them. I love seeing new places, meeting interesting people, eating unusual foods, etc.

Then why haven’t I been traveling? It’s because I don’t always focus on those big themes. Daily life intercedes. I focus on what seems to be urgent, what’s right in front of me, not far away. It’s not so much making excuses, but just forgetting … “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” So it’s good every once in a while to review your list of themes to see what important things you have been missing.

But I’ll blog about creating that list later. Right now, you can get your travel daydreams going by making your own visited country maps at World66.

Worldmap

Statemap

Countrymap

[via MMIMMJONES]

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Sleep hacking justified!

As I’ve written before, I have been getting up at 5:00AM for over 6 months now. It has been working very well for me. I get more done during the day, I’m more alert all day, and have no trouble sleeping either at night or during the occasional nap.

I have been a little concerned about what it might be doing to me to reduce my sleeping hours to 6 or 7 per day. But the article Sleep Deprivation: The Great American Myth in LiveScience says it’s ok, and may even be a good thing, “From a six-year study of more than a million adults: People who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep.”

And for my friend who is on a polyphasic sleeping schedule (which Steve Pavlina has also converted to), the news is just as good, “The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.” (Perhaps I’ll try it someday when my life settles down a bit.)

The article also has tips on how to get the best rest. Interestingly, these are many of the same recommendations that Steve Pavlina had in his How to become an early riser article.

  • Do not take sleeping pills. This includes over-the-counter pills and melatonin. [Nor do I use caffeine to wake myself up]
  • Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. [This is the second most important, and also increases your productivity because you get more “good” hours in your day.]
  • Get up at the same time every morning, even after a bad night’s sleep. The next night, you’ll be sleepy at bedtime. [This is the most important tip. 5:00AM for me!]
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed and return only when you are sleepy. [This never happens to me, since I’m sleepy when I go to sleep. The worst that will happen is that I might wake up early, in which case I’ll get out of bed and be thankful for the extra time.]
  • Avoid worrying, watching TV, reading scary books, and doing other things in bed besides sleeping and sex. If you worry, read thrillers or watch TV, do that in a chair that’s not in the bedroom.
  • Do not drink or eat anything caffeinated within six hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s relaxing at first but can lead to insomnia when it clears your system. [It’s interesting that I stopped drinking alcohol around the time I started my new sleep regimen. So the artificial sleepiness from alcohol hasn’t affected me.]
  • Spend time outdoors. People exposed to daylight or bright light therapy sleep better.

(And it’s so interesting to see memes propagate around the internet, BoingBoing picked up Steve’s original sleep article today)

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Juggling

I’m not really interested in any big way in juggling, but it’s always been one of those “I wish I could…” things. I’ve tried juggling a bit and even looked at the Klutz juggling book but it never really clicked for me.

But a friend sent me this amazing video of comedian Chris Bliss doing a juggling routine in time to the music of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers.”

And then I passed it on and a friend sent a link to juggler Ben Jennings: check out his videos.

It’s funny how memes come your way, so I figured I’d pass it on, and since juggling is one of those things I’d long ago written off as something I can’t do, I’ll add it to the list of things I will try to learn, right after I’m a bit more proficient in French 😉

Reminds me of one of my favorite fortune cookies: “As soon as you feel you’re too old to do something, do it.”

Juggling

Ten steps aid keeping your cool

I saw this in the local paper today and thought it was worth “clipping” to the blog.

For me, meditation has given me more space between thought and action. That is, it seems like I have time to watch my thoughts and then make a good decision about how to act, or (most often) just let the thought go. No need to act on everything you think!

Ten steps aid keeping your cool
By Barton Goldsmith, Scripps Howard News Service
March 18, 2006

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”

Keeping your wits about you when the kids are acting up, your boss is getting down on you, and your mate is all over the map can be a challenge.

Here are 10 tools to help you manage your mood and maintain your balance:

1. Think before you act.

Putting your brain in gear before engaging in an assault of any kind will help you prevent any escalation and keep the situation under control.

2. Think before you speak.

Saying to yourself what you might say to another, and imagining how he or she will take it, is a great way to prevent downward spirals from occurring.

3. If someone hurts you, let him or her know it.

Don’t hold it in or act it out. Simply say, “What you said hurt my feelings. Please don’t do that again.”

4. Learn about your triggers and avoid them.

For example, if traffic makes you crazy, take the scenic route. If you absolutely hate the checkout lines at the market, most places now deliver if you order online. It may take a little inventiveness, but eliminating the stress is worth it.

5. The old trick of “counting to 10” works.

If you’ve never tried it, I suggest you give it a shot. The next time something or someone frosts your cookies, just slowly count, and with each number remind yourself that by getting upset you are only hurting yourself.

6. Pretend you’re above it all.

Being truly gracious means that when the limo driver is late, or you have to go through security before your private jet takes off, you can keep things in perspective. After all, you have a great life and these minor inconveniences are just a part of the real world that we all have to live in.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Birth and death are the only two biggies in life. Everything else is not worth getting your knickers in a twist. Learning to let go will help you to live longer.

8. Take a few deep breaths.

It’s amazing how many people hold their breath when they get upset. Forcing fresh air into your lungs sends oxygen to your heart and brain, and acts as a calming agent. Breathe slowly and be sure not to hyperventilate. If you get really upset, breathe into a paper bag.

9. Check in with your heart.

Asking yourself if this is truly where you want to be, and how you want to feel or act toward another person (or in front of strangers), can be a great reminder to hold your tongue.

10. Ask yourself, “Am I a positive person or a negative person?”

This question has inspired many people (adults and children) to keep their attitudes in check. Keeping a positive attitude is not just a cliche; it makes your world a better place to be.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is the author of “Emotional Fitness for Couples.” Contact him at Barton@EmotionalFitness.net.