Gotta Get Me Some Of That Fresh Air Everyone Talks About…

I know a lot of people who spend the majority of their lives indoors. It happens naturally, right? Most jobs happen indoors and then when we get home we make meals and rest at home. But there are a lot of benefits to spending some time outside.

The first and most obvious benefit is sunlight. Although it has been proven that tanning and being in the summer sun unprotected isn’t all that great, getting “some” sun will help trigger the body’s production of Vitamin D and has also been shown to help prevent myopia in younger children.

Being outside will help with mental health and has been shown to reduce stress levels. Once outside, people will also tend to be more physical and exercise more. It also allows children o be more physically active, as they have access to space and play structures not available within the house. (For us parents, it also helps to maintain our sanity)

The majority of these benefits apply to adults, as well. I know a lot of fitness buffs who exercise, work out and stay in good shape but practically never go outdoors. I’m a firm believer that exercise is exercise; the benefits will happen regardless. That being said, adding the outdoors aspect will add to those benefits. Today, my family and I cycled to the nearest park, then my son played on the structures for almost an hour before we cycled back home.

So, get outside! The weather is getting nicer and summer is fast approaching. Whether you start with a simple walk or go for a jog or hop on the bike… You can’t go wrong.

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Happy Holidays… Everyday…

Today is National Cheddar Fries Day! As with most of these non-traditional holidays, it was created in the United States by a business called Snuffer’s Restaurant and Bar. How does one observe this holiday? Well, apparently all it takes is to go out to lunch with some friends and enjoy some cheddar fries. Then post photos of the fries on social media using #NationalCheddarFriesDay or #CheddarFriesNation. Wild, right?

With the advent of social media and the internet, the world seems to be celebrating more and more of these “National Days”. Although lots of fun, there are so many of these particular days that I feel they almost take away from traditional holidays. Don’t even get me started on how we recognize and acknowledge the traditional ones.

I had an interesting conversation this morning with a family member about the acknowledgement of the most basic holiday every person has: their birthday.

I’ve never been a “birthday” guy. In fact, if my birthday didn’t land on a date that is recognized the world over because of a disaster, I’d likely sleep through it and forget it. But some people are obsessed not only with remembering EVERYONE’s birthday, but they make a point of bringing it up and getting frustrated when that recognition isn’t reciprocated.

I have one of my friends back in New Brunswick who always makes a point of wishing me a happy birthday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice gesture and I always appreciated it. But when someone starts saying things like “I have a family with three kids and a full time job and I still remember your birthday. Why can’t you do the same?” it makes me wonder if perhaps it gets taken too far.

Is this just me? I love my friends and family. I love being able to wish them a happy birthday when I know it’s coming and I remember it. But as a society, are we responsible for remembering everyone’s birthday? And are we terrible if we forget?

And yes, before anyone brings it up, my wife and my son’s birthday are permanently burned into my hippocampus so there’s no issue there. I’m just wondering about the ones outside the immediate household.

What are your thoughts? I would enjoy hearing from some of you in the comments.

Every Dream Begins With A Dreamer…

So I’ve often mentioned that it’s important to have goals. Goals are what drive us. We use them to define who we are, what we do and what steps we take in life. But an important part of having goals is to dream. Dreaming is essential.

Dreaming about future goals will help you to achieve them. We learn this from an early age, when we gaze longingly at the picture of the item you asked your parents for Christmas in the Sears catalogue. The last instance I had of this was when the Nintendo GameBoy came out in 1989. (For you younger buggers who aren’t aware of “Sears” or why one would use a catalogue, Google it! I don’t need to age myself further…)

But this concept applies to adult goals as well. Think about something you really want out of life… I don’t mean the extravagant goals that most people have, like being famous or getting rich; although this concept could apply to that as well. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

There can be a number of benefits if you daydream. Thinking and daydreaming about your goals can help you relax, helps to release stress and as you focus on goals you’ll think of things that will help you achieve said goals. As long as your daydreaming time doesn’t interfere with your work or your home obligations, you’re golden. Picture sitting at your desk, leaning on one hand with your eyes cast off into the distance with a small trickle of drool hanging down… You know who you are!

Working on goals and accomplishing them has been linked to happier overall lives and better moods, which tends to help a person be more successful. It’s important to keep building goals. Sometimes, when we reach a certain point in our lives, we have a job and/or career and we get settled into a routine, our motivation gets stagnant. And that’s where life grinds to a stand still.

So keep those goals coming! Life won’t get you anywhere unless you keep trying, dreaming and planning. There’ll always be something else to accomplish.

Silence Is Not Always The Way…

One of the biggest struggles I face when trying to adhere to certain Buddhist habits is noise. The modern world is loaded with noise. Even when you try to sit in silence, in your own home, you can and will often hear a lot of background noise from the environment around you.

Ever try to meditate with an excited four year old running circles around you? (I ask this as my son Nathan is violently bouncing a rubber ball against the walls next to me as I type, despite asking him several times to quiet down!)

The point is that modern life doesn’t allow for a lot of the serenity you would get from more traditional locations. When I visited the Buddhist temples in Narita and Tokyo, one of the first things I noticed was how quiet the environment was, despite being in the midst of a heavy urban centre. Now, these temples have walls, structures and trees that we obviously don’t have the benefit of having here!

The important point I’m making tonight is that you need to find some quiet time for yourself. This doesn’t just apply to Buddhists and people who meditate, but for everyone in general. Even if it means putting time aside when the kids are at school, or taking a quiet walk outside the city, or whatever you can manage. We often allow life in general to get in the way of our well-being; a big part of which requires some quiet time to ourselves (and no, sleep doesn’t count).

And now, my son is having a spa out tantrum in his bed because he refused to put on his pyjamas! I’m in the basement and I can hear him yelling through the floor! Definitely not the serene environment of the Shinsho-ji Temple! But as with all things in life, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Be certain to find that way, and help maintain your mental and emotional well being.

Morte Prima Di Dishonore…

Where does humanity’s honour lie…? And where does friendship end and obligation and duty begin? Sometimes it’s a fine line and we can’t be sure which choice is the most correct. Sometimes, the subject of our friendship doesn’t leave us with much choice…

In 1990, Robert Jordan wrote “Death is lighter than a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain.” The quote always stuck with me, as I’ve read the Eye of the World a number of times. It’s Book One out of Fourteen of the Wheel of Time series. Fantastic read. I highly recommend it, if you have a few years to contribute to such a long series. But absolutely fantastic.

It wouldn’t be until years later, during my studies of the Japanese culture through the martial arts, that I would come to realize that the quote was actually part of a document issued by the Imperial Japanese Army in the early 1880’s.

But what does it mean? I always took it to mean that the duties and obligations of life provided a burden to one’s shoulders akin to Atlas holding up the world; I’ve never contemplated the second part of the quote… Certainly, death comes to us all, but not until we’ve accomplished what we’re here for. But enough of the philosophical…

When a person swears an oath, it has to mean something. One can’t simply swear an oath for the sake of getting what one wants. An oath carries an obligation along with it. In its very definition, an oath states that you are making a solemn promise regarding your future behaviour or actions.

What happens when you’ve sworn oaths that are being violated by a friend? Do you side with the friend? Cast aside your oath in exchange of a moment’s favour? Does it make it easier when you know that the friend was aware of the oath and its violation and chose to proceed anyway?

We live in a society of self service. It has become much easier to do what feels right instead of what IS right. And that sometimes puts those who are your friend in an awkward position. We don’t always get to chose how we deal with these situations. Always remember that you should respect your oaths and do what’s right.

Years ago, I was working in a small rural Saskatchewan town that had a quote by Suzy Kassem painted onto a mural in the local school. It read: Stand up for what’s right, even if you stand alone. Yet another quote that has always stuck with me. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to recognize what’s right. It becomes even harder for us to DO what’s right even when we do. But ultimately, what’s right exists despite our associations. And one should always do what’s right.

Going With The Flow Doesn’t Always Bring You To Calm Waters…

As humans, we are pack creatures. No matter how much of a loner you may think you are, inherently you are designed to run with the pack and be among your own. This is why people have often used the expression “go with the flow”… Because it’s much easier to follow the pack than to stand alone.

Some good examples I can provide include that at some point in humanity’s history, the population believe that Earth was the centre of the universe and that the Sun revolved around us. This was eventually opposed in the 3rd century BC when the notion of the planets orbiting the sun was introduced. The population rejected the notion and fought against it, as a whole. It wasn’t until the 16th century, when Nicolas Copernicus revived the notion and helped to prove it as the established standard. (This is known as Heliocentrism, you can Google it!)

Another good example is how people used to believe the Earth was flat! (I know that some people still believe this concept, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary. But I’m not here to argue against the Flat Earth Society!) The concept of a spherical Earth was proposed as early as 6th century BC by the Greeks, although it wasn’t accepted as a given until the 3rd century BC and only started to gain leverage as the standard after Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation expedition in the 1500’s.

For the longest time, the world’s greatest scientific minds believed that everything in the universe was made up of molecules and atoms and that these were the smallest particles! It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when they examined atoms up close and discovered the distinct particles that composed them. They found even smaller and weirder stuff once they cracked those suckers open and discovered sub-atomic particles, quarks and all that jazz… But enough of the physics lesson!

Even in modern society, certain histories and beliefs have been proven wrong or incorrect because of newfound evidence, lending to the premise that some histories need to be rewritten.

My point is, in order for humanity to continue to advance and become more than what we are, we need to keep our minds open to new ideas. Just because something has always been “the standard”, doesn’t mean that it will always be so. (Insert something here about teaching an old dog new tricks…) It is important that we be able to hear new ideas, acknowledge them and examine them, even though they may never be proven right. The concept of brainstorming is fast becoming a lost art in modern society, due to the availability of the world’s knowledge at our literal fingertips. But it’s up to us to continue to allow our minds to come up with, and share, new ideas and information.

The Weight of The World…

Stress. It has become a defining factor of modern day society. Unfortunately, you would be extremely hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t experience some level of stress in today’s world. In fact, even the wealthy and philanthropic have their own stresses, albeit stresses we likely don’t understand.

Some of my more religious associates would say that “God never throws more at you than you can handle…” If this is true, then I must have shoulders of fortified steel.

If stress simply involved worrying about something, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. The major issue with stress is the physiological and psychological effects it can carry with it. Sometimes, even the more trivial symptoms can be overlooked, such as a headache or back ache. But these physical symptoms can often be associated to the stresses on your life. Some of them can be more severe. Depression, change of mood or appetite and constant fatigue despite being unable to sleep can all be caused by stress.

So, what can one do to alleviate this? Well, the most obvious thing would be to eliminate the source of the stress. If possible, that would be the most effective way to reduce and eliminate your symptoms. However, when the stress in your life is caused by something you can’t eliminate, like perhaps your career that you’ve worked your whole life for, eliminating the cause becomes a little more difficult.

There are some traditional ways to manage stress. My obvious go-to and favourite one would include getting regular physical activity. Exercising releases certain hormones and helps to relax you. It also keeps your metabolism up and will help you sleep better. These are all things that will alleviate stress. I can certainly attest to the measurable benefits of working out on a punching bag.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga. But it sometimes becomes hard to focus and concentrate on these things, depending on what’s bothering you.

As appealing as it may seem, you want to try and stay away from hobbies that will leave you sitting idle. Binge watching television or surfing the Internet may seem like a distraction, but in the long term it leaves you in a position where you can dwell on the things that are causing the issue.

Last but not least, prolonged bouts of stress can cause some serious, life-threatening physiological changes. If you notice that you have taken steps to control your stress but it lingers on, it might be time to chat with your doctor. If you start experiencing chest pains, random sweats and dizziness, it could be a sign of a heart attack. Be sure to take good care of yourselves.