Own Your Anger

Anger is an insidious thing. Once one begins to feel it, very few people are able to contain it without some sort of mental and physical training. Don’t believe me? Just check out some road rage videos on YouTube and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Modern society allows its anger to run rampant to the point of rage, with little thought or concern about the effects it has on the people around it. And on the people who express that anger.

The worst forms of anger are the inherited ones. The type of anger that a person has nothing to do with, and technically have no right feeling. But they’ve inherited that anger from their parents and/or predecessors, and they express that anger in various forms and blame others for it, even if its an emotional anger they shouldn’t be feeling at all. Of course, what do I know? I have no inherent right to tell anyone what they SHOULD be feeling, but it’s how you deal with those feeling that matter.

The fact is, anger can have physical effects on your body that can be detrimental to your health. Constant anger can have a negative effect on your blood pressure, heart health, sleep and even your digestion. Anger can cause anxiety, headaches and also depression. Some of the articles I’ve read have even linked anger to skin problems, such as eczema. But I’ll let y’all do your own research on that, as that isn’t the focus of today’s post.

Anger can also be a useful tool in training. I remember during my basic training days when I was doing some bag work with one of my troop mates. He was smaller and slighter than I was and couldn’t seem to muster enough strength to effectively strike the bag. I could tell he was getting frustrated and asked me how it was that I was able to strike the bag so hard, every time. I explained that some of it had to do with the fact I had more mass than he did. But another aspect is that I used my anger.

In true Mark Ruffalo fashion, I explained to my troop mate one of my secrets to effectively working out and fight training is the fact that there’s always a bit of anger bubbling beneath the surface. If one can learn to use and channel that anger and energy into what we do, it can go a long way towards pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone and improving our physical fitness. Since I knew he was a father, I used what is probably the most sensitive area of a person’s life. I had him close his eyes and asked him to imagine how he would feel if someone abducted his child. Then I challenged him to imagine having the abductor in front of him and what anger he would feel towards that person.

Then I asked him to perform a properly executed punch against the bag using all that anger. The result was far more explosive than anything he had previously done. And that’s the critical point; anger (when properly focused) can be a useful tool and a good motivator. That’s for the training environment, of course. One needs to avoid allowing their anger to turn to rage, fury and violence against others. Although not always avoidable, violence should never be used unless it’s for the protection of yourself or those around you.

A lot of people believe that I fell into Buddhism through the influence of the martial arts. And although this is partially true, I can admit that in my late teens to early 20’s, I developed a pretty intense temper and needed a means to control, temper and maintain it. This is the part where I point out that regular exercise and meditation are important ways towards controlling one’s emotions. But as long as you use it as a source of fuel for your motivation and not against others, anger can be useful. ☯

All The Little Things

Humanity is a fat, chocolate donut sprinkled with inconsistencies, violence and a lack of appreciation for the little things in life that we all take for granted. Great, now I want a chocolate donut… 37 grams of carbs for one, five-minute treat? No thank you! But I digress… My point is actually that we have a lot of positive things to life that we tend to take for granted. What’s a bit disheartening is that we needed a global pandemic where the world basically ground to a halt before we started to recognize these things.

I was chatting with an old friend last week, when we brought up and discussed the fact that the “little things” are often taken for granted. This has been happening since well before COVID-19 decided to sink its obsidian fangs into society, but the problem is that most of the world’s population is too busy complaining about what they’ve lost as opposed to appreciating what they still have. This makes sense if you’ve lost employment or can’t get enough food to support your family, of course. But when I hear of folks who are financially independent, relaxing in large homes without a care in the world, complaining because they can’t take their yearly trip to Cabo, it makes me wonder about the fate of our race.

I’ve always been something of a loner when it comes to my free time. I’ve had absolutely NO problem being at home with my wife and kids for an extended period of time, with the exception of the occasions where the kids drive me crazy. That’s why I can’t get all these people who suddenly separate or get divorced because they’ve suddenly been forced to stay inside together for long periods of time. Really?? If you can’t stand the person enough to stay inside a house with them, why’d you get married in the first place?

But I’m going off on a rant again, and I need to focus. In the interest of taking nothing for granted, I thought I would list the things that I miss most about when the world was normal and took for granted, despite my limited existence. Here we go…

Sitting In A Coffee Shop With A Book

This one is at the top of my list because before all of this bullshit started, one of my favourite things to do was to sit inside a coffee shop and read a book. I’d supplement that with blogging and basically sitting there alone with my thoughts, of course. Coffee shops allowed a semi-introvert such as myself the benefit of being around people combined with the quiet hush of folks having low-volume conversation and working at their laptops. But distancing and self-isolation requirements have made that impossible. And even though most retail and restaurant locations (especially corporate chains) have re-opened in my area and I likely COULD go sit in a coffee shop, it would be grossly irresponsible of me to do so. Why risk exposing myself to someone who may have ignored the rules and gone out while sick, then drag it back home to my family? I definitely used to take my coffee shop runs for granted!

Going To A Movie Theater

Listen, I’m pretty cheap. I don’t consider that a bad thing, but I’m not fond of paying money for frivolous things in general. So the thought of paying ten to fifteen bucks for a movie ticket when I can just be patient and wait a year for it to come to Netflix seems exorbitant at best. But I would be lying if I said that there aren’t some movies that are simply deserving of the theater experience. For example, I would have paid that amount to see Star Wars: The Rise OF Skywalker in theatres. I think it’s the kind of movie that would have done well for me on the big screen, appealing to my nerdy sensibilities. But obviously sitting in cramped theater seats with people tightly packed on either side of you is even worse than my coffee shop scenario, even if some cheaters have begun opening in limited capacities. In fact, I think the last theater movie I saw would have been Black Panther. And that came out in 2018…

Visiting With Family

It stands to reason that the holidays have been difficult this year, with most people being unable to visit their families and celebrate the way they’ve done it their entire lives. I mean, my folks live across the country in New Brunswick. We don’t see much of them when the world is normal, much less now. What’s harsh is Alexander was born in September of 2019 and rounding the corner of a year and half old, my parents have yet to meet him. The worst is when my father, whose health isn’t great, caught pneumonia some months ago and wasn’t expected to survive the night. My father would have died 3,300 kilometres away from me, having never met his second grandchild and without being able to say goodbye. Even my wife’s family is only 3 hours away, but given restrictions may as well be across the country as well. Many people unfortunately take time with their families for granted.

Play Dates For My Kids

This is one that I definitely took for granted. I’ve always considered it a pain in my ass to bring Nathan somewhere for the sole purpose of hanging out with other kids. I never had any of that shit when I was his age. But his uncontrollable energy mixed with the lack of kids his own age to burn it off with has been difficult on the household as a whole. We used to have the benefit of a couple of boys next door, but they moved away. It’s even worse now for Alexander, as he’s had no exposure to other children other than his brother, who is five years older than him and in a completely different toy/playing bracket than he is. If Nathan is lucky enough, school will re-open soon and he’ll at least be around other kids.

Doing Normal, Everyday Things Without A Mask

I took a walk to the corner store last week to check my lottery tickets (I was sure that day was my day) and enjoyed getting some fresh air and being outdoors. The temperature was a cool 4 degrees, birds were chirping and snow was melting. It should have been a pleasant walk, but despite the fact I was walking down a back street with no exposure to other people and I was completely alone, I felt like a criminal because I was walking without a face mask on! I carried one for when I reached my destination, but I couldn’t help but feel it was just a matter of minutes before a law enforcement officer would come around the corner and give me hell. Doing simple, everyday things like groceries, getting gas and running to a store without having to wear a face mask is definitely something I used to take for granted. Oh, and I obviously didn’t win the lottery, that day…

Last But Not Least, To Cough And Smile In Public

It may sound like a simple thing, but it’s one we definitely take for granted. Any normal, bodily function performed in public is tantamount to being quarantined and treated as though you’re carrying the black plague. COVID-19 has made people forget that sneezing is a normal function of the human body to expel unwanted bacteria and materials from entering the body (and isn’t a symptom of COVID-19 anyway, but it sure doesn’t stop people from thinking it). And coughing? I don’t know about you, but if I breathe the wrong way I’ll start hacking and coughing like a moron who can’t seem to decide how to breathe and swallow separately. But try coughing in a public place right now and you’ll have the people around you scattering as though you’re a leper.

And smiling is an even bigger one. Being unable to see others smile and have them see yours is kind of a big deal, since facial cues are important in human communication. I’ve had retail and grocery store employees help me and greet me in recent months, where I’ve smiled at them in thanks only to realize later on that I probably just looked like I was staring vacantly at them. Being unable to read the facial cues of the people I communicate with in public has definitely been taken for granted.

There are many more I could add to this list. But as I’m sure you can agree (if you’ve read this far) I’ve already ranted long enough for today. The lesson here is that there are a lot of great little things in life that we’ve all taken for granted. And as we begin to move forward and start to look toward the future at how life will settle on a permanent basis, we need to adapt and understand NOT to take fro granted the little things that we’ll start to develop in this new existence. It may not all be perfect, but neither is life. Be sure not to take any of it for granted. ☯

Time Is Good Only For Passing Time

As a blogger, I make it a point of following and reading other bloggers’ posts. Especially those who fall under the same category as mine, as I have always felt that my personal learning and education never stops. Therefore, it makes sense that I would continue to read whatever words others may put out, in an effort to better myself. I recently read one such post, written by a blogger that I’ve been following for almost two years. I’m generally not one to write a post on the coat tails of someone else’s, but this is such a broad topic that I feel I can safely write my opinion about it without stepping on this person’s toes. And here we are.

If you know me personally or have read most of what I’ve written, one of my biggest pet-peeves is when someone tells me, “It could be worse!” This is basically the verbal equivalent to kicking me in the gonads, and I have a genuine hate for this expression. I’ve heard it all my life, especially within the context of Diabetes. People see how hard I work towards physical fitness, my martial arts prowess and the fact I never let anything hold me back, and they presume that Diabetes is no big deal.

But the reality is that I work damned hard to live with the balance that I do, and Diabetes is nothing to slouch at. Could it be worse? Yes, it could. I could have terminal cancer. I could have been born without eyes. I could have leprosy or any score of illnesses or diseases that are far worse than Diabetes. It doesn’t mean that my journey isn’t difficult and that I should feel “lucky” that things aren’t worse than they are. With this in mind, the second saying that grates on my last nerve almost as bad as the first one, is “Time Heals All Wounds.”

No. No, it does not.

The reality is that the passage of time won’t heal your wounds, either physical or psychological. The only thing that can do that is your direct intervention, often coupled with the intervention of others. On the physical side, breaking a bone or open wounds will require time but will also require proper setting or bandaging to prevent it from healing improperly. On the psychological side, keeping everything bottled up and refusing to talk to anyone about it will cause mental anguish and difficulties too many to list.

Not least of which is the fact that all wounds, physical or otherwise, will leave scars that either remind us of the injury or can be a problem within themselves. It reminds me of the “broken plate” analogy, which sums up one of the main issues within modern society. And to be honest, I can’t find where the actual origin of this analogy comes from, so if you know, please feel free to write it in the comments, but it goes something like this:

“Grab A Plate And Throw It On The Ground.”
– Okay, Done.
“Did It Break?”
– Yes.
“Now Say Sorry To It.”
– Sorry.
“Did It Go Back To The Way It Was Before?”
– No.
“Now Do You Understand?”

The purpose behind this analogy is that even if you feel remorse or regret at your previous actions, apologizing and trying to make it right may not necessarily be enough. In fact, even if you fix the plate, the cracks and scars will remain regardless of how much you apologize. People rarely understand how their words and actions can harm others. And even if they try to make amends, it’s very rarely enough. This is why your direct intervention is necessary in order to heal yourself.

Time may give you the opportunity to mend the wounds and pull the broken pieces back together. Time may allow the metaphorical glue to set, but time will never erase the memory of what’s been said or done. That’s why it’s critically important to take steps to better your own situation to aid in your healing. This may mean eliminating the negative people in your life. Making better life choices or quitting bad habits. Changing your job. The point is, if you sit there and wait for things to mend with time, that mending may never come. ☯

Right Practice, Right Time, Wrong Environment…

Zen Buddhism lends most of its purpose towards finding enlightenment through mediation. That, with a fun mixture of traditional Buddhism mixed with a minty hint of Taoism, but that’s an entirely different post for another day. My point is, for several decades, meditation has been a focal point of my existence. Have I ever met someone who has “attained enlightenment?” No, I have not. In fact, with the exception of my studies of the Gautama Buddha, I’m not necessarily aware of anyone who has ACTUALLY achieved enlightenment through the practice of meditation.

Admittedly, that first paragraph is a bit on the cynical side, as I do genuinely believe that the path to enlightenment resides within myself. One of the only ways to try and find it is through meditation. But for the most part, I’ve used meditation for everything from blocking out pain and fatigue, focusing my mind, improving accuracy during shooting or fighting and lowering my blood pressure and/or heart rate in the hopes of calming myself. Given that I have pleasant soup bowl of ADD, OCD and PTSD buried in my psyche, meditation has been helpful in a number of different ways.

I’ve always been a big proponent of encouraging people to meditate wherever they find a spot to sit and whenever they find a minute. Any meditation is better than no meditation, right? Maybe not… Distraction is one of the biggest obstacles to effective meditation. That’s why it’s always better to try and observe the practice in a quiet atmosphere with nothing but a touch of soft, instrumental music playing. Although one should be able to clear one’s mind and find some way to take a few moments to deepen one’s breathing and meditate, there’s one obstacle that is and inherent distraction and makes meditation difficult at best: having kids.

Pretty much what meditation is like with Nathan in the house!

Children can be a wondrous addition to a household and will undoubtedly add some action and excitement to one’s life. I can definitely admit that Nathan is like a spinning Tasmanian devil from a Looney Toons cartoon on the best of days, and he’s gotten quite good at riling up his one year old brother, Alex. This can make for an extremely difficult environment to meditate in, regardless of how your home is laid out. I often tell Nathan that it’s quiet time, but this only works on a six-year old for so long, and that tactic absolutely does not work on an infant. So, what do you do?

Since the demolishment of my basement, the ability for sound to travel through the floor has more than doubled, meaning someone upstairs will hear everything happening downstairs and vice versa. So despite the lovely floor mats and workout area I’ve installed in my bare basement, I can pretty much hear every peep and bump that goes on above my head. I often try to meditate for at least fifteen minutes after every workout in order to centre myself, lower my heart rate and calm myself. But I’m usually unsuccessful.

So, what can you do? There are a number of options that are available. The first and most obvious, would be to wait until the children are sleeping/out of the house. This was much easier before Nathan’s school shut down due to COVID-19, but having him out of the house for the day while Alex naps would allow for a period of time to meditate. Realistically, sometimes your schedule simply needs to work around your children as opposed to in spite of them.

Another simple alternative is to simply leave the house. Meditating outside is a little difficult during the winter months, but there are other options. Space heaters in the garage will allow you to meditate there, albeit for a short time. There’s also nothing wrong with simply sitting in your vehicle and taking a short period to meditate there. You could even drive to another location and park, so long as you don’t mind people wondering what the hell you’re doing or the occasional officer of the law tapping on your window to inquire if you’re okay.

We surrender a lot and sacrifice everything once we have children. This is simply the reality of adult life. But if meditation is an important practice in your existence, than you should work towards finding ways on order to achieve it, no matter what your home circumstances. Especially if you use it as a tool for balancing your mind and body. Suddenly and indefinitely going without it can alter your mood, temperament and even your body chemistry. ☯

Alright, Let’s Do It All over Again…

Welcome to 2021! Happy New Year and best wishes to all of you, going ahead. I know that the previous year wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And I swear by the Light, if I’d have had to listen to one more person say “2020 is gonna be my year!” I probably would have vomited a little. I may be a little bitter, since life has been sending me down rough waters long before 2020 settled its talons into all of us, but with COVID-19 taking a firm hold on the world, I haven’t really heard anyone saying that “2021 is gonna be my year!”

Some things that I’d like all my readers to remember as we step into yet another digit on the calendar, is that life and nature do NOT recognize the Gregorian calendar. What this means is that just because we’ve turned a page from ’20 to ’21 doesn’t mean that the fight is over and everything is going back to normal. The coming year will still require all of you to fight hard, make goals and accomplish wonderful things under your own power. The next is that like I always say, life doesn’t care about your plan. Despite whatever goals you set for yourself, be ready to be flexible and change to accommodate whatever gets thrown in your way. While navigating the river’s currents, you’re pretty sure to alter your course if there’s a huge rock in your way (unless you’re an idiot!) and so it should be with life and one’s goals.

Last but not least, let’s all try to eliminate as much suffering in the world as we can. Both within our own lives and within the lives of others. Often, we become so focused on our own pain that we don’t care that our words and actions may affect someone else. At least in my own experience, some of the worst things that have happened to me have come as a result of someone else’s words and actions. And those people likely aren’t even aware of how much suffering they’ve caused.

Despite the time and opportunities lost in 2020, let’s look forward and focus on working towards the things we may accomplish, the experiences we may get to have and the loved ones we still have in our lives, near or far. All other resolutions aside, this year should have you focusing on simply making things better, for yourself and others. When you feel like you’ve been running uphill for so long that your legs are about to give out, remind yourself of the reward that’s waiting at the peak. And the only way you’ll get there is to keep on running. ☯

And Touched The Sound, Of Silence…

Ah, Simon & Garfunkel… Part of the endless soundtrack of my youth, the Sound of Silence is a haunting classic with rich lyrics that stir the imagination and move the spirit. And most recently in 2015, a band called Disturbed covered the song and did a fantastic job. Both versions stir a little something in my soul and the song is fantastic. If you haven’t heard either version, I highly recommend you fall down the youTube rabbit hole and watch both. Then, you can judge for yourself. But enough about my musical preferences; let’s get on with the point of today’s post.

Today, I’d like to talk about silence. A beautiful thing, silence. Not many of us get to enjoy it. In fact, modern life almost makes it impossible. Depending on where you live, even if you happen to be childless and live alone, you’ll still hear the residual background noise of the world around you. And sometimes, the static can get to be a bit much. This is one of the purposes behind meditation. Quieting your mind can often be achieved through intense and mindful meditation. But what about being quiet yourself? There are plenty of stereotypes about Buddhism; in fact, I’ve written posts on that very thing. But one of the stereotypes that happen to be true is that some of us choose to take a vow of silence.

Vows of silence are used in many different religions and even by some non-religious affiliates of those religions. The reasons behind it vary, ranging from simply a disciplinary requirement of the particular religious sect, forms of protest and all the way up to helping self-enlightenment and the belief that it potentially brings one closer to God. But for the purposes of today’s post, I’ll focus on what’s familiar, which is the Buddhist aspect.

In Buddhism, taking a vow of silence can certainly represent will-power and self-discipline. But it also serves as a means of being at one with your thoughts, developing a better ability to listen to others (something most people should develop) and making certain that one observes Right Speech, which is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. A vow of silence helps to ensure that you have the ability to think about what you’ll say before it comes barreling out of your mouth. This prevents you from bringing harm o yourself or others by saying something foul or negative.

Definitely, one of the main reasons one should take a vow of silence is not only to stop talking, but to quiet one’s mind. I’ve spoken about how Zen involves achieving peace and enlightenment through meditation, and this is pretty difficult with a disquieted mind. During a vow of silence, one does not simply stop talking; one needs to be aware and be mindful of one’s thoughts, eliminating the negative and focusing on the positive.

That last aspect can be a challenge, and certainly one of my own, personal obstacles during meditation. Being mindful and in control of one’s thoughts is a difficult thing, requiring years of practice and self-discipline. After all, even though focusing on nothing is still focusing on something, trying to keep the mind clear becomes difficult because the human brain simply isn’t designed NOT to have thoughts coursing through it. A vow of silence can help with that.

Contrary to some sources and popular opinion, a vow of silence doesn’t have to be a life-long thing. Some monks will take a vow of silence for a specified period of time or for specific reasons and then resume speaking. Some will simply stop using verbal communication, although most are of the belief that even written communication is a form of speaking and will avoid writing as well.

Last but not least, silence can lend some physiological benefits to the body. According to an article I found on PsychCentral.com, even just short periods of silence can help lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, decrease stress, promote good hormone regulation and even prevent plaque formation in the arteries. The article goes on to suggest a variety of ways to achieve that silence, including a walk in the woods, meditating, deep breathing (which you’ll do while meditating anyway) and my favourite, which is staying in bed an extra five minutes before getting up for the day. That last one is pointless with two young boys in the house. But I digress…

Some people aren’t big fans of being in silence. Some can even say they have a phobia of silence. Be that as it may, there’s no denying that any period of glorious noiselessness can have a variety of physical and emotional benefits and isn’t simply restricted to the religious side of things. Interested in trying it out? It doesn’t have to be a vow or last for a significant period of time. Choosing one hour every day to simply enjoy some silence can allow for all those benefits as well. Of course, I know a number of people who could definitely benefit from taking a vow and keeping their mouths shut for years. But that would mostly be for the benefit of the rest of the world. ☯

Respect, A Dying Art

Respect is a bit of a strange creature. We all think we deserve it, we all think we’re entitled to it, but very few of us do anything to genuinely deserve it. You’ll notice that I include myself in there because there have been times in my life where I’ve definitely thought I deserved the respect, even when faced with scenarios where I did very little to earn it. One good example comes to mind from all the way back, twenty four years ago…

I had suffered my first failure during my time at college and decided to take a year off, get a job to raise some added capital and hit hard again the following year. Little did I know at the time, life gave less than two shits about my plan and what started out as a part-time job quickly inflated to a full-time one within a couple of weeks. Further training and effort on my part saw me become a shift supervisor within six months, overtaking several people who had been at their job for years if not decades. (Yes, I’m a bit of an overachiever!)

Despite the celebratory nature of that accomplishment, I suddenly found myself overseeing and supervising people that I had spent the previous six months becoming friends with. This is never a good situation to be in, but it’s even worse when you suddenly take stock of the fact that you think they should respect your current station. The reality is that there is a big difference between authority and respect, and the latter needs to be earned despite having the former.

The same can be said for the martial arts, where tradition and ceremony are an integral part of the learning process and where respect is a free-flowing river that goes both ways. Bowing is a good example. What is a bow? In the simplest terms, bowing signifies a number of different things including greeting, affirmative response, gratitude or reverence as well as being a show of respect. In a karate dojo, a student is always expected to bow when entering and exiting the training area and whenever addressing one’s Sensei. Although there may not be another person there to receive that bow, it’s a ceremonial gesture that shows respect.

But what about the Sensei him or herself? Do they automatically deserve your respect? They certainly have authority over matters pertaining to your martial training, but the question is whether or not they should be respected from day one. The simple answer is yes, they should. If for nothing other than their station and as the head of the school, your Sensei should be shown respect from day one. But the kind of in-depth respect or reverence one feels for their Sensei after years of tutelage falls under a slightly different category.

Honestly, students who found themselves unable to show the basic elements of respect within Sensei’s dojos never lasted very long. After all, if you aren’t interested in the traditions and ceremonies that come with karate, go join boxing or MMA. Martial arts may not be for you. But having respect for someone is something that is generally earned by the recipient through gestures, words and actions. It isn’t something that’s automatically given.

This is especially true in the example I provided at the beginning. I’ve had a significant number of supervisors, managers and bosses throughout my life. Some have been good, some have been bad, but all of them had authority over me in some way, shape or form. All of them had my obedience (within reason); only a few have received my respect. This is because only a certain handful have been able to show that their employees and staff mattered and issued directives in the interest of them, instead of in spite of them.

The last important aspect I’ll touch on, is that respect needs to be maintained. Just because someone has gained your respect, doesn’t mean that they’ll keep it indefinitely. Through their words and/or actions, there’s a great deal a person can do to lose your respect. Certainly, the first step towards gaining someone’s respect is by showing respect yourself. But then, if that person hasn’t gained your respect, this can be difficult. It’s a tumultuous back-and-forth process that isn’t easy to navigate. The important thing to remember is to always give respect where it’s due or deserved; never expect it without earning it. ☯

Sleep Vs. Meditation

Meditation is a large part of Zen Buddhism and I’ve been practicing meditation in some form or another for about twenty years or more. During this time, I’ve seen meditation do some amazing things; overcome pain, focus one’s concentration, fight insomnia and even control one’s cardiac rhythm. Some of it has a lot to do with the style and type of meditation one practices as, yes, there are a number of different ways to meditate. This has often led me to ask the question: Can meditation replace sleep?

The easy answer would be no, it can’t. But that’s a subjective opinion. I’ve found some sources that would indicate otherwise. And I’ll embarrassingly admit that there have been times when I’ve found myself falling asleep DURING meditation, and there are a number of logical, explainable reasons behind that. According to an article posted by HealthLine.com, proper meditation is a relaxation technique that helps to increase melatonin and serotonin, decrease blood pressure and reduce one’s heart rate. These are all early steps that one’s body goes through prior to falling asleep. So one could easily suggest that meditation can logically lead to sleep.

It stands to reason that when meditation is used as a relaxation technique, it will calm a person and help promote sleep. But that still doesn’t answer the question of whether it can REPLACE sleep. From a personal standpoint, I’ve found that often meditating for even fifteen minutes has had something of a rejuvenating effect and has created an increased state of alertness. But this could easily be attributed to the calming effects of the meditation as opposed to a lack of need for sleep.

I found an interesting article on Muse that suggests that although meditation can never completely replace sleep, there are a number of deep similarities between the two. However, the differences include the mind’s state of alertness where, while meditating, we’re always focused on SOMETHING, even when that something is nothing. Meanwhile, during sleep the conscious mind is taking a break, despite the fact that the body is performing a bunch of important tasks, including synaptic repair and memory organization. It’s also been said that there are tens of thousands of thoughts coursing through our minds while we sleep. Sleep is one of those things that continues to be researched, regardless of how many studies are put out.

There are some studies that show that ten minutes of deep meditation can replace about 44 minutes of sleep (ecoinstitute.org). These studies are usually inconclusive but if accurate, one could feasibly meditate for just short under two hours in order to reap the benefits of a full night’s sleep. Sign me the hell up! You know all of those times when you’ve uttered “there aren’t enough hours in the day?” Just think of what you could do if you suddenly gained six hours a day that you no longer needed to sleep through!

That EcoInstitute link I shared goes on to explain that “[…] as far as the body is concerned, meditation and sleep are two different things. While sleep is meant to replenish your energy and help you heal, meditation is designed to cancel out the stress that made you tired in the first place.” So the concept of meditating to replace sleep is a bit of wishful thinking.

There are plenty of articles and studies out there for anyone who is looking for more information. In all my years of using meditation, I can honestly say that I’ve had to succumb to sleep at some point. So I totally agree that they’re separate aspects of rest and one can’t replace the other. But I also know that meditation, used in the right context, can provide an increased level of alertness that can be useful for getting through that slump in your workday or even just helping yourself feel better. Even ten or fifteen minutes of meditation over one’s lunch hour can be beneficial. Now if only I could get Nathan to meditate… ☯

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What Would You Do With Freedom, If You Had It?

Freedom can mean different things to most people. For some, it means “financial” freedom, whereas one has enough money in the bank to be clear of debts and not require employment to survive. For others, it’s simply NOT being locked up or imprisoned. But in general, it means having the ability to act, speak or think without constraint. It’s being able to go where you want, when you want and do what you want. And I think that we can agree that the vast majority of people who live in North America have that freedom, to varying degrees.

I don’t think I really need to point out that 2020 has been an absolute shit show for the entire world. In fact, some would argue (myself included) that COVID-19 has acted as an ultimate equalizer, since the virus does not discriminate and can be contracted by anyone of any age, race or gender. But we’ve seen a wider variety of people catch the virus than we would have originally thought possible at the beginning, including politicians, celebrities and the elderly. And the effect is that many if not most people feel and are of the opinion that they are losing their freedoms.

It’s been an increasingly stressful time, especially for those who are separated from those they love. One good example is my mother, with whom I speak to on a weekly basis. Yes, yes, I’m a momma’s boy and call my mother often. I’m also an only child, and father to her only grandchildren. So keeping a positive connection is important, one way or another. My father currently resides in a nursing home, where he’s been for about ten years. He voluntarily placed himself there after it became clear that my mother didn’t have the physical capacity to take care of a 330-pound man in a wheelchair.

For the most part they’ve been able to make it work, with my mother renting a small bachelor’s apartment next door to the nursing home and being with him everyday. Then, along came COVID-19. My father’s nursing home has been locked down ever since, despite the fact that many others in the Province of New Brunswick have reopened their doors (intermittently, depending on the status of their cases). This is an affront to my mother, who compares my father’s residence at the home and her inability to see him to being locked up in a prison.

I may have a bit of a jaded and subjective point of view, but I don’t know many prisons that have hardwood floors, picture windows with a view of the bay and serve customized meals, three days a week. But that’s just me. The sick and elderly are among the most vulnerable, and the choice to keep the care home’s doors closed to the public is a clear result of not wanting to potentially spread the virus to every resident there. The irony is that my mother COULD visit my father. The care home is allowing immediate family to visit on an appointment basis, with restrictions in place allowing for no longer than thirty minutes and requiring social distancing during the visit.

One would think that this would be good news. I would consider it so, since I’m on the other side of the country and can’t see my parents regardless of conditions. But my mother refuses to visit my father in this fashion, feeling that they don’t pay the money that they do to be kept separated from one another. It doesn’t matter that no individual has the right to make the choice for other residents and potentially introduce the virus into their environment. She simply refuses to take advantage of what’s offered because it isn’t what she wants.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and I’m simply using them as the most familiar example I can use. But the point is that when this whole mess started, we all foolishly thought the world was grinding to a halt for 30 to 90 days and then things would go back to normal. Oh, how wrong we were! 9 months later, we’re still dealing with restrictions, imposed mandates and the constant yo-yoing on local and Federal governing agencies opening things up then taking them away again as soon as an outbreak happens.

What’s been the most disheartening, is people’s reaction to doing what’s necessary. A blanket attitude of basically not giving a shit has gripped society by the gonads and seems to be keeping a firm hold. People still balk at the very notion of wearing a face mask. I’ve fallen down many a YouTube hole where people have claimed and tried to get out of wearing masks in public places because of medical conditions, despite health professionals publicly declaring that the only conditions that would make wearing a mask impossible would be so severe that the patient wouldn’t be out and about. Customer limits and home school requirements, social distancing and the inevitable folding of privately owned businesses… I wasn’t kidding when I said that 2020 has been a shit show.

The problem is that people hate to be told what to do. You can take a family that’s financially poor, struggles to make rent and has to swallow their pride and accept charity, access food banks and hand-me-down clothing and they’ll do what’s necessary. But tell them they must lawfully wear a face mask while during their weekly Walmart run and all hell breaks loose. Like I said, COVID-19 has been, among other things, the great equalizer.

For my family, it hasn’t changed a great deal of much. My employer has had me at home for almost two years now and my wife works from home. The only significant change was this week, when my son began remote learning due to an outbreak in our local schools. My wife and I weren’t happy about the change, but we complied and adapted as it was necessary to continue my son’s education. But otherwise, the bills get paid, there’s food on the table and we’re taking advantage of being able to spend so much time together.

For those who chose to complain about the government, mask and isolation requirements, consider the following OBVIOUS facts: If this were all a conspiracy on behalf of the government, I’m sure they would chose a much better method of control than making someone wear a paper-thin mask on their face. Things may seem bleak now, but it will only be through the passing of this virus that any of us can hope to experience a normal life again. ☯

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It Won’t Happen On Its Own…

The past couple of years have been particularly hard on my family and I, with work difficulties wreaking havoc on our future, my family living on the other side of the country and my father almost passing away a few months ago. My father has been suffering for years, and he feels that his passing would be a relief, but what would be particularly tragic is the fact that I would be unable to be there for my family due to the pandemic, should it happen. That, and the fact that he’s never met his second grandson, Alexander.

That’s why in the midst of all the pain and difficulties, it’s important to be happy. People walk through life, often aware that they aren’t happy but do nothing about it. An important lesson of life that people tend to forget about is the fact that happiness is a practice, not a given. It won’t happen on its own, it’s something you have to take active steps in order to achieve.

Now, I could blabber on about my usual go-to’s, how exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet and working on personal goals will all help to promote happiness. And these things are all true, don’t get me wrong. Keeping your fitness levels up releases a whole mess of crap inside your body that will make you feel good on its own. Getting a full night’s sleep and being well-rested will also be of great help. But ultimately, you should be trying to do one little thing that makes you smile, every day.

Personally, since I’m a YouTube addict, I’ll usually try to watch a motivational or inspirational video every morning. My thinking is that if I can start my day by seeing something positive, it will tip the scale and arm me with the positivity I need in order to tackle the negativity of the day I may face. This doesn’t always work, but for the most part, I’m successful in putting a grin on my face. This morning for example, I watched a video posted by a YouTube channel called “The Dodo” of an obese dog losing half its body weight to become healthier. It’s a small thing, took only a few moments of my time and made me smile. I’ll link it below:

Sometimes I’ll do something as simple as sit there and watch my 1-year old (who doesn’t quite walk yet) stand on his own two feet for a full minute because he’s so occupied with the toy he’s holding that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. Then he notices he’s standing and suddenly can’t maintain balance and flops down onto his rump. Heartwarming and entertaining. Other days, it’s as simple as watching two squirrels frolicking on the tree outside my kitchen window while doing dishes.

My point is that there is still plenty of reason to smile, one simply needs to look for it. And with the current state of the world and one’s personal circumstances, it becomes important to work diligently at one’s own happiness. It won’t happen on its own. And you’ll come to find that when you’re happy and in a good mood, others around you may be a little brighter as well. Happiness can be contagious. But it’s a practice, not a given. ☯