Zen In The Apocalypse

It’s been a long couple of months, with the majority of the world doing their very best at staying isolated and social-distancing, and the small percentage of mouth-breathing idiots who are still letting their children play on public play structures and throwing parties and gatherings (I’m looking at you, Karen!). For the most part, the world has been doing what they have to.

Here in Canada, penalties and fines have been issued against quarantine violators in some of the more serious circumstances, and Provincial borders remain closed at most locations. Slowly but surely, governments are beginning to reopen certain semi-essential services, such as dentists, eye doctors and such, mostly on a Provincial basis. Back in New Brunswick, my family reports restaurants reopening with limited seating and families being permitted to travel to each other’s homes. No such leniency has taken place here in Saskatchewan.

But despite the progress that’s been made, it may still be a while before we can all romp in the outdoors and mingle with members of public like we used to. In fact, many believe that this may be the beginning of a new phase of society that could become permanent, with video meetings and working from home becoming the norm.

Despite the closing of businesses, suspension of many jobs and the financial strain that many are feeling as a result of the current pandemic, the aspect that people seem to be having the greatest difficulty adapting to, is self-isolation. Today’s society in general doesn’t do well with being told they HAVE to do something (a fact I’ve learned all too well over the past ten years), which is why we continue to have people who smoke in public places, litter and use their cell phones while driving. But I digress…

The point is, faced with the difficulty of being cooped up inside their homes on a near-constant basis with spouses and children has begun to take a toll on many, with things like cabin fever and quarantine fatigue becoming very real concerns. Emotions and frustrations are rising and the especially important detail of trying to keep children occupied and entertained when they don’t have school and can’t go play at the park can be a real challenge. And trying to stay Zen throughout it all can feel like scaling a mountain with a shard of glass in your boot…

First of all, people need to understand the difference between “quarantine” and “isolation.” I’ve been hearing folks use them interchangeably, but they both have distinctively different meanings. A “quarantine” is defined as a strict isolation imposed t prevent the spread of a disease. This usually involves isolating people who are known, believed or suspected to have, carry or could spread the disease, whether symptomatic or not.

“Isolation”, whether self-imposed or not, is a bit simpler in terms that it’s the separation of a person from others. That’s it. You don’t have the disease (that you know of) but you’re keeping yourself indoors to prevent its spread. Which is great, but it doesn’t mean you can’t step outdoors and it can have detrimental effects on your health if you don’t take steps for your own mental well-being.

The internet has done what it usually does, when something serious of this nature arises and expressed its displeasure with the propagation of memes, jokes and overall lack of seriousness for the whole thing. But the reality is that some families are ACTUALLY having difficulties being isolated together for long periods of time when the norm has been to have their own separate periods away form one another.

But what’s important to remember is that despite terms such as “quarantine” being thrown around, if you are simply self-isolating and aren’t asymptomatic or trying to recover from a serious illness, there’s plenty you can do to help stem the tide of building pressure within your household. Go take a walk. Many people take this possibility for granted, but there’s nothing stopping you from heading out and taking a nice long walk. Fresh air, alone with your thoughts and some mild exercise, it can go a long way towards saving your sanity.

Even just spending time outside, even if you aren’t doing anything, will be very helpful. Fresh air can be an incredible asset. Meditation and Zen can be difficult in a contained environment, especially with small children involved since they don’t understand when mommy or daddy need some “quiet time.” This is one of the reasons I enjoy cycling. Besides the challenge of racking up as many kilometres in as short a time as possible, the fresh air and the time to be alone with my thoughts allows me to engage in a sort of moving meditation.

So be sure to get out there and find yourself something that works for you. Even if you don’t practice Zen, everyone inevitably NEEDS Zen. Finding some balance and peace during uncertain times is important to everybody, and remember that no matter what responsibilities your shoulders may bear, everybody needs/deserves some time to themselves. Even during a pandemic. ☯

When You Never Throw The First Punch…

We live in a society where bullying has a very hot, bright spotlight shining on it. Back in the early 2000’s, anti-bullying initiatives started to take the world by storm and all sorts of different things, such as pink shirt day and anti-bullying day became a thing. Since then, heavy awareness has been brought against this pointless activity (the bullying, not the initiatives), even if it’s something that has always been around. This spotlight hasn’t done much to eliminate bullying, despite things like celebrity endorsement and attention, and the many valuable resources that have been allotted to it. And why is that?

I was bullied in my youth. And no, I don’t mean the typical, snowflake version of bullying that bothers most kids these days where someone has made fun of your clothing or appearance. Not to belittle their experiences, you understand. Every person’s threshold for bullying can be different, but I was bullied in such a way where I was often physically thrown into school showers, fully clothed. I was then forced to finish my day soaking wet with no way to get dry or obtain a change of clothes (sometimes in the depth of winter).

I had my lunch taken from me, numerous times. This doesn’t sound especially harmful, but when you happen to have Diabetes it can actually be detrimental to your health. There were days when I had to make my way home and forfeit the remainder of my school day, otherwise I’d suffer blood sugar issues that I knew my school was unprepared to deal with, as a result. I’ve had groups of four or five guys actually surround me and pound me to the ground until I prayed and wished to either black out or have a teacher come along to help. One never did.

“Courage Is Fire, And Bullying Is Smoke”

– Benjamin Disraeli

I even remember the one day where, once class had let out, I walked out to the student parking lot to find my car firmly wedged between two trees on the grassy median between the student and teacher parking lots. I was incensed, and immediately went to the principal’s office where the police were promptly called to attend. Of course, nobody spoke up to identify who did it and it wasn’t the sort of crime where the cops would dust for prints and call in CSI, so the school custodian had to count down one of the trees to release my vehicle so I could drive away. I never found out who did it.

Now if you’re clever enough to do the math, the fact that I had a car at school meant that I was at least 16. I had been studying karate since I was about the age of 10. So, many of you may be asking the question, Why didn’t you do something? Oh, trust me! That day came soon enough… But until my breaking point, I had been studying martial arts with the purpose of improving my health and overall well-being. Despite the study of a fighting art, I had never used the skills I had learned in a genuine fight, as was not my way. I was not enthused at the prospect of harming another person, even if it was in defence of myself. That all came to a screaming halt, one fateful spring morning.

I walked into a late-morning language class, which ran right before lunch period. I was almost ten minutes early, as it was my custom to typically avoid recess and the crowds of people it involved. There were a couple of students in the class who had also arrived early. Three guys, whom I recognized as being some of my most frequent oppressors, walked into the classroom and immediately spotted me at the back.

The taunting started almost immediately, with all three crowding down the row and heading slowly towards me. Some of their typical tactics took place; my books were scattered to the floor, I was grabbed out of my seat and shoved hard against the wall. You know, typical bullying behaviour. The lead bully’s taunting took a different turn when, out of nowhere he pulled out a pocket knife.

Now, to prevent any thoughts that I’m exaggerating, I feel it’s necessary to describe this “knife”. It was a small, folding 1-inch blade; the kind with a small loop and chain on it meant to be used as a keychain. It was hardly a bowie knife or a short sword, and there was no thick Australian accent telling me that “this is a knife!” But even the smallest blade can be deadly, depending on the intent of the user.

The bully smiled devilishly and held the open blade at my stomach and not only questioned what I was going to do about it, but my ability to do anything. Although it came out sounding more like “Whut are ya gonna do? Nothin’! Because you can’t…” I didn’t hear anything of what he said next as my world turned red. This was my breaking point. I had been threatened, beaten, my personal property had been vandalized and my formative years that should have been pleasant and educational for me were some of the worst of my life. Like a pressure cooker with a ruptured seal that finally blew, years of bullying and abuse finally surfaced. And it was directed against this young offender who chose to make himself feel like a big man by belittling someone else.

“Just Pretend The Guy Is Like A Balloon. If You Pop ‘Em Hard, These Guys Just Go Away…”

– Tommy Gunn, Rocky V

I moved. The movement was quick and semi-precise, and to this day I don’t recall EXACTLY what I did as I responded on instinct born from years of repetitive fight training. But when my red haze cleared, the boy was sprawled on the classroom floor with a couple of desks pushed aside. His wrist was broken and there were blood drops all over the floor. It took a moment for the adrenaline to die down enough for me to feel the sting against my flesh that made me realize that the blood was mine. I looked down and saw blood dripping from my wrist, where the blade had sliced. There was also a small cut in my pants, on the inner side of my knee, where the blade had apparently visited my leg as well. A physical shred of proof that shows that when bullying happens, EVERYONE gets hurt…

The other two guys backed away and checked on their friend, who was crying and cradling his arm. I sat quietly at my desk and didn’t move. The adrenaline dump and shock basically shut me down and all I could do was sit there. As luck would have it (my luck, at least), this was about the time the teacher walked in and saw all the chaos. My wounds were patched up. Visits to the principal’s office. Calls to the parents. A week’s suspension ensued. Not my shining moment…

Over the years when retelling this story, I’ve received a lot of mixed comments from people who believe I could have done many things differently. I could have implored my classmates for help, as there were a few people there. My response is usually that they saw the entire ordeal play out and stood by and did nothing. I’ve even had some people state that I shouldn’t have allowed myself to “suffer in silence” for so long and should have gotten faculty and parents involved. Trust me, I had done that a number of times by that point, which yielded negative results.

There are a number of reasons why people decided to bully others. And that’s the key factor; being a bully is a choice. Whether it’s for power or popularity, as a means of retaliation, seeking popularity or because one is venting the pain from being bullied themselves, none of the reasons are good. And eventually, an active step needs to be taken to make it stop. This is especially true in some of the extreme circumstances we’ve seen in recent decades where some kids have ended the pain through suicide.

I’m obviously not an advocate of violence. But the unfortunate reality is that sometimes, the only way to effectively stop the bully is to strike back. That’s the reality I faced over twenty years ago, and the same is true for many kids today. I plan on teaching my sons the same lesson that a friend of mine has taught his children. When someone does you wrong or bullies, always start by communicating with them. Ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work, the next step is to seek out a teacher or adult to help brings matters to an end. But if and when all those things fail, you still need to stand up for yourself and make the suffering stop. You should never be the first to throw a punch. But you should never accept to receive a second.

Psychology Today has a good article on the reasons behind bullying. It’s one of those things that has always been around. And unfortunately always will. Whether intentional or not, there will always be those who seek personal advantage at the suffering of others. The key is to protect oneself and in doing so, ensuring that one does not slip off the edge and become a bully themselves.

My experiences changed me. Decades later, I still have two physical scars of that encounter, and a number of emotional ones that have steered some of the decisions in my life. There have been a number of opportunities where I could have easily BECOME the bully. But bullying is a weakness, and it takes and creates more personal strength to be kind and understanding of others than it does to be a thug. ☯

When The Way Is Right…☸️

I don’t deny that one could say I became a Buddhist almost by accident. I hadn’t even HEARD of Buddhism when I started martial arts in the late 80’s, yet here I am. Decades later, constant study and trying to follow the right path. A good portion of my story is a prime example of cause and effect. As I progressed in the martial arts, I was introduced to concepts such as Budo, Bushido’s code and my first introductions to Buddhism.

Despite the accidental introductions (or not so accidental, if one believes that all things happen for a reason) there have been a number of measurable benefits to my years of Buddhist study and martial arts. I originally got into martial arts for the purposes of improving my health, and it has turned out to provide more benefit than that scrawny kid ever could have imagined when he set out on the journey…

There’s no denying that the martial arts has provided me with a number of significant advantages.  The physical requirements and exercise has helped to improve my insulin sensitivity and fight off insulin resistance.  The intense training has provided me with better blood circulation, which as most of you likely know, is VERY important to someone with Diabetes.  Measurable improvements in body mass and appetite followed, allowing me to survive well past the window of expectation that most of my doctors had for me in the late 80’s, early 90’s.

  When I started studying Buddhism, some of the most important aspects that I began to work on were mindfulness, meditation and control of my inner thoughts and emotions.  This is not to say that I don’t display emotions (my wife can attest to that), but my practice has allowed me to control how I externalize my reactions and emotions.  Over the years, this has allowed me to deal with problems and face issues in my personal and professional life in an almost detached manner that allows for logic to step in and for the emotion to come out at a later time.

Something I need to point out is that most people automatically associate Buddhism with meditation, but the truth is that you can reap the benefits of meditation on its own.  Not only from a Diabetes standpoint but for people in general, meditation can do a world of good.  This is becoming a well-known fact, and plenty of people are getting on board.  Meditation is offered/taught in some places of work, schools and a variety of classes where different varieties of meditation are taught.

And yes, there are different types of meditation.  Some of the most popular ones are transcendental meditation, focused meditation, mantra meditation and relaxation meditation are but a few, and it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with the meditation that you do.  Just like there are a variety of types of yoga and types of martial arts. 

But some of the benefits of meditation can include lowering one’s blood pressure, controlling pain within the body, improving one’s sleep, helps one to focus and increase self-awareness and helps with stress and anxiety.  All of these things can be helpful with the control of blood sugars and overall Diabetic health.  You can find introductory classes on guided meditation in most major cities, and there are plenty of books on the subject as well.  Be sure to keep an open mind, and if it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t be afraid to  seek out different classes as every instructor or teacher may have a different method of imparting the knowledge.

I may have fallen into some of what I do by accident or coincidence, but I’ll never look back.  One of the beautiful aspects of meditation is that you can basically do it anywhere.  All you need is a comfortable place to sit/lie down, whatever your preference may be.  ☯

Even If All Things Happen For A Reason…

There is a significant balance in life that one needs to acknowledge. For the most part, do well and you’ll live well. If you do wrong, you can expect to eventually crash and burn. This is a pretty basic rule to life that most people adhere to. Hmm… I think that has something to do with that whole karma thing. I’ve long been a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. That reason may not always be clear to some, but I’ve had enough instances in my own life where I’ve been able to trace the cause and effect of those instances to know it to be true.

The important thing to remember is that even though all things may HAPPEN for a reason, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily happens on its own.

“If It’s Meant To Be, It’ll Happen…”

– Lazy, Delusional Fools

I’ve heard the above statement often, from a lot of different people. “If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen…” Mmm, no! Nope! Nada! No, it won’t. Most of the time, this is said by people who are afraid or unwilling to go out and make things happen for themselves. And that’s exactly what NEEDS to be done. You gotta go out and make things happen.

This is an important life lesson, and one that many people in today’s altered society don’t seem to comprehend. There seems to be an almost undeniable belief in today’s society that good things can and will happen for you if you simply sit back and wait Coupled with this is an aggravating sense of entitlement that the most recent generations seem to have developed, where they feel that they should have something coming to them despite barely ever having lifted a finger.

Life doesn’t care about your plan. Light knows, I’ve said that often enough. But life is also like a book. And every book has a start and an end. It’s the chapters in between that are up to you to fill. How full and complete those chapters may be is up to you. Although all things happen for a reason, there’s nothing stopping you from going out and making those reasons happen for yourself. In fact, life can/will be exponentially better if you do. ☯

To Chi Or Not To Chi…

Does Chi exist? What is Chi? Chi can go by a number of different names: Chi, Ki or Qi, this energy is said to be the animating force behind all living things. In karate, we learn that our energy comes from the hara, or the belly area. This would be why ritual suicide in medieval japan was done by slicing open the belly as opposed to other “conventional” means.

But… Does it exist? This is the question that has been debated, especially in the Western world, for a very long time. Depending on what culture and/or background you may be referring to, Chi is what gives you the energy to keep going. We all have Chi and each person has the same amount throughout all of our lives. The use of that energy is simply allocated to different aspects as we get older. This would be one of the reasons why my 5-year old seems as though he has an endless pool of daddy-crushing energy while I wake up most mornings wondering if my body will actually get me out of bed.

It’s not magic or wild fantasy… I’ve seen some “scientists” speak about how Chi does not exist, there’s no evidence of it and there’s no way to prove its existence. Hmm. Perhaps they’re right, but some of the concepts behind Chi are also rooted in modern science. For example, the Law of Conservation of Energy teaches us that energy never ceases to exist; it is merely transformed or transferred. The amount of energy within a contained system remains constant.

So, ask yourself an important question: What are you? Are you simply the sum of your physical body? Nothing but a mass of tissue, water and bone? If so, what about the essence that makes you, well… you? The person you are, the sentience, the awareness, your personality and the living being that has put in years of existence in this life… What happens to that after you die? Is it simply a light switch that flicks off, or do you believe that your energy will be transformed or transferred?

Thinking about some of these questions can be scary. After all, no one likes to conceive of their own death. But as my uncle always says, “We only do TWO things in life; pay taxes and die!” The joke is many people get away from paying taxes. But death comes for us all. And the question of what comes after can yield anxious results.

I am totally on board with the fact that Chi isn’t some “magic” energy that can be harnessed. When you see people claiming to be able to push over opponents from behind a wall and shatter stone with the power of their Chi and other wild things, I can understand why people would be reluctant to believe or understand Chi. But just because a few charlatans have demonstrated fraudulently aspects, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That certain “something,” the unspoken quality that makes you sentient and self-aware, can’t be denied. It makes no difference whether or not you believe in gravity; it’ll still keep you firmly rooted to the ground. The same can be said about the energy that makes you who you are. Whether you choose to believe in its existence or not, won’t change the fact that you are still here. ☯

Nothing Is Free

I think it was Ted Hughes who said, “Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for.” In fact, I’ve been hearing some iteration of that saying all my life. My family and close influences have always told me that nothing in life is free. And in many ways, they’re quite right. All life is a balance, and usually that balance is maintained by taking from column “A” and dropping into column “B”.

This is why I’ve always been fascinated by the term “free time.” To be clear, this is the term used to define the period of time where one is not required to work, or has the time to spare to engage in leisure activities. In recents weeks, people have been finding themselves with loads of “free” time and have often found themselves at a loss as to how to fill it.

Despite the current state of things, your time is certainly not free. Whenever you surrender your time for one thing, it usually comes at the cost of another. Consider this: It’s Sunday afternoon. You’ve followed whatever routine and habits your household adheres to and perhaps you’ve enjoyed Sunday brunch or some pre-planned meal.

Now comes the decision as to what you’ll do with your afternoon. Will you do some household chores? If you’re a homeowner, that list is never complete. Perhaps you could have a workout. Maybe you need to assess your taxes, complete paperwork needed for work on Monday, play with your kids or call you mother. The chances are that whatever choice you make will take away from everything else. If you choose to assess your taxes or focus on paperwork for your job, you’ll be ignoring your kids and sitting on your rump as opposed to getting some exercise.

“Nothing Of Value Is Free. Even The Breath Of Life Is Purchased At Birth Only Through Gasping Effort And Pain.”

– Robert Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land

At the end of the day, it all comes down to proper time management. Being able to decide how to accomplish things through the course of your day in conjunction with keeping deadlines is invaluable, whether it’s for your home or your work. Believe it or not, there is no such thing as multitasking.

Don’t believe me? Think about it… No matter how many tasks you think you’re doing simultaneously, you’re only ever actively doing one thing at a time. Even when you have two things on the go, one of them is usually progressing on its own while you’re attending to the other.

My job uses a colourful term referred to as “task sequencing.” This follows on the coattails of what I mentioned above, where you aren’t so much doing two things at once but doing one thing after another respectively, based on their importance. I may be getting on a bit of a rant here, and being a bit too specific and/or technical. My only point is that even in the midst of all this “free” time, one should be mindful of how their time is put to use.

If you do find yourself with some of this so-called free time, be sure to use it constructively. After all, idle hands lead to idle minds. It may be the perfect time to get to that book you’ve been dying to read or try and learn that second language. Online learning and courses are become all the rage, especially as a semi-permanent after-effect of a self-isolated world. Either way, when one is not exercising the body, one should be exercising the mind. So be sure to fill your time constructively. Not only will it pass the time, you will be all the better for it. ☯

I Apologize For This Post…

I’m sorry. That doesn’t seem difficult to say, does it? Yet, most people are reluctant, even hesitant, to say they’re sorry and apologize, even when the situation warrants it. And why is that? As reasonable, rational people, should apologizing be so difficult? For most people, it certainly is.

I found myself thinking about this recently, when I had a small confrontation with my 5-year old son. I had woken and got my first caffeine of the morning with the intention of sitting and enjoying it before having to deal with matters of the day. My son was playing nicely on the floor with his baby brother, Alex. When I came down to the floor to check on the baby, Nathan and I got into a playful wrestling match. Once it was done, I started to stand, but he was holding firmly to my leg.

When I finally convinced him to let go, I stood and took the first step towards my morning coffee. He grabbed my leg once again, shifting my balance and forcing me to bring my foot down hard to stabilize myself. I very nearly stepped on the baby’s leg. I was not impressed. I sternly told him never to grab someone’s leg when they were walking as he could have tripped me and harmed the baby.

He took direct offence to this, and started pouting. Without getting into unnecessary details, the interaction ended with Nathan being sent to his room for talking back and being the basic little brat he occasionally enjoys being (I blame his damned cartoons!) I instructed him not to move from there until he was ready to apologize and be good.

It took well over an hour before he finally emerged from his room and presented me with a scribbled piece of construction paper. The scribbling apparently was a written apology, which he delivered verbally as well. (Doesn’t it tug your heart strings?) I freed him from his imprisonment and as an afterthought, I apologized as well…

Did I do anything wrong? Did I need to apologize? Maybe not. But I got angry with my child. I raised my voice and I doled out punishment. And I was sorry for both of those things. So I voiced as much. We exchanged a hug and he carried on with his day. I’ll admit that I felt better for apologizing.

So, if it makes one feel better, why does it seem so hard to do? According to an article posted by PsychologyToday, people who fall under the category of “non-apologists” will avoid or refuse apologizing, even in the most required of circumstances. The reasons for this may include trying to separate actions from character, feeling shame from having to apologize, fear of further conflict and assuming full responsibility for the situation.

But even if you’re not a non-apologist, saying that you’re sorry, even when you may be responsible, can be difficult for most people. For some, apologizing can be difficult because it makes them feel vulnerable or humiliated. For others, it can be a matter of self-image as apologizing for something can make a person feel inadequate or lacking in something, since apologizing can often be interpreted as assuming fault or responsibility. Even if that’s not necessarily the case.

Saying that your sorry can be the easiest thing that is so hard to do. But there’s no denying that there would likely be less suffering in the world if we could all swallow our pride and simply say “I’m sorry” when it is asked of us. Whether wrong or not, sometimes it can mean all the difference. Maybe even to yourself. ☯