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.

Don’t Forget The Good ‘Ol Days…

I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, I would often have two, three, often four or five books on the go at once. I still do. When my folks would try and get me to bed at night, they never had to read me a bedtime story as I would already be curled up with a paperback in my hands.

This isn’t to mean that it was all constructive reading… I would often read Archie comics or regular comic books. These numbered in the thousands by the time I reached the end of my teen years. But the reading was constant, and even the comic books helped to develop my imagination and creativity. My grandmother worked as a nurse, back in the days when nurses did a lot of the work that doctor would do, simply by virtue of availability. As a result, we had hundreds of medical textbooks from the 60’s in our home. And since there was only one room with enough space to fit a bookshelf to place them, they ended up in my room. My father wasn’t overly fond of me reading them, but I used to love going through them and seeing how the human body functioned. I think that may have been one of the divining factors behind my fascination with science (that, and Star Trek).

One of my mother’s biggest pet peeves when I was a child, was my tendency to bring books to the table. Although quiet and well-behaved (at least according to her) I had a tendency of having a book in front of my face as soon as I sat at the table. Both my parents would insist I cast the book aside to allow me to spend the meal with them. My parents believed that mealtime was an important time for a family to speak with one another, discuss the day’s events and simply be in each other’s presence. They were right.

How a Family Dinner Should be. That’s not me, by the way!

There have been a number of studies in recent years related to the development of our children and the use of electronic devices. Although not inherently bad on their own, most professionals agree that child development depends on touch, visualization and speaking; many aspects we don’t get from a tablet. Even if your child’s device is “blessed” with educational app and games, their frequent use, especially at the dinner table and out at social gatherings (restaurants and get togethers) damage the child’s ability to develop certain social functions required as we grow into adulthood.

Mari K. Swingle, PhD. wrote a book on the subject called “i-Minds”, which covers the use of technology and its effect on our brains as well as our health and happiness. It will be released at the end of this month The National Post website has posted an interesting article, which cites some of Dr. Swingle’s concerns and can be read here: https://nationalpost.com/health/kids-are-getting-too-much-screen-time-and-its-affecting-their-development

My wife and I recently started imposing a “no devices” policy at the dinner table. It hasn’t been easy, and my son has often balked at the prospect. He’s even taken to using the trick we’ve often seen joked about online where he puts the iPad just outside the dining room but still within viewing distance. It’s been a challenge, but he is starting to have his meals on a more consistent level and chats with us at the table.

Nathan, chasing ducks.

This morning, I took my son to Wascana Lake. Situated in Regina, Saskatchewan, it’s a man-made lake that was created in 1883 and it sits just north of the Parliament Building. It contains a lot of avian animals and is usually a favourite for people who run, cycle and take photographs.

Nathan was doing fine until the goose hissed at him!

Now, I could have shown Nathan some photos of the Parliament Building on his device. I could have looked up ducks and geese on his iPad and explained what he was seeing. He would have enjoyed it and would have “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” at seeing the animals. But it certainly wouldn’t have substituted taking a walk together, approaching and seeing the animals in real life and interacting with them. His laughter and enjoyment, coupled with running and fresh air has no comparison!

Although fun to look at, these large buggers can be aggressive

Technology and smart devices can certainly make life easier, in some respects. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of planting Nathan in front of his iPad on occasion in exchange for a few moments of peace and quiet. And while the advancement of technology has aided society in many ways, it’s important that we not lose sight of our humanity. Sit and talk with your children. Spend time doing things with them. This is how we will ensure the continued growth of our society. Not through the screen of a smart device.

The Child Mind Institute has also posted a wonderful article on Understood.org that covers the subject of devices at the dining table and its effects on children, as well as their parents. The article can be read here: https://www.understood.org/en/family/events-outings/family-dinners-and-dining-out/should-i-let-my-child-quietly-use-his-phone-at-the-dinner-table

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand…

Abraham Lincoln made the above noted comment as the opening line to his acceptance address for the Illinois Republican Party in 1858. Although I’m not referring to anything political today, I want to discuss foundations.

A good foundation is the basis for any house. And no matter how big and luxurious the house, it will eventually falter if the foundation is weak.

When getting into any kind of sport or martial art, it’s important to bear in mind that you need to learn the basics before you learn what most people consider the “fun stuff”. In my experience, I’ve found that people will often walk into a karate dojo hoping to do flying spin kicks and back flips within their first month. (For the record, in thirty years of karate I have never done either of those as they are all but useless in an actual fight)

One good example is the originator of my karate style, Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948), once explained that when he went to Fujien Province and learned Kung Fu, he spent three years training and practicing Sanchin kata before the monks would teach him anything else. Can you imagine? Doing the same structured form, over and over again, for three straight years before learning something else? Today’s modern student wouldn’t stand for it. But the monks at the monastery swore that Sanchin was the foundation for everything that followed and needed to be mastered first and foremost. Master Uechi went on to share this belief when he propagated the style in Okinawa.

When studying any martial art or sport, it is of the utmost importance that students learn and master the basics before moving on to something else. One would think this is common sense, but I’ve seen far too many students walk away once they realized that repetition was a constant within the dojo. Repetition is key in mastering any movement.

So, make sure you lay your foundation before building your house, and make it a strong one. This will guarantee that no matter how big your house gets, you can count on it being held up by the foundation you’ve taken the time to master.

So, What Comes Next?

One of the curious things that happens when I tell people I study Buddhism, is the apparent need to compare my beliefs to their own. I usually get asked the same batch of questions:

“So, do you believe in God?” (Yes, indeed I do!)

“Do you believe in life after death?” (I do, in fact. This is not discounting the concept of reincarnation that most Buddhists subscribe to)

“Oh, you’re one of those meditating people, right? Do you meditate?” (Yes, in fact I’m meditating right now to get through this conversation!)

All jokes aside, I never shy away from answering questions when someone is curious about a subject I have some knowledge on. But the aspect I want to discuss today is the concept of life after death. Let’s be honest, we have all wondered what happens when we die. At some point, we have wondered and/or hoped about the concept of heaven. Some people completely discount the possibility. Atheist, Humanists and Secularists especially, will have a reasonably firm opinion that there are no pearly gates waiting once we pass away.

However, science has been able to provide some insight, even for those who don’t follow a faith-driven lifestyle. The best explanation I could muster came out of me back in 2013, while speaking with my aunt.

Growing up, I only had one aunt on my father’s side. Although her name was Iris, the whole family always called her Cookie. She lived in the southern part of New Brunswick until her divorce, after which she moved to Alberta. It would be almost twenty years before I would see her again.

Before that came to happen, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It wasn’t until my work brought me out to the Prairies that I was in a position to go visit her. I traveled from South-Central Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta where I spent three wonderful days with Aunt Cookie. Despite her waning health, she was so full of life and smiles. She was the perfect example of a person making the best of the living moment, instead of contemplating what was to come.

On the third day, before I got on the road to travel back to Saskatchewan, we enjoyed a light lunch at a local eatery, where we had the opportunity to discuss life and what Aunt Cookie may or may not believe would be coming. As we discussed, I remembered describing something to her that I would be repeating to others for the years that would follow:

“Most people fall under two categories. Those who believe we go to heaven when we die, and those who don’t! If you live a faith-driven existence, then you should be confident in what your faith has taught you. If you’re right, then you’ll be headed to heaven. Even if you don’t have faith, science has proven that living beings are energy-based. At our very cores, we are composed of energy at the very atomic levels. And science has proven that energy can never be destroyed or cease to exist; it simply transforms. So even if you lead your life without a religious faith, science has proven that once we pass away, our energy will transform or move on to some other level. So, no matter what you believe, you should trust that this is not the end…”

Make of that what you will, but it makes sense, right? And it did make my Aunt Cookie feel better and potentially gave her some peace.

My Aunt Iris, or “Cookie” as the family would call her

My aunt passed away about six months later, but not before getting to meet the woman who would become my wife.

The bottom line is that we have no way of knowing what comes next. At least, not without going there to see for ourselves. And I don’t know about you but I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon. I have WAY too many things I want to get done first. Live life to the fullest and take the time to appreciate the now. Make every minute count.

Mind Over Matter, It Doesn’t Matter So Never Mind…

When was the last time you sat down at your kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee or tea and just SAT there? No agenda, no tasks or chores that need doing and no work to get to on that particular day? Can’t remember the last time that happened? Don’t feel bad, neither do I! But this likely means that we are lacking something very important in our lives: the ability to be still!

This morning I brought my son with me to check in at work and run some errands. As usual, he was his typical buoyant self, attracting everyone’s attention and fascinated by everything he sees. He seemed to be on a kick this morning of claiming he’s only one year old! According to him, his teacher told him this, although I’m sure something got lost in the translation. I asked him what he’d like to do this morning for an hour before going back to see his mother, and he replied with typical time-proven favourite: breakfast and the play place at a local fast-food eatery.

Now, I include breakfast because it would be ludicrous to think that we’d sit in a restaurant and not order something! But let me be clear; Nathan could care less about the food; he simply wants to play on the play structure with other children. A part of me is pleased that he wants to interact and socialize with other children. Another part of me longs for the silence that I wouldn’t get even if we were there alone.

Since it was an unplanned trip, I had limited resources with which to occupy myself while Nathan played. Oh sure, I had a book in my backpack. I almost always have a backpack when I expect to be out of the house for more than an hour. When you have Diabetes, you have little choice to do otherwise. What with testing equipment, fast-acting glucose and my glasses and other medications, I generally make it a rule to keep at least one piece of reading material with me. This morning’s selection was UechiRyu Karate Do by George E. Mattson.

But as I sat there, I found myself doing something I occasionally fall into: I observed the world around me. And this is what I noticed… People bustling and in a hurry. People raising their voices over mistaken orders and everyone staring at their watch. I happen to be in a position where sitting still at 9 in the morning is a very real possibility for me, but even when I’m at work, I like to think that I live in the moment and take time to do what’s immediately in front of me. Most of the people I observed were getting their coffee and/or their food because they need it to get on with their day, as opposed to sitting and enjoying it.

An important part of one’s mental and physiological well-being is to occasionally take the time to just sit still. Let the world around you melt away and just take the time to enjoy the moment. Sounds easier said than done? You damn right it is! But the benefits can be plentiful. Even for someone with Diabetes. Allowing yourself to relax causes your heart rate to slow, your blood pressure to lower and permits you to relax (depending on how many milligrams of caffeine may be in your beverage of choice, of course), all of which will help with blood sugar levels.

Today’s rat race makes it all but impossible to find time to sit in silence. And thanks to the advent of technology and social media, most of us can’t comfortably sit in silence anymore. But the practice is still sound and should be exercised. So, take some time for yourself. Sit there and let your mind drift. Well-known authors and composers have claimed that they do their best work when they simply let the ideas come to them. Why not emulate this behaviour and let your mind reset. Maybe you’d be surprised at the ideas you could develop!

Like A Bullet From A Gun

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine recently, where we discussed the varying responsibilities surrounding a serious problem within my own life.

During this conversation, we postulated that the responsibility for the existence of most problems in our lives were threefold: part of the fault lies with the other involved party, part of the fault is completely out of our control and last but not least, part of the fault lies within ourselves.

Most of us have a serious issue with that last one! Think back to when someone told you that something bad in your life was YOUR fault… How well did you receive that criticism? I’ll go out on a limb and suggest it probably didn’t go over well. And as well it shouldn’t. As a people, we’ve grown and developed to look for reasons outside of ourselves for the things that go wrong. We generally don’t want to believe that we, ourselves, are responsible for our own suffering. After all, why would I do something that causes me pain, right? It’s generally easier to blame someone else.

But the reality is that it’s true! In some ways, often through indirect channels, we are responsible for the good AND the bad in our lives. Whether through indirect words, actions or decisions, we are the result of our life’s choices. Once we realize this and make peace with that, we can begin to make peace with ourselves.

You can’t change the other involved party’s involvement. It’s like the old saying goes: “I can only control my own words, not how you react to them.” People will often cause issues in others for their own agenda. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their agenda is bad, but the resulting actions can sometimes cause strife in other people’s lives.

Here’s a good example… Think about the last time you got a speeding ticket. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it may have ruined (or at least damaged) the flow of your day. But that person is trying to contribute to the safety of our roads while trying to do his or her job. Their agenda is not BAD per say, but once you drive away, you’ve likely been left feeling angry and frustrated. Maybe you’re frustrated at the loss of money required to pay the fine. Maybe you’re frustrated because you believe the officer shouldn’t ticketed you. But the second part of the equation is that you obviously wouldn’t have gotten a ticket had you not been speeding, hence your part of the responsibility. The remainder is out of your control.

Although it’s a great example, some of you are probably thinking I’m off my rocker at the moment. But the reality of this is sound. Considering my background, I like to think of problems as being like a bullet from a gun. You have an incredible amount of control when dealing with a gun. You choose how well to clean and maintain the gun, whether or not to load it and what direction to aim it. You even have the choice as to whether you pull the trigger or not, although this may be influenced by outside sources. But once you pull the trigger, that bullet leaves the gun and is no longer in your control. It becomes too late to regret pulling the trigger and there is little you can do to stop the bullet. So I often say “It’s like a bullet from a gun. Once you pull the trigger, it’s too late…”

The bottom line is that we should never regret our choices. I’m repeating myself as I’ve covered this in a previous post, but it’s true. We are the culmination of our choices and any change in those choices would alter who we are in the here and now. And who we are in the here and now is pretty great. I think that as a people, we simply need to work harder on understanding that we have a responsibility for all aspects of our lives, good and bad. After all, if you want to see a rainbow, it kind of hard to complain about the rain. Nothing happens “just because”! All things happen for a reason; even when that reason may not be obvious.