Let’s See You Suffer Through This Post…

I talk about suffering a lot in some of my posts, and I come by it honestly. As most Buddhists know, the acknowledgement and elimination of suffering are some of the basic concepts behind Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism at its core is based on something referred to as the Four Noble Truths. Those truths are: the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path required to END suffering. That last one ties into the Noble Eightfold Path, but I don’t want to delve too deeply into the religious or philosophical side of things. I wanna talk about suffering…

Dharma Wheel depicting the Noble Eightfold Path

When someone uses the word “suffering,” most people will associate it with terminal disease, war, poverty or extreme tragedy. But the reality is that suffering is a very common and everyday thing. But realistically, “suffering” is defined as “the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.” Tell me that there hasn’t been at least a BIT of that in your everyday life. Suffering comes in various forms and as it happens, we often don’t recognize it for what it is.

The elimination of suffering is the way to peace. Letting go of hate, stopping the propagation of aggression and allowing yourself to let go of the little things is what will ultimately lead to a happier life. This isn’t always an easy thing. In modern society, some people just want to watch the world burn. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes, you end up caught in the flames.

So when you’re reading my posts and I mention the “elimination of suffering,” this is usually what I’m referring to. No, I’m not depressed or in some deep stage of suffering, myself. I simply relate my writing to the everyday things that cause everyday hardships. And there are a lot of them. Hopefully, that answers some of the questions I’ve gotten on the subject. ☯

Worth Its Weight In Platinum…

Do you have friends? Sure, you do. Most people do. The number of friends one has is relative to their stage in life, age, social status and personal beliefs. I’ve known some people who have claimed to have “no friends” but ultimately they still have people they hang out and associate with. And maybe one would be inclined to believe that this isn’t REALLY a friend, but a friend is defined as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” So basically, someone who isn’t your partner or a member of the family that you spend time with BECAUSE YOU WANT TO.

Friendship is an important aspect of any one person’s life, because it allows you to have someone you can share in the good times with, discuss and vent about the bad times and allows you some much-needed time outside the home (which everyone needs on occasion, whether they choose to admit it or not). As children, we usually have tons of friends. When I attend an event at my son’s school, EVERY kid he points at is one of his friends. And it’s usually just that easy for kids. Everyone within the same environment and basic age range can be a friend. Childhood is simple. Wish I’d had one. But I digress…

The point is, friendships are beneficial for both parties as they can help you to cope with the difficulties of life, traumas, illnesses, death in the family… They can also be there for the good times and share in your successes, your victories and your good times. And cracking a few cold ones while sharing some idle chatter? Don’t even get me started! Friends also help you develop a sense of belonging.

So how many friends does one have? And no, I’m not referring to social media followers… Well, depending on what source you consult, the average North American adult usually maintains four or five friendships. For the purposes of this post, I refer to a friendship as a relationship where you speak and/or hang out with the person in question at least once a week or more. Anything less than that falls under the category of casual acquaintance. As a young person, that number might have been significantly higher.

I bring this up because in a recent application, I was asked to provide twenty references who are not family or related. TWENTY! I don’t think I had that many friends even when I WAS a youth. I mean, whatever happened to the good ol’ days of two professional references and two personal references? I’m not sure why any employer would be of the opinion that they need twenty people as reference for one single applicant, but what do I know?

It got me to thinking… I keep a pretty tight social circle. I mean, REALLY tight. I don’t maintain many friendships, and even the long-term friendships that I’ve had for decades are on the other side of the country so we don’t exactly catch up over beers every week. I spend the majority of my free time with my wife and children, which if one consider the true meaning of wealth, makes me extremely rich. But I’m lucky enough to have two or three people that I call friend. And since real life isn’t a rom-com where people do cheesy things like telling each how how important they are to one another, I hope those couple of friends know how important they are to me. Friendship is a genuine gift, worth its weight in platinum! ☯

Blood, Sweat And Heat 🚲

Wednesday night, I did something stupid… If you know me, you may be thinking that this is nothing out of the ordinary and that I do stupid things all the time. If that’s what you’re thinking, shaddup! But you may be right. But the reason behind why this thing I did was so stupid isn’t because it was an inherently stupid act, but because the heat and humidity almost killed me in the process (not literally, but it felt like it!)

On Wednesday, my wife and I were prepping supper and I told her that I wanted to duck out to cycle a quick 10 kilometres before receiving a potential buyer for my car (yes, I’m selling my bachelor-mobile and I’m crying a bit. Something for a future post…) I told her that I needed to blow the cobwebs off as I haven’t done anything but forms and walking for the past two weeks.

This was mostly due to the flooding in our basement eliminating access to my karate area and punching pad and extreme heat making conditions unfavourable for long-distance cycling. I figured that a quick, 10-kilometre ride would only take me a little over thirty minutes anyway, so why not drop the hammer a bit. I think you know that I had to up the ante a bit. After all, this is me…

I told my wife that I intended to cycle my 10 kilometres in twenty minutes as opposed to my usual thirty. In reality, it takes me 3 minutes and 10 seconds for every kilometre when i’m cycling for distance, which means I reach 10 kilometres in about 32 to 33 minutes. I would have to shave 12 to 13 minutes off that time in order to achieve my boast (I mean my goal).

I put in my earbuds and hammered out of my parking lot like a bat out of hell… And promptly realized that the result of not doing any serious cardio in two weeks then pushing it in 32-degree weather was a stupid idea for a Type-1 Diabetic man of my age… And then I realized that this thought pissed me off and I should be ashamed of myself and pushed myself ridiculously.

And lo, I hammered through 10 kilometres of sweaty hell, my lungs on fire and my mind focused on trying to achieve that distance in 20 minutes. Every time the landscape sloped upwards, I felt as though my legs caught fire and spit the flames into my lungs. With every inspirational song on my phone, I pushed and peddled harder, despite the discomfort.

I managed to make my way home after hitting 10.38 kilometres in 27 minutes and 37 seconds. This meant an average of 2 minutes and 39 seconds per kilometre. A measurable reduction from 3 minutes and 10 seconds. However, I paid for it. I woke up the next morning with my legs killing me. I need to hammer out more of these explosive short rides. They have some benefit, despite the fact that I’m training for distance, not speed. But maybe I shouldn’t do it in high heat… ☯

Learning How To Share…

Authoring a blog is a strange combination of easy and difficult. If you’ve chosen your subject matter carefully, it’s easy because you’ll be familiar and comfortable with the material. It can be difficult when you start factoring in finding ENOUGH material to provide interesting content on a daily basis. And if you’re committed to your blog, you SHOULD be posting daily content, even if it’s a short post that contains nothing more than an inspirational quote you found online or something. In fact, there are days where I post nothing more than an inspirational poster with a short, four-line paragraph beneath it. I find this provides my readers with a break from some of the wordy, long-winded posts I’ve written.

Sometimes I find it difficult to get my ideas into words. By this, I mean that even if I have a great idea or concept for a post, finding the right words to put into print for others to read is often my biggest obstacle. I fully admit to researching most things I write about, including the martial arts and Diabetes. “But Shawn, you’ve been doing martial arts for over thirty years and you’ve had Type-1 Diabetes for almost forty… Shouldn’t you know everything there is to know, by now?” First of all, don’t be a smart-ass. Second, a wise person is only wise once they understand that they DON’T know everything.

And the idea behind this, is that sometimes you will use someone else’s information or draw on someone else’s expertise. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, so long as you cite the source of your inspiration. Give credit where credit is due, if you will. Otherwise, it becomes good ol’ plagiarism, which if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is claiming someone else’s work or information as your own. Not only is this a major faux-pas in just about every academic, professional and even personal circle I can think of, it’s also downright inappropriate.

We live in a society where the world’s information is at our fingertips, what with smart phones, tablets and the general use of the internet. Knowing where your information is coming from and ensuring that it’s okay for you to share it are important aspects for any blogger. If you have the means to reach out to someone to discuss the use of their materials, then do so. They’ll definitely appreciate it. Follow this up with citing your sources and giving credit where credit is due, and you’re all set.

Lastly, what you write about should be part of who you are, something you’re intimately familiar with. I could easily start a blog about quilting. I’d probably find myself able to research the subject and even manage a number of posts about it. But ultimately it would lack a certain chemistry since I know NOTHING about quilting and wouldn’t exactly be passionate about it. So you need to make sure those elements are present in order for your writing to mean something. Happy writing! ☯

No Use Getting Violent Over Spilled Coffee…

That title was supposed to say “spilled milk,” but I’m much more partial to coffee than milk, so there you have it. Trust is an important commodity. It’s something you definitely need to have in others, both in your professional and your private life. Without it, you’d never be able to work side-by-side with anyone or let anyone into your life. Just think: when was the last time you met someone new and just immediately trusted them?

Some people can definitely engender a sense of trust in you the first time you meet them but for the most part, trust has to be earned over time and through the words and actions of the other person. It’s almost always a difficult process, especially when it involves trusting the other person to do something in your stead. A good example would be watching my five-year old pull a carton of chocolate milk out of the fridge.

Nathan rarely gets chocolate milk. Yeah, I know… I’m a cruel daddy. But we have chocolate syrup that I use for him on occasion so a carton of actual chocolate milk is a rare treat that he gets when he’s been behaving well (so he rarely gets any). Recently he got a small glass from a 500mL carton, which left the remainder in the fridge for later consumption. During the following morning’s breakfast, he asked if he could have some, to which I replied that he could.

Then my genius son, in all his glory, chose to pull the carton out of the fridge by gripping the very top lip of carton, using nothing but his index and thumb. I could see his tiny wrist trembling from the weight and the visible struggle on his face, and my every instinct was to grab the carton from him and bring it to the counter myself before it inevitably fell and splash all over the kitchen floor. I was surprised when I took a breath (and held it) and allowed him to complete the task, thereby preserving his dignity and allowing me to trust him.

But it was forced and difficult, and I usually find that this is a difficult thing regardless of who or what I’m dealing with. For a lot of people, myself included, it’s a control thing. Most people dislike and/or are uncomfortable with the prospect of letting someone else do a particular thing when they know they can do it faster/better/more efficiently… For others, they’ve simply been doing things themselves for so long that it feels distinctly odd to have someone else do it for them.

Allowing yourself to trust can relieve a great deal of pressure in your own life. Nobody should be expected to carry the burden of life on their own, and we can all agree that any load is much easier to bear when it’s weight is shared. This is something that I feel I need to work on, for my own self-development. Had Nathan dropped that chocolate milk, sure it would have made a mess but it would have been a teachable moment (especially since I’d have made the booger clean it up himself). But it allowed me to let go a bit and trust that he could do it. And he did. What would happen if he’d ever spill my coffee is a conversation for another day… ☯

If Owning Problems Was Cash, I’d Be Bill Gates…

The world is a complicated place. There is no easy solution, when dealing with the day-to-day requirements of adult life and I’ll totally admit that there are days where I’d rather crawl into my blanket fort and colour than deal with those requirements. What’s more is that there will always be “battles” to be fought because, well… You’re an individual and your thoughts, opinions and methods won’t always match up to everyone else’s. You can’t expect to see eye-to-eye with everyone and this can become a problem, especially if that mismatch takes place between you and an employer.

One of the more important aspects of adulthood is being able to own up to your problems. As children (at least in my generation), our parents taught us to be honest about things and admit when we’ve done something wrong. Basically, the foundation for owning up to your problems has already been laid. But once childhood has melted away, a lot of us revert to blaming everything on others. And although other individuals will undoubtedly have some responsibility, it won’t be until you face up to your role in any specific issue that you can start to live with less stress.

One good example is an associate of mine that I’ve known for over twenty-five years. Good guy, good heart, he’d totally be one of those people who would drive an hour to spend the entire day helping you move your house. However… He’s one of those individuals who ALWAYS blames everything on everyone else. Even when the problem is a direct result of his actions, he still feels that he bears none of the responsibility.

Not everyone is that extreme. The person in question unfortunately butts heads with everyone in his environment; co-workers, supervisors and even the members of his household. And over just about everything! Someone took the parking spot he wants? Fight. There’s been a change in policy regarding something in his work? Refuses to do it and fights about it.

The main component of that last paragraph is to learn to pick your battles. Not everyone seems capable of this very simple thing, but some people go out of their way to try and ice-skate uphill! Honestly, when it comes to work, unless you’re the owner of your own company, sometimes it’s best to just clock in, do as you’re asked and clock out. There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, but tempting faith by refusing to do things on the job is just ASKING for trouble. But I digress…

The point of today’s post isn’t necessarily about CAUSING the problems so much as it’s about taking responsibility for them. That seems to be an aspect that most people have issues with. And there are a batch of really good, yet complicated psychological and physiological reasons why most people do this. For the most part, people are programmed simply to never admit that they’re wrong. For others it can be things like having a fear of failure, appearing weak to others or being a total douche. I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist.

A had a conversation with a friend of mine named Marty, a little over a year ago when I was facing something difficult. Truth be told, I’m still neck-deep in that difficulty, but a theory he discussed got me thinking about who bears the responsibility behind the problems we face. There are always three sides to every problem in life: the part that’s your fault, the part that’s someone else’s fault and the part that’s random events outside your control.

The part that’s someone else’s fault. You don’t live on this planet alone. Because of that, things that you deal with will always have an outside component. Even when it seems as though it was something you did. The problem with this aspect, and the reason I listed it first, is because it’s the one most people tend to focus on. “How can I blame this on someone else?” is often the credo of the problem-solving millennial (I’m not limiting this concept to millennials, just to be clear)

Random events outside your control. There are elements of every problem that are simply the result of things you can’t change. A good example of this would be working on an important online project at home when a thunderstorm knocks out the power. This results in your project being lost to the ether due to the loss of internet. You can’t control the coming of a storm any more than you can control the tide or the phases of the moon… Sometimes you simply need to understand that there is LITERALLY nothing you can do to alter that aspect of the difficulty you face.

The part that’s your fault. This is the big one, the one people hate, the one people refuse to admit and deal with. See, no matter what the difficulty there are things you will have said and done that have gotten you to the here and now. This means that whether directly or indirectly, you bear some of the responsibility for where you’re at. This is where it becomes important to control one’s thoughts, words and actions in order to prevent causing and/or aggravating problems within your own life. This is not to say that you can’t offer up your opinion or voice your objections; it simply becomes a matter of picking your battles.

When you recognize the role you play in the events of your life and begin to be proactive in how you deal with, it can go a long way towards the elimination of suffering and the promotion of peace within your own life. There will always be an aspect of life that’s out of your control. And you can’t control others. You can only control yourself. I think it’s Epictetus who said, “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Slow And Steady Wins The Occasional Race

You know, they say that good things take time and that patience is a virtue. Yeah,… I’ve heard that on occasion. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually more of a proponent of hammering through at top speed. Going cycling for 60 kilometres? Nothing slower than 3 minutes per kilometre is acceptable. Practicing karate forms? Maximum strength and maximum speed! If I ain’t sweating, I ain’t happy!

But on occasion, going slowly can be a good thing. Whether you’re weightlifting, doing martial arts or learning a new fitness routine, there are a number of benefits that can be enjoyed if you just take your time and go slowly. According to an article I just read by Fitness Republic, lifting weights slowly can help you to prevent injury, help to maintain your form and people with minimal muscle mass or medical conditions can do it much easier than if they’d be expected to go at normal speed.

One of the key points is that it can also help you to build larger muscle mass. The thought behind this is “[…] lifting slowly forces your muscles to hold the weight longer. […] If you go faster, momentum will do a lot of the work for you, and your muscles will be active for a shorter amount of time.” In fact, the article goes on to explain that lifting slowly will also target your skeletal muscles, which are essential for everyday movement.

I’ve read a few articles where this is the focal point, and most of them agree that slow movements can be beneficial. I became curious about this after my latest MetaShred workout entitled Thermogenic Tempo Training. The workout had you do a set of six different exercises. During the first cycle, you’d lift slowly, hold and release. Then repeat. On the next cycle, you’d lift, hold and lower slowly over several seconds. The third set had me lifting and lowering slowly.

You wouldn’t think that doing exercise slowly would be challenging, but it was gruelling! I had sweat dripping off my forehead in no time. Now, I’ve begun incorporating this process with some of the more basic exercises I perform: squats, push-ups, etc… You ever try to do more than ten push-ups where it takes you several seconds to reach the floor and come back up? It’s painful as hell, and I’ve grown accustomed to doing dozens of push-ups at regular speed but I sure as hell can’t get past ten going slowly. At least not yet.

Without even realizing it, I’ve been training with slow movements all my life. From my very first day in the dojo, I’ve practiced forms and techniques slowly until I grew accustomed to them and could begin to perform them faster. And even to this day, I’ll perform katas slowly and methodically in order to ensure proper form and technique.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing a fast-paced workout. But not every workout needs to be a spine crushing cross-fit style lightning round. Sometimes, as with many things in life, it’s better to slow it down and take your time. It doesn’t mean you aren’t still putting a maximum effort into it; it simply means you’re doing it a slightly slower pace. ☯

Don’t Answer Yourself!

I was doing dishes a week ago and thinking about a particularly difficult situation that a colleague is going through. While contemplating some of the associated policy and rules behind what he would be facing, my wife noticed my lips moving and realized that I was talking to myself. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it at the time. But I admit its a practice I’ve indulged in a lot. And so should you.

During our infant and childhood years, we indulge in self-talk a great deal. Whether it’s to act out whatever game we’re playing or simply to babble on (in my son’s case, he effectively never shuts up whether there’s a person in the room or not), it’s a part of who we are. Our brains don’t differentiate between actively thinking or speaking those thoughts out loud.

However, as we reach adulthood most of us tend to eliminate the practice from our lives or keep a tight lid on it. Maybe from embarrassment or negative correction from a parent or influential person in our lives, there’s a societal stigma against talking to yourself. For the most part, if we see someone talking to themselves we tend to associate it with mental health issues. But believe it or not, it’s perfectly normal to talk to oneself and can actually have some benefits.

According to an article posted by Big Think entitled, “5 reasons talking to yourself is good for you,” they touch on a few of these reasons and they seem to make a lot of sense. Especially when you consider that some of them were taught to me by teachers in high school and college. These reasons include the fact that self-talk can help augment your cognitive performance, helps you to encourage yourself and can be an effective means of talking yourself down.

The article also goes on to explain how self-talk can be a means of developing self-control, but the one that sticks in my mind the most is that it reinforces memory. Whenever I would have difficulty with something I was studying in college, my professors would encourage me to read the material out loud. This helps the reader to retain the information more effectively as it involves an active participation in the absorption of information.

One of my favourite perspectives comes from Dr. Jessica Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist who was quoted in an article by NBCNews.com as saying, “If we speak out loud, it forces us to slow down our thoughts and process them differently because we engage the language centers of our brain.” I’ve noticed this effect when I’m reading bedtime stories to my son. It always seems as though my mind is taking in the words and processing them WAY faster than my mouth can spit them out, and it often causes me to skip over entire paragraphs.

My son’s too clever to let me off the hook and usually has me back it up a notch, but sometimes we need to slow ourselves down and talking to oneself can be an effective way to do it. Just to be clear, we’re talking about an ACTIVE participation in talking to oneself, not the result of a mental health issues or hallucinations. If you decide it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your microwave at two in the morning after eating magic mushrooms, we’re in a different arena of discussion and you should probably re-evaluate your life’s choices.

Talking to yourself can also be an extremely effective way of preparing for something that causes you anxiety. Anytime I’ve had to do something that would involve speaking for long periods in front of people such as giving presentation, providing guided tours or teaching any kind of a session to someone, I’ll usually “present” to myself in order to be prepared to do it to others. This not only acts as a sort of rehearsal before speaking in front of others, it can also allow you top time yourself in real time, since our minds process faster than we speak.

The bottom line is that talking to yourself is not only normal, it’s healthy. It can lend a number of benefits and even though most people don’t admit to it, almost everybody does it. My grandfather always used to say that it’s perfectly fine to talk to yourself… as long as you don’t start answering yourself! ☯

Social Distancing Should Also Be Social Media Distancing

I know that anyone who’s read the majority of my posts will be aware that I’m not a big fan of social media. For those who are new here and may not be aware: I’m not a big fan of social media… In all seriousness, I consider social media to be somewhat harmful. Not because it’s inherently harmful in and of itself, but because some people choose to use it in harmful ways.

I’ve been off the social media scene for almost two years now, having done away with the likes of SnapChat and Facebook, due to issues they caused me in my professional life. I was partly responsible for these issues, since no person is ever ABSOLUTELY responsibility-free in any given issue, but after I learned the damage that having other people on social media caused, I chose to step away.

As the world continues to turn, the population continue to become more and more dependent on social media for even the smallest of social interactions. Everything from applying for jobs to dating, the more time passes, the more people are depending on their computers and their devices to do the talking for them. And as convenient as some of it may be (I’ve applied to a number of jobs online, it sure saves driving around and physically handing out resumes) there are some significant pitfalls, as well.

In some ways, a lot of ways, we’re slowly losing touch with our own humanity. No, I don’t mean that we’re all suddenly becoming robots. But we certainly are beginning to resemble automatons. I challenge any of you to walk through a public area, even one where a person should be paying attention to their surroundings such as the grocery store, and you’ll notice that the majority of the population have their faces buried in the screen of a smartphone.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m at the grocery store I pay attention to the aisle I’m in and the groceries I’m looking for. Weird concept, right? You would think that checking your Twitter or Facebook could wait until AFTER you’ve completed your errands. And no one really needs you to SnapChat the nachos you found at 20% off, regardless of how excited you may be.

In some ways, a lot of ways, I totally understand the compulsion. There’s an almost surreal addictive feeling behind some of the social media platforms that are out there. Up until late 2018, I would compulsively check my phone dozens of times throughout the work day, no matter what I had on the go. Nowadays I tend to limit myself quite a bit more, checking my phone only for phone calls and email purposes and occasionally searching for things that I’m curious or researching on.

A good example of how we’re stepping away from our humanity involves a story I’d like to share with you. I have a friend who used to be absolutely obsessed with online singles’ sites. In fact, over the course of a few very short years, he completely did away with meeting women in person, and depended solely on finding online profiles and attempting to meet people in this fashion. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with meeting someone new online. But if it causes you to lose the ability to approach someone in person, then it can be more harmful than good.

The digital frontier allows people to present themselves in any way they see fit. Occasionally, this won’t be in keeping with their realistic selves and people get some rather nasty surprises when they meet in person. That’s only one of the pitfalls. Don’t even get me started on meeting someone online who ends up being of an opposing gender than you thought they’d be, or a creeper who’s trying to meet with minors. But I digress…

My friend spent a few years trying to meet “the one” through many of these singles’ sites. He went on some dates and even started some semi-lasting relationships with them. But they never lasted. Not in the way he wanted. I used to encourage him to go out somewhere and do it the old fashion way. Go sit at a coffee shop with a book and a beverage. You spot someone from across the room, your eyes meet, you share a smile and you walk over and introduce yourself. Maybe you chat for a while. Then you work up the courage to ask if they’d like to meet for coffee again. Maybe they say yes and offer up their phone number.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I believe this kind of thing still happens. Although not quite as I described above, I met my wife the old-fashioned way; live and in person. My friend finally yielded to my persistence and attempted to meet someone in person. His experience was grand. He attended a local book store and introduced himself to a woman and asked her if she could recommend a good book she may have read (pretty smooth, I thought). They hit it off and even went out once or twice. They ultimately moved on from one another, but the experience changed his perspective of the online scene.

Dating is only one aspect, but it’s an easy one to write about. But for the most part, our dependence on the Internet and social media is slowly pulling us away from the actual world around us. Although the world is currently caught in the throes of social distancing, there’s still a big, beautiful world out there. And it would be a shame if people completely disconnected from it in exchange for the cold, pixelated screen of a smart device. ☯

Burn, Baby, Burn…

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy the smell of incense. I particularly enjoy the smell of an incense that’s available locally called “Ocean.” But there are number of more traditional scents, such as sage and sandalwood. And I once read somewhere that the word “incense” is based on the latin term meaning “to burn,” which is kinda cool.

Incense incense burning is usually done in order to produce a particular scent within the surrounding room, but it’s been long associated with the martial arts, religious practices and ceremonies and rituals. In fact, while growing up in the Catholic church I would often attend services with my family where the priest would walk around and “bless” the congregation by shaking a device called a “censer,” which contains burning powdered incense.

Some religions will use burning incense as a way of blessing things, warding off bad spirits or during ritual practices. Most convents and temples of varying faiths will usually have incense burning for one reason or another. Some people burn it within their home just for the pleasant scent (pleasant being a relative term, since my wife tolerates the incense I use but isn’t a huge fan if it).

Is incense a good idea? Like most things in life, there are good and bad aspects to incense burning, especially within one’s home. First of all, let’s agree that burning incense creates smoke. In all cases, breathing in smoke of any kind is never a good idea. This isn’t a new concept; the medical world has been talking about the dangers of smoke inhalation for decades. Ever sit too close to a camp fire? Once the breeze conveniently turns the smoke towards you, breathing easy is the last thing you get to do.

Depending on where you purchase/obtain your incense, they’re mostly made from natural ingredients. This doesn’t mean that it’s any better for you. After all, tobacco and marihuana are natural products but they’re no better for your lungs. But modern incense that you buy at your local retail chain can contain preservatives, chemicals and artificial products that can release carcinogens into the air.

You can Google some research initiatives that were done in the past twenty years. increased levels of incense burning has been linked to certain forms of lung cancer, asthma, tissue inflammation and even rashes. I have no idea how much incense you’d have to burn to be affected by these hazards and ideally, you should be burning incense in a well-ventilated area.

At the end of the day, incense has been around for way longer than we have. Make sure to light and burn it safely, since it is a fire hazard and try not to use it in confined spaces. I have a bad habit of lighting a stick of incense during my workouts in the basement of my home. It’s not so bad when I’m doing forms, but it gets a little hard to breathe when I’m doing something intense like a circuit workout or weights. Actually, that’s kinda what led me to write this post. Burn with care, folks! ☯