Thursday, October 15, 2015

Seeing Red

I recently finished a book titled "Seeing Red" by Nicholas Humphrey, which talks about how different peoples' experiences of reality - in this instance, seeing the color red - can differ greatly. After all, there is no way to fully describe to another person what seeing a certain color is like.

The author, who is a professor of psychology at Camridge, then goes on to discuss consciousness, and his hypothesis that awareness and experience are not the same thing (when a phenomenon called blindsight occurs, the person can describe what their eyes are seeing without having the experience of seeing those things).

He hypothesizes that sensation used to be a visible bodily reaction, but eventually became internalized, and delves into many other topics.

The discussions about consciousness run a little long, but not so much that I wanted to stop reading. This book presents many novel and interesting ideas, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in how the brain works, perceives, and experiences life.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Life Changes

Life changes are always challenging. It can be terrifying to not know where one is heading. Even if it is a positive life change, there is always a period of adjustment and discomfort. It seems lately many of my friends have been having major life changes - having children, beginning medical school or a new job, leaving long-term relationships.

What are some good strategies for handling such changes?

I have found that taking things one day at a time always helps one stay calmer.
Talking to a trusted someone or journaling also mitigates the shock of having one's life turned upside down.
It also helps to focus on something else for a while to gain some perspective -  a sport, hobby, or a volunteer activity.

What has helped you handle major life changes with grace?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Trapped in the Closet: Wear Everything in the Closet Challenge

Most of us only wear about 20% of the clothes we own. Therefore, I decided to try this strategy: wear every single piece of clothing (coats excluded) until I have gone through them all. If I don't want to wear it in public, it goes into the rag or donation bin.

The results:  This exercise forced me to shake up my wardrobe and wear many nice outfits I had been neglecting. I also found many which I decided needed to be donated or thrown out.

A fun idea I have heard about  (from the video included in this post) is to get a group of friends to do this exercise and afterwards have a swap meet to see if the clothes which are in good condition can find a loving new home.

Please let me know how this challenge goes for you! 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Everyday Saints

I recently reread a book written by a monk in which tells various interesting stories from his life.
Here are some lessons I have gleamed from his experiences. I would definitely recommend this book for its optimism, humor, and insight into the life of real monks. Read the full book here

Do not do or say things in anger which you might later regret

The cow yard
 Late one night, he was assigned to clean out cow stalls, this was difficult work and when finished, he was extremely tired. He was just about to fall asleep, when he heard one of the cows poop again. This meant he would have to go and clean the stall again, before it dried onto her tail and caused irritation. He was so angry, that he almost hit the cow with his shovel, but stopped just in time, realizing he was about to hurt an innocent animal.

Do not trust someone just because they look innocent

There was a young man calling himself Augustine who came down from the mountains to the monastery, saying that he had lived with the some monks in seclusion and his mother had been cruelly killed, and that he wanted help in getting his documents in order. He looked very wholesome, sweet, and so the monks were eager to help him. They brought him before the leader of the monastery, who took one look at him and told them he was a liar and a fraud. They were shocked by this and, thinking he couldn't possibly be right, took Augustine to Moscow to see what they could do.

There, they began noticing something odd : the young "monk" had an affinity for ice cream. In a couple days of investigating, they found out that he had ingratiated himself at several monasteries and then disappeared with all their money. Through his latest ruse, he was trying to get new documents and thereby a new identity, to wipe out his criminal record.

It is better to not joke with the secret service

Father Rafael
 There was a rumor that the KGB was listening in on the church telephones, so one time, as a joke, Father Rafael said to the author during a phone conversation, "Hey, how is that secret printing press going?" The other, also thinking to tease the authorities, answered, "Oh it's going really well! It is in the woods near so-and-so's cottage. "

Sure enough, about an hour later the KGB showed up and demanded to know where this printing press was. It was a cold and rainy day, and they were given no information. After 8 hours of searching the swamp in horrible weather, they finally realized they had been misled, and came back, very cross, asking to be given a cup of tea to warm themselves. They were not given any such comforts.

Do not experiment with the occult

Vladimir Vernadsky and Dmitri Mendeleev

When the author was at university, he and his friends began repeating Mendeleev's and Vendarsky's experiments in spiritism. They talked to spirits and it was quite fun, until there was a forlorn one, who called himself Gogol. They asked him how they could help and he said "If you really wish to help me, I would advise you to first take some poison". All of the friends ran out of the room in panic and decided to never try those experiments again.

People can seem strict or unkind at first but on the whole do a lot of good

Father Nafanail
 There was a monk (Father Nafanail) who was in charge of the finances and many thought he was unkind and stingy, but because of his parsimonious ways and denials of requests, the monastery always had money when it was really needed. He would show up at inopportune moments, such as when a group of young monks would stop working and sit together and chat and relax in the sunshine, and remind them that there was still much to be done.

Do not taunt anyone, especially a group of monks 

Coenobite Alexander

One day, the monks were walking down a road and a group of teenagers began to shout at them, calling them all kinds of unsavory names. The monks ignored them, until they began to insult God. Then the religious leader gave permission to Alexander, who knew martial arts and was a coenobite (a "brother", but not a full monk) and before they knew it, the hooligans were "wiping blood and spitting out teeth" and running away as fast as their legs would carry them.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Walk in Kronstadt

Belonging to the Swedes until 1703, this town serves as the seat of the Admiralty and St. Petersburg's main seaport.

I arrived by a 45 minute bus ride from St Petersburg.

View on the road to Kronstadt

The first thing I saw was this fountain, in the shape of the fortifications on the island

Kronstadt main fountain

Then I took a walk towards the cathedral. It was a very sunny, warm day and many people were strolling through the park.

A man relaxing with his dog

The remains of the fortifications

A monument to Krusenstern, a sailor 

After 15 minutes, I reached the cathedral.

The building is very beautiful, but there was too much buying and selling of souvenirs going on, it ruined the impression a bit. It felt more like a museum than a place of reflection and communion with God.  

For about five minutes, I went into the Museum of the History of Kronstadt, and was very disappointed, so I continued my walk exploring the city.

Makarovsky Bridge

Statue of Peter the Great

Main Embankment

Parts of it were blocked off by barbed wire and I saw sailors walking by on the other side

Continuing on my walk through the city, I found an abandoned apartment building. The doors were blocked by metal bars, so there was no safe way to get inside, unfortunately. After asking the locals, I found out that the plan on renovating and reopening this structure. 

On my way back toward the bus and fountains, I saw a Navy reunion celebration

Then, I had to bid farewell, because it is a long ride back to the city. Kronstadt is a very neat place to visit and explore, especially on a nice, sunny day.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Breakfast with Socrates

I recently finished the book Breakfast with Socrates, which I found to definitely be worth reading.

The author goes through an average Western person's normal day and explain what philosopher might have had to say about the happenings.

Some ideas I have taken away after reading this:

- Waking up each day is really a miraculous event. If we appreciate it as such, the new day will feel more like a gift than a dreary continuation of a mundane existence.

- If a fantasy or dream is something you can fulfill (provided it causes no harm), you should do it, but if it is unrealistic or unattainable, it will only make one more frustrated. The more our fantasies align with our reality, the happier we will be.

- Malls and most stores are designed to make consumers feel like they will be happier if they buy something, but.“let's remember you can still go shopping without buying, because where buying is a matter of need, shopping is a question of want.”. Make sure you are making a conscious, informed decision when buying, and what you buy is really something you want , will use, and can afford.

-  As in a casino, time flies when shopping, especially in a mall, so make sure this is something you really have chosen to do for the amount of time you are there.

- If you are going on vacation to 'escape', it might make more sense to ponder what you are trying to escape from and put resources into improving that situation, instead of spending them on the vacation.

- Books or conversations can never give us perfect information because they are by nature symbols, or 'stand ins' - code

I would definitely recommend this as a good read. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Experiment: 10 Days of Adventure

In order to live a more memorable, fun life, adventure is an important component. Too much routine can cause one's life and relationships to feel stale, joyless. Therefore, I decided that I will make time to do something I haven't done in the past year for 10 days

Result: A very fun, enriching, unique ten days!

Day 1: Organized basement
Result: I found many things which I will be able to donate and use. Found slides from 1994, and it was quite a trip down memory lane. This gave me an idea to make a digital scrapbook and scan all of the slides. When looking though old family albums, I have always wished that there was more of a story to go with each picture. Who were all the people? Why were they in that particular place together? What were they like?

Day 2: 30 minute Bike Ride
Result Although I was out of breath, I felt extremely exhilarated and refreshed. Speeding down a hill at full speed on my bike on a warn spring day, I was truly, and deeply, happy. I was able to see more of my neighborhood, and see the beautiful blooming trees. Coming back up the hill was not quite as fun, but definitely a fulfilling experience.

Day 3: Apple fritters
Apple fritters.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4-6

You will need:

● 3-4 medium apples
● 1 egg
● 2-3 table spoons of sugar
● pinch of salt
● flour

How to make:

1. Clean the apple of its skin and pits. Grate on a coarse grater.

2. Add the egg and sugar, mix. Gradually enough flour so that the dough is thick enough (this depends on the juiciness of the apples)

3. Spread with a spoon on a heated pan and fry in vegetable oil.

Result: I improvised by using brown sugar and adding cinnamon and the fritters turned out marvelous. I was able to not only enjoy cooking them, but was able to share them with a friend over a cup of tea.

Day 4: Listened to 5 new songs all the way through

Result: I did not like the random new songs picked for me my Spotify, but there were many other familiar ones in between which I greatly enjoyed

Day 5: Worked on an embroidery project which my great grandma started

Result: It was quite addictive and I ended up working on it for about 6 hours. I was surprised by how log it takes to fill in even a couple square inches

Day 6: Went on a walk with my camera

Went for a nature walk with my camera.

Result: A great, relaxing time to be myself and enjoy the beauty of nature

Day 7: Planted flowers

Planted flowers in some planters that we have

Result: It was fun to dig in the dirt and the flowers look beautiful. I and anyone passing by will be able to appreciate them all summer

Day 8: Observed a bird feeding her chicks in a nest outside my window

A bird built a nest on a window ledge outside my window, so I decided to watch and observe how she interacted with her young

Result: The bird was very camera and people shy and would fly away whenever I attempted to peek at the next, so I only so the little babies with their peaks open asking for food. They were fun to watch but I was afraid their mom would not return so I stopped my observation.

Day 9: Went to the zoo

Went to the zoo on a warm Saturday

Result: It was a wonderful time - saw so many wonderful animals: playful lion cubs, a fast cheetah, colorful peacocks, and two Mexican wolves

Day 10: 30 Second Dance Party

Danced around my kitchen to 90's music

Result: I was in a much better mood the rest of the day and had a lot of energy

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Journaling as a tool for self-discovery and healing

Recently I have been reading a book - a guide to keeping a spiritual journal. It is written from a Christian perspective, but has many great ideas for anyone trying to become more mindful. Some benefits suggested are releasing emotions and gaining perspective, greater awareness, creativity and self-expression, clarifying beliefs and working through problems.

Some interesting prompts from the book:

- "If you could ask ... any ten questions and be guaranteed a clear answer, what would you

-  "Five things for which I am especially grateful for today"

- "If you find yourself feeling fearful or anxious or depressed, explore that feeling in your journal. Express it in words. ...When we write about our feelings in a journal, we are doing two things: (1) We diffuse the feelings by expressing them in a harmless way, and (2) we can begin to see them objectively and perhaps discern their causes and solutions. "

- "Begin by writing what you already believe. Try to do this in your own words. If you limit yourself to theological or religious cliches, you may simply be repeating words that have no real meaning for you. Often a test of under- standing something is being able to put it into new words. If you can't say it another way, chances are you don't understand it yet. "

-  "Try writing about yourself in the third person ... Imagine you are a neutral observer. Write about your own present or your past. By writing as though you were an outsider, you may gain some objectivity you otherwise would not have. "

- List out your life in 5 year increments, and in each list any especially hurtful events/moments. Take one and write about it for 15 minutes for 4 days, and bring healing to it, and whenever you feel ready move on to the next one

- Name some of the issues or themes you've dealt with throughout your life. For example, lack of money, lack of time, specific problems in relationship etc.What, if any, connection do you feel between them? What, if any, feelings run through them?  How have you thought about these in the past?

I have found the suggestions in this book to be extremely helpful. The religious slant of the writing was somewhat distracting at times, but even for a completely secular, non-spiritual person, most of these prompts would be quite beneficial.  Another neat idea was to write a record of one's life to present, so that future generations might have a glimpse into  your life. I would love to be able to read what my great-great grandmother's life and personality was like.

I also liked the idea of starting a journal group. The group gets together and discusses a writing/journaling prompt/technique/focus point for the week, then meets to discuss what worked and what didn't, and any difficulties along the way.

A suggestion of the author
"Be honest. Write how you really feel and not how you think you should feel. Record what you re-
ally think, not what you believe you ought to think. Even if you feel you can't be honest with some people in other situations in life, for your own benefit be honest in your journal."

This reminded me of a quote from The Brothers Karamazov:
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

This is sometimes difficult, but so important.
What has been your experience with journaling? Have you found it to be helpful?

Dostoyevsky, F. (n.d.). The Brothers Karamazov. A.p.

Howard, Jennifer. Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Klug, R. (1993). How to keep a spiritual journal: A guide to journal keeping for inner growth and personal Discovery (Augsburg books ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spiritual Sleepwalking

Recently when reading a book I came across a term - spiritual sleepwalking - when the person is present physically in their life, but not in any other way. They are elsewhere, thinking about tomorrow, or how their last meeting went - anything but being in the moment. They are not truly alive, not connected to what is going on around them.

There is a way meditating where a person just makes sure they are present for a certain amount of time. They sit and tell themselves "I am here, in the moment. I am present". It is more challenging than I had at first supposed, but very helpful in today's world of information overload, to stop, look around and really notice one's surroundings, as well as clearing one's mind.

The following article from Psychology today suggests paying attention to the breath when trying to stay present in the moment  This is a good strategy, unless one is trying to accomplish a cerebral task.

"Drink a glass of water to be back in the present", is Yoko Ono's advice.

I have found that when I am doing something non-cerebral that I really enjoy, such as gardening, horseback riding, photography, yoga, or talking with a good friend, it tends to bring me back into the present.

What are some times you have felt truly alive? Why do you think this was?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Let It Go - Minimalism

Minimalism is only focusing on what is really needed, and used, on a regular basis, or brings joy or value to one's life. Several weeks ago, I began to throw away papers and other things I no longer needed. After getting rid of the clutter, I was shocked by how much more light, more free, I felt. I was suddenly full of creative energy and excitement about my life.

The same applies to out old negative habits, time-wasters, fears, prejudices, grudges against others, and self-negativity. Holding on to stale friendships, watching low-quality television programming, and constant social media are very easy ways to let one's time and energy slip away, Worrying about the future and living in the past are not constructive.

In order to change habits and succeed, take baby steps in the right direction. A giant leap, such as suddenly quitting coffee, is less likely to bring lasting results that gradually cutting back,.

I have found that with fears, it helps to have a change in perspective. If one is scared of rejection, thinking about how relatively small the risk is (being told no) when compared to the potential a reward (a great new friendship or relationship) helps.

For overcoming prejudices, , it helps to be exposed to all kinds of different people, opinions and situations. Every time we are in a new environment, we re-examine our viewpoints, our pre-conceptions. If one's beliefs cannot stand up to a good open-minded debate, they are not worth keeping.

For overcoming grudges, I try to put myself in the person's shoes. What were they thinking? Feeling? Would I have acted any differently in their place? For any other emotional turbulence, talking to a friend, freewriting and meditating has helped to overcome the challenge.

What are some other things you have found which sap your time/energy? How can you lessen their impact on your life? What makes you truly happy? How can you increase the presence of that in your life?