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( In a previous post, I had described Pico Iyer’s experiences with the art of stillness. While on a long flight to L.A, he noticed that the passenger in the seat next to him kept absolutely still, though alert, during the entire journey. She was a German lady from Hamburg on her way to Hawaii and she told him that being still allowed her to still be fresh when she deplaned. Definitely worth trying, I thought to myself ….)

Last week, I was on a trip to Las Vegas when I remembered my resolution. It was a good time to see if stillness would work for me. I tried , I tried really hard — for all of ten minutes —  before I gave up.

Stilling the mind is not easy, even for an experienced meditator … which I am not. After 10 minutes I fell back on my usual inflight amusements… crossword puzzles and the inflight map.

I almost never indulge in crossword puzzles– except on flights . Then, I am tethered to my seat and it’s a good way to pass the time. Not for me the inflight movie; I don’t care to watch it with headphones and on the tiny screen. Nor does the news interest me; I get enough of that elsewhere.

Of course, not just any puzzle book will do. Too many of them are difficult to handle on a plane. Small size  books with small squares. Puzzles spread over two pages, the box on one side and the clues on the facing page. Extra difficult puzzles which are frustrating rather than relaxing. Books that are difficult to open out. All these I try to avoid.

The books I prefer have decent sized lettering, the puzzles are complete on a single page, they are not too easy or too difficult and the books are easy to open out. If they are spiral bound it’s a bonus. This time, I  picked up 101 Crossword Puzzles for Dummies which meets all of the above criteria except that it is not spiral bound. In spite of the title, the puzzles are not easy ( or perhaps, this says something about me!). I spend between 20 and 30 minutes on each puzzle and, if I have not completed it I give up and look at the solution. I find that about three-fourths of the time I am able to finish a puzzle; the rest of the time I’m able to complete between 75% and 95%.

When I’ve had enough of the crosswords, I turn to the inflight map on the TV screen in front of me. This tells me where exactly the plane is at that moment, how far we have traveled , the time and distance to our destination, the outside temperature, the altitude and sundry other information. All these are source of never ending interest. Most interesting of all is the plane location  which shows which state we are currently flying over. I like to read the names of the cities on our flight path and cudgel my mind to remember what little I know about them. For instance, this time when we were flying over Nebraska and I saw the words North Platte, I remembered the North Platte River which has been characterized as “ a mile wide and inch deep.” It’s a description that can be applied to certain people and means  “ jack of all trades but master of none.” This set me thinking about other American idioms which are fresh and pithy and oh-so-descriptive.

I also marvel at the sizes of the various states. Those out west are huge and take a long time to fly over but, east of Ohio, it seems like we pass over the states in a flash. This time, I got to thinking about how casually we accept the wonder of airplane travel. One of my friends told me that, when he came to the U.S in 1959, sea travel was the only option. It took him weeks for a journey that we now accomplish in less than a day. Thinking over the changes that I have seen my lifetime leads me to consider what travel was like in bygone days. I have read that, in the 18th century, it took travelers three days to travel by horse and carriage from New York City to Philadelphia, a distance of about 90 miles that we now do in less than two hours by car. The size of the western states also causes me to reflect on  the pioneers who settled the west. It must have been a hellish journey for them in their Conestoga wagons, plagued by heat or extreme cold, always under the threat of attack by Indians or by outlaws, always worried about their supplies of food and water. Too few Americans, whether they are native-born or immigrants, think about their history or care about it. But let me not go off on a rant….

I find that, at the end of a five or six hour flight I am still quite fresh. Longer than that, it can be a problem because of the cramped seating, the meals which arrive at strange times, the incessant journeys to the toilet by oneself and others in the same row, and the need to reset one’s internal clock.

I wish I could  still my mind as Pico Iyer describes, but it is not something I can do. Perhaps if I work at it. For now, I am perfectly happy with my crossword puzzles and  inflight maps, thank you.

 

These too are Sports

I enjoyed watching the Masters Golf tournament on TV last weekend. I don’t always watch golf but the Masters in a class by itself in terms of visual appeal. The venerable clubhouse, the pristine fairways and the manicured greens are a sight for sore eyes. And then there is the golf itself. I was rooting for Jordan Spaeth as I have been since he first burst on the golf scene and it appeared he had this one in the bag until he faltered with victory in sight. In the course of two holes, he went from being  six strokes in front to three strokes behind. But even his collapse did not detract from my enjoyment of the game.

There are those who claim that golf is not a” real” sport.” These critics sniff that” Golfers don’t have to run or jump, and the ball they hit is stationary!” Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean it is any less of a sport. In my book, a sport ( as distinguished from a game or a pastime) is a contest of skill or strength that attracts spectators. A game, on the other hand, is of interest only to the participants e.g rummy, mahjongg and all board games. A pastime is generally a solitary activity, a ” pass time” e.g bouncing a ball against a wall, playing solitaire etc. These may not be the dictionary meanings of the words but they work for me.

The idea that sports have to include running or jumping or hitting a ball coming at you at 90 miles an hour is not something I subscribe to. Golf does not require any of these but it does involve skills, both physical and mental. It takes physical strength and skill to muscle the golf ball 300 yards down the fairway, to dig oneself out of a bunker or to sink a putt on a wickedly rolling green. And it requires probably more mental fortitude than any other sport. Every shot is a potential pitfall and , in the case of pro golf, tens of thousands may be riding on that next shot.

Another sport that is often derided as a parlor game is table tennis or ” ping pong” as it is  condescendingly called. Yes, ping pong is a parlor game but table tennis is a sport. To know the truth of this, you should watch a competitive match being played by good players. YouTube has any number of videos including world championships and European championships. The lightning quick reflexes and the agility displayed by these top class players are unbelievable.

As with everything, one does not appreciate the difficulty of a sport until one tries to play it oneself. I  found that out when I tried hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range. Try as I did, I simply could not get the ball to go where I wanted and the longest drive I managed was 125 yards and that only once. As for putting, I understand how it can frustrate duffers so much that they fling their putter into a pond.

No one can convince me that golf and table tennis are not sports.

Aids to Meditation

I had written in my previous post about how meditati0n has become more and more popular in the West. However, I was still surprised by a (free) app called Insight Timer which my wife was turned on to by a friend. It contains a variety of meditations for different purposes ( sleeping, relaxation, eating etc.) some of which are just music, others just words and still others a combination of both words and music. Each meditation is timed and there are meditations of different lengths ranging from a few minutes to over half an hour. Many of them appear to have been composed by English people though there are quite a few by Americans. There are even some in languages other than English. What is also cool is that as you participate in one of these meditations you are made aware of the number of other souls from all over the world who are listening to that exact meditation at the same time. The number is usually in the thousands.

Not all the meditations are of great quality or , I should say, will necessarily appeal to everyone. Sometimes the music is too jangly. Other times, the volume of the music drowns out the speaker’s voice. But you will find something that appeals to you if you search the various choices available.

The one I like best is a sleeping meditation narrated by a woman. She has a very soft, gentle voice and uses words like ” calm”, ” relax”, ” let go”. It is a very effective meditation because I fall into a deep dreamless slumber within a few minutes. I have never yet heard the end of it because by that time I am fast asleep!

In my previous post, I had mentioned how meditation has become almost mainstream in America. There are many courses that one can attend and a large number of people- both young and old- do. Recently, my wife even discovered a free app called Insight Timer which is  worth exploring. Using the app, one can try out any number of different meditations. The app allows one to explore meditations for stress reduction, for walking , for eating, for sleeping and for relaxation. Some are just music, others are verbal and still others a combination of music and words. They are in various languages, though the vast majority are in English. Surprisingly, many of them originate in England. An interesting feature is that as you are doing a particular meditation on the app, you can also see how many other people around the world are doing it at the same time . The numbers are usually in the thousands.

Not all the meditations will appeal to everyone and they are uneven in quality. Sometimes,  the music jarring is jarring; other times, the background music almost drowns out the words. At still other times, the voice does not appeal. However, there is enough choice some that are bound to appeal to you.

Personally, there is a sleeping meditation that I find very effective. It’s in a very soothing English voice and contains words like ” peaceful” , ” calm”, ” relax” etc. I know that it is very effective because I have never yet listened to the end of it _ I am fast asleep in minutes, well before the end. This particular meditation begins by cautioning people that they should not listen to it when they are driving…. definitely very good advice !!

 

 

Thursday’s news  included a story about how Bullard elementary school in Kennesaw, Georgia was obliged to modify a yoga program for its young students because of parental objections. The parents were protesting what they believed was the encroachment of non- Christian beliefs in their childrens’ education. In particular  they objected to Namaste ( the Indian form of greeting with the palms of both hands pressed together) and to their kids’  coloring books including  the “mandala”( an Indian symbol representing the cosmos). There was also an unsubstantiated rumor ( later proved false) that healing crystals were being used in the classes.  The school authorities are modifying the program to allay the parents concerns and have assured them that crystals are not part of the program.

The story took me by surprise because I had thought that both yoga and meditation  were so widespread in America as to be considered almost mainstream. I thought things had changed from the early seventies when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. For some years after, there was considerable resistance to the idea  but it quickly lessened; people realized that meditation was not contrary to their religious beliefs and that it was an antidote to stress. Within a few years, you had the phenomenon of Catholic priests traveling to India to study meditation so that could use it to benefit their parishioners.

BTW, I was very happy to read the responses by readers of that news-story. Almost every single one of them excoriated the parents for being ignorant and closed minded. Some respondents even revealed a surprising amount of knowledge about yoga and meditation.  While I don’t endorse the parents stance, I can empathize ( but not sympathize) with them. People in places like Bullard GA  have not been exposed to things like yoga or meditation which we in the big cities or on the coasts now take for granted.

Yoga in America followed much the same path as meditation but its acceptance was quicker. Today, there are literally thousands of yoga classes available to those interested. All types of yoga courses are available including Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Laughter yoga.

Necessarily, to broaden the appeal of yoga and meditation to non-Christians, it is their physical aspect that is stressed. Yoga is seen as a means of improving one’s flexibility and fitness while meditation is intended to relax the mind and as an antidote to stress. In fact, the reason yoga/meditation was introduced at Bullard was that it would help students to deal with anxiety about their academic performance and to cope with bullying and anger issues . It is really sad to read that elementary school students have to deal with such an environment. Instead of parents worrying about their children being subjected to non- Christian beliefs, they should be concerned about the mental health of their children as they try to cope with the stresses of school life.

 

 

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10,000 steps

The idea that one should log 10,000 steps daily for good health is not new. It has been around for several years and,periodically, as someone re-discovers it, it gets new life. I have in the past tried to fulfill this quota but it has been difficult to keep track of my steps. Some type of step counter is essential but the earlier ones had their problems. They had to be clipped on to the trousers and the display wasn’t all that great. Recently, I got a new counter which is both convenient and easy to read. It merely has to be put in one’s pocket  and the digital read-out gives both the number of steps and the time of day… useful to know how long one has been walking. The counter also has memory and gives the cumulative number of steps  as well as the number of steps taken the previous day. We humans love to measure things and it is interesting to check the counter and find out how much further I have to go. As a result I now have a better handle on how much I’m walking each day.

I find that, when I don’t make a special effort, I only log about 3,500- 4,000 steps. In order to reach the 10,000 norm, I have to walk about half an hour,  morning and evening. This is not always possible, so I try to walk five or ten minutes whenever I can during the day. Whether one takes several short walks instead or one or two long ones doesn’t matter; the aggregate is what is important. I find that the numbers mount up rapidly and the 10,000 step target becomes more achievable.

Of course, no sooner does one meet a norm, then the bar gets raised. A gentleman  I know, an 81-year old physician, told me that he tries to walk 14,000 steps  daily because while 10,000 steps is good , one really has to log 14,000 each day to lose weight and keep trim. He is in great shape and , at age 81, still works part time .. so his opinion seems to be a valid one.

There is a middle aged lady in our development who walks far in excess of 10,000 or even 14,000 steps daily. I see her walking at all times of the day, morning, afternoon and evening and in all climates. Even when it is drizzling or snowing lightly, she is still to be seen walking , arms pumping in her characteristic style. The only concession that she makes to the weather is that she dresses more warmly. I think she must walk at least 8 hours a day and that is a conservative estimate. I’ll spare you the math but I estimate that that works out to over 50,000 steps per day! Everyone knows about this lady and I have I heard one story which explains her fanatical walking habits. ( According to this story), she lost her husband shortly after she moved to this development and is all alone now. She cannot bear the loneliness of her house and that is why she walks in an effort to keep busy and to stop thinking about her loneliness.  It is a very sad story and I hope that it is not true.

 

 

The story of the man who finds an old lamp and rubs it, releasing a genie who then grants him three wishes is an old one. It dates back at least to the Arabian Nights and the story of Aladin which I first read when I was a kid. And that was a long long time ago!

Since then there have been many versions of the same basic theme. One of the most widely known was the TV series ” I Dream of Genie” which attracted a wide audience in 1970’s America.

There have also been many jokes based on this theme. One of them is about the man who, when given his three wishes, asks for an unending supply of black puddings ( his favorite food). The genie promptly grants him his wish but the man’s wife is incensed with him because he has ” wasted” a wish. She snaps ” I wish your black puddings were attached to your nose!” No sooner said than done ! Of course, the couple have to use the third wish to undo the second and so they have nothing to show for their three wishes.

Another joke is about the man who uses his first two wishes to gets riches and long life. With his third wish, he asks for “the Best Woman in the World”. Poof!  Who should appear before him but Mother Theresa!

In real life there are no genies to grant our wishes but we do have Amazon and its knockoffs ( Flipkart in India, TMall and Jingdong in China and so on). I am still amazed by the number of things that are on offer at these sites. In that respect, these sites are almost like a genie who has the power to grant you your every wish. Like a genie, Amazon and its knockoffs can get us whatever we want though the service is  not quite as fast and we have to pay for what we order. But there are advantages too. For one thing, we have an unlimited number of desires that we can gratify, not just three. And if we don’t like something, we can send it back at no cost and get our money back. All in all, not a bad deal!

 

Golden Ripples

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