First group meditation

I’ve usually thought about meditation in terms of patchouli drenched, granola eating and poncho wearing hobbies for the celebrity folks who attend Burning Man. Possibly as an excuse for taking a nap. So it took me some effort to get over my prejudice in 2016 as I was newly vested in the health benefits of learning how to meditate.

So I read some meditation books, downloaded a couple apps, got a meditation pillow and dug out an oil lantern to help me focus. It was a frustratingly halting process because I was treating it with both my earlier prejudice and then as an exercise class with a definitive beginning and ending with measurable data points between. All that was missing was Strava for meditation.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I continued through to 2017 I became a little better, and more open, to the process of sitting down and letting my mind scatter in seemingly 5000 different directions while listening to these guided meditations on Calm. It started to click though when I learned that the process of distraction is actually the practice of meditation itself. Realizing it and coming back to something like listening to your breathing is the very thing that helps us to improve in all those ways that meditation advocates proffer up like improved concentration, lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety and increased concentration.

Today however I had a chance to hike up to Yoga on High and participate in an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. It made my old bias bristle a bit but I stuck with it. It was a room full of women of all ages and two guys. The instructor brought out a yoga roll then prepared to make “beds” for the students. I mean this thing was like total heavy duty nap worthy stuff. As she instructed us to lie back into the rig she guided the room along this really sedate tonal wave of relaxation. I knew we were all getting relaxed when the guy next to me started snoring and the ladies to my other side began breathing more deeply.

The whole experience left me with this deep feeling of rest. As if I had taken a pretty solid power nap but with the benefit of this meditative relaxation. It was also pretty cool to have that experience as a group of folks going for the same thing for different reasons.

Whatever the outcome of my current meditation track… I’m enjoying the exploration and hopeful for the benefits.

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meditationmeditation

Posted in general, personal

Being the butterfly

I was catching up on some reading and came across the quoted paragraph below in a two page excerpt from the Sun Magazine December 2016 issue.

“Some years ago, scientists attempted to create a long-range weather-forecasting program. It turned out that the most minute variations, even the undetectable things, the things they could perhaps not even yet imagine yet as data, could cause entirely different weather to emerge from almost identical initial conditions. This was famously summed up as the saying about the flap of a butterfly’s wings on one continent that can change the weather on another. History is like weather, not like checkers. (And you, if you’re lucky and seize the day, are like the butterfly.) [It’s] like weather in it’s complexity, in it’s shifts, in the way something triggers its opposite, just as a heat wave sucks the fog off the ocean and makes my town gray and clammy after a few days of baking; weather in it’s moods, in its slowness, in it’s suddenness.” Hope in The Dark by Rebecca Solnit

The whole issue felt like a spiritual lift. Both the Solnit quote and the lengthy interview with Ralph Nader. They reminded me that change is simple. It just takes one butterfly… or “five people.” When I first read that bit from the Nader interview it re opened my eyes to all those possibilities that we write off as unattainable. Lost. Unmovable.

It’s all in how we look at ourselves and those around us. I know this from experience as a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network. When people are hurting, they go to some dark places. Looking at life in a different way is where change sparks into existence. Being strong enough to open up to other possibilities is the only requirement. I also see this in both corporate and government cultures in my job as a collaboration consultant. Organizations that have become so weighed down by policy and atrophy that change seems impossible.

So I worked that Nader line of thought into one of my corporate training efforts recently. It was a device to show people that they can, collaboratively, effect change and innovation. And just like with people, those shifts within an organization usually make things better. All it takes is, as Nader stated, five women at a table to start the Womens’ right to vote movement in the 1800‘s. They didn’t live to see it come to pass. But the winds of change they created made it happen.

Like Solnit says… history is like weather.

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Posted in general, personal

The road behind… and the one ahead

One source defines goal setting as “the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable goals and time frames.” Looking back over 2016 I am thinking about flexibility more than goals.

According to the two running apps I used in 2016, Endomodo and Strava, I’ve run a total of 327 miles. I missed using these apps many times though so I estimate my total is closer to 380 miles. It makes me think back on those training sessions as a collection of memories on the paths and City streets. The change of the seasons. Street sounds. Passersby. Light through the trees. Rain on my skin. Heat of the sun on my back. Bracing cold blasts across my face and legs during the Autumn and Winter training. I ran a 20-mile race in Fall (coming in second to last), two half marathons, a 15k, a 10k, the Turkey Trot as an oddball 5 miler, and four or five 5ks. I missed my dream of doing the Columbus full marathon, the result of a seriously sprained ankle, but I have not given up the hope of doing one in 2017.

Last winter I battled cardiac depression which impacted my running and workout efforts. I’ve used that experience afterwards to remain vigilant and keep lacing up my shoes. Running through the cold dark Ohio months.

My motivational mantra is something I picked up from a fellow runner “I run because someday I won’t be able to… but today is not that day.” It is while writing this that I realize I am running without any real goals at all. I’m doing all this because I can. Not because it is better for you than walking, lifting or Yoga. Because it’s fun. It leaves me feeling like I have had the best meditation session. I love the sensations along the way. Interacting with other runners. I enjoy the feeling of being in motion. I love feeling my heart beating in rhythm with my running shoes. It makes me feel grateful for the experience. Grateful for the strength to do it.

So if I run my first full marathon in 2017, so be it. But I won’t stop doing what I’m doing in the process unless I have to make adjustments. There were two things which dampened my motivation in 2016. One was a serious sprain in the right ankle at the beginning of July. The second was a set of bruised ribs at the beginning of December. These kinds of setbacks teach us to be flexible. Accept what they are for the temporary conditions they present to us. They remind us of illusion and impermanence. That the action of setting goals, as defined earlier, is a process that lives on a sliding scale of life. Missing goals should never demotivate us but rather it should, like depression, give us new information that we can use to achieve better outcomes in the future. Failure is only negative if you don’t use it to your advantage.

It’s this spirit that I want to kindle in 2017. I’m ready for my share of success and failure on the running path because it’s part of the experience. It’s the beauty of life itself. So if I hit between 600 & 800 miles by the end of next year as part of my “goals” then that’s what it will be. If not, I will have a new collection of cherished memories from the runs I completed. I win either way.

So thank you 2016 and hello 2017.

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Posted in running

Note to self

So this happened last Saturday. I opened the laundry closet door when the iron fell from 2 feet or so above me from the top of the stacked washer/dryer and hit me square on the lower sternum and left rib cage. Not an experience I would recommend to anyone who wants to be physically active the next week. Bruised ribs are an interesting, if not painful, sensation. That and the corresponding back pain, and range of motion limitation, from your body compensating in different ways. The other thing, of course in my case, was the weird anxiety it caused because the pain was off center in my chest which made me look up articles from the Cleveland Clinic about chest pain that won’t kill you, and those that will, and how to tell. Cardiac anxiety is such a weird thing to deal with when you have the condition.

In the end I’m really sore but I had a laugh at myself while not getting too bummed out about my botched running schedule this week after a super good one last week. The thing might have been a blessing in a weird way. I’ve been meditating this week with a renewed dedication toward calming my mind with more priority on being present. I guess we face the things we need to when life gives us little reminders to take the time to do so.

Live, learn, laugh and move the damn iron someplace else where it’s less prone to jump out at you!

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Posted in personal

Not everything in nature has a function

My partner and I adopted a third, and final, cat over the Summer. This tiny little black and white animal named Arturo. It’s been fun to watch our other two Texas cats warm up to him accepting him into their respective territories within our little storefront loft above 3rd and Main St here in downtown Columbus.

Our months have been filled with the anecdotes of his development. Little behaviors like shadowing Monkey everywhere, chasing Helen down the hallway and then the toys. One in particular is an artifact from when Monkey was a kitten. Arturo will pick up this 2-foot-long plastic wand in his mouth as the feathery boa part trails behind him. Sometimes he charges the carpet with the wand part as if it were a lance. Other times he’ll bring it to one of us, drop it, then gently tap at our legs or arms wanting us to play with him and his toy. He gets so worked up chasing the feather boa that he actually snorts and pants while zooming around like a black streak of motion.

There is a quote by Garrison Keillor that goes like this “cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.” I think we’d all do well to find those moments in our lives that just are and not worry about making every minute count. In that regard, cats have the unique power to not only power the internet but remind me to loosen my grip a little and just let things be.

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Posted in personal

Because I can today

Last week was a great one running wise. I did both the Hot Chocolate 15k and then my first Turkey Trot 5 miler on Thanksgiving morning. I noticed that one of my fellow runners in the 5 miler has a tagline on his Strava profile of “I run because one day I won’t be able to – but today is not that day.” Seeing that made perfect sense to me. As a heart attack survivor you are left with lots of feelings. One of them being the very real fear of a second event. Running has given me a great deal of stress relief from these feelings while at the same time something I can never take for granted.

The phrase is true to how I feel about training for a marathon right now. I’m using a plan I found on Strava for this with three runs, 1 long 1 fartlek and 1 easy, and two cross training workouts per week. Things are going pretty well with that so far and the weather is holding out to a degree so it’s not as unpleasant as it could be.

Come to think of it… I might have a T-shirt made up for the marathon in February with that guy’s slogan on it. It’s definitely my current mantra at the moment.

Posted in personal, running

Gifts

There is a lady who I see every week at the Starbucks near where I work in downtown Columbus. She’s always upbeat and cordial. I ran into her while voting recently as she was volunteering at my local precinct. Same smile and warm manner.

I ran into her again yesterday where she came out to greet me while I was waiting for my order. She told me three Thanksgiving stories with her husband. The first ended with his cancer diagnosis at Thanksgiving and painful treatment afterwards. The second Thanksgiving came with more bad news and cost him his right arm. Finally, the third, came with no more cancer. The first year they’ve been given a respite from the horrible disease that has taken so many folks I’ve known over my lifetime. The same disease that has made some of my family members lives complicated at best if not painful, dangerous and harrowing.

I was left thinking about how we tell stories. What is it that makes us spontaneously open up to one another and share such beautiful moments? Stories of survival basically made from hope. We have an unending capacity to change and redefine ourselves in the face of even the darkest situations. Of course sometimes we need others to remind us of this. Sharing these experiences is nothing less than one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other.

As the Holiday Season kicks off tomorrow I’ll be spending my time with a small group of family in Columbus thinking of all the people who have touched me over 2016… feeling both lucky to be here and grateful for all the love shared between family, friends and strangers.

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Posted in general

Over the river and through the woods…

And so it’s the week of November 24, 2016. It’s been a full year. I’ve had multiple family members go through major medical procedures, lost my father in law, ran my longest run of 20 miles, enjoyed a great professional year & even visited both Dallas and New Orleans with the AHA while marking my year anniversary as a vegetarian for heart health reasons.

While it’s been relatively easy to make the switch between meat to a plant based diet it is significantly more difficult to cut out fat based dairy. Including all that amazing cheese I used to freely enjoy without guilt and fear. Given the effects of dairy fat on cardiac health however I am motivated to continue the elimination process of these products.

It was however during a “pie off,” at the office I am contracting out of, that I had an opportunity to work with cashews and silken tofu for the first time in the creation of a vegan pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. Over the past year I’ve had a couple misguided friends tell me that this or that brand of vegan cheese “is great and you can’t tell the difference.” I tried a few only to find myself completely disillusioned with the meaning of life.

There are no vegan equivalents for cheese, meat or cream and that’s OK. This thought reminds me of a bit I read in the NY Times food section recently about offering vegan meat substitutes to guests over the Holidays. The suggestion was to avoid that temptation. You have to think about vegetables in the most basic of ways… enjoying them as they are and as a main course. Some folks have the moral advantage driving various food choices. As a former meat based foodie I believe you should enjoy what you want to and push your culinary boundaries every chance you get. This made the shift to a plant based diet a little challenging for me at first. In the end and along the way however experiments like these really help to reset my relationship with food a bit further and give me a deeper understanding of how good plant based living can truly be..

The vegan pumpkin pie was not an exact match but it’s cheesecake like texture, the streusel and the graham cracker crust worked so well together that it was something that I would look to repeat again and maybe play on with fruits or chocolate.

This is the original article posted in the New York Times “Can you bake a vegan pie” by Tara Parker-Pope was really great. I’d highly recommend trying it even if you aren’t vegan.

I am truly grateful for all my family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Posted in food

It begins

2015 was the year I discovered how much I enjoyed running. It was also a year that came with more than my share of lessons. One of them was that once Winter started to take hold of Central Ohio my motivation seemed to retreat with it. I kept up with my cardio workouts at the YMCA well enough but my progress definitely took a nose dive. So I signed up for a string of races all the way through Spring of next year in an effort to keep me running outdoors whatever the weather, within reason, confronts me with.

This past weekend I completed my first of these runs in Columbus. The Hot Chocolate 15k which I ran with my cousin last year. It was one of those very cold and windy Ohio mornings. I was however bundled up in thermal tights and 3 upper layers with gloves and ear muffs. I could still feel it but it was good motivation to keep moving to stay warm.

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In the end I completed beating my last year’s finishing time feeling like I could have gone a little harder. But I was not spent afterwards either which was great because I had separate lunch and dinner plans. It bears repeating that my goal is not speed or anything. I just want to be there, to complete the races and improve if possible while enjoying every minute of the challenge and making good memories along the way.

Yesterday I did just that and it makes me excited for all the other races and training runs on my goals list for as long as I can do them.

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Posted in general

Being there

We’ve all been there. Juggling multiple clients, supporting sales efforts, allocating lunches to colleagues and clients, going to tech events, pursuing professional certifications, education goals, slicing out work time from family and personal endeavors to keep ahead of the ever moving curve. With our demanding work schedule, it’s all too easy to slide into patterns of what look like multi-tasking but in fact end up being switch tasking. This practice can become a serious drag under the false pretense of productivity gain. As if that were not bad enough we often times box ourselves so far into corners that we lose focus on the immediate job at hand. Including the people around us.

I propose that it’s people, starting with ourselves, who are the most important part of all business interaction. If we make a conscious effort to regard each other and ourselves it will only help to make everyone we work with more successful. I will cover three different milestones of my career to date where I learned a distinct skill that, I believe, has helped me to be a stronger coworker for my home office and consultant to my clients.

It was the mid 1990’s and I had freshly completed a calculated track of managing a fine wine shop, worked white table cloth restaurant service and even a private club. I wanted to live the life of a salesman for a wine distributor going from place to place with a price book, point of sale and a sample bag. The company I worked with was a statewide very fine wine oriented small independent free spirited and highly creative outfit. It was the best small family organization in Ohio. Management taught us how to tell stories. How to get to know people and forge strong relationships based on mutual interests and trust. They would also send us out to various wine country regions to spend time with vintners, growers and the land where all these stellar wines were coming from. Preston, Chalone, Acacia, Carmenet, St Supery… and the list just went on from there.

We listened to people’s stories about the artful process of making wine and we brought those back, along with our enthusiasm, to share with our clients. They in turn shared this information with their customers. It was a great circle of storytelling and enjoyment to be a part of… one that I’m grateful for every single day as it made me part of the person who I am today. Even now as a developer I am first interested in my client’s story. Who they are as a person. The organization and the people within it. I find that my time as a wine salesman in the 1990’s has made me a people focused individual.

As time went on and national deals were made a larger privately owned distributor decided to purchase the company I worked for as a gem in the crown of their fine wine portfolio. I had been studying Linux and computer programming on my own but didn’t feel inclined to jump into the Dot Com party as it was not where my heart was. With the purchase and merger though I felt that I could be of more help from within and decided to help at first with the data migration initiative and then system operations. I was quickly promoted to be a developer for the local State office where I built reporting and web tools using the LAMP stack.

It was however when I implemented a State Wide Open Source document management and collaboration system for the larger company that I caught the eye of the corporate office in Dallas Texas. Again with the storytelling that I held so dear. So I was offered a job and moved my family Southwest. I learned Java and worked with the Spring framework. Coming from a PHP background the whole OO thing was a learning curve… but I still believed that there were no problems that could not be solved.

Then came SharePoint 2007. I took the job of growing the framework within the corporate environment toward it’s general release to the larger Nationwide company. It was the wild west in a lot of respects. In any large organization you get pulled in 19 different directions by people who are all equally important. This is when I read a book called “Conversationally Speaking” in an effort to level up my conflict resolution and communication skills. I still use one specific technique called active listening while working with people. You basically listen to another person talk. Listen without interruption. Without finishing their sentences or inserting words. Without looking at your phone or wearable device for email alerts. You just shut the Hell up and focus all your attention on the most important person, the one talking. Once she/he is done you deliver a thoughtful response always leading with something like “What I think I heard you say is <insert some of the speakers own dialogue here in your own words>. The technique can be used to let the other person know you heard what they said. It will help you in requirements gathering, negotiating, and in cases where friction exists among many other situations.

I learned that combining the technique of storytelling with active listening made me a much more powerful employee. I was suddenly better equipped to move seamlessly between departments, mangers, coworkers and contractors as we moved toward our ever changing goals.

Toward the end of the of the 2000’s I got a job offer that was too good to turn down back in Ohio. So I packed up my family once more and we headed home. It was difficult to leave in some respects as Texas had grown dear to me but I always honor my time there and think of it as some of my most pivotal years. While they came with a health cost, as I had become sedentary while working in a high stress culture and having developed a fondness for BBQ, I would not change a thing.

Working as a consultant for a Microsoft Partner was totally exciting. I was no longer bound by legacy code or risk averse management who were slow, if not hostile toward, change. I was all over the place in the technology field. Still working with SharePoint but with a much broader scope, it was everything I wanted and more.

Then came the heart attack.

While I suffered no damage it really made me reevaluate everything from the ground up. After a short break I went back to work a changing man. I started to listen to myself the same way I listen to everyone I work with around me. In that moment I learned mindfulness. For me it’s taking 10 minutes to listen to myself breath. Be present. I used the Meditation for Kids Elevator Meditation a lot. As time went on I was able to do this on demand quietly. I can now use it in meetings to re center myself. At my computer terminal while working in Visual Studio. And even while doing production deployments with my team to keep a calm steady tone present. It reminds me of running in some regards … that feeling of total peace you experience as your shoes rhythmically hit the pavement and sweat drips from every surface of your body as the sun beats down on you. It’s a little bit of Nirvana in a handful of moments.

We all know that keeping our cool and presenting ourselves in a professional manner is key to success at all times. These are the three techniques I use every day. Some of my coworkers have commented on how envious they are of how “you always keep your cool” and that “nothing bothers you.” Well that’s not entirely true as I am what is called a hot reactor by nature. But with the techniques I’ve honed over the past two decades I have been able to wrest control of myself from myself and it’s responsible for all my success both personally and professionally.

There’s an old 1970’s movie called “Being There” which is what this post is titled after. The main character is an ambiguously functional individual who you never know if he’s intellectually disabled or not. But he proceeds to shine in various high profile situations and even walks on water at the end of the film. The moral of the film as they state is that “life is a state of mind.” It’s a great metaphor in relation to using tools that help us communicate with each other while being totally present at the same time.

It takes a good story teller, a great listener and a present mind to make ourselves, and all around us, successful.

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Posted in general

Activity

  • Weight Training
    On January 18, 2017 12:00 pm rode 0.00 mi. during 00:32:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Run
    On January 17, 2017 5:06 pm rode 3.81 mi. during 00:40:51 hours climbing 67.26 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On January 17, 2017 12:46 pm rode 1.60 mi. during 00:34:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On January 13, 2017 1:31 pm rode 1.50 mi. during 00:27:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On January 12, 2017 4:30 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight Lifting
    On January 12, 2017 11:30 am rode 0.00 mi. during 00:28:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.