Today's Morning #Meditation #Soundtrack

Some "experts" on meditation say that is ought to be done in a state of quietude with minimal extraneous background noise. These experts may be right. But as the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki (1905-1971) once said: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

I try to keep my options open, which is why I usually meditate to a background of music, often good rock-n-roll music, though usually not at the proper high volume at which good rock-n-roll should be aurally consumed.

Today, I meditated to the B-side of the vinyl record album "Straight Between the Eyes" by Brit hard rickers RAINBOW. It's a tasty album, musically. This kind of rock-n-roll seldom gets produced anymore. When compared with a lot of what passes for music today, it's the equivalent of unrefined organic whole food vs over-processed fast food. 

The latter is enjoyable in small doses, but for a healthy soul, the former is much better for you.


The Giant Internet Brain's Formidable Telepathic Powers

Deborah and I have been spiralizing vegetables, mostly zucchini and summer squash, to create a low calorie, nutritious "spaghetti" substitute that's quick and easy to make. Once you realize and accept that most of the flavor of pasta dishes comes from the sauces or spices you put on them, this makes perfect sense, lifestylistically.

The Giant Internet Brain seems to have telepathically figured out that we do this, and now suggests via online and email advertising some related products It thinks we might like, such as this...


Midnight Ramblings

It'll be about midnight by the time I finish writing this and post it.

Optimized NAD+ Cell Regenerator?, with Resveratrol, 30 vegetarian capsulesI wanted to do a lot more writing today, particularly on the topic of age reversing nutritional supplements via my nutrition blog. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and doing some research on it. There's some interesting science behind the age slowing effects of the antioxidant resveratrol when combined with a nutrient called NAD+.

However, I never got the time to pound out the work on this piece because I was forced to deal with the headaches of setting up my new smartphone. The battery in my old one was on the outs so Verizon gave me a replacement at no charge. The process for transferring my data from the old phone to the new one was not as easy as the tutorial video would lead you to believe. Then Deborah informed me that I'd have to change all my settings and reorganize my apps from scratch. You'd think by now, this far into the 21st century, they'd have figured out a way to map EVERYTHING from your old smartphone to your new, including the settings and layouts, especially if it's the exact same make and model of phone, which was the case here. Anyway, that ate up most of my afternoon.

On the bright side, I ran some errands this morning around town, by bike. It was a super nice day. I picked up some pictures I had developed at Walgreens from an old roll of film I found. There wasn't much there but one of the pictures was a good one that my mom will appreciate. I'll give it to her when my folks drive through over the July 4 weekend, on their way up to their cabin. I also picked up my new, and expensive, glasses. Deborah says they look great on me. I tend to agree.

Tomorrow, we are supposed to get some stormy weather. That will be good for the garden, which is coming along nicely. It also means I'll probably be relegated to the indoors and thus able to focus on the creative pursuits I had to suspend for today.


Cool Spell

We had a bit of a cool spell this weekend in Wisconsin, particularly today, but that didn't preclude us from going on our pre-planned Sunday morning bike ride. It was in the upper 50s when Deborah and I got up around 7 AM to prep.

"It'll be 60 by 10," I said, looking at the weather app on my phone. "No sign of rain right now. 10% chance by noon."

It was still brisk outside when we arrived at the Verona Park and Ride, where we were meeting some fellow biker friends, a little before 9. We were the first to arrive. There was a chill wind coming out of the west, the direction we'd be biking. Deborah waited inside the warm car while I unloaded our bikes from the rear rack.

"Might be a bit of a headwind at first," I told her. "But coming back we'll have a tail wind at least."

After our friends arrived, we kicked off for the first leg of bicycling on the Military Ridge bike path, from Verona to Riley. It was a bit of a struggle biking into the wind, but we covered the 7 or so miles easily enough.

We parked our bikes and went into the Riley Tavern, which has a Sunday morning breakfast menu. It used to be just pancakes and sausage, but they've added some more Atkins friendly options, like steak and eggs, which I ordered even though the kielbasa sausage and eggs sounded pretty good too (Side Note: I consistently eat a high protein/fat whole food diet, low in refined carbs. I had my annual physical last week and my cholesterol numbers were all excellent and in the normal range. I'm not saying...I'm just saying.).

After eating and paying, it was on to Mount Horeb, about 6.5 more miles along the bike path. The "rails to trails" bike path had a slight uphill grade most of the way to Mt. Horeb, which combined with the headwind to give us a decent workout. So when we rolled into town, I had skurried up a decent appetite, notwithstanding the Riley breakfast about 45 minutes earlier

We had lunch at the Grumpy Troll restaurant in Mt. Horeb and sat outside in their patio, which was chillier than we'd anticipated, because the sky had clouded up a lot. I checked the weather map again and saw no rainfall near our location, even though some of the clouds looked fairly darkish and suggestive of precipitation.

"It's mostly downhill with a tailwind now, baby!" I exclaimed to Deborah as we got back on our bikes to ride back to Verona. This exclamation was mostly true. After Riley, the trail graded slightly upward again, but the tailwind still helped a lot.

Before returning to the cars at the Park and Ride, we stopped at a small microbrewery in downtown Verona called the Hop House and sampled some of their beer. I got a flite with five different IPAs that they make. My favorite was called Hidden Stash. Try it if you ever go there.

It was a short ride back to the cars. We bid our friends farewell and headed home. Overall, it was a fulfilling day and the rain held off until later.


Weekend Thing

I attended a music conference in Madison WI today. Butch Vig of the band Garbage Skyped in from his studio somewhere in, probably, California. Garbage is in the recording studio right now, working on new songs ahead of an upcoming tour with Blondie. Remember them? I had no idea they were still rocking, but I'm glad they are.

Butch said modern technology is allowing musicians to produce great songs on laptops in home studios and release them to millions of people, bypassing the gatekeepers in the record business who used to decide what was "popular." But now the marketing itself has been popularized and it's kind of a revolution. The record industry has lost control of the pop cultural music pipeline, and it has opened up a lot of possibilities for independent musicians and songwriters.

There was an issue with the Skype audio and Vig's dialogue was a little choppy at times, but I picked up about 80% of it.

The Avett Brothers performed at this conference at 3 PM, giving everyone their two cents about music, songwriting, touring, and whatnot. Apparently they are all the rage right now, but I won't lie to you...I never heard of them before this conference. According to some dramatization of pop culture I saw somewhere, they are "the hottest thing in Americana music today," but I'm not sure what that even means. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt because they seem to be doing quite well for themselves, which means someone is digging them. Folk and Americana music don't do much for me though, no matter how good the musicians are, though these guys were pretty good, as far as that goes.

About 5:30 PM, I attended a song listening panel session at Audio for the Arts where my song "Becca" was critiqued. I got some good pro tips and my sound was compared to Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I have been compared to Elvis Costello before but it was more poignant coming unsolicited from music industry pros. To be honest, I was never much of an Elvis Costello fan for most of my life. I started listening to his music after getting the soundalike comment from several different people over the years, but not before I wrote the song "Becca." So I guess what I'm getting at is that my music (and more precisely probably my voice) just happens to be naturally somewhat Elvis Costello-esque and that's not a bad thing at all. Subsequently, Guppy Effect has learned a couple Elvis Costello tunes and added them to our live performance repertoire. To wit, they are Alison and (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.


Night Riding

Thursday evening, I attended the kickoff of the Between the Waves Music Conference and Fest, which goes all weekend. I signed up for it many months ago and got an early bird discount. The weather was fantastic, so I decided to bike on down to the thing, which was taking place on the UW Madison campus.

The introductory session of the BTWCaF went until about 9 PM, so it was dark when it let out. I had predicted this and brought my bike head- and tail lights. The tail light is red and blinks, so it is pretty visible to even the most oblivious car drivers, a large proportion of who live in Madison WI. The headlight is "brighter than the sun" and really lights up the road in front of my bike. I picked it up a couple years ago at a bike store in Whitewater WI, called BicycleWise, whose proprietors, John and Liz, I know. I told John I was looking for a great light that would allow me to see and be seen. He sold me the next model down of the brand of LED head light that he uses. I cannot imagine how blindingly bright his light must be, because mine can pretty much burn your retinas if you look right at it.

Anyway, I attached the lights on my bike, turned them on, and tooled home. I love night biking. The first segment of my ride was on busy University Avenue, but in short order I was on the bike trail that goes most of the way back to my house. There are few other bikers and no pedestrians on the trail after dark. It's quiet and somewhat meditative/contemplative.

Due to an ultimately fortuitous set of circumstances, Deborah and I are sharing one car now, more than halving our carbon footprints (mostly because I am not driving Uber and Lyft anymore...stay tuned for a post about this soon, which will expose some ugly truths about the ride hailing companies). It's always been a dream of mine to drive less, or not at all. I am just about living that dream now and it is fantastic. I don't foresee a need to have two cars in our household at least until after I have completed my first year of graduate school next summer, and possibly even until after I finish my residency in marriage and family therapy some three to four years hence. Graduate school is not cheap, and think of the money we'll save not having to insure, register, and maintain a second car. That few hundred bucks could buy pretty much ALL my books for school.

There is some mild inconvenience and discomfort that comes from sharing a single car, but nothing insurmountable, and certainly nothing worth the substantial financial and environmental cost of having a second car. We have to think a little harder about our daily schedules and coordinate accordingly, but since I am self employed, I can very easily work around Deborah's 9-5 day job. There is a bus stop right in front of our house and I have three bicycles in the garage at my disposal. Biking is something I love to do, so for me the car sharing is not a limitation to my lifestyle, but rather a boon in terms of compelling me to bike places more. The secondary cardiovascular fitness and weight loss benefits of being more physically active are frosting on the proverbial cake.

Some people we know, particularly - and not surprisingly - those who work in the automotive industry, have a difficult time wrapping their minds around our unconventional choice to share a single car between the two adult members of our household. I pity them a little bit, but mostly don't really give a crap. We do what works for us and other people need to live their own lives, not meddle in ours. If America is to survive into the future, we need to cut our dependence on foreign fossil fuels and it has been predicted by experts (Google it) that if every American were to cut their fossil fuel consumption by 50%, the oil crisis and associated senseless violence in Middle Eastern countries would end...just stop, overnight. So Deborah and I are saving the @#$%ing Earth! Boom.


Meditation and Social Media Fasting

I meditate daily. Maybe you do too. Either way, the kind of meditation I do is what you might call "poor man's," a very easy and basic simplification of Zen meditation. Essentially all you do is get comfortable in a quiet place, with or without some comforting music playing softly in the background, and attempt to focus your mind on your breathing to the exclusion of all other thoughts for a short period of time (15 minutes is my usual time commitment, but sometimes I will double it if I feel a need). It's pretty hard to do this focusing on breathing thing to the exclusion of other thoughts, especially if you have a lot on your mind, as I usually do. But actually the goal is not success at that, because failure is certain; the goal is actually just DOING IT...going through the process...and if you do, then that is the success. If you just do it, you win. That's why I make it a point to do my daily meditation first thing in the morning, after drinking my coffee, because if I let the demands of my day take priority, I might forget to do it or run out of time. In other words, I have made daily meditation a priority in my life, and if you read on, you will see one of the ways it has benefitted me.

"Real" Zen Buddhists and transcendental meditators call daily meditation their "practice," and that's a good descriptor, because it is about training your mind to push out extraneous thoughts when they happen (and they will) and recentering your mind on the present rhythm of your breathing. With regular practice, you get better and better at recognizing when your mind has wandered (as it always will) and bringing it back to thinking of only your breathing. The skill is not so much keeping all extraneous thoughts out (impossible) as recognizing when they have crept in and then kicking them out with a solid combat boot to the arse.

The daily practice of meditating helps train you to center and calm your mind in everyday life as well. A practiced meditator can recognize when life is throwing non-essential chaos and drama his/her way and can then willfully choose to block it out by centering, perhaps finding a quiet safe place to take a few deep breaths and be in the moment. Meditation is really all about practicing how to be in the moment, the present moment. The application of this in everyday life is often casually and appropriately called "being present." When I am worrying out loud to my wife Deborah about future events that have not yet happened, she will often remind me to "be present" and enjoy the NOW, which is usually quite pleasant most of the time. Worrying about things that haven't happened yet is a waste of finite mental power that can be better applied to making the present the best it can be.

Most extraneous thoughts we have tend to be reflections on things that happened in the past or will happen in the future. When such thoughts are negative, we often call these regrets (past) or worries (future). But being present in the present is a null state. Literally NOTHING happens in the present. What we call the present isn't even the present. Let me explain that. Due to the latency of our senses and nervous systems, things we perceive as the present actually happened a few hundred milliseconds ago, give or take. Our minds autocorrect for this latency and extrapolate what we perceive as the present. For example, if you are in a flying jet airplane traveling at cruising speed, the airplane is actually about 500-600 feet ahead of where you perceive it is. When your senses receive stimuli from the external world, the interior of the airplane for instance, the sense organs convert the stimuli into electrophysiological impulses that travel to your brain at far far less than the speed of light. Once in the brain, the impulses then have to be processed, which takes a few more milliseconds, before you actually become consciously aware of the external stimuli. As a result, you are really always a little bit behind the times. If your airplane crashes into the side of a mountain, you will actually never be aware of it, because it happened about a half second before the sensory stimuli of the crash could reach your conscious mind. A half second is a long time (some might say an eternity) when your brain is disintegrating under several tons of metal, glass, and plastic in a mountainside explosion of kerosene jet fuel.

Have you ever dropped a heavy object on your foot? If so, you know that the pain is not instantaneous. Your eyes see the object fall on your foot and the visual stimuli are actually processed by your brain (something to the effect of "holy shit, that's gonna hurt") faster than the pain stimuli traveling up the nerves of your leg to your spine, and eventually to the pain centers of the brain (when you holler bloody murder and blast out a few expletives while hopping around on one foot). That is because your eyes are a lot closer to your brain than your foot is, so the visual stimuli reach your brain and get processed sooner than the pain ones from way down in your foot. Your brain does a post facto latency adjustment to make it all seem simultaneous, but it really isn't. However, I digress.

The thing about meditation is that it is more in the present moment than is the external environment. Your internal thoughts are being generated in real time, hitting your consciousness at pretty close to the exact moment in time they occur. They don't have far to travel because they bubble up from right there in your brain, already pre-processed. That's why they are able to creep in even while you are trying to keep them out. There is a latency involved in recognizing the presence of a thought and quashing it. That latency is not very long, but it's enough. Focusing on your breathing helps to preoccupy your mind with something, to take up mental bandwidth that useless extraneous thoughts are competing for. As soon as you recognize that a thought has crept in, refocusing on breathing pushes it out.

One area of my life to which I have applied centering and being present is on social media. Have you ever found yourself scrolling down your Facebook feed for a long time looking for something interesting to stimulate your mind? This is by design. It's beyond the scope of this post, but social media companies (underwritten by their advertisers) actually engineer their apps to essentially "addict" you to your device screens, the same way that addictive gamblers will sit at slot machines pumping in quarters for hours on end in hopes of that eventual cash reward. They are "renting" your eyes (for free) to garner ad revenue. As with casinos, on social media, rewards are engineered to come just often enough to keep you engaged, and even though these rewards are small (a grumpy cat or Morgan Freeman meme), your brain gets a tiny dose of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine every time, enough to motivate you to continue looking for the next micro-high. Google it...it's actually pretty fascinating, albeit diabolical. 60 Minutes did a spot on it that you can probably find on Youtube.

Deborah and I refer to the social media trap as "the sinkhole." Once you get sucked into it, it's hard to escape and your valuable time is wasted. You can't get it back. If you use social media, you know what I am talking about. We often help each other get out of the sinkhole. If I see Deborah glued to her phone (or vice versa), I will just ask her, "Are you in the sinkhole?" About 50% of the time she will look up, chagrined, then shake her head as if a spell has been broken and put her phone down. I am the same way.

When we are alone, we don't have this teamwork effect to help us disengage from social media. That's where the daily practice of meditation comes in handy. As I said, the skill you develop with meditation is to recognize and transcend your extraneous thoughts to focus on the present (usually your breathing, but you can focus on anything as long as it is happening in the present). You can also use the skill to transcend undesirable behavior as well. This skill can be directly applied to escaping from the ill effects of social media (and there are many besides just wasted human potential...Google it). Think of social media use as your extraneous thoughts. You can apply the same technique of recognizing the presence of social media and then willfully stop engaging with it. When I recenter myself after falling into the social media sinkhole, I make myself log off whatever app it is. I've implemented additional safeguards as well, like keeping social media apps hidden on my phone to reduce temptation and logging out of the apps whenever possible (hard, since so many other apps we use are, also by design, tied into our social media login credentials).

The goal with this, and I feel I have achieved it to a large extent, is to get a bigger dopamine bump from successfully escaping or outright resisting the pull of social media, rather than from social media itself. I need social media sometimes, particularly to post information about social events my band GUPPY EFFECT is hosting. I don't need social media for much else. Social media is very adept at trying to undermine my avoidance of it though. Every time I go on Facebook, for example, I see at the top of my news feed a picture or video of a fond past memory from a year or so ago. That's a pure dopamine injection into my brain's pleasure center, bringing back good memories from the past, and hard to resist. Then I am at risk of starting to scroll down to look for more good memories...and they aren't there. But with a little pre-social media centering prep, I can usually avoid the sinkhole entirely.

Leave a comment or PM me if you are interested in discussing how to do simple meditation or to escape a time-sucking or aspiration-crushing social media addiction. If you are interested in some punk rock lifestyle coaching, I offer new clients one free 60 minute session, with no obligation to continue if you don't get anything useful from it. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. I'm a happy and successfully self-employed free agent in the universe and I want to teach you how to be one too.


The Power of Positive Thinking

During my morning meditation this morning, I listened to the KISS vinyl record album "Destroyer" on my little turntable so I could assess it's sound quality for potential sale (it was crap), but that's neither here nor there.

Earlier in the morning, I read a short essay that showed up in my email inbox about the negative effects of worrying. It was from some self-help blog that I must have subscribed to at some point. In summary, worry is counterproductive because it causes stress and anxiety about future events that haven't happened yet. Worry causes us to fabricate mental scenarios that are, in all likelihood, unlikely. The essay went on to propose the logical solution that instead of worrying, try mentally envisioning a positive future outcome of whatever it is you had been worrying about.

Lately, I have not had a great deal to worry about. Everything is going to plan on preparing to start graduate school in the fall and the forecast for summer fun is looking great. However, I am dealing with a minor stressful situation right now, the details of which are inconsequential, and it has caused me to worry a little bit. So, long story short because I have to go do some freelance yardwork in a few minutes, during my meditation I decided to focus on positive outcomes for the aforementioned situation. I visualized the best case scenario and everything panning out the way I want it to.

I have no scientific basis on which to say that the Cosmos heeded my positive wishful thinking on this matter, but later on in the day I received an email from one of the parties to the situation who told me that, indeed, it looked like everything was unfolding in very close approximation to the best case scenario. That was probably going to happen anyway, so I don't attribute this to any divine or supernatural power, but it does illustrate the wasted energy that goes into unnecessarily worrying about something.


I do not endorse multitasking as a general rule. It's very inefficient. Better to do one thing really well than two things just kind of well. That being said, tonight I walked downstairs to get my dog Foster's eye drops from the kitchen while simultaneously brushing my teeth on the way down, and I did both tasks about as well as when I do them individually. However, actually administering Foster's eye drop required that I first completely finish brushing my teeth, so it wasn't a perfect scenario, but it did save me a little bit of time.

Although not technically multitasking by the strictest definition of the term, Deborah and I synergized our workout today with going to see my buddy Phil's band, YOUR MOM, at the Capital Brewery. We accomplished this with a bit of good planning and time management. We set a goal of arriving at the show between 6 and 7 PM and worked backward from there. About 4:30 PM, we rode our bikes the two miles to Deborah's folks' house on Lake Mendota where we borrowed their kayaks for a jaunt on the water. The weather was phenomenal. After almost an hour of the watersports, we biked another couple miles over to Capital Brewery, arriving within the specified time window at 6:55 PM. We socialized and enjoyed the music over a couple pints with friends before biking the short distance home before dark. I am not convinced that more calories were burned than were consumed, but it was a successful outing within the predetermined framework. We treat exercise as a process goal and the metric is binary: Did we do some significant exercise or not? All other things held equal, it is better to do some exercise than none at all.


Happiness is Doing What You Love Doing - Are You?

There are so many free ways to make money using the Intarwebz and doing fun and fulfilling things you already do every day. Take Moonlighting for example. It's an app you can download free and then just offer services you can do for other people. Slick.


The Life

One of the things I quite enjoy is selling some of my vinyl records on Ebay. There is some research work that goes into figuring out the market value of used records and what kind of supply and demand is out there. But there is also a fair amount of chillaxing in my ottoman chair and listening to classic vintage vinyl, which is how I assess the condition of these records "on the ground."

Right now I am listening to Paul McCartney and Wings perform live concert  songs on side 4 of the album "Concerts for the People of Kampuchea." This double live album doesn't garner a lot of interest from the classic rock and vinyl savvy Intarwebz, apparently. There are a lot of reasons why this could be, but one of them isn't the artists and songs on this record. The Clash. Elvis Costello and the Attractions. The Pretenders. Queen. The Who. Great bands. And this record is well produced with Paul McCartney at the helm.

More than likely, there are just lots of copies out there floating around. Or maybe people don't give a @#$% anymore about the people of Kampuchea (aka, Cambodia), who at the time of the conceiving of the concept for this album in 1979 were being terrorized by war (Pol Pot, the Killing Fields, etc.). It was McCartney's idea to do rock concerts to raise money for these good people. And it rocked a lot harder than the feel good commercial fundraiser concerts of today, if you want my $0.02 cents. So, why not...let's start the bidding at two cents (plus shipping).

I dig this record and I think you will too.


10 Minutes - Poolside

I called our gym.

"Hi, this is Joe Leonard," I said to the woman who answered. I like to give my full name when I call places; I feel like it conveys a sense of importance or authority to the person on the other end of the line, like they should know who the person is by name. "I was wondering...is your outdoor pool open yet?"

"Yes it is," the woman said, and I thought I could hear excitement in her voice.

"Awesome. Thank you!" I said and hung up.

I turned to Deborah. "It's open," I told her. "I say we go chillax by the pool before or after our workout."

"Maybe we should go before," she said. "Before school lets out and it's full of kids."

"Plan," I confirmed. "But can we hit the post office on the way so I can mail the records?" I had sold some classic vinyl to a good friend of mine and wanted to ship it off before the post office closed.

Our gym, Harbor Athletic Club, has four pools, three of them indoors. The outdoor one is the least sporty of them all and only open seasonally during the warm weather months. It is surrounded by reclining pool chairs and designed for relaxation, an important part of wellness. We spent about 30 minutes poolside, direct sunlight boosting our vitamin D levels, with occasional dips in the water to cool off, before going inside for our usual hour of moderate aerobics and weight training. It was a beautiful sunny day.

We had a few chores to do after we worked out, but we decided to belay them until another day. Instead, we went home and I grilled some veggie and turkey burgers on the back deck as the protein compliment to a main course of yellow squash "spaghetti" topped with sauteed mushrooms and unsweetened pasta sauce. I used our veggie spiralizer machine to convert three yellow squashes into thin strings of mock spaghetti that I sauteed in butter and olive oil with some herbs and spices before adding the mushrooms (cooked separately) and pasta sauce from a jar. The squash spaghetti has a texture like actual pasta, but it's way more nutritious and has far fewer calories.