Saturday, February 28, 2009

zen retreat - misc notes

misc things I noticed

go to get a massage on a weekly basis - normally I fall asleep within a few min, but this week, mindfulness was all around me (part of my new pattern?), and was awake and aware (for once, with the broad, soft awareness, not the sharp focus of concentration). very interesting sensation. feeling the fingers, elbows and hands, as they tried to pound some of my lumps into submission - with some useful results.

have noticed my increaced awareness of my eating - even the junk food gets more precise measurement as it is being masticated and ingested. not sure if this is slowing down the pace of eating, but it is interesting to actually TASTE some of the food that goes down the hatch.


day 9 of zen retreat - discussion

stillness - by the numbers

1 relaxation - hard to do - especially if one is trying to stay awake. got some success, some relaxation, but find that the worst of my tension relates to the Movie Mind - the best relaxation came when the projector was turned off - an interesting metaphor that worked for me...

2 inner silence - the window was open, enjoying a pleasant breeze (yes, it's winter in Tucson, but it's a dry heat, really!) - keeping the mind as silent as could be - gently pushing intruding thoughts back into their places to await my return - that's it: need a "do not disturb" sign for my mind... - was it 5 minutes - hard to tell, forgot to look at the clock, but it seemed fairly long.

3 outer silence - well, for the duration of this exercise, it was trivial, was in the far corner of the house, no one near, tv / radio / kids were off (kids were outside playing elsewhere), so that went well. have to see how it goes over the next few days (being quiet for the sake of being quiet).


day 9 of zen retreat - assignment

finding stillness

it's simple, really. just relax the body, relax the mind (pond metaphor), be in a quiet place, and be quiet. nothing to it... but wait! there's always a catch. there's always noise, the body (at least mine) is rarely relaxed (even when sleeping), and don't get me started on my mind!


Pushup Practice

30! wow. working my way up. perhaps 40 can be reached in a week or two. once 40 can be done, it may be time to try going back to the 'hundred' version and try to keep up with week 6... time will tell.


Friday, February 27, 2009

day 7 of zen retreat - discussion - part 2

finally got around to the "healing hand of love" - for whatever reason, there wasn't much, if anything there. perhaps there was too much mental 'noise' to be able to feel/hear it. will try again tomorrow.


day 8 of zen retreat - discussion

assignment was to listen completely, deeply.

result - miserable failure. couldn't keep in the moment. kept moving forward to my counter to the last statement, explaining to myself why they were wrong, ...

will have to try again tomorrow, perhaps after a bit of meditation... start by getting my head right.


day 8 of zen retreat - assignment

today's lesson is on listening - the simplest thing to do (if you don't know what you're doing), but the hardest thing to do (once you are aware). be in the present moment, a mind free of judgment, but full of compassion. tough job for a nit-pick & (self) certified expert (on just about everything) like myself.


Pushup Practice

got to 28, so still on track for +1 per day. in another 2 or 3 months, 100 should be within reach...


Thursday, February 26, 2009

day 7 of zen retreat - discussion

Am I in touch with myself? (probably not - every time I phone myself, all I get is a busy signal!)

all joking aside, the body scan went fairly well, but most of my core (torso) would not come into sharp focus (I was visualizing body parts as if they were pictures from an anatomy book), so that's the answer to "notice areas you can't sense well" - and yes, the mood/state is STRESS. the project I'm working on is going poorly, due to lack of specific resources (I have the responsibility to do the project, but not the authority to force the proper people to be made available - not what I was promised at the onset) and the company (a tiny sub-division of a large company) has been on the brink of dissolution for the past 6 months. not sure how any stress in the outside world "relates" to stuff going on with the inside world...

fell asleep before doing the self-healing exercise, so that's on today's list of to-do's.

also didn't get around to meditating (bad boy, no cookie). or perhaps I got 10 seconds into a meditation that went badly due to my snoring...

the body meditation was part of the 1st segment of today's observational exercise.


day 7 of zen retreat - assignment

being present with yourself

are you in touch with yourself?
- meditate for 5 min
- do quick body scan
- notice areas you can't sense well
- notice your mood or state
- what stress or worry is there, is it related to that area?

get past "if only..." (pining) and accept it (life's not fair, get used to it)

exercise: take dominant hand, gently (lovingly, tenderly) place it - _s_l_o_w_l_y_ - over your heart, leave it rest there for a couple of complete breaths.

how do you feel now?

I need to meditate for 10 min

I need to re-do the body meditation, trying to move my "me" to the different parts - perhaps a visualization would help?


Pushup Practice

no pushups today. wasn;t feeling well and went to bed at 9pm (for a night owl like me, that's rare)


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

day 6 of zen retreat - discussion

the senses: what do you detect with each of the senses?
- hear: the quiet rustling of the HVAC, the quiet typing of keyboards (it's early morning, few people in cubicle-land), soft footsteps, the occasional rumble of a large truck (we're near a major road).
- see: um, the monitor? also some of my kids' artwork, pictures, several wall calendars (from different organizations I belong to or donate to), my myPod maxi (hacked iPod mini with a 32Gig memory card, battery upgrade, ...), crackberry storm, skyfi3 xm radio, computer speakers, 3 page-a-day calendars (dilbert, smarter than a 5th grader (so far, yes), and insight from the Dalai Lama), coffee cups filled with pencils, pens & markers, my hutch (filled with CD's, papers, magazines and crap (including a universal joint from the wagon)), day planner, phone, ... (can you tell I'm a high-visual?)
- taste: remnants of breakfast (munchie bar, claims it's nutritious, selected to satisfy my desire to masticate), the citrus/sugar aftertaste from mountain dew (soft drink, the energy drink of the prior generation - coffee for the generation before that).
- smell: coffee (from one neighbor), cologne (from another), the "normal" smell of this building, latex paint drying (some touch-up work was done down the hall earlier)
- touch: the texture and weight of the keys as I type, the warm fuzziness of the wrist pad, the cool hardness of the desk top, the warmth of my riding boots (another motorcycle day), the firmness of the seat of my chair (a good thing, not fond of marsh-mellow seats), the coolness of the air (68.5F, 20.3C) and the breeze it makes.

- and yes, I do feel a bit more calm. it was also a bit odd, using awareness to gather the data, then concentration to glean the best and enter them here... duality or just pairing?

: calming the self through an observational countdown
this was supposed to take 5 min, but perhaps I rushed it, or perhaps, since I just did the "what do you see" thing above, I had an excellent mental map, or perhaps...
5 - 1st 5 calendars
4 - last 2 calendars plus 2 pieces of artwork from the kids
3 - pieces of high tech toys (crackberry, xm & myPod)
2 - computer speakers
1 - and a partridge in a pear tree... um, my computer monitor
I imagine that this would be much more difficult if you were in an unfamiliar place...

-- the main event --
exercise: use each sense in turn (be in the moment) while eating a mandarine (orange) as I have a plain old orange, some of my observations will be different than those who were able to obtain the proper fruit, or those who procured other alternative fruits (I thought about using grapes, until I thought about the 'peeling' portion) 8)

look at it: it's orange, still has a stub of a stem, about the size of a tennis ball (locally grown), texture is mostly smooth with 'pores' and a few bumps near the top.
blindfold: this is weird. fortunately I can touch type...
explore with fingers: picking it up, I found more patches of roughness and bumpiness than were noticed in the initial visual observation (spent more time exploring it), exterior feels almost waxy, and there's a dimple in the bottom (useful to keep it from wandering off).
holding it in hand: about the size of a tennis ball, but heavier - found myself wondering how far it could be heaved - just about perfect size and weight for a throw. if two more were found and juggling to be done, there would be orange juice in no time flat...
smell the exterior: smells different than orange juice - a bit more tart to it.
peeling it: messy - this wasn't easy to peel. cool, wet, slightly sticky (amazingly enough, so is the keyboard - not really, grabbed a paper towel in anticipation of a mess). cheated and used knife to get it started (break a slot in the rind).
peeled smell: due to it being an orange, I have a lot of sub-rind stuff stuck to the orange, so it still has more of a tart smell than expected, but less so than when it was fully encased. in the place where it was gouged, it smells like I expected an orange to smell (leaking)
peeled feel: slightly tacky, cool, damp-ish (except where I put a thumb through it, it's quite wet there), weight is a little less, texture is kind of fuzzy (small patches of rind still there).
first bite taste: as expected, quite orange (it seems almost like synesthesia to describe a taste with a color, but you know what I mean).
feel of chewing: squishy - the wedges have some structure, so with each chomp, more orange flavor comes out. never really paid that much attention to just eating an orange before. look what I've been missing... 8)
aftertaste: smooth, not bitter - um... as I lick my lips, I find drops of juice that still taste quite orange. some bitterness now that the sweet has faded (may have to do with my quality job of peeling it).

oh, and meditate for 10 min
- that did pretty well, getting into the flow fairly quickly, but the "perfect" 10 min has yet to happen. not sure when I should move to 15 min, if I should wait until I can do 10 min with only 1 or 2 interruptions, or as soon as my knees and ankles can take it...

and re-do the body meditation, as I am supposed to be IN the body, not observing and questioning, like a boss visiting cubicle land (first person, not second person)
- tried this, but it didn't work (the way I wanted it to). the best I was able to do was to push the center of the concious 'me' down through my neck and into my upper chest, but then it started squirming around and slipped back up into my head. will try this a few more times, and as long as it improves, it will be considered a work in progress - if not, then it will be time for additional help...


Pushup Practice

did 26. still going up, even after a brutal session yesterday (first triple digit aggregate).


day 6 of zen retreat - assignment

senses: what do you detect with each of the senses?
54321: calming the self through an observational countdown

exercise: use each sense in turn (be in the moment) while eating a mandarine (orange)

oh, and meditate for 10 min

and re-do the body meditation, as I am supposed to be IN the body, not observing and questioning, like a boss visiting cubicle land (first person, not second person)


"if only..." and "...not fair"

The discussion of today included acceptance of reality and not pining for a better life (plan it, work it, achieve it or regroup and try again). This reminded me of a situation with my kids...

I have been telling my kids, in response to "that's not fair", that "life's not fair, get used to it" for their entire lives. It became a "dad mantra", complete with rolling eyes and big sighs. I realized that the explanation I planned to give them "when they were older" had never been given. I explained to them that we lived in a great country, and a very wealthy country. Beyond that, we made well over average money and had lots of toys, books, electronics and other stuff. We have many freedoms that many other countries don't have. Then I lowered the boom. If life were fair, you wouldn't have any of this. If life were fair, everyone would be the same - EXACTLY the same. You'd live in what we would call a shack, with one bathroom, few toys, shared bedrooms, one car (if we were lucky), and you would most likely have already had to face the death of a friend due to disease or lack of medical care, etc... Suddenly their little world was a bit larger, and they understood a little better, just how blessed they were. And how unfair life *really* was.

What had they (or I done, for that matter) that was so great as to be in proportion to the lives we get to lead? Conversely what have the rest of the people done that leaves them in the situations they are in? It was a short conversation, but they were visibly moved. They still don't have any idea of the magnitude, but they have a grasp of the situation.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

day 5 of zen retreat - discussion

body meditation: this was wild! the most interesting part was at the beginning, while working with my toes. actually was able to 'address' and move each one separately (when little, my pronation was noticed, and was trained to pick up pencils and marbles with big and pointer toes) the rest of the toes were just there - but not tonight. they still moved mostly in unison, but was able to get the selected toe to move more, and could feel it slide past and in front of the other toes. it is probably the most bizarre thing to date.

the thing that got to me was my image of myself was of things being wrong all over the place, but while moving through my body, when asked for comment, none of the parts really had that much to say (lower back excluded). I expected much more grief. after all the effort I put into external communication (wife, kids, work, ...), you'd think I'd be on speaking terms with my body. that will be fixes post haste.

mindful walking: 10 min doesn't go as far as I thought it would (didn't even complete one lap on my usual walk). of interest to me was how many things flowed without my forcing them. usually I need to actively remember to not walk like a duck (got an issue with pronation, therefore with foot direction while walking) and to tighten my abdominals (usually just use my spinal erectors, part of my back problem). listened to the babble of a fountain in a yard, watched a cat who was watching me from his window, and enjoyed the breeze on my face and limbs. tried not to be annoyed when stepping on a rock, but instead, focused on how it felt (well, it feels lumpy and uncomfortable - duh!). quite an interesting experience.

didn't know this was going to happen today. went for a mile loop yesterday at lunch and worked mostly on quieting my mind while allowing the outside in (paying attention in the soft, broad way, to everything around me, from rocks beneath my feet, traffic zooming by, birds chirping, jets flying, and the rumbling in my stomach - my walk is to fetch my lunch). didn't practice the breathing, but other than that, I think it went well.

another interesting tidbit: just before I headed out for the walk, the eclectic music box known as our iTunes library was playing a waltz (Blue Danube, to be specific). you can imagine how hard it was to get that song out of my head while walking. suddenly I was counting in 3's instead of 2's, and walking with an odd gait (for those who have waltzed, no need to explain, to those who have not, I'm not sure I *could* explain - has to do with how the dance is performed).

it got worse later that evening as I sat and meditated - the song kept coming back. tried my usual Cartoon Mind trick and visualized an ensemble of chimpanzees (amazingly, they showed up wearing white tie and tux). got a chuckle out of myself, but the band played on, and my zazen session was sinking fast. finally broke myself up with audible laughter when I re-enacted a scene from a TV commercial (fancy restaurant, two guys seated at a table and dressed up as barbarians, guy in a tux with a violin playing just behind them, one barbarian reaches back, grabs the violin and smashes it on the table, then hands the wreckage back to the violinist). I know, senseless violence - and against a violin, no less. All I needed was a saxophone, and I could have had sax *and* violins! introspection aside, the laughter broke my prior state and allowed me to reenter zazen with a less cluttered mind. for some reason none of the chimps came back to harass (or serenade) me in the final segment of my session.

ps - my wife already thinks I'm kinda nuts, but lets me pursue some of my more benign quirks. having me break out in laughter in the middle of a meditation did pique her curiosity - about my sanity. fortunately, she shares much of my sense of humor, and laughed along with me. at least it appeared she was laughing *with* me...


day 5 of zen retreat - assignment

Making Friends with Your Body

body meditation: relaxing and examining the body from the tips back to the core. slowly.

mindful walking: medium pace, breathing coordinated with walking, aware of all around you, focus on sights sounds, body sensations.

sounds easy enough. time to find out.


Crunch Week 4 - Day 3

wow! did much better than I expected.

left the notes at dojo, so I'll have to update the numbers later. for now, here are some totals:
total crunches: (35/33/29/29/60 on a spec of 29/33/29/29/40) - 181 total! (not sure what happened with 1st set, I guess I was having too much fun & forgot to count.
total pushups: 25/20/15/12/16/13 - over 100!!!!! (101, if the math is correct)

so, it looks like I will continue with daily pushups and try to build some more endurance.


Monday, February 23, 2009

day 4 of zen retreat - discussion

first, the meditation - not sure why, but I zoned out a few times - different from sleep (no head droop) - just a sort of gray-out. kind of startling. other than that, it went pretty smoothly, I seem to be getting into the groove with less effort, fewer interruptions (although I'd like to do a full 10 min without one).

mindfulness: this was interesting. something I have been doing daily is push-ups. I don't enjoy them, but do them for the sake of building my strength. this seemed to fit the pattern in the day's reading (something you do to get past and onto other things), so I chose it as my test subject. things went really well, and the numbers were climbing without me having to focus on counting. I could feel my arms move, and the shirt shift on my back as I moved through the range of motion, and the front of the shirt move with each exhale. I felt the texture of the carpet under my hands (I used normal palm down hand position today). all rather bizarre, as I have done push-ups for months and never noticed these things.

all was well until about the count of 22. at that point, I could feel my arms ache and lost track of the other things I had noticed. now it was simply time to pound the last few out (target was 25) and call it complete. not as long a task as washing the dishes, but still very interesting to me.


day 4 of zen retreat - assignment

being mindful - mindfulness means being present with a clear mind and an open heart (revisiting and extending day 1 - mindfulness.

it means being present in the larger world, accessible and able to help others. the opposite would seem to be - being insulated in your own little universe. the term "soft full attention" is repeated, emphasizing the difference between attention and concentration - guess which one I'm good at and which one needs a lot of work.

the assignment: be mindful : pick a simple task and perform it with utmost attention and notice what it feels like. use thumb-to-finger to reset if you wander from attentiveness.

we'll see how today goes - both the meditation and the mindfulness exercise.


Pushup Practice

is 25 attainable? YES! but my arms ache!

did it as part of my "mindfulness" today - it was weird. they felt effortless for a while, but somewhere near 22, it got ugly. presumably I had dropped out of mindfulness and been distracted by the growing discomfort in my arms. from there, it was just a matter of drawing deep and forcing the last few reps.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

day 3 of zen retreat - discussion

wow - dumped more than a screen-full on the private site... to summarize, the principal of Day 3 was to recognize and deal with the (by their grouping) 5 most common types thoughts.

what worked best for me in nearly all situations was to use my Cartoon Mind (picturing a thought or movie in my mind as a cartoon instead of a real-life looking image). often this meant changing the 'actors' or participants into monkeys and dismissing them with the admonition to keep rehearsing. other times, it meant dismissing a plan or problem by telling the messenger to go back and keep working, as I was busy and would attend to them shortly. it worked amazingly well. when it came, the silence was both beautiful and frightening.

as the silence became deafening, doubts appeared, in the form of tempting or tormenting monkeys - "this is not a thought" said one of them. repeatedly. another just made hissing noises. perhaps my kid brother was projecting into my mind? eventually my doubts eased, and the monkeys who were expressing those doubts silenced themselves. perhaps they were scared of the silence as well.

the challenge will be to keep the motivation as the rewards become farther apart. think of filling a pot at the sink. at first, progress is rapid as the water spreads across the bottom of the pan. then comes the interminable wait for the water to climb the side of the pan to the desired height.


day 3 of zen retreat - assignment

dealing with 'pesky' thoughts while meditating

this attempts to attach labels to thoughts and allow us to dismiss or file for future reference any thoughts that interrupt our attempts of contemplating nothing.


Pushup Practice

24 - relaxing on an off day - just trying to add one each day - about 3 months to 100, right? 8)


Saturday, February 21, 2009

day 2 of zen retreat - discussion

tried, and got mixed results. lots of monkey chatter. will be trying daily, and so hope to get better. gee, that's a short discussion....

to elaborate, my problem (even when just counting "in", "out", repeat) was with my mind wandering off. I multi-task, so something trivial like counting gets pushed off the front burner and handled by a counting simian (back to the monkey metaphor). my mind then wanders off and does more interesting things. recaps of this week were prominent in the chatter, as was planning for next week.

patience and practice. not exactly my strong suits. just have to keep at it. and get back up after each tumble. high hopes, just like that ant (ancient lyric reference)


day 2 of zen retreat - assignment

meditate for 10 min. how hard can that be? sounds like famous last words...


Pushup Practice

another day, another 23 push-ups. along with 2.5 hours at dojo. not as sore as before, may be toughening up. might also be finishing with 1/2 hour of tai-chi and stretching. we'll find out on Tuesday, the next scheduled Crunch Day, with push-ups interspersed.


Friday, February 20, 2009

day 1 of zen retreat - discussion

I noticed a bunch of stuff as I was in the moment ...
-details: the difference between sharp focus and soft focus (also mental clarity)
-energy: more intense (more excitement, more calm, sometimes both, at the same time!)
-resources: additional ways of getting things done came to the fore, better states, ...
-smoothness/flow: less effort to accomplish a given task, effortless flow
-power: ability to move things that were previously unmovable, unstoppable mental attitude
-perceptions: noticing beauty that always existed, but I had been ignoring
-cravings: less junk food, by noticing that the craving exists, but satisfying it with healthy snacks


Thinking about the day so far, and here are a jumble of observations on being aware and in the moment:

- Rode the motorcycle to work today, trying to stay in the moment. The sunrise seemed more vibrant than usual, the crescent moon caught my attention, traffic seemed to FLOW and I could see patterns develop which made the ride much easier, no need to force things.

- While my schedule is still hectic and deadlines loom, I didn't feel as much like a bull in a china shop just thrashing away. Today it felt a bit more like a butterfly, fluttering from flower to flower whilst dodging predators (and people with nets), just going about my duties of pollination and feeding.

- I was listening to Pink Floyd's "echos", and noticed stuff I hadn't been aware of previously. It just finished and now I'm listening to the opening of the Eagles' "Hotel California" off of Hell Freezes Over (the Spanish Guitar intro) and it sounds so lush - is this a case of "look for Blue" and noticing lots of blue? Focus on "be attentive" and notice lots of things that have always been there but not noticed?

- At work, my pattern is heavy on Concentration, as there are a myriad of details & I need to stay Focused to make progress. I have been having some success being "in the moment" even here, as 2.5 hours simply vanished and a good size chunk of work was completed. I have also been working on switching to being Aware when I step away from my desk.


Pushup Practice

did 21 more today, then an hour and a half of dojo workout. a little sore, but I'll live.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

day 1 of zen retreat - assignment

got my first day's assignment and read it, but it arrived late in the afternoon (my time), so I'll work on doing the exercises tomorrow, and then write about it, both here and on their site (which is for retreat members only). The topic is "living in the moment"


Crunch Week 4 - Day 2

owww! the crunches weren't all that bad, but the pushups were brutal. hoping to keep going and do 20 or more each day for a week or so, and see how the totals change on regular Crunch days...
crunches: 25/29/25/25/54 (!) on a spec of (same/36)
pushups: 21/20/17/12/13/13 - not sure what happened on the first set, but the last few are a big improvement, and hope to keep building on that.
given how sore my muscles are right now, we'll have to see if the motorcycle is an option tomorrow, or if the wagon will be transport-de-jour.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

day 0 of zen retreat - preparation and anticipation

Starting prep for a Zen Virtual Retreat, hosted by Mary and Deb at Goodlife Zen site ( for more info). The prep included catching up on 3 months of procrastination on this blog.

It will be interesting to see how it goes, as they are based in New Zealand, and I'm in Tucson - there's either 17 hours or 1 day and -5 hours difference in the time zones. Not sure if I'll try to keep up or just live the better part of a day behind...

the site is hosted at: and their blog is at


Pushup Practice

just for giggles, since my pushup total seems stranded in the low 90's (on a good day), we'll try doing some each day for a week, then see what comes out.
crunches: (none scheduled)
pushups: 20


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crunch Week 4 - Day 1

getting a bit more regular...
crunches: 21/25/21/21/45 on a spec of (same/32)
pushups: 35/15/19/11/8/5 (total 93)


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Crunch Stress Test (before Week 4)

stress test - did 35, so it's still the 'tough' column for me

ps - happy v-day


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Crunch Week 3 - Day 3

a bit of a rest, yeah. that's the ticket.
crunches: 22/30/20/20/36 on a spec of (same/28)
pushups: 30/20/14/12/10/6 (total 94)


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Crunch Week 3 - Day 2

these numbers have no real excuse, they just suck (pushups).
crunches: 20/25/15/15/40 on a spec of (same/25)
pushups: 30/21/13/10/5/5 (total 74)