Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kinda Buddhist

Not hardcore, mind you, what since I do like beer and wine on occasion.  Pretty sure that doesn't fall into the Buddhist philosophies, but I kind of dig the cut of their jib.

The reason that I think Buddhism makes sense, to me, is that it’s a quest to find morality and peace in a world that seems to be focusing more on self-interests and/or pushing religion through acts of violence or fear. I appreciate the fact that Buddhism stresses that we, as individuals, should try to live a moral life, always be mindful of our actions and thoughts (especially as they pertain to others), and strive for wisdom & understanding. It ties in with my Libertarian political leanings.

I was raised as a Lutheran. My mom tried to get us to go to church every Sunday, but my dad wanted no part of it. As kids, we went through the motions – went to church, went through catechism, did our altar boy duties. All the while, I thought Lutherans were very depressed.

The religion stressed that we should fear God and it showed in the way services were held…very somber events. Even celebrations like Easter, Christmas, etc… seemed to be lacking any semblance of joy. After high school, I started exploring other religions.  I moved out of the area and would just drop in to different churches at random on Sunday, regardless of denomination.

My brother personally dropped out of religion. My sister shifted to a religion that is more Bible based than on practices recommended by Catholicism, Lutheranism and so on.

I guess if I were to try to relate how I live the Buddhist lifestyle as compared to my familial religious traditions, the biggest takeaway is that I want to follow a path with more optimism and hope. As I mentioned, I found that Lutheran services were very somber events – that didn’t seem like an approach that would provide joy, so I struck out for more peace and happiness in my beliefs.

One other aspect of Lutheranism that I’ve found – both while growing up and during my religious search – is that many Lutherans are very judgmental of others. I find this to be in direct odds with what the religion suggests – “judge not lest ye be judged” – but it’s very much accepted. I take people for what they are and, so long as they do not harm me, I will not harm them.

A quick snapshot into Buddhism shows that the roots are founded in the 4 Noble Truths.
  •  Life is suffering.
From the day we’re born, we all suffer in some way or another. It may be a poor childhood, disease, lack of love, harm by others, disappointment, et al. The fact is, we all suffer. What Buddhists believe is that, because we are all to suffer in our lives, we must find ways to either accept the suffering as an inevitable fact or find ways, as reasonably feasible, to manage or avoid as much suffering as possible. It will still happen, but we have learned to accept it.

  • Suffering is caused by desire.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me or not, but I don’t want for the new, shiny gadgets or fancy new clothes that companies (and the media) expect me to desire. I want what I need and I need what I want.

While this leaves me looking like I’m in dire need of an update, my old cars run fine and they’re paid off, my clothes fit me and they are not in need of replacing, my family has plenty to eat and we live in an older house that doesn’t need repairs.

The more of the shiny stuff you want, the less you end up having in the end – because you’ll always be left wanting for more. It’s best to appreciate what you have.

  • One can eliminate suffering by eliminating desire.

Agreed; see above. However, this is the one of the hardest Truths to attain. While we can all be happy with what we have, it’s human nature to look at what others have and not be left wanting for some of it. If we’re able to fully dispense of desire, true happiness can be found.

  • Desire is eliminated by means of the noble eightfold path.

Haven’t gone this far into it. Yet.

. . .

As I’ve applied it to my life, I’ve found it to be a quite comforting religion. I’m more at peace with myself and my life, as well as the world around me. I try to do the best I can for others and help when I can, but if I’m unable to offer assistance, I’m comfortable that I at least consider it. I haven’t been to any worship services – we don’t have temples nearby.

I also haven’t been very good about some of the precepts – I do like to have beer and wine and I do hunt. That said, I haven’t killed a deer in many years (I’ve let many pass by recently), but I have shot some in the past. I think that I have passed on shooting deer recently is more of a reflection of my “harm no other” doctrine that Buddhism preaches, which is something I’ve just recently took up.

I take worms off sidewalks when I can and put them in the grass and, rather than kill spiders like my wife wants, I will move them outside to a tree.

All religion serves a purpose for people, but there should not be just one religion that is considered better than others. Religious wars are ludicrous, in my mind, as the core behind all is to love thy neighbor…yet they often have no qualms with killing people who do not follow the same religion.

This does not pertain to any specific religion as almost all religions have, at some point, committed religious genocide.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vinyl revolution

We had an old, floor model record player growing up.  I'm sure you're familiar with the type - a large desktop wooden box, complete with speakers in front that appeared to be covered with beige curtains.  Inside the box sat the player itself: a flat, black piece of plastic with a turntable on it. 

To the left sat an 8-track player, but from my recollection, it didn't get much use.  But, hey! It COULD have been used.  Near the 8-track player was a very simple, but functional, equalizer.  The equalizer controlled many functions, which were as follows:
  • Treble
  • Mid
  • Bass
Bass wasn't too popular back then, largely due to the fact that the speakers couldn't handle much more than the bass guitar itself.  Treble may be been bumped up a bit higher, but the mid was set near the top.  It was, I guess, for the lyrics and rhythm guitars.

We didn't have a lot of records back then - probably about twenty tops, of which four or five got heavy rotation.  The ones I remember most were Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits and Paul McCartney's Ram.  I suspect that Paul and Linda dressed in creepy clown suits fueled my fear of clowns, further worsened by an incident at a parade, but that's not the point.

I loved the record player.  My folks would often have their brothers and/or sisters over, kids in tow, to listen to music.  And that always amazed me.  Sadly enough, though, we weren't old enough to sit with the adults and listen, 'though I did spin records when they were gone.

Mostly we were shuffled outside with a couple of bucks in our pockets, per kid, to do as we pleased until they were ready to head home.  Normally, we'd head down to the local gas station for some Cheetos and Airheads, then played in the mud and the muck and the grass until it was pitch black.

Awesome memories.

. . .

I've been thinking about a record player for some time now, but didn't want to fork over hundreds of dollars for one.  What if I found records boring or cumbersome?

Found an inexpensive table - a $40 Vibe. 

It's nothing fancy - just a turntable with external speakers (can't really crank them up, but they sound okay on their own) and ceramic needles.  

I hooked it up to our Bose system and popped a record in.  Boom.  Addicted.  A $400 player is in order down the road for aesthetics, but for now, this is more than fine.

I started out by adding some old favorites - Ram, for one, Cat Stevens as another.  A neighbor had an old box of records he found in one of his rentals that he gave me.  The old box had a bunch of folks I never heard of, but that was part of the charm of records: it's not finding an artist you know, but trying someone you never knew existed.

My wife's parents lent me eleven records for a while as I built my collection.  They also bought me Another Side of Bob Dylan on 180 gram.  The sound, man.  The sound is just amazing.

It's gotten to the point where I'll just sit in my living room after my wife and son head off to bed and spin records.  I just get lost in them for hours.

. . .

One of the most enduring aspects of records, to me, is the physical attributes.  The smell, the touch, the imperfections (crackles and pops are AWESOME) and, biggest, the artwork.  I just love the time artists of the record generation spent on the album covers.

That and they spent time producing bodies of work.  Nowadays, the means of gathering consists of downloading a favorite song for a buck or so and adding it to a playlist.  That's great if you like listening to certain songs, but how can you ever find a hidden gem if not for playing a full album?

For instance, I bought Nilsson Schmilsson.  We all know "Coconut" and "Without You", but "Early In The Morning", a song I never heard of, wins for me.  Or on Paul McCartney's "Ram", most people only know "Uncle Albert".  My favorite song on that disk is "Three Legs".  Again, a song I didn't remember or know at all.

. . .

My record player can be hooked up to a computer and I am able to extract the albums to my computer.  But I'm not going to.  I'm setting myself back a few decades and keeping the music on the format for which they were designed:  a big, old round piece of vinyl.

Forgotten by most - rummage sales used to sell them for a dime a piece - but slowly being rediscovered.

The state of food and medicine and mind

This isn't a food blog. It will be more or less a stream of consciousness blog - whatever is on my mind at a given time. I figure, however, since the biggest change in my life has been my family and health, why not start there?

. . .

A lot of my family has been hit hard by cancer and other ailments in recent years. Regretfully, due to health concerns, I've had to say goodbye to a lot of good people in my life.

On my mom's side, cancer took my grandmother, while heart disease took my grandfather while I was still a young lad. Cholesterol is an issue on my mom's side of the family.

On my dad's side, the impact is much more severe. My dad's father died due to emphysema. Again, this happened when I was very young. I lost one of my aunts due to cancer, as well as her daughter (my cousin). Last year, one of my other uncles was diagnosed with cancer, but he continues to fight the battle and is doing much better.

Another of my uncles found out he had terminal cancer early in 2011. He did his best to get his affairs in order, but in May, doctors let us know that things were not going well. I told the folks at work that I would need to take some time off soon. Then, the next day, I was called back home while driving in to work.

My dad died unexpectedly.

I lost my dad in May 2011 due to complications from pneumonia. At the time, we did not know that his health was at risk, so it was quite a blow. He also suffered from agoraphobia for years, which caused him to essentially shut himself out from his family for the last of years. Even though my family and I moved back to our hometown, my son only saw his grandfather, my dad, once. And that was it. And that's still heartbreaking to me, but there is nothing I can do about it other than to continue to be the best dad I can.

He died in the early morning hours. About sixteen hours later, my uncle died. Two deaths in a twenty four hour span is enough to jar anyone.

. . .

Since then, I've become obsessed with my health, convinced that I am doomed. I went in for a checkup this fall. I laid out all of the health issues in my family, what I eat and drink too much of, my tobacco habits, etc... The doctor gave me a cursory once-over and said "lose some weight, pal, but you're all right!" That didn't ease my concerns. I went in for blood work at the start of the year.

Three days later, the doctor called and said everything looked fine, save for my cholesterol and triglycerides were out of whack. "I am putting you on some medication. And change your diet."

That was it. High cholesterol, high trigs - take pills. Oh, and change your diet.

Not WHAT to change in my diet to fix things, but just "change your diet."

I did research on the pills he prescribed. Side effects included potential muscle wasting conditions, liver dysfunction, kidney dysfunction, increased fatigue, etc... What in the hell? I'm concerned about my health and he gave me something that could cause more damage?

We've been watching more documentaries on the food industry lately, as well as medicine. Food Nation, Food Matters, Food, Inc., Supersize Me, etc... - there are a ton of informative programs out there. Of course, each has their own agenda and should be not be taken for gospel, but rather to serve as fodder for some critical thinking and for us to draw our own conclusions.

One thing stuck out in my mind from this more than most any: cancer and obesity were not nearly the threat they are today as recently as 50 years ago. Which, coincidentally, is when pesticides, insecticides, growth hormones, mass farming, etc... took hold in the US.

You think there's not some sort of link?

The second most important thing that stood out is that there is a pill for EVERYTHING. And, as they mentioned in Food Matters, most of these magic pills aren't designed for limited use, but rather a lifetime commitment. Rather than change our diets and be conscious of what we do to our bodies (and put in them), we're to take pills on an ongoing basis, further feeding profits of companies who don't care about health, but rather how to keep us alive for longer "annuity" payments, in many cases, payments that continue in perpetuity.

Cancer isn't a very big threat in Asian countries (seafood, high veggies, more natural), in many African countries, and most South American countries. They happen most in "industrialized" countries. Cuz when I think food, I sure like to think of heavy machinery and oil and exhaust and metal. Yummy!

So in 2012, I'm going much more organic. Almost all of my vegetables and fruits come from the local coop, as well as my grains. Downside is the cost, naturally, and the selection, lacking.

Introduced a lot of new foods, too, like kale, quinoa, no enriched flour products, granolas, and so on. Cut out fries and most sweets. Cut out, mostly, meat unless certified organic.

I feel healthier, but haven't gone back in to check my new levels. That's for second quarter.

Here's to a healthy 2012, provided the Mayans aren't right.