Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thoughts on Food Stamps

A.S. The topic for this entry actually came about by putting in the LLIB entry first. You never know what can influence a moment.

I am in an interesting situation. MBWM just completed our recertification for Food Stamps. Because we make $3.55 per month too much, our food stamps is going to be reduced by nearly $500 per month. Frankly, I cannot wait until I have a position that pays well enough that I can not only end my dependence on Food Stamps but on the MediCare that my kids are on. Food assistance and medical support being rather high on my list of thing to provide to my family, I am willing to remain on the government's support for now. My solution? I informed my boss that I would be working a half-hour less per week. That reduces my income by $30 per month. I am looking forward not only to being off of the dole, but also ending the paperwork to retain the service, and the end of playing these little games with our financial numbers.

But there is a good side to being on Food Stamps. We have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, what we spend it on is up to us. Junk food is extremely rare. Specialized products to deal with milk and gluten intolerances make up a large percentage of our Food Stamps budget. And so I can only blame my poor food choices on either eating too much or buying things outside of the house. And even with having two paychecks behind me, I can't afford the money to eat out.

And with that in mind, I need to see the good things going for me, like returning to the Y. I'm right there, ready to get out of this slump and get back to work. Once rent is paid, I will be rejoining the Y. Possible even sooner depending on how much the Y asks for membership fees based on my income.

Yours in the work of works,


P.S.: "We fought a war on poverty and poverty won." - Ronald Reagan

P.P.S.: While the situation of poverty in America is not that simple, with notable successes and failures, we as a nation must look into what works to give people the tools to lift themselves out of the government's support. With that in mind, I am announcing my plans to research the possibility of running for US Representative from the Great State of Idaho. Here is my platform that is currently under research:
  1. Let's be honest and upfront, I am in this for the reward of a impressive steady paycheck and an exceptional retirement package while applying my intelligence towards another worthwhile goal. I am tired of being underemployed and partially utilized.
  2. I have an over-developed sense of responsibility. I will do my best to listen to my constituents and represent them well in Washington D.C. If you speak, I will listen. If I listen, I will work to understand.  If I understand, I will take it to Congress.
  3. This may a blatant expression of political idealism, but while I definitely have my view points on many of the topics facing our nation, I am there to represent the constituents. I may prefer to vote one way, but I will vote according to the input I receive from the people I represent.
  4. I most firmly believe that one of the biggest problems facing the interaction of the American populace and the political establishment comes about from a form of modern, electronically induced apathy. I believe that most people would have a short answer that is nearly correct than a longer answer that is correct. I will devote myself to being someone to explores, researches, and otherwise is involved in understanding something in depth. Where I spend that time depends on what is most important to my constituents, or at least, those constituents that choose to converse and communicate with me.
The idea of running for office is not a new idea. I have bounced it off of my friends, family, and classes. My nighttime math class was the most excited by the prospect, even offering to start a grass roots movement on my behalf. I have to admit that this comes about from a rather unusual source. I lived in Iceland for awhile. I have kept abreast of their current events. Recently, Jon Gnarr retired as mayor of Reykjavík. I watched his political ads / music videos back when he was running for mayor, promising such things as a polar bear in the Reykjavík zoo. Maybe, with a little effort and support, I can apply his inspiration to get involved and do something for Idaho.

So please, when you see me:
  • Shake my hand. Make me look important.
  • Let me look you in the eye to show I am involved in understanding your struggles.
  • Let me express by my verbal expressions and public efforts that I am thankful for this great country, this incredible state, my sublime home, and your vote.
  • Please let me show you how sincere I am in putting together the better American government.
Eliot Smith for US Representative from Idaho!

6. Have a firm handshake.
7. Look people in the eye.
8. Say "thank you" a lot.
9. Say "please" a lot.
10. Learn to play a musical instrument.

Moods and Meditations: Lesson 3 - The Myriad of Possibilities in How

The Myriad of Possibilities in How
Moods and Meditations: Lesson 3

In this lesson, the how of meditation will be explored. This is where practice becomes important. There are many different techniques described online. And I heartily encourage you explore them. But in the exploration of application, take the time to repeat the process your are experimenting with several times. As you become familiar with one process and how you respond to it, you will learn more about yourself, about meditation, and how to apply meditation to your life. And you may develop a habit that leads to the right technique for your different goals as you meditate.

Getting into Meditation
Build your physical environment by forming the stage. If there are people around, let them know how much alone time you will need. Be sure to include a little extra time in what you tell them. Distract your kids. Silence your electronics. Kennel your pets. Shoo away the mosquitoes. In short, plan ahead to deal with potential distractions.

Next, build your mental environment by clearing the stage. Once you have formed your physical stage, your mental stage will be cluttered. The latest advice from a friend or manager. The news in current events you are following. The news, good or bad, that came in the mail. The latest quip from social media. Initially, as you push one aside, another will move in to take its place. I let these thoughts come in and then mentally set them aside. As the new thoughts become less intrusive, replace them with intentional thoughts based on your meditation. More on this in a moment.

Finally, build your spiritual environment by setting the stage. After forming the stage and clearing the stage, it's time to set the stage. More than anything else, this needs to be a spiritual process, connecting you to the infinite, the universe, your higher power, the moment of eternal consciousness, or however you view your place relative to the cosmos. This is a visualization process.

There are many ways to build the stage through visualization. I add prayer to my visualization. Chanting or humming have been shown to help as well. Because I have a firm belief in my Heavenly Father, I reach out to Him for assistance in my meditation. When it comes to the visualization, there are several techniques I have read about to aid in setting the stage. I visualize a shield, a sphere of spiritual influence that keeps the world out and me in for the time being. I borrow from the scripture concerning the whole armor of God to build this sphere. This visualization process pushes more of the thoughts that were intruding previously out of my mind. I have heard of visualizing each part of your body becoming gradually dedicated to the infinite until only the mind is left. This is a variation of a relaxation technique that works will with meditation. I have read of getting in touch with each chakra in sequence from the root chakra until the crown chakra is reached. Although research on this technique is suggested since it is more often a meditation technique rather than a preparation technique. Applying the chakra sequence may also mean using hand position that open those chakras.

What is being opened is the mind's attachment to the infinite. These events have been recorded scientifically as changes in brain activity that include a decrease in activity of the part of the brain associated with the passage of time. Feelings of peace have been reported from beginning meditators. The list of benefits is long and most have multiple studies behind them. Regardless of the beliefs behind the meditation, the rewards are definitely available to anyone.

Coming out of Meditation
A gradual entry into meditation should be ended with a gradual exit. Mentally walk out the way you came in. Just as you formed, cleared, and set your mental stage for meditation, you can form, clear, and set your mental stage for returning to the next step is your day. This process allows the feelings from meditation to linger a little longer.

What Were You Thinking?
What you think about while you are meditating is something open to quite an extensive array of interpretation. While I am a believer in many of the empty mind techniques, I only use them to clear the stage. This is perhaps one of the many aspects that marks me as a beginner. To empty the mind, there are several techniques that are available as options. One technique suggests watching stray thoughts come in to see where they came from and where they are going. Another techniques suggests concentrating on your breathing. Make conscious mental effort think about your breath by monitoring your lungs, your mouth and nose, and the sequence of events as you breath in, hold, breath out, hold, and repeat the process. There are several other techniques you can locate.

The mental process I have during meditation is to concentrate on one thought for awhile. It might be a passage of scripture or a line from a hymn. It might be to concentrate on a single wording of a problem I am facing. It may be a single mental picture with a few descriptive words of the goal I have by meditation such as peace, compassion, or understanding. Essentially, I am picking a visual and verbal image and concentrating on it. So long as new thoughts are in orbit of the original idea I let my thoughts follow whatever path they choose. If a thought is pushing me out of that orbit then I redirect my thoughts. If a thought is from another dimension, I reset myself mentally back to the original thought that started my meditation. I do not squash any thoughts. I let them flow as freely as possible. There is something about meditation that allows me to maintain a state of mind that is peaceful without mastering all the thoughts that are going to pass through my mind. Sometimes, the conscious effort comes easily and a gentle prod keeps my meditation state working. Sometimes, the conscious effort needs constant monitoring.

While these are powerful conscious efforts, keep in mind that part of meditation is get the subconscious involved. The subconscious thinks through thousands of steps in the time the conscious thinks through one. A heightened awareness of the conscious may be allowing greater connection between the conscious and the subconscious. There are numerous mental exercises you can research that will aid this connection that work well with meditation.

Mental Aids
There are some external stimuli that may aid in the mental efforts of meditation. Background noises were mentioned in the prior entry. Some music may aid as well. Music, though, must be used with care. Feel free to play music, especially music that is spiritually significant. In my case, hymns and certain classical pieces are a spiritual and mental boost. I would recommend something like the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata or the Second Movement of Symphony No. 3, both by Beethoven. Do not listen to the whole Sonata or Symphony while meditating. The other movements, while delightful, are not conducive to meditation. One of the best pieces of music to aid studying according to scientific research is Handel's Water Music. I have found it can aid meditation as well. If you are getting out of the meditation and to into the music, pick silence for now. If the music aided for awhile, consider turning it down. Consider making some meditation play lists in the online music source of your choice.

Other mental aids revolve around your other senses. If you enjoy a slight breeze on your face, have a fan blowing on you from a distance. If you find darkness relaxing, meditate in a darkened room. Whatever will keep your focus from drifting is something you add in your meditation routine.

Once you understand the reasons and goals for your opportunity to meditate, you can build the environment and the method for your meditation. You push yourself into the meditation, so keep it short. Once meditation pulls you in, you can begin to extend your meditation. While meditation has been used to solve some of my problems, directly through a workable solution or indirectly through a willingness to pursue options, I don't view meditation as problem solving. I view it as problem sorting. A problem can be sorted and sifted without actually looking for a solution. And that brings a peace of mind that can lead to efforts outside of meditation that leads to a solution. Although, frequently, the only solution I seek is a peace of mind. And even if all I've done is sit and ponder in a comfortable location without necessarily meditating, the mental respite has been worth it.

Next Time: Prayer, Fasting, and Meditation

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Moods and Meditations: Lessons 2 - The Environment of TIme

The Environment of Time
Moods and Meditations: Lesson 2

The best way to meditate is your way for your reasons and your goals. This also applies to the location and time; your place and time are the best. When I am re-engaging my meditation process, I don't look for the perfect place or the best time. The perfect place is where you are and the best time is now. Anything else is a wild goose chase or a exercise in intentional failure. The better place will be where interruptions and distractions are minimized. The better time is when you have the time available, 2 to 5 minutes the first few times you try it.

Where you choose to meditate is up to you. There are some places that are distinctly better than others. Driving someplace is an obvious poor choice. The middle of a meeting that you are leading. Poor choice. It can be in your bed or a favorite chair. It can be on the floor or in your yard. You want to be some place where physical discomforts are unlikely to intrude. No bright sun unless you also enjoy basking. No stiff breezes unless you breathe deep nature's breath. While you are looking for the Goldilock's of locations, be sure to be accepting of a wide breadth of options.  The temperature that is just right doesn't need to be 72 degrees Fahrenheit give or take 2 degrees. Be accepting of a wider range. It's your choice to accept the situation. Allow the reasons and goals of your meditation to outweigh your physical concerns of the moment.

When you choose to meditate is up to you. Before other get up in my favorite since I am a morning person. A night person might meditate at the end of the day. Others I know need the mental break that meditation provides in the middle of the day. More important than when, though, is how often and how long. At first, develop a pattern of going into and then out of meditation, keeping the meditation itself to a minimum. Length will naturally increase as your experience matures. Learn to be aware of going into meditation and out of it. This is why I recommend paying more attention to how many times per day and per week than paying attention to what time of the day or week. With practice comes experience. With experience comes understanding. Understanding how you meditate will make when, how long, and how often easier to manage.

Additional Aspects
Some supports that have been shown to aid the meditation environment
  • Close or even cover your eyes
  • Putting bare feet to grass or better yet recline in the grass
  • Rest in a comfortable location and position, although I personally don't meditate in a prone position. I'm likely to become so devoid of thought as to make the outside observer believe my regular breathing technique is snoring.
  • Provide soothing background noise: wind chimes, fire crackling, wind through the trees, white noise, water rippling, birds chirping, or the like. There are actual videos of these available that play for quite some time. Music may be an option as well. Look to tomorrow's entry for more on this.
  • Practice with a member of your family or even your entire family
  • Forgive yourself if you wander off mentally and then wander away physically. With practice come expertise.
Finding the location and time comes with practice. As you develop your personal skills and style, your ability to meditate will become stronger. Then your environment will be outside of time; time will be the environment you build. At least, that's part of my overall learning goal. I can assure you that learning the process of meditation that works for you will have opposition when you start out. My lessons here are a beginner's guide from a beginner in the hopes of helping us push against that opposition. But the best thing you can do to learn is begin.

Next Time: The Myriad of Possibilities in How

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moods and Meditations: Lessons 1 - Motivations and Meanings

Motivations and Meanings
Moods and Meditations: Lesson 1

When it comes to meditation, there is only one right way: your way. There is so much information on any subject out on the internet as to be dizzying. I recommend that you decide your reasons and goals for learning more about a topic prior to starting your own research. This will make sorting through the information you will come across all the more powerful. Instead of focusing on the how in this first lesson, I want to focus on the reasons and the goals. These, too, have to be chosen by you.

There are many reasons behind meditation. Some of them are general consequences that come from meditation: increased ability to concentrate, better able to access and retain good feelings, lower blood pressure, more focus in your activities associated with the topic of meditation, ... Some reasons can arise from generalities discovered during meditation: peace, serenity, greater compassion, better connection with the infinite, ... While these are immense blessings, see these incredible blessings as the platter that you use to carry specific blessing into your own life. You have the ability to step out of yourself, metaphorically, to commune with the infinite. On your way back, there will be blessings that you will bring back with you. Again, let the platter be the more general blessings that carry the specific blessings you are seeking.

Starting a meditation with a specific purpose is what brings strength into my meditation. Sometimes, the purpose is nothing so grandiose as spending some quality time with my thoughts. I try to rely on this purpose when anger is the emotion most expressed. I do not look for the source of the anger; I seek the shelter away from the anger found by meditating on something, anything. Other times, I am pondering my way through one of life's conundrums. Recently, I was offered a job. There was a stiff price to pay. I am not adverse to paying the price for success. I am also excited by the prospect of new challenges. But a price had to be paid in either accepting or declining the job offer. The reason for my meditation was to determine a course of action that I would feel good about and know that it was good for my family. After meditating, I felt good about how I would approach the situation and still felt good about it after the situation was passed.

And therein lies a primary reason for meditating, how you feel about yourself and the situation. It helps to be able to put purpose into meditation and receive initial rewards from them. I suggest picking a reason for meditating as the focal point of your meditation, studying it out a little before meditating, and then exploring your own motivations for the reason behind the motivation. Part of that exploration comes from the Five Why's. While this technique may appear to have something to do with my toddler's obsession with this word, it allows me to explore reasons even deeper. I understand the first level of the reason for meditation when I ask, "Why am I meditating on this topic?" I then ask myself why on that answer until I have asked why a total of five times. I don't always need to ask that many time, but every time, I find some deeper purpose behind the motivation to meditate. And this lends more power to my meditations, especially when the meditation provides an additional, deeper level of why.

I admit that my general goal for meditating is always to have an answer. Not in the sense of 1 + 1 = 2, or the reason the sky is blue, or the source of the current US dependence on foreign oil, or the outcome of the current Israeli / Arab conflict. I want an answer to my meditation that leads to the retrieval of the platter I described before. The goal may be a specific blessing on that platter in the form of a specific answer, but I seek to have reached out to the infinite and achieve that connection. That is an answer in and of itself. And that is my primary goal.

But like the general and specific reasons for meditation, I have general and specific goals for meditation. The reasons explain why I want to meditate, the goal is seeking the consequences of topic of meditation. The goal is the destination; the reason is why I am walking the path. Borrowing again from the job I was offered recently, I chose to meditate. After meditating through what they were offering and what I would be paying, I chose to open negotiations with the company. Not necessarily the best option after being forwarded a job offer, but I was unwilling to abruptly sever one ongoing relationship for a temporary relationship with no possibility of long-term hire. This would not be a foot-in-the-door situation. When I had mentioned that as a motivation for obtaining this position, the resulting silence from the one interviewer in the first interview and the three in the second interview was deafening. Silence itself may not be indicative, but since the only silent response followed my expression of my hopes for advancement, and it happened twice, I was fairly sure that this was truly a temporary arrangement. Meditating and pondering the possibilities not only provided an action, it provided a clarity of thought for dealing with the negotiations. In the end, the company had a zero tolerance for changes in the offer. I declined their offer. And I found that the outcome was acceptable. I had already merged with the infinite in discussing this topic with myself during meditation. I was already well rewarded.

As you ponder on your own reasons and goals, I hope you will provide some insight to others and to me of what you have learned. While I have my right way for meditating, my techniques and processes have changed and adapted with time as I have learned from others. Education is a personal process. If I am to learn, I need to be open to learning. When I am open to learn, I will learn. I can learn for the active source within, I can learn from the external sources inanimate, and I can learn from the living sources without. I firmly believe everyone has something to teach. What will you teach me today?

Lesson 2 - The Environment of Timing

Looking Forward / Making Plans / LLIB Explanation

Looking out across that minute stretch of this vast cosmos that I claim as my natural habitat, I find myself once again wondering. I wonder how some habits so quickly evaporate while still under the serge of the good feeling born of success. I wonder how I can allow myself to fight a rearguard, retreating battle on so many fronts. Where are the bold advances and flanking maneuvers that demonstrate a desire to take the fight to the enemy? "We have met the enemy. And he is us." Thank you for the reminder, Pogo. And there in lies the greatest demon of all. I have many demons demanding decisive defeat, underemployment being the second most notable among them. Fighting off an invasion of head lice is a lesser one. And when sitting down to eat, too often my concession to my health effort is to eat less among the poor choices in front of me. Most of the time, bad foods don't even come into the house. And that is the best solution most of the time. The most notable failures occur when I am away from the house.

This means I need to develop some changes in my thought processes. One of them needs to be to return to this diary process. I'm not sure how much I weigh anymore. That needs to change. I need to become aware of something more than my clothes purchased during my lowest point in weight loss are getting tight. I need to fortify my thinking process to assist my weight loss. Making a record here in this blog (eDiary really) to be accountable is part of that. Making sure I have ready access to uplifting, spiritual materials, like OA literature, church lessons, and divinely-directed materials Getting back into meditations is going to be more important than before to assist in welding the benefits of these sources into a more permanent way of thinking.

Within the bounds of my spiritual experiences as bolstered by my faith in God and expanding by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have learned that there is, for me, a need for the combination of many spiritual activities: scripture reading, prayer (family, couple, and personal), fasting (1 day, 2 day, 3 day, and extended), Family Home Evening, church attendance, temple attendance and more. This list constitutes, in my opinion, the most important activities ahead of the "and more" in terms of building and maintaining my spiritual growth. But among the "and more," meditation has the best activity for making the gain of a recent activity more permanent. And with that in mind, I am hoping to provide a one week primer in meditation from an LDS perspective. I do not claim to be an expert in any way during this discourse, only that I am seeking to share my experience while building my knowledge at this point in my own progression.

The hope of this one week is two-fold. First, to help me remember what it means to meditate. Second, to restore some semblance of returning to daily online journaling. I know that so much is possible with both of these activities. I have gained in the past from both; I want to restore and extend those gains. So, rather than committing to journaling in general, or journaling forever, I have picked a topic (mediation) and a time frame (one week) to put me back on the path to where I belong.

And with that in mind, I give unto you, my readers, my reviewers (even myself), and  my Father in Heaven most importantly, my humblest apologies. I apologize for my absence because so much might have been averted through writing or reviewing. I apologize for allowing so much of sadness to pervade my thought for so long as to allow the demon within and the demons without to reduce the strength of "the angels of [my] better nature."

Yours in the hope of the future to be obtained, re-obtained, and built into permanence,


P.S.: I preview my last lesson on meditation with this thought -

P.P.S.: I have come across a book I had not seen in quite some time. I am going to include five lines from it after every entry until I run out of instructions or interest. I hope it will be inspiring.

Here is the beginning of the book -

This book began as a gift to my son, Adam. As he packed his stereo, typewriter, blue blazer, and other necessities for his new life as a college freshman, I retreated into the family room to joy down a few observations and words of counsel I thought he might find useful.

I read years ago that it was not the responsibility of parents to pace the road for their children, but to provide a road map. That's how I hoped he would use these mind and heart reflections.

I started writing, and what I thought would take a few hours took several days. I fathered my collection of handwritten notes, typed them up, and put them in a dime-store binder. I walked to the garage and slid it under the front seat of the station wagon.

A few days later his mother and I helped him move into his new dorm room. When he was all settled in, I asked him to come with me to the parking lot. I was time for the presentation. I reached under the car seat and, with words to the effect that this wa what I knew about living a happy and rewarding life, handed him the bound pages. He hugged me and shook my hand. It was a very special moment.

Well, somehow those typewritten pages became the little book you're now holding. You may not agree with all the entries, and from your own life experience, I'm sure you could add hundreds more. Obviously, some are more important than others, but all have added a degree of joy, meaning, and efficiency to my life.

A few days after I had given Adam his copy, he called me from his form room. "Dad," he said, "I've been reading the instruction book and I think it's one of the best gifts I've ever received. I'm going to add to it and someday give it to my son."

Every once in a while life hands you a moment so precious, so overwhelming you almost glow. I know. I had just experienced one.

Brown, H. Jackson, Jr., Life's Little Instruction Book, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee.

Life's Little Instruction Book:
1. Compliment three people every day.
2. Have a dog. 
3. Watch a sunrise at least once a year. 
4. Remember other people's birthdays. 
5. Never mention being on a diet.