Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fear and Lovingkindness in Las Vegas





So, I'm in Las Vegas for what feels like the hundredth time in the past five years.  Whenever I tell people I have a booking in Vegas, I hear the same predictable responses:

"Uh-oh!"
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
And, of course, 
"Hey, remember: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

Yeah.  OK.  

Fact is, what Bugsy built here holds very little for me in the way of fulfillment.  Las Vegas is fun to me for about half an hour. 

Half an hour is about how long it takes for me to blow my limit on the slot machines. 

Half an hour is about how long it takes to consume a fat laden, overpriced meal here. 

Half an hour is about how long a good alcohol buzz lasts for me.  After that, it's hours of feeling like a total slug.

Sorry, Dr. Thompson, but I would've made a lousy shotgun rider on your seminal wicked voyage through this desert in search of the American Dream.  As your attorney, I advise you to drop me off somewhere around Reno.  

So, rather than look a gift horse in the mouth (this is, after all, a great project that I'm working on while here), I'm looking at this city of neon and nanosecond gratification as a place to flex some Zen muscles.  For two meals thus far, I've sat in a relatively quiet Asian restaurant reading Dzogchen Ponlop's terrific new book "Rebel Buddha".  I've accepted that the time change will have its wicked way with me and am trying to use those early morning hours to meditate (not going so well) and to take an AM run (going better).   

For its glamorous disposition, I find Las Vegas to be sort of a depressing town.  So, the final act of Zen rebellion I am trying for the next few days is this:  to make everyone I see smile.  On the long walks from my room to Starbucks, the convention center, and the rehearsal spaces, I literally pass hundreds of people on each trip.  Some are here to party, some look like they are here to play their last hand.  It's a real mix of high spirits and wounded souls.  Taking a page from the aforementioned "Rebel Buddha", I'm going to do what I can to nudge a spirit or two.   Not with card tricks and handshakes, just simple eye contact and a smile.  Of course, in Vegas, that could land you in a world of trouble, so I plan to keep moving, always.  

Don't get me wrong.  This isn't an act of pure beneficence.  It's actually quite selfish.  It's designed to help me get through the 14 hour days, as well as the lack of oxygen I tend to feel whenever I am in Las Vegas.  It's turning a place that feels like it was built on broken dreams and fake boobs and digging for a little of the Nirvana that is bound to lie underneath the sin and silicone laden surface. 

And, maybe - just maybe - that's something I can take back from Vegas with me, so I can be a bit more of that kind of person on my home turf.   

Wow, imagine developing a good habit in Sin City.  

For once, here's something that could happen in Vegas that shouldn't stay in Vegas. 


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Doomsdayers and Soothsayers

I'm not a big Armageddon kind o' guy.  Mostly, I'm not big on people who insist they have all the answers and everyone else is wrong, damned, and/or doomed, regardless of their dogma.

So, these folks who have pegged the end days kicking in on May 21st, 2011 caught my eye.  Who am I to judge?  I'm not one to judge...especially if the earth is a few million souls lighter come May 22nd.  But for now, I am just perplexed by people's overzealous insistence that they know their God's biggest secret.  If I were God, I'd postpone things a few decades just to show 'em who's boss.

Anyway, here's a link to the apocalyptic scoop, courtesy of CNN:  http://bit.ly/hX4YkX

Mindful Social Media (by Lori Deschene)

This article is from Tricycle magazine and was written by Lori Deschene,  the founder of @TinyBuddha on Twitter and tinybuddha.com, a multi-author blog that features wisdom and stories from people all over the world. 

For the last two years, I have provided a daily wisdom quote through a Twitter account called Tiny Buddha. Since the follower count has grown by leaps and bounds, people have suggested I tweet more often throughout the day. I’ve realized, however, that the greatest lesson we can all learn is that less is enough. In a time when connections can seem like commodities and online interactions can become casually inauthentic, mindfulness is not just a matter of fostering increased awareness. It’s about relating meaningfully to other people and ourselves. With this goal in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 tips for using social media mindfully. 
1. Know your intentions.
Doug Firebaugh of SocialMediaBlogster.com has identified seven psychological needs we may be looking to meet when we log on: acknowledgment, attention, approval, appreciation, acclaim, assurance, and inclusion. Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?

2. Be your authentic self. 
In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.

3. If you propose to tweet, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? 
Sometimes we post thoughts without considering how they might impact our entire audience. It’s easy to forget how many friends are reading. Two hundred people make a crowd in person, but online that number can seem insignificant. Before you share, ask yourself: is there anyone this might harm?

4. Offer random tweets of kindness.
Every now and then I ask on Twitter, “Is there anything I can do to help or support you today?” It’s a simple way to use social media to give without expectations of anything in return. By reaching out to help a stranger, you create the possibility of connecting personally with followers you may have otherwise known only peripherally.

5. Experience now, share later.
It’s common to snap a picture with your phone and upload it to Facebook or email it to a friend. This overlaps the experience of being in a moment and sharing it. It also minimizes intimacy, since your entire audience joins your date or gathering in real time. Just as we aim to reduce our internal monologues to be present, we can do the same with our digital narration.

6. Be active, not reactive.
You may receive email updates whenever there is activity on one of your social media accounts, or you might have your cell phone set to give you these types of alerts. This forces you to decide many times throughout the day whether you want or need to respond. Another approach is to choose when to join the conversation, and to use your offline time to decide what value you have to offer.

7. Respond with your full attention.
People often share links without actually reading them, or comment on posts after only scanning them. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.

8. Use mobile social media sparingly.
In 2009, Pew Research found that 43 percent of cell phone users access the Web on their devices several times a day. It’s what former Microsoft employee Linda Stone refers to as continuous partial attention—when you frequently sign on to be sure you don’t miss out anything. If you choose to limit your cell phone access, you may miss out online, but you won’t miss what’s in front of you.

9. Practice letting go.

It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go. This way you won’t need to “catch up” on updates that have passed but instead can be part of today’s conversation.

10. Enjoy social media!
These are merely suggestions to feel present and purposeful when utilizing social media, but they aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Follow your own instincts and have fun with it. If you’re mindful when you’re disconnected from technology, you have all the tools you need to be mindful when you go online.

Lori Deschene is the founder of @TinyBuddha on Twitter and tinybuddha.com, a multi-author blog that features wisdom and stories from people all over the world. 

Losing Face Weight


I wish the title of this post was a reference to how running the past few weeks had given me the lean face and trim neckline I've been longing for, but alas, the "Face" I'm talking about here is not my own.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a cool video that puts Facebook in perspective.  As I approached "Friend #1000" (yeah, sure), this video of a guy doing the Dylan "Subterranean Homesick Blues" thing (flipping cue cards with messages on them) reminded me I have nowhere near 1000 friends.  I probably have about a dozen.  And that makes me about the luckiest guy I know.

So, apparently a couple of days ago it was "National Defriending Day" (along with National Grammar Day and National Pound Cake Day), and I decided it was time to go into my Facebook account and quietly say goodbye to people I don't even know, people I've never met, people I know but haven't said word one to since we found each other on FB, etc.

It sounds so heartless, 'defriending' someone.  Yet, I doubt a one of the 150 or so folks will even notice.  And that's fine.  As many have said before, 'friend' and 'defriend' are the wrong monikers for what happens on Facebook.  I'm not sure what the word should be - cyber-acquaintance, perhaps? - but 'friend' is too precious a word to use to describe the clicking of a button.

Facebook is such a strange creation.  It's a town hall and a crack den, a coffee shop and a briar patch.  Everyone has their own personal use for it, from political platform to class reunion, confession booth to nightclub stage.  I guess that is what makes it so alluring, but it also creates a conundrum as to how much of your life you want 'out there'.  Trimming back a faux friends list is at least a step in the proper direction of reigning in a very mindless way of approaching relationships.  I'm working on the rest of it.

Andy Warhol was almost right.  We won't all be famous for 15 minutes, but many of us will have an ongoing thirst for at least a modicum of self-publicity.  As Andy's pal Lou Reed once sang, soon we'll all be 'Growing Up in Public'.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Science of Making Decisions - Newsweek

Sorta speaks to my love/hate relationship with the Internet, and how - while struggling for mindfulness, I find my best resources and hardest challenges just a click away.

Here's the link to Newsweek's cover story:

The Science of Making Decisions - Newsweek

One Day Without Shoes

So, since I've started exploring running in my Vibrams, and thus researching the minimalist/barefoot running phenomenon, I've started getting emails from running groups and shoe companies, one of which is Tom's Shoes.  Each spring, they sponsor an event called "One Day Without Shoes", which is an effort to raise awareness of children in poverty stricken areas (mostly overseas, but here too) who can't afford shoes and are exposed to dangers and diseases because of it.

At first I was gung-ho about the idea, but then a touch of cynicism reared its head.  After running the Race for the Cure for a number of years in honor of my mom and my friend Jessica, I had a couple of people tell me they'd heard the race was nothing more than a big P.R. move so sponsors could look compassionate and that little was accomplished for helping eradicate cancer with the funds raised.  I don't know if this is true, as I really never know who to believe when it comes to such accusations and the spin doctors who manipulate all sides of an issue.  I guess I know if the story pops up on Fox News, I can just believe the opposite of what they say and I'm likely on target.

So, is this move by Tom's a great PR opportunity?  Sure.  They send one pair of shoes to needy kids for every pair they sell.  So, why have people go barefoot on April 5th?  Why not have a huge blowout sale on their shoes that day so more shoes go to the needy?

It comes down to awareness.  Awareness is a powerful tool in getting people to keep concerns on their radar.  I've never forgotten the "Meet Your Meat" video that PETA put out.  It made me aware of how food gets to my table, and it stopped me cold for a good long time.  Even today as a person who does eat meat occasionally (more so than I care to confess), I often think of that video and it makes me evaluate my choices.

I don't know if a day of strolling barefoot in the south on a spring day is going to make folks in my zip code even think twice about the perils of kids in the Congo.  Tom's wisely scheduled their event on a work day so that people would have to step out of their comfort zone.  But, I think anything we do in life that reminds us of how fortunate we are, and of our obligation to help others when we can is a good thing, be it a day without shoes, a month without meat, or a pink-ribboned mini-marathon for mammaries.

It's very easy to get discouraged by what we perceive to be people's intentions.  While I praised cynicism in my last post, I think we can be too cynical about the thought behind certain corporate efforts to help others.  Some do it because it looks good, and some do it because they have to.  Some do it because it's the right thing to do and adheres with their values.  I care less about why they do it and more about what I choose to do about it.

So, I don't know what I have on the calendar one month from today in terms of appointments, so I'm not going to guarantee I plan to spend the entire 24 hours unshod.  But, for now, it seems like a fun and unobtrusive way to spread the word a bit about what Tom's Shoes is trying to do, just as running 3.1 miles with thousands of women and men seems a good way to let people know that they need to be proactive in their approach to breast cancer.

What do you think of such approaches to raising awareness?  Are they helpful or detrimental?  I'd love to get your two cents on the issue, from PETA to celebrity Katrina telethons, lacing up your shoes for a charity race to unlacing them for a day.  Do these kinds of events enthrall you or leave you with, er, cold feet?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Be More Cynical...

After a month-long run of posting thoughts on gratitude, I did receive a couple of comments from folks who wanted to make sure I hadn't lost my cynical streak.  Ya know, the one that pays my bills.   No way, no how, folks.  In fact, it's the conscious effort to seek out what I am (or need to be) grateful for that keeps me from tipping over into total Denis Leary land most days.

The world hurls way too many surreal curveballs at us, and to expect we can greet all of them with the patience and open-mindedness of a Tibetan Monk is unrealistic.  It's a goal of mine to do so, but barring some sort of Enlightenment Smoothie I can drink to get there, I've got a few millennia to go.

Just yesterday, the Westboro Baptist Church (though to call them Christians is a slap in the face to true followers of Christ's teachings everywhere) got the vote of the Supreme Court that they can continue to spew their hatred at the funerals of dead American soldiers.  I know, I know.  "Freedom of Speech", "Free Country", but when our laws grant permission to callous and cruel behavior, I have the same reaction most of you do: something is wrong here.

93 Georgia Lawmakers are backing a new "Birther" bill, which is basically their way of saying they are still not convinced our president is an American citizen.

My kids' school system is a complete and total mess.

Justin Bieber is on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Charlie Sheen?  Good Lord, where does one even start?

People on their cellphones while checking out at the store, the crap being sold to us as entertainment on the radio and tv these days, "singers" using Autotune, Glenn Beck, the polarization of America through fear and political punditry, reality shows and remakes trumping originality, rude customer service people...this could be an endless list if I had one more cup of coffee in me.

In fact, I think an occasional serving of cynicism is as healthy as that cup of java.  A dose or two a day will get you through and help you cope with the full catastrophes of life.  But if you drink too deeply, you'll be wired, riding a manic, reactive rollercoaster that dips and curves every time you run across something that pushes your "Idiot Button".  I guess the lesson here is, like any emotion, make sure you're controlling your cynicism, and not the other way around.

So, after being overly earnest on this blog the past month, I wanted to address the idea that, yes, life is more like a Dali painting - hell, perhaps a Pollock drop cloth - than it is a Norman Rockwell.  And since it's not a tidy slice of Mayberry pie, we're bound to get messy with it sometimes.  And, in moderation, that can be a good thing, a healthy coping mechanism in a world where unhealthy ones abound.

But a little goes a long way, because these days, we're a nation of great white snarks.

So, two scoops gratitude, but with a pinch of cynicism, to taste.

Maybe that's the recipe to that Enlightenment Smoothie.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Judgment at Glenlake Park

When I purchased my Vibram Five Finger shoes back in November of 2009, I consciously went with a black pair instead of the brighter, dual-colored offerings.  My rationale was that they would draw less attention, looking more like black running shoes than gorilla feet.  I was wrong.  I rarely go on a run or walk without a startled glare, a suppressed laugh, or a furrowed brow directed my way.  But, I was fine with that, for the most part.

The past month or so, I've been reading two books - "Chi Running" and "Barefoot Running"- trying to determine if these minimalist shoes are safe or not. I really love them, and could never buy another pair of 'regular' running shoes again, but I don't want to trudge on ignorantly and then find out that these shoes are the health equivalent of standing in front of a leaky microwave oven for a few months.

So, I keep researching, with varied results, and, in the process, also became intrigued with the notion of pure barefoot running.  I'm leery of this for the obvious reasons, as the terrain near my house doesn't exactly scream "No Shoes? No Problem!"  But I have found a few places that I can run to in my Vibrams, take them off, and safely explore the option of barefoot running, if only for short, contained distances.  One of those places is Glenlake Park, about a mile from our home.  It has newly paved trails that are smooth, soft, and lead right to an open field.   So, I've been exploring that this week and what I discovered is this:

1) Running barefoot is very liberating.  I feel like a kid, a Native American on the frontier, or even Phidipides on his trek from Marathon to Sparta.  And no, this is not a foot fetish thing.  I've just always felt we humans were inclined to be barefoot whenever life allows it.   Maybe in the right location, running can be one of those occasions.

2) Running barefoot helps my form immensely, from foot-strike and landing to posture and pace. The result from these short unshod jaunts is that when I put the Vibrams back on, I run properly in them.  I think that's my ultimate goal - to make sure I maintain proper form in the minimalist shoes and get a real Chi Running routine going, retraining my body to run more effortlessly and efficiently.

3)  I am so self-conscious about running barefoot, I don't think I could do it on a regular basis.  If you think Vibrams cause people to stare at you, try jogging along a sidewalk in your bare feet and see how people react.  Unless you get a perverse thrill from being gawked at, a'la Lady Gaga, this is not a sport for the meek.

Which brings me to my bigger point:  This little experimentation seems the perfect opportunity to build a thicker skin - not on my soles, but on my soul.  My constant concerns about how others perceive my actions drives me batty, and while I know it's a common Western malady, I eagerly wish to be free from it. Let people judge, let them laugh and stare, I'm doing what feels right to me at this moment.  

As I stated in an earlier post, this conciliatory mindset hovers around the periphery of codependence, and I find it ludicrous.  Yet, I gravitate back to it now and then, and have to catch myself and call myself out on it, or I'll become the pushover I was back in college, and grad school, and the 90's, and...

So, tomorrow, I may be back out there in Nikes, admitting feet defeat, but today, I'm dancing barefoot in the park.   Not just because it's a form of exercise, but because it's also a form of therapy.