Higan Mindfulness

Yesterday I woke up really early, before dawn, and went to practice Mindfulness Meditation at the Buddhist temple near my house.

I have been studying Mindfulness Meditation for about two years now.It was originally developed by Jon Kabbat Zinn at the Harvard Medical School for treating people with chronic diseases such as Cancer and chronic pain. Over the 30 years since it’s inception, its uses have expanded to include everything from severe mental disorders to stress, and where it seems to work best is in the realm of the mind. Thousands of studies have supported the case for it’s use in psychology to benefit society.

There are many kinds of meditation, including guided meditation and chanting. I have practiced those, too. Before coming to Japan, I lived in San Francisco and tasted a variety of different kinds. But my first experiences with it I have to credit to my mother, who would sit with me and guide me into it as a child. I remember many times finding the light in my heart and finding peace as well. She says I used to sit for about 45 minutes in silence by myself, and some mysterious things happening, like once I came back and said that “Grandma and Grandpa are on an airplane from Europe!” Which was true, and I had no way of knowing it because we hadn’t spoken to them and they hadn’t told us. I remember in my teens meditating on the moon, and that was when I started to see beautiful circles of colored light, kind of like what I’ve heard can be seen on the screen in biofeedback. That happens a lot.

But my recent studies in meditation haven’t been spiritual. They are more geared towards regulating my emotions. Life can get stressful, for everyone, and it has been proven to be most effective for that. That being said, it isn’t just for making you calm.

The way it works is you sit in a comfortable place, preferably not too comfortable so that you don’t go to sleep. You close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and then just start to watch. You watch how you breathe. You scan your body from the tip top of your head to the soles of your feet. You notice your breath. You feel yourself becoming calmer and calmer, relaxing your body when you feel tense places, allowing your body to adjust into a peaceful state. You watch your breath. Come back to it. You listen carefully to the things around you. Further and further away. Then come back to the breath.

Over the course of this, your mind will invariably wander, and that is wherein  the key lies. When you notice that your mind has wandered, you gently come back to the breathe. How it enters your body. How your stomach lifts. The tip of your nose where it comes in. And then your mind at some point will wander again. And you gently come back to the breath. You become mindful of your mind.

This is the key to mindfulness meditation in the school in which I practice. It begins with watching the wandering mind. But with time and practice, one begins to notice their thoughts. You can label them, and then begin to put thoughts, memories, emotions, urges, into ‘buckets’ and label them. You begin to notice what it is that preoccupies your mind and causes you stress.

And then here’s the real kicker. Once you get good at that, you start to notice it when you aren’t meditating. In the act of doing something out of character or experiencing something uncomfortable. You begin to realize how your reactions to life affect it. And that is something.

With this knowledge, you can move forward in life. I would say that most of us live life without really examining how we live or why we do things. We are creatures of habit. But once you begin to notice how you affect your own life, you begin making different decisions.

So, anyway, back to the temple. So I figured it was Sunday, and the old monk had invited me to listen to the ancient drumming and bells anytime I wanted… But he does it at 6:30AM. So I had woken up early on a Sunday, and decided to do the things that people do on Sundays when we want to feel particularly close to God, whatever we may deem them to be. I went to the temple and began to meditate. It was locked, and he was not up yet, so sat on the steps. At one point, he opened the door slightly and I greeted him, but stayed there watching the morning. He played the drums and bells. The little birds came out. The sky changed, exploded in a dawn of color and then mellowed into a gentle morning. The leaves of the trees swayed, and I listened.

The monk is pretty old, in his mid 80’s, but so full of life, very energetic, and loves to teach. He told me about the equinox holidays in Japan. The spring and fall equinoxes are days of rest in this country. He says that the days surrounding them are important, too. The three days before and the three days after have an important Zen Buddhist function, and the entirety of the week is referred to as Higan.

During the three days before the equinox, one should practice these three things: you should be generous with others, keep your promises, and strive to be patient and open-minded.

After the equinox, you should: gaman (refrain from excesses and persevere), meditate, and study the wisdom of the scriptures (here, he emphasized that it should not be ‘human’ wisdom, because humans are not pure of thought).

After he told me, I thought that maybe this is why many Japanese people consider patience, quiet listening, and perseverance to be essential elements of their culture.

Continue reading “Higan Mindfulness”

Finnish Ed & Humanizing Math

https://medium.com/@sunilsingh_42118/you-really-want-to-rehumanize-math-education-build-a-new-ship-8aa6fe6b43d0

Had this hopeful future been the case when I was in school, I might have become a physicist.

But because my ability in math was based on time, not actual ability, I was even derided by the teacher in my precalculus class.

That being said, the Fractal of Life, in all its complexity and confusion has led me here, and actually anywhere is really okay. It is the journey, and feeling it, that matters.

At some point maybe the world education system will realize that there is a reason Finland’s education system (wherein children are not given homework and are allowed freedom after only three hours of school) has been top-rated worldwide. Maybe they will see that rather than trying to control and test what has been literally crammed into delicate grey matter, it is ultimately better to allow our infinitely more-intelligent-than-us yet extremely naive children to explore their world. After all it is theirs, and they will all tell you their concerns for the future, which are very real… Actually, there may be a correlation with the education system and the fact that Finland is also famous for its social support and peace in its society. It is consistently rated one of the top happiest countries on Earth according to the Happiness Index.

But it may take destroying all we have for reasons included in the Seven Deadly Sins (there is a reason they are called that), before we change our idiotic ways from control and fear of the unknown, to trusting and allowing guided growth. In that healthy future, people might choose very different careers. They might choose happiness instead of money, an in doing so really be alright financially.

In fact, people would be much happier because they would have been training since a young age to follow their interests instead of what they are force-fed to think is what they have to do. In this, the overall quality of everything, from furniture to management would improve, because only those who thought that they were good at something would pursue it, and they would know it from their elementary education. 

I was once told by Dr. Fujii, the Japanese traditional garden specialist, that the reason Japanese garden trees have changed so much is this. In ancient Japan, the trees were pruned for the way they wanted to grow. This style of pruning can still be seen in Kyoto, and the most beautiful example I have ever seen is the tiny private garden in the imperial palace there.

Now they are pruned to force them into what is considered the proper form, or what is most convenient for the space. They are caricatures of what they could be, and the gardens suffer for it visually.

The trees, like the children, are being stunted, forced to fit into a mold, and not allowed to become the greatest they could be.

No-Bake Awesome Cookies!

Hi guys! I have a suuuuper E-Z, tummy yummy recipe for you today! It is no-bake vegetarian cocoa cookies… Mmm’M!
I got a pack of ‘Green Banana Flour’ on iHerb. There was really no other flour to choose from, but this was pretty cheap and is really healthy, so I’m glad I got it! It doesn’t need to be cooked, either.

It has a similar recipe to what I made on the back, but I like to substitute oils and sugars for things that are less heavy. It calls for 3TBSP of coconut oil… Very greasy. Sometimes we can substitute milks for oils, and in this case it works. I substituted that for 1 TBSP of soymilk.

Instead of rolling the cookies in coconut flakes, I rolled them in Almond Flour, very easy to find in Japan.

And instead of 3 TBSP of hard-to-find Agave Nectar, I added 1 TBSP of Honey plus a tsp of Stevia, so the calorie content is really low but it doesn’t have that stevia taste.

Here is my recipe. The ingredients don’t have to be precise:

3 TBSP Green Banana Flour (or coconut flour)
3 TBSP Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
3 TBSP Any Nut Butter
1 TBSP Soymilk or Milk
1 TBSP Honey or a thick Syrup
1 tsp Stevia
Some Almond Flour spread out in a plate
A few Almonds

Mix together everything except the almond flour and the almonds until they stick together, about three minutes.
Wash your hands. Take about a TBSP and roll it in your hands. Squeeze an almond into the top and fit it around it. Roll the cookie in the almond flour. Remove the excess.

Put it on a plate and do the next one. Put them in the fridge for a few hours until they have set. Enjoy!

These are amazing cookies!! They are really filling and sweet but creamy, and they don’t have that much fat in them. They have a lot of fiber and protein. And best of all, they taste incredible!!