Laughing Meditation

Cheboygan - Buddha

When I tell people about my on-again, off-again meditation practice, I share a National Geographic story about the science of the mind. In the article, neuroscientists wire up Buddhist monks:

For the past several years Richard Davidson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been studying brain activity in Tibetan monks, both in meditative and non-meditative states…When Davidson ran the experiment on a senior Tibetan lama skilled in meditation, the lama’s baseline of activity proved to be much farther to the left of anyone previously tested. Judging from this one study, at least, he was quantifiably the happiest man in the world.

That last sentence had a big impact on me. Here was a kind of proof that meditation rewires the brain – in a good way. In a measurable way.

So I tried it. And when I did, I started giggling.

It was January 2006 when I first tried meditation. I downloaded a podcast, sat in an uncomfortable, half-hearted lotus position, closed my eyes, and listed to the instructor. Then, laughter. Uncontrollable, tear-inducing laughter.

After that first time, I didn’t laugh anymore. But boy, what at first impression.

Then it happened again when I tried a chakra meditation, concentrating on specific centers of the body. There again, right when I started to focus on the heart and throat chakra, I started giggling like a fool.

Today it happened a third time. This time, it was thanks to a simple message on a simple website playing a simple song (courtesy of Ben Brooks). The music started, my shoulders slumped in relaxation, and – what do you know? – I started laughing uncontrolably.

What’s going on here?

It turns out I’m not the only one. In fact, this behavior is expected and common.

For me, I think there’s a bit of self-hypnosis involved. It’s almost like there’s some magic affecting my susceptible brain, and what I feel is the release of tension. Not being used to that feeling, I start laughing. It turns out it doesn’t even take meditation to kick start my giggle reflex. It could be something as simple as soothing music.

This is all evidence in support of what I read years ago in that National Geographic article – that meditation, or a relaxed state, changes the chemistry of the brain. What I feel, as a result, is a release of tension. And that feels funny.

But good. It feels really, really good.


Goodbye, Bike

Goodbye, bike. on Flickr.

I remember the time I had to abandon my bike at the Rockefeller Library at Brown University.

During my New England trip, in 2008, I had high hopes for that bike. All the parks and battlefields I’d visit were perfect for a bike, I thought, so I stuffed it into the hatch of my Suzuki Aerio.

Stuffing it may have been a mistake, however, because the damage was evident immediately. The frame was bent sometime during the trip, and that made the wheel terribly wobbly – making the bike ride like some demented shopping cart.

I only rode it a half mile in Providence, Rhode Island, before giving up. I parked the bike at the library, went inside for a water, came back out to say my goodbyes, and left it there. With any luck, the university would consider it a donation from some stranger.

That incident was one of many I had on that trip: a parking garage booted my car wheel, my knee ached, I got hit on at a rest stop, I stayed at some sleazy motel in New Jersey.

But it wasn’t a bad trip. It was a great trip filled with bad luck.


Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Rocket’

If I could pick any song that said, “This is why I want to play guitar,” then “Rocket” would be it.

The original version was magic to a 14-year-old me. Still is. And it’s so gratifying to hear Billy say that this song is the Plutonic ideal of Pumpkins material. Especially when all the weirdness hit the Pumkins, and I looked back on Siamese Dream with longing, thinking, “If only they could do that again.”

Reissue? Purchased.


On Gardening

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I’m not a fan of bad spots on my apples.

So it’s with great pleasure that, after digging the spot out my galas with my fingernail, I can put that discolored depression to good use. Into my coffee can it goes, collecting with other vegetable matter, coffee grounds, and crushed egg shells. From there, it goes into my compost pile.

The whole concept of compost fascinates me. But maybe I said that already.

Anyway, now that the garden is finishing up, it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned since March – and since my first garden project last year.

First, though, let me say that it’s a helluva joy to eat stuff you’ve grown with your own two hands – especially when it’s drop-dead delicious. That yellow tomato? Life-changing. The green beans that never stop coming? Tender and flavorful. I was a veggie fan before, but now? Died-in-the-wool, man.

Maybe you’ve heard, but there’s a lot of work involved in gardening. Milkweed plants were a problem. They would sprout up without fail in the middle of the spinach or bush beans. It’s not a pretty plant. When I would pull it at its base, the whole thing would come up easily.

Mosquitos were also a problem. Back in the garden area, the mosquitos were everywhere – especially when I would work out there, near dusk. I would head out to the garden with my gloves and bucket, start picking veggies, and be swarmed. Absolutely swarmed.

There were always weeds to be picked. Grass to tear out. Now, because I’m only out there once a week (if that), the weeds are taking over. Clover and milkweed and random grasses – they’re stealing the sun from the planted-on-purpose vegetables. Eventually they’ll take over, and once again the area will need to be cleared. Next spring, perhaps. It’ll become a perennial tradition.

In the meantime, the beans and tomatoes keep coming. They’re crowding each other’s territory now: the tomatoes are greedy with their sunshine, and shoot stalk into the zucchini plant’s territory.

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Soil and sun and water join forces to make delicious. It’s an easy formula, even when you question if it’s going to work out. You plant the seeds and you wait. And you wait some more. And then some green appears, and you’re kind of worried because you don’t know how it’s going to do. It does just fine, thanks, and in a few months you see some produce. The green tomatoes stay green longer than you’d like, and the squash never really comes at all.

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube,” Hunter S. Thompson once said, and it’s true in the case of gardening. Gardening is, at its heart, a Zen practice: deep breaths, slumped shoulders, and just a little bit of slack-jawed senselessness. You want the damn things to be done already, but Nature says, “Hold on. Be patient.”

What choice do you have? Squeezed out of a tube it is.

Receiving instructions

Here’s the part where I rap lyrically about the Earth and the soil, and how deep and powerful it is. The truth is, the dirt is vitally important to the vegetables, and not at all to me. I deal well with plants, not with dirt. Sweaty is better than dirty, always. Except for a short period of time when I was toddler and ate mud, getting dirty has never been my idea of fun. I love to work and to put forth effort, to get drenched in sweat and have my hands raw with effort. But I don’t like to get dirty. I leave that to the plants.

But those tomatoes? They make the whole thing worth it. Every bite is a reminder of those weeks and months of work. The little seeds that started as sprouts and then became bushy food factories. Now I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. So I bring them to work, and others enjoy them.

Step by step, food is born. It’s a beautiful thing. Delicious, too, not only in flavor but in appreciation.


yourmorningrock:

Sometimes, when a man is singing “Careless Whisper” at a locals bar in Las Vegas, that man takes over the room and the locals throw themselves at him.

Sometimes there’s a man. And sometimes I’m lucky enough to catch it all in photos AND on video.


‘We Work for Tips’

And so it went last weekend in Las Vegas with three of my good friends: Andrew Krukowski, Chris Driver, and Keith Coates.

My experience with Vegas before last weekend was more like sticking my toe in the pool. I stopped there during a rush-hour traffic jam along I-15 coming home from the Route 66 trip. Then there was last summer, when I flew in and out of Vegas during my driving tour of the western national parks.

But I had never done Vegas righteously. Last weekend I finally got the chance, and did it as it should be done: with good friends to enjoy the spectacle.

The entire weekend was like one long-running comedy routine, with new in-jokes appearing from the sights, sounds, and people of this city. We took our accommodations and had a lot of fun with it, both with the people that we saw and the location of the hotel. Staying off-Strip means you get to see that other Vegas you always hear about – the one we saw, in full color, along Fremont Street.

Ah, Fremont Street. You take the old Vegas that appears in movies, the Vegas that Sinatra and Martin knew, you put a roof over it, and you turn it into an amusement park. It was still my favorite part of the trip. The Strip seemed like a giant themed shopping mall. But Fremont Street was the Vegas that I always pictured in my head: lights, mutants, cheap booze, the whole works. If I ever go back, I’ll be sure to spend more time on Fremont Street.

No one in our little group struck it rich, nor did anything too crazy happen. The trip was four guys who know each other so well taking this spaceship of a city as it is. We walked, and took in a ball game, and saw a show, and took a trip to the Hoover Dam. And then there was karaoke. Lots of that in a bar called Ellis Island, where tourists and locals both meet for cheap (but good) beer and lots of fun.

My role in these types of trips is usually the documentarian – a role I relish. Between photos and the video above, I feel like I captured some of the best parts of the trip while still leaving those fun parts – the ones only us four guys would get – locked away in memory. That’s as it should be.

The title of the video comes from a brief snippet of Fremont Street. The showgirls, the ones on either side of the gentlemen where one whispers something in his ear, walk around ready to pose for pictures. When I stood there to get my own picture taken, the one whispered “We do work for tips, okay?” into my ear.

Nothing is free in Vegas. Not really. And that’s okay.