Getting Started with Meditation and Preparing for What Comes Next

If you’re like me, you’ve felt anxiety, stress, anger, and a bunch of other emotions in the last nine days. That’s normal. We’re in a stressful place. 2016 has been a bad year for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. What I’m afraid of, and what I don’t want to happen, is for what’s going on in the world change me. I don’t want to become a more closed off, angry, less gentle person.

That doesn’t mean I don’t plan to do what I can to fight against what I fear is coming, but that I can’t let someone else’s small mindedness and hate turn me into a more small minded and hateful person.

A small thing that I’m doing in order to work against those instincts in myself — that maybe would be useful to others — is to have a daily meditation practice. I’ve been doing this practice semi-regularly for a few months now. When I’m consistent I feel like it helps me have greater awareness, focus, and ability to handle my emotions in stressful situations. I believe that especially now, as things are so uncertain, this kind of clear-mindedness is something that is going to help us respond to the challenges which are coming in the most meaningful ways.

I’m not an expert in meditation by any definition, but I can give a few tips and recommendations based on what’s helped me so far.


My first recommendation is to go easy on yourself. You’re not trying to “clear your mind”, you’re going to miss days, and some days will be a lot harder than others. It will get easier. Just keep doing it.

I’ve found starting with guided meditation to be useful. I use Headspace, but I’m sure there are other places to find guided meditation, and probably some free ones. The reason I like it is that it gives me some direction while meditating so I’m not sitting there wondering the whole time if I’m doing right.

Reading books on Buddhism and meditation is a good compliment to the practice. You don’t have to be a buddhist to meditate, but knowing some of the philosophy is useful for taking your practice with you when you’re not meditating. By far the best book I’ve read is The Heart of the Buddhas Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’re looking for a quick intro to meditation — and a little buddhism — Sit Like a Buddha by Lodro Rinzler is short, easy to read, and will get you started.

If you can meditate with others, try it. The times I’ve gone to my local Zen Center, done their meditation class, and listened to their talks on Buddhism have been nice. If you have something like that, maybe check it out. Meeting other people who’ve been through or are going through the same things with their practice can help you stay motivated.


This is a challenging time to stay calm, open minded, and clear headed. Many of us are living in a state of anticipatory grief right now and feeling like we will be for several months at least. It’s normal to feel this way, but it’s also important to realize that letting these emotions control us and make us catatonic, or lash out without thinking, is the least useful thing we can be doing to prepare right now. What we need is to find a way to give ourselves a little space from our emotions so that when the hit comes we’re ready to respond.

Stupid Rice Cooker Tricks

A few weeks ago, I heard Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing rice cookers and how great they are on episode 294 of their Back to Work program. Because I am a ridiculous person who buys things on impulse, and because I am a vegan who eats a lot of rice and vegetables, I loaded up Amazon Prime Now and the next morning was the proud owner of a Zojirushi NS-TSC10. It wasn’t the least costly option, but I chose the Zojirushi because I wanted one that would be useful for doing things besides just cooking rice. Also it having a cute elephant on it, being from Japan, and playing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” when it finishes cooking, might have had something to do with it. Hard to say.

I’ve used it a lot. I’m sure the thing I’ve cooked the most in it is rice, but that’s not the only thing by any stretch. I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve made.

Chocolate Cake

The weirdest thing I’ve cooked in my rice cooker was a chocolate cake. It’s not actually that weird. The rice cooker I bought has a “cake” setting on it and if you search Google for rice cooker cake recipes you will find many. I used this recipe for the chocolate cake and it turned out great. It was a bit less mess and cleanup than when I’ve made similar cakes in the oven came out at least as well, or possibly better. It was moist chocolaty, and delicious.

Steel Cut Oatmeal

Ever since I saw the episode of Good Eats about oatmeal, I’ve preferred steel cut to the regular mushy kind. The problem is that when you make it on the stove it takes about 45 minutes to cook with semi-regular stirring involved. It’s sort of a pain in the butt. If you follow this recipe from Zojirushi’s own website, you’ll let the oats soak overnight and use the timer function to have the oatmeal be ready when you wake up. Steel cut oats way easier than cooking them on a stovetop and just about as good.

If you don’t wake up when you thought you would, the rice cooker can keep your oatmeal warm for a really long time, so it’s no problem.

Rice Porridge

My mom used to make something like this sweet rice porridge when I was a kid with left over rice from Chinese food, and I’ve made it a ton. It’s super easy to make.

Combine a cup of cooked rice (brown or white is fine) with one cup of soy/rice/cow milk, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, two tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and heat the whole thing up in a pot until it’s hot. Then you eat it. It takes a few minutes to make and is delicious. I’m not going to say it’s good for you, but, it’s got to be better than a pint of ice cream.

You can adjust the ratio of rice to milk to taste. I like it kind of thick, but you can also make it so it’s almost more like a hot beverage.

Replacing Dropbox With iCloud Drive

I’ve been using Dropbox for several years, and I can’t remember ever having a serious problem with it. It’s just where my files go. Lately, however, I’ve started wondering if it’s something I need to keep paying for or have installed on my Mac. The main reason is that I’m already paying for another cloud file syncing thing — iCloud Drive. It may not have all the features of Dropbox, but I feel as though my use of those features has gone down a lot in the last couple of years.

What’s Changed

There’s three things that would have kept me on Dropbox before recently:

  • Apps that rely on it.
  • Collaboration and sharing.
  • An uneasy feeling trusting iCloud Drive with all my documents.

At least two of these things have changed a lot. I’ll go through all of them.

Apps

I used to use text editors like Elements or nvALT on iOS and Mac for notes, but I’ve been using Apple’s Notes app for a while now, and it’s just fine. Other apps like Byword and 1Password include iCloud syncing as an option. I’ve been using iCloud for those apps for a long time now and I can’t remember the last time I had an issue. It seems like either everything I use has added iCloud as an option or I’ve moved to something else.

Collaboration and Sharing

Dropbox definitely has better sharing options. Where iCloud has these features, I have no complaints. I’ve used the collaboration feature in Notes and it worked great, but that’s about the extent of my use. Mostly I’m just not collaborating in this way as much as I used to. At work I’m using Trello or Google Docs, and in the rest of my life this just hasn’t really come up.

I’ll miss the ability to right click and generate a link for any of my documents, but Droplr seems like an okay replacement.

If I was still using shared folders as much as I was a couple years ago, I’d definitely be more tied to Dropbox, but I’m just not, so this has become a bit of a non-issue for me.

That Uneasy Feeling

I’ve had no problem syncing the things I have through iCloud in the last couple of years, but I just don’t trust it the way I do Dropbox to keep my stuff. I have no evidence or strong reason to think that — just a general feeling of unease.

Apple’s strategy has been to present everything as though nothing will ever go wrong with any of their software or services, and so the user doesn’t need a lot of tools to help recover when something does. Because it won’t. Ever.

All of Apple’s services just feel opaque. iCloud drive isn’t great as far as letting me know the status of my documents. If it did break in some horrible way, I have no trust that I would have a good way to get my stuff back.

Unfortunately I don’t see this changing.

My solution is to make sure I’m backed up and hope for the best. I don’t really know what else I can do to move forward other than to keep paying for multiple cloud syncing services forever. Hopefully it all works out.

Moving Forward

Currently iCloud is in the middle of uploading a couple hundred gigabytes of data that was previously stored in Dropbox. When that’s finished, I’ll move my Dropbox account to the free tier and uninstall the app from my Mac.

There’s going to be things that annoy me about iCloud Drive forever. I hate the way it gives each app that uses it a top level directory, and I really don’t like that it’s not just a folder in my home directory but instead has my files stuffed away somewhere non-obvious.

The strange feeling I have is that I’m not moving because iCloud Drive has gotten better than Dropbox, or even that it’s gotten as good. I’m moving because maybe it’s become sufficient for my needs. I’m purposefully not using what’s clearly the best thing on the market, because I think I’m willing to live without some of it’s features. Hopefully it’ll be good enough.

What I’ve Learned in Four Months of Aikido

I mentioned previously that one of the reasons I neglected to post here the last few months is possibly because I’ve been getting into other things and just haven’t thought about it. More than that, I think it’s that while I’ve thought a lot about the things I’ve been doing, I don’t really feel like I know enough about them to feel super comfortable speaking publicly about it. That’s probably a stupid reason not to write, but it’s mine.

The main thing that I’ve been obsessed with the last few months is studying Aikido. I try to go four days a week, sometimes three, but not less than that unless something unexpected happens. I’d like to get up to five or six days a week, but I’m trying to moderate myself a little. Anyway — I’m pretty into it.

Before I go on let me put a big disclaimer here that I’ve only been studying for a little less than four months, and so anything I’m about to say is from the perspective of a beginner who hasn’t even taken his first test yet.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art which is primarily defensive. It was first created by a man named Morihei Ueshiba (also known as Ōsensei) starting in the 20s and 30s and was developed into what it is today in the couple of decades after World War II. Instead of trying getting into a position where you can strike an opponent or do a technique you had in mind on them on them, you’re seeing the direction their own energy taking them and working with that. At least that’s how I understand it so far. Like I said: I’m a beginner.

There’s also what the call the “spiritual side” of Aikido. A lot of time in class is spent relating Aikido philosophy of blending with an opponent and not engaging energy head on to other parts of life. I find those parts pretty interesting and giving myself a framework that helps me be a little more disciplined and aware has been nice. If nothing else, getting out of the house and doing something physical with other people a few days a week is a positive development.

The biggest thing for me, so far, has been to do something where in order to succeed I need to focus on the process instead of worrying where I’ll be in the future. I don’t feel like that’s always natural for me, but I’d like to make it that way. If I can just do the best I can every day whether it’s day ten or day ten-thousand, I’ll make progress in the time it’s going to take, and probably more of it too. I think if I could apply that elsewhere it would be really helpful for me. Something one of my teachers has said before is that they’re not just trying to make us better martial artists, they’re trying to make us better people.

Whether or not I’m actually able to use any of what I learn to defend myself physically against a person who might try to harm me (I’m nowhere close to that) anytime soon is sort of the less important part to me if I can become a more focused, disciplined person. Being someone whose able to deal with conflict better and maybe also be a little less hard on themselves when trying something new is a pretty applicable life skill for me. I’d also like to get really good at the techniques, but, like I said, that’s sort of secondary.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to the last few months. Like I said, I’m totally a beginner, and I will be for a long time. Mine probably isn’t the best description of what this whole thing is about, but it’s what I’ve gotten out of it so far.

It’s been a good thing for me.

Also I’ve been told my shoulders are looking pretty buff, so that’s sweet.

Breaking the Blogging Seal

For no particular reason I haven’t kept up blogging the last few months, even though it’s been kind of a huge three months for me. Maybe because it’s been a big three months, I’ve had other things on my mind, and that’s why I haven’t posted. Anyway — I need to stop that momentum and get back to posting. So here it is. I’m breaking the seal. More soon.

My Request for Apple Music: Challenge Me a Little

I use Apple Music for streaming. I try to give it as much data to work with as possible so it can recommend new music to me. If I like a song, I tap the heart icon. I’m pretty consistent about it. The problem is, as much as I do that, it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job at helping me discover new music.

Whenever I look at “For You”, what I see is a bunch of playlists which are either collections of songs by musicians I already know, or other things that sound exactly like the music I already know. If it’s going to be learning my preferences — and the preferences of millions of people like me — it’s got a ton of data to work with, and what I’d like is for it to be gently helping me broaden my horizons over time.

What I get is: “You like music by sensitive people with guitars, here’s a whole lot of exaclty that.”

What I want is: “We know you don’t usually listen to hip hop, but we really think you might like this.”

Maybe the problem is that the super conservative choice is the right thing because most people just want to hear music they already know they like over and over again. But, for me, I feel like it’s a big letdown and makes these sorts of services a lot less useful and fun than they could be.

Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to check out the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition currently at the Contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco. I’m a big Kubrick fan and seeing the props, correspondence, and equipment presented as sort of a journey through his career was really interesting.

If you’re in the area and at all interested in Kubrick’s work, you have until October 30th to go, and you definitely should. In the meantime, you can check out the Flickr album I created with some of the photos I took of the exhibit.

Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

Meat Is Killing Our Planet and We Won’t Even Talk About It

Producing meat is destroying the planet, and eating it is destorying our bodies. This isn’t crazy vegan hippie rhetoric — it’s the truth. This article in the Washington Post has lots of charts and information explaining how it is.

Do I expect anyone who reads this or looks at that article to make any different choices though? Not really. But why? So many people — for whom eating meat is entirely optional — are willing to label others climate change deniers, shame them for what kind of car they drive, or refer to others as ignorant and uniformed. But these same people don’t even consider changing their habits, even though just the greenhouse gas effects of meat production are so much worse for the planet than all transportation combined.

I’m not even going to talk about the way we treat animals, but that’s just as upsetting.

Lots of things people do are bad for the planet, and I’m sure than I am no exception. But the fact is this one thing is so much more worse than anything else we do, and people barely even acknowledge it. It’s simple to me: you can’t be an environmentalist and eat meat. Those two things are contradictory. If people really cared about the planet or global warming as much as they say they do, they would be willing to take the one biggest step to actually have an impact. If you eat meat while failing to accept the impact your choices have, you not only are contributing to the problem, you are a climate change denier.

Obviously, this topic gets me pretty worked up. But just being upset and calling others hypocrites isn’t an effective way to help anyone think about their choices, or encourage them to make better ones. So, besides the Washington Post article I linked to above, I want to recommend some things. Even if you have no intention to change, I think that if you’re going to make choices, you should be willing to learn about what those choices mean and reconcile that for yourself. At least then you’re making informed choices.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book is great because it doesn’t skip any details of what meat production is doing to the planet, or how we mistreat animals, but somehow keeps the writing approachable and even a little humorous. It also gives voice to both sides of arguments by talking to farmers, factory farmers, people at slaughter houses, humane meat people, etc, and lets them all say their piece without discrediting it outright.

Cowspiracy

This is a documentary — available on Netflix — which contains a lot of the same information in Eating Animals, and is also pretty light hearted, with less time commitment. The film goes over a lot of the data, interviews environmentalists and animal rights folks, and asks the same question I have: why isn’t this information more commonly known, and why aren’t environmental groups willing to talk about the single worst thing we’re doing to the environment.

Health Experiment (Week 1 Wrap Up)

The purpose of this experiment is to find out what would happen to my body and mind over 30 days if I tracked my calorie intake and I replaced drinking with exercise and meditation. My hypothesis is that I will lose weight, become stronger, gain better focus, and have less anxiety.

Body

From the day I wrote the original post (6/21) I have lost 1.8 pounds and my body fat percentage has gone down 0.9%. The exercise I’ve so far is mostly yoga, walking, and some pushups using a 100 pushups program. I’m probably going to start running again though within the next day or two now that my knees are feeling better. Since your weight can change about 2 lb a day (I’m told), it’s a bit hard to put too much into those specific metrics after only one week, but I still think the results so far look pretty promising. Here they are on a line graph:

Week 1 weight Week 1 bf

The trend lines on weight and body fat are both pointing down (which is great). My weight kind of fluctuates up and down a bit each day, but like I said, I think that’s expected. The body fat % tracking actually seems to be going down a lot more consistently, which is the number I care more about, since if I’m replacing fat with muscle, that’s going to affect the amount of weight change I have.

Mind

I’d like to see my focus improve more (ADHD sucks), but my anxiety has definitely been improving in the two and a half weeks or so I’ve been practicing daily meditation. I feel as though between meditation and learning about Buddhism, I’ve begun to reflect the way I talk and act sometimes, and make some positive changes to help me become the person I want to be. I think we all get carried away and say things we don’t really mean sometimes, or exaggerate for comedic effect. I want to not do that anymore.