Thursday, September 30, 2010

The price of compassion is $328.13

Compassion toward all living things is a central tenant of Buddhism. To give an idea of its importance, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said:

"Live with compassion
Work with compassion
Die with compassion
Meditate with compassion
Enjoy with compassion
When problems come,
Experience them with compassion."

Most of us are aware of the stories of monks that work to avoid swatting flies or stepping on ants. That is how far the notion of compassion can be taken in Buddhism.

                                                 Dumbledore (not really, it's a stock photo)

Dumbledore (named by my daughter after the Harry Potter character) was a stray. He adopted our house over the summer. Don’t know why, but one day he just turned up, hiding in our bushes. It was a week or so before he allowed anyone to get close, but once he did, he moved from being a ‘bushes cat’ to a ‘porch cat’. He loved the kids and the kids loved him. This led to the discussion of what to do. Was he eating? Was he getting fresh water? What would happen when winter came? Let me clear at this point: the adults in the house do NOT want a cat. We are done with cats.

My first mistake was feeding him. Yes, I am guilty. He was skinny and we had discovered he was declawed, which meant he was a housecat. So we were concerned he couldn’t fend for himself. This was disproven by the mouse he caught, but still…

My wife called a local shelter, but they weren’t taking. So much for plan A. Then the weather changed this week so it was decided to let Dumbledore in the house. A trip to Lowes for a cat door to the basement and to Target for a litter box and other supplies, and I had the happiest cat (and kids) on the planet. I have never heard a cat purr so loudly in my life.

Right now you are asking yourself, “I get the compassion part, he adopted a stray cat, but I don’t get the money thing."

Today, my wife notices Dumbledore has a swollen ear. Yep, that’s a vet trip. Apparently our new house mate has a hematoma. It requires a shunt so it can drain for the next three weeks. That, plus shots was $328.13, and demonstrates that no good deed goes unpunished.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That's going to leave a mark

So I was doing what I do best (wasting time on the internet) when I stumbled across this blog entry from World of Technology. Although first reported last year, this has been making the news aggregate rounds again.

It’s about a Buddhist monk that has prayed in the same exact spot for the last twenty years. If that isn’t enough, he has done up to 3,000 prayers a day. He has done this so many times in the same spot that his footprints are now worn into the wood floor. The Venerable Hua Chi has definitely left his mark, literally.

When you look at your footprint, what mark will be left?

The source story courtesy The Buddhist Channel

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Breathe, breathe in the air

Don’t be afraid to share (lyrics courtesy Pink Floyd). I have been thinking about breathing lately. Why? Because this year I decided I needed to reconnect with parts of me that I let go dormant. I am involved in martial arts again and I am starting to get involved in my spiritual practices again. That means engaging in qi gong and meditation. And there is nothing more central in those practices than breathing.

But why on Earth would one need to focus on such a natural process? Well, for starters, most of us do it wrong. Yep, we do not breathe correctly. We were born doing it correctly, but somewhere along the way, most of us start to screw it up. We are born as abdominal breathers, meaning our breath is from our abdomen. But over time, most of us become chest breathers, meaning our breath comes from expanding our chest. This is bad. Chest breathing is shallower and increases respiration rate. The average adult resting respiration rate is 16 beats per minute (mine is 10.5 bpm). When completely calm and relaxed (liked meditating, not reading, watching tv, etc), it is not uncommon to drop to 5bpm. And for really accomplished meditators, yogis, and David Blaine, even lower than that. This is accomplished through abdominal breathing, which helps slows respiration rate. When completely relaxed, I have brought my respiration rate of 5.5bpm. I could probably go a bit lower but haven’t tried.

Research has shown that abdominal breathing is healthier than chest breathing. A paper in 1992 by the US Public Health Service lists abdominal breathing as a non-medication pain management technique and a 1997 paper by Meyer and Nelson on breast cancer treatment also notes abdominal breathing as a coping strategy. In a 2010 study on Depression and Anxiety, the Group Health Research Institute concluded that abdominal breathing was as successful at helping manage depression and anxiety as other “bodywork” therapies.

According to Dr. Robert Fried, professor of biopsychology at Hunter College, chest breathing leads to what he calls hyperventilation syndrome. Chest breathing causes you to breathe shallower, thus forcing your respiration up. Shallow breathing can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain. That reduced blood flow can leave you feeling groggy, dizzy, and shaky. And according to Dr. Migdow, it can contribute to stress-related disorders. Who thinks that’s a good idea? If you are like me, life itself provides enough stress. I don’t need bad breathing to contribute to the problem.

So it’s not just Eastern mystics that think this a good idea. Western science thinks it’s pretty nifty as well.

How do you know what type of breather you are? Simple, lie on your back and breathe. What moves, your abdomen or your chest? There ya go.

The trick now is to retrain yourself to breathe correctly. This is a challenge, trust me. I’ve been at it for a couple of days now and it’s still tough. According to the Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation, it can take weeks to accomplish this. That, of course, will vary based on how hard you work at it.

I think that doing this sitting or lying down is easiest to start with. For some reason, I find doing this standing to be more challenging.  I have a harder time feeling the abdomen move when standing. Start by relaxing your body. If lying down, let your arms rest gently at your side. If sitting, use a kitchen or other non-reclining chair. Sit with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. If standing, shoulders are relaxed, back is straight, and legs should be bent slightly (don’t lock the knees). Now breathe in and allow your abdomen to expand. Feel your belly move. Keep in mind you don’t want to constrict the chest. The chest still needs to expand as well, but in harmony with the abdomen. Don’t try to force it; allow it to happen naturally. That’s basically it. You can practice abdominal breathing anywhere, and with time, hopefully it becomes habit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's in a name?

As human beings, we love to label things. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist. But that isn't enough so we have Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Anglican, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Orthodox, Conservative, Re-constructionist, Theravada, Mahayana, etc. We get all wrapped up these labels because we feel we need to identify with a group.

So for my first official blog entry, I'll answer the question: "what's in a name?" and I'll do it courtesy of's Belief-O-Matic. The BoM is a great quiz that can be eerily accurate. What it does is analyze your answers and determine which belief system most closely matches your answers. Then, just for fun, it gives you the next twenty-six matches as well. Yes, twenty-six.

Here are my results:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Theravada Buddhism (88%)
3. Mahayana Buddhism (84%)
4. Neo-Pagan (84%)
5. New Age (76%)
6. Liberal Quakers (73%)
7. Secular Humanism (69%)
8. Hinduism (69%)
9. Sikhism (64%)
10. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (63%)
11. Taoism (61%)
12. Jainism (60%)
13. New Thought (54%)
14. Scientology (50%)
15. Reform Judaism (49%)
16. Nontheist (46%)
17. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (36%)
18. Orthodox Quaker (35%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (26%)
20. Baha'i Faith (25%)
21. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (22%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (18%)
23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (16%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (14%)
25. Islam (14%)
26. Roman Catholic (14%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (10%)

 As anyone can tell from the name of the blog, I self identify as a Buddhist. I actually refer to myself as a Theravada/Soto Zen Buddhist with Taoist tendencies. But Buddhism is not my first result according to the BoM, Taosim doesn't rate the Top Ten, and I certainly do not consider myself New Age.

So, what's in a name?