To Pause

For a few minutes, stand or sit in silence. Ponder something from the natural world like the sky or a tree. Then remember how amazing it is to be alive.

If I would ever create a meditation app, the short paragraph, above, would be part of it. In fact, those words could be the entire meditation app. Anybody can follow along at any time they need to pause. It would be the pause that truly refreshes.

Back in the days when cassette audio tapes ruled home recording technology, I used to write and record meditation and auto-hypnosis tapes for my own, personal use. Over the background of gentle rain, or soft electronic or piano music, I’d slowly, gently tell a soothing narrative. The finished composition filled one side of the cassette. I’d do a similar project on the other side.

Before I found a cassette deck with mixing capabilities, I simply turned up the volume of the stereo speakers as a cheap and simple method of blending voice and music. This is the technique I also used to record guided meditations onto micro-cassettes. I used these to lull myself to sleep. During the daytime, if I needed a mental break, I used them as guided meditations.

I was reminded of these projects when I came across a brittle, old cassette I had recorded back in 1986 or 87 to support my efforts to quit cigarettes. It was almost worn out due to being played almost daily for several months. I played the tape in the cassette deck. It went on for a few minutes then the cassette jammed and the deck shut off. I’ll determine whether or not the tape can be repaired, later.

Anyway, I found a much newer tape then put it into the machine. I settled back into a chair, took a few breaths, and pressed the “play” button. I closed my eyes and mentally followed along with the narration. After 20-minutes, the audio faded out. The cassette had played to the end.  I felt refreshed and renewed. It was great to take that break and forget unsettling thoughts and emotions for awhile.

A person does not need cassette recordings of auto-hypnosis or guided meditations anymore. There are plenty of apps for smart phones and other devices that can be downloaded and used in much the same way.

We don’t even need to rely upon voices, music, or sound effects. A person can simply pause one’s activity, close the eyes, take a few breaths, and just observe one’s thoughts without holding onto them. This is a good way to appreciate your own life. Short breaks of this sort will enhance the day and enable sharper focus to help you complete the tasks at hand.

Even if you’re just at home and need a break. A pause will help you enjoy the freedom of doing nothing for awhile.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders the question from comedian Steven Wright. “Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?”

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Let It Go

The little things can be more annoying than the big things sometimes. Right now there is an odd buzzing sound that seems to be coming from the modem or the WiFi box. It’s mostly steady low frequency with occasional bursts of higher pitched whines. It reminds me of the old fashioned dial-up Internet “handshake” squeal, but at a much lower volume.

About an hour ago, a severe thunderstorm barreled through town with wind, heavy rain, and plenty of thunder. Although I was unhappy about being awakened early, I simply shrugged off the loud noises and got out of bed to begin the day ahead of the normal time.

Maybe the sounds are connected. Perhaps the modem was damaged during the electrical storm. Maybe it’s something else. Regardless of where it is coming from I need to let go of worrying about the source of the sound because it’s something out of my control.

The ability to simply let go of life’s worries and stuff that is out of ones control is a virtuous skill. A skill that is not very strong in me. (I’m still feeling annoyed by that infernal buzzing.) Our religions proclaim the benefits of letting go, as do self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Thankfully, holding grudges is not something I do. The problem I learned from dad, is to over-think decisions that need to be made. When push comes to shove and the time comes for the commitment, letting go of dithering becomes easy. Something inside the brain just says, “let go and get on with it.” Perhaps this is why I’m a deadline kind of guy. If the problem does not have a clear end-time, I tend to procrastinate and over-think about alternate outcomes.

It’s like the old George Harrison song chorus says:
“All things must pass
All things must pass away”
It’s helpful to remember this eternal truth when nagging worries come to mind.

Nearly everyone has had to let go of loved ones and has had trouble doing so. Is it possible to completely let go of them? Maybe the images of them get permanently stashed into long-term memory.

To let go is not necessarily surrender, it’s more like acceptance. It’s the attitude I had this morning about the severe thunderstorm. Because it was the result of a very strong atmospheric disturbance, there was no solution to get rid of it. The atmosphere is a big thing. In comparison, I’m a tiny organism trying to stay alive in the midst of it all. Oddly enough, the immensity of the storm made it easy to accept.

Meantime, the electronic buzzing noises come from a small device that might be in the process of dying. I hope it holds on until business hours on Monday, when it can be taken care of by the Internet provider. If the buzzing gets bad enough, I can simply unplug the device.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes filmmaker Mike White. “There’s a victory in letting go of your expectations.”

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Modern Glass …Floral Friday

The simplicity of clean shapes and elemental colors can provide a mental place for the mind to play. Three glass containers demonstrate what that meant to me this week.

An amber, contemporary vase of thick, flawless glass was exactly that catalyst for the three projects. It is a sculpture, in and of itself.

The challenge was to utilize the container in a timeless manner without overpowering the design. A frugal arrangement of greenery was the answer.

The ruby red vase is designed with practicality in line with its sleek modern shape. The base is heavily weighted in order to help prevent tipping. A sprig of ivy surrounds a couple of tall flowers to accentuate the vase’s shape.

The opaque, primary red canister-shaped vase is exactly what I would have custom ordered from a glass works. The 15 cm (just under 6 inches) height makes it perfect for bold, tropical elements that add complication to the composition.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Steve Jobs. “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works.”

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This morning, a glance at the calendar verified that today is the First Day of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s also when a verse from George Gershwin’s “Summertime” started repeating in my head.

And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high”

I hear it with Billie Holiday on vocals but with a more big band style of accompaniment. What a great way to start the day and the season.This is a good omen, because I’m trying to regain the old fondness for summer I used to have.

Maybe it’s older age or practicality, but a creeping aversion to summertime has taken root in me. From late spring until the end of September, Eastern Nebraska can be hot and humid with some particularly violent thunderstorms. I still enjoy some thunderstorms, but not the ones with large hail and tornadoes. The aftermath of cleaning up puts a real damper on them.

The twin tornadoes of June 16, 2014 are still fairly fresh memories to the people of Pilger, Nebraska who witnessed their little village being nearly wiped off the map. The disaster took place about 20 miles from my home, so it was a local event.

It seems like there are more severe thunderstorms in the area now than in the past, but this is just a subjective evaluation. It could be a combination of needing to remove downed branches and twigs and more numerous trees in the yard. The cleanups require more physical effort these days, too.

With the advent of air conditioning and the Internet, Summer has become more or less a backdrop for daily life not the star of the show that it used to be. If there was no a/c or Web, the season had to be confronted directly. Even with modern conveniences, we still have oppressively long humid days when one wants to sleep to escape. If you’re smart you don’t siesta; that way you can get some semblance of sleep at night. The lack of air conditioning is still a reality for many people who should have it.

“We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.”- -Gary Zukav

I’ve taken some advice from the self-help guru Gary Zukav. That is, trying to practice equanimity towards each of the four seasons. For the most part, this is working out fairly well. As summer progresses, it will feel normal and I won’t dread it anymore. However, there will always be a personal preference for the icy, cold of wintertime.

For now, to commemorate the First Day of Summer, it’s time to find a version of Gershwin’s famous song to play on the stereo.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes pundit P.J. O’Rourke. “Supposedly, summer vacation happens because that’s when the kids are home from school, although having the kids home from school is no vacation. And supposedly the kids are home from school because of some vestigial throwback to our agricultural past.”

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My Summer Of 1965

Southeastern Nebraska has very humid summers. Granted, they’re probably not as muggy as those in the Deep South or in the tropics, but summers in Lincoln can feel stultifying to some folks.

When we kids became overheated from riding bikes, it was time to find a place out of the Sun for a little relief. Frequently, the best place to sit was on the retaining wall in the back yard. The wall was built of wooden planks that were three or more inches thick. It kept the slope from falling onto the driveway and garage immediately next to it.

The only tree on the slope was an old cherry tree that yielded tiny, bitter fruit. The cherries were the kind only children can love. Most of the year, the tree was bare of fruit, but it did provide needed shade.

In June of 1965, my brother Mark and I decided to build a rudimentary go-kart out of lumber scraps and the wheels from our rusty coaster wagon. We didn’t have the proper tools and we had to improvise the mechanicals needed for steering. The summer heat and humidity greatly slowed down our pace. We often just sat on an old sawhorse to diminish the sweating. Mark and I never finished the cart.

Both of us became mesmerized by the dust motes illuminated by the shaft of sunlight filtered through the south-facing garage window. One afternoon, we spent a full hour stirring up dust in order to create the thick clouds for a better light-show. Afterwards, we noticed that grey layers of dust had accumulated on our sweaty skin.

Mom told us to run through the lawn sprinkler because she didn’t want us to dirty up her clean bathroom. Of course, running through the sprinkler is a good way for old grass clippings and dirt to stick to the bottom of feet. They had to be hosed off and dried before we could enter the house.

The main thing to remember about sunny summertime days in our neighborhood was the crushing boredom of not being allowed to spend our days indoors with our hobbies. Thankfully, we could remain indoors on rainy days. Then we spent the hours building and detailing model cars.

Later that summer, I crashed my bicycle and sprained the left ankle. That was the same day the family had planned to attend the State Fair. I managed to disguise the severe pain and tried my best to avoid limping. That turned out to be impossible though. Dad bought a sturdy wooden cane from a booth on the Midway. I hobbled around the fairgrounds like a frail old man.

The next few days were spent on top of the bed or on the living room sofa. It was the perfect excuse to catch up on my reading. One of the books was H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. It was so good that after finishing it, I read it again right away.

These little memories come to mind today on the day before the Summer Solstice.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this passage from naturalist John Burroughs: “In winter, the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity. Summer is more wooing and seductive, more versatile and human, appeals to the affections and the sentiments, and fosters inquiry and the art impulse.”

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Narcissist Or Egotist?

There is a virtual flood of articles and videos about narcissists on the Web these days. We might even say that victims of narcissists could be a major subculture in the world. Personal observation is my basis for this opinion.

The seemingly endless stream of information about narcissists came to mind when doing an Internet search about narcissists due to a string of threatening, frightful encounters from one of my acquaintances. She is a self-styled expert on psychopaths and narcissists. That’s why I began the Google search about narcissists in the first place.

Once you enter the Internet rabbit hole of narcissism, it’s difficult to exit it. These days, it seems like much of the general public has been swept down that rabbit hole due to the behavior of popular public figures like politicians and preachers.

We used to say that overly conceited people are egotists. Now, there are a lot of armchair psychologists who favor saying narcissists, instead. This seems to be the culture of non-accredited experts on narcissism. The range of people making YouTube videos about narcissists ranges from victims of narcissists, to people who do a lot of casual research about narcissists, to self-identified narcissists, themselves.

Of course, once you’ve watched a few videos about narcissists, the YouTube algorithm selects more of them for your feeds. There seems to be an endless supply of experts, “lifestyle coaches”, victims of narcissists, and legitimate doctors producing videos about the subject.

After one hears what they have to say, it’s tempting to begin labeling one’s own family members, friends, coworkers, supervisors, and celebrities as narcissists. The danger in such an overuse of the word, is the watering down of the term. We begin to mistake garden-variety snobs for narcissists. When the major aspect of human behavior one knows is narcissism, we see narcissists everywhere we go. This is dangerous because actual narcissists might appear in our lives and they would simply blend in with everybody else.

Of course, it is better not to label people with psychiatric terms in the first place. However, since humans love to judge other humans and pigeonhole each other, it might be wise not to put so many folks into the narcissism box. Perhaps most of the people who seem to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance are egotistical.

Webster’s Dictionary defines an egotist as someone with an elevated sense of self-importance or someone who appears conceited. The dictionary defines narcissist as someone who exhibits extreme levels of exaggerated self-importance. We might say that an egotist displays annoying behavior while a narcissist displays socially harmful behavior.

This is as far into the murky waters of armchair psychology as I care to go. I’m reluctant to casually categorize people as narcissists or psychopaths. It seems safer to have good boundaries and practice common sense and caution when meeting new people. If somebody is causing harm, it is best to get professional help.

The point of today’s post is that one should enter the Internet world of narcissism with skepticism. Perhaps it’s best not to casually enter “narcissist” into the YouTube search box.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from opera soprano Alma Gluck. “The student who deceives himself into thinking that he is living his life like an ascetic in the spirit of sacrifice for art, is the victim of a deplorable species of egotism.”

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Splurging (OpEd)

A few weeks ago American televangelist Jesse Duplantis claimed that Jesus Christ set up a “gofundme” account in order to buy Duplantis a $54,000,000 private jet airplane. The claim is outrageous enough on its surface, but this would be the preacher’s fourth airplane. Duplantis wants the jet because it can fly non-stop to nearly any destination on Earth. It also has the latest entertainment technology, and an in-flight shower.

Of course, Duplantis is not the only preacher who claims he needs private jet aircraft to fulfill his “mission”. There are plenty of others, too. For some peculiar reason, they believe it is beneath them to buy tickets for conventional airline travel with the common folks.

This holy obsession with private, luxury aircraft just seems peculiar to most “regular” travelers. I know that I feel as if I’m really indulging in the height of luxury if I can get a bargain price for coach fare on a common carrier airline. I’m glad to get a tiny complimentary snack and a soft drink. On the other hand, I almost always use ground transportation to go places.

We are exposed to advertising that celebrates self-indulgence. It’s not only OK to splurge on oneself, it is absolutely, strongly encouraged. We’ve seen the commercials featuring attractive people (usually a pretty young woman) in a luxurious setting eating a costly chocolate bar. The message being that the only way to cope with the daily hassles of life is to consume the product. There is no implication of any sort of restraint.

OK, I understand the need for advertising. I used to work in mass media and depended upon ad revenue for a paycheck. Maybe there is a shred of puritanism in me, but appeals to conspicuous over-indulgence don’t feel right. I guess in a world where preachers “must” own a private jet airplane or four, an expensive chocolate bar is not a big deal.

If one takes the classic carrot and stick approach to life, we perform tasks with the idea we will receive a reward. If we don’t, we will be punished. Following this way of thinking is a productive and satisfying way to live. It certainly beats having to beg for scraps on the streets of Monrovia, Liberia. Yet is it wise to glorify banal narcissism?

There was once a time when gift giving was very special. A person scrimped and saved in order to purchase a luxurious present for a loved one’s birthday or for Christmas. The joy was mainly in the giving without the expectation of a similarly priced gift in return.

Somehow the concept of constantly splurging on niceties became the norm. Birthday presents are not only expected, they better be expensive. Need I even mention the orgy of indulgence of the December holidays? We are also advised that if we did not get what we wanted for Christmas or Valentines Day, or our birthday, that we should just go out and buy it for ourselves.

I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of kids owning smart phones. It used to be that a family with a “teen phone”, a separate land-line account, was a special luxury that few families believed was justifiable. Sure, these words seem a bit preachy and nostalgic. Yet, these are the thoughts that flooded my mind when the news about the man who needed a fourth jet airplane was announced.

I certainly do not wish to be a killjoy. Luxury goods can be positive things in our lives. A little bit of splurging now and then can add sparkle to the humdrum of everyday existence. Some indulgent spending is especially fun when the fancy item is exclusively chosen for a loved one. We all like nice things. It’s wonderful to pamper oneself. Each of us also knows what moderation is. What do we personally consider to be unrestrained selfishness? The answer on National Splurge Day is something we determine according to our own values.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement from President Jimmy Carter. “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”

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