Monthly Archives: October 2011

raw sugar raw thought

A random thought splurge on meditation & chocolate…

RECENT CHOCOLATES TO RAVE AND RATE:

Ah, yes. The chocolatier has returned. Don’t worry, I’ve been doing the dirty deed undercover at Harvard.

Harvard also hosted a mindfulness meditation program called “Wake Up” last weekend. Unfortunately, I was too tired to participate in the entire day’s activities (deep relaxation meditation = invitation to sleep), but I enjoyed hearing about the five pillars of meditation at their initial lecture.

What they’re about (taken from their website):

Wake Up – Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society, is a world-wide network of young people practising the living art of mindfulness. We share a determination to live in an awakened way, taking a 21st Century version of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings as our path and guiding light.
The Wake Up network has grown out of Plum Village meditation centrein SW France, under the guidance of Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Plum Village has been offering retreats to young people for over two decades, and the Wake Up movement was formally launched in Summer 2008.

第一:Confidence

We know that our minds race all the time, worrying or regretting about the past, predicting or practicing the future. It’s hard to have the confidence to let go of thinking and to be fully in the present moment. What a weird thought, right?

One monk said the simplest thing to do was to begin with three breaths that you paid full attention to. The moment your mind wanders off about something else, start again. It helps to breathe in and out on focus words if it helps. My personal favorite is breathe in on trust, and breathe out on doubt (as if I was breathing out any emotions of doubt). It helps a lot when I’m worrying about the outcome of something, and I just do that simple 3-breath trick to remind myself to trust that at that moment, the right words/actions will come along with emotional calmness.

Confidence is awesome for promoting a product as well. Take the founders of Komforte Chockolates, who acknowledge in their about section  that “they debated the intelligence of starting a new small business in the midst of the worst recession of our lifetimes. It didn’t occur to us that we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. We took to the kitchen and began often times frightening rounds of experimentation mixing our favorite snacks with premium chocolate until we hit upon something undeniably good.” 

But hey, look how they didn’t obsess ahead to the potential “huge learning curve” they were to face. They were instead trusting their passion and desire to mix their favorite tastes to guide them forward in the competitive world of chocolates.

I tried their Tortilla Lime & Salt Chocolate Bar – I have to say, one of the best bars I’ve had since I’ve been back at school. Although I am not a huge milk chocolate fan, I was pleasantly delighted by the spin of the lime and the crunch of tortilla. And obviously the salt was bomb with chocolate – can’t resist that sweet and salty combo. Whenever I handed out samples of Sriracha Chili chocolate for Socola Chocolatier, I always promoted it as “an adventure in your mouth”. Well, I’d probably describe this bar as “a trip in your mouth”, what with the zangy crispy lime waiting to burst in an explosion of lucid green on your palette, followed by a soothing, curved sensation of the milk chocolate (great quality too, fyi).

第二:Right Diligence

Okay so I’ll admit the first thing I thought of when I heard this one was Asian Tiger mom. Obviously that wasn’t quite what they were going for.

In fact, this type of diligence is the opposite. It’s tender and gentle. The example given was cultivating a garden and showing love to the good seeds as well as the bad seeds. For the good seeds, you show love by cultivating them and focusing on them. For the bad seeds, instead of hating on them and trying to either ignore or destroy, you simply invite them to gently go to sleep.

I hope by now you’ve figured out seeds are your thoughts (surprise). The very foundation of mindfulness meditation is to sit, focus on your breath, and notice what thoughts arise. Rather than push any of them away, simply observe and stay detached. Almost as if you’re watching a television screen, or clouds, or a river.

The diligence required isn’t hardcore meditating 10 hours a day. It is simply being mindful of the thoughts that arise in your mind throughout the day – when you brush your teeth, eat, take a walk…cultivate the good thoughts and gently watch the bad ones rise and fall (a la Craig David).

第三:Awareness

This plays into the previous pillar – being aware of what sort of thoughts arise. My mind-body therapist (more on that later) helped me with this by asking me to notice that the thoughts that arise in my head belong to a “part of me”, and are not “all of me” nor are they not part of me at all. We’ve already distinguished things like the judger, the baby Kelly, the worrier, the hoper, the protector, the achiever.

It helps to distinguish the voices and also to use my right brain to visualize where in my body or presence they are (i.e. I always feel like the judger is to my left side and slightly behind me, while baby Kelly is nestled in my lower right ribcage). It’s kind of cool, because now I can distinguish how I become engulfed by different emotions via my thoughts in situations. Kind of like watching a bunch of TV screens.

Anyways, like I said before about bad/good seeds – you gotta show some love to all your parts. There’s a reason that these “thought voices” are neurologically built into your body. In order to alter set patterns, you have to be your own mother/father and embrace the inner child or whatever is going on in there. Smile to it, nourish it with positive thinking, focus on it. Also notice the relationships of the constitutive parts (baby Kelly is terrified right now and the judger is berating her for being so weak).

On the topic of parts, I have to bring up Vosges Chocolate. Her diversity in bars is overwhelmingly awesome, and her strength is bringing in distinct parts together to create a wholesome experience. Some of my personal faves (with her descriptions because I love them):

Black Pearl Exotic Candy Bar: “Inhale warming ginger as menthol-nuanced wasabi cools. Sense the evolution of flavors in the mouth. Commence with ginger, followed by earthy cacao notes, mellow wasabi reminiscent of coriander, finishing with black sesame seeds, rich in nutty texture.” 


Gingerbread Toffee Bar: “The scent of classic gingerbread spices will have you dreaming of snow dusted pine trees in no time. We begin with the same melt-in-your-mouth, burnt sugar and butter toffee and add a touch of ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, Grenadian nutmeg and Jamaican allspice to put you in a holiday frame of mind. A generous coating of dark chocolate completes the affair on your palate. “

第四:Right Concentration

This one is simple. The right concentration brings you happiness and joy by being aware of the present moment, while false concentration is focusing hard as well, but brings you dissatisfaction and false perceptions (i.e. looking at a magazine filled with photoshopped models and drowning oneself in it).

What else has the right concentration? Chuao Chocolatier Earl Grey Milk Chocolate Bar. Granted, another milk chocolate friend (not as high quality as Komforte Chockolates). I would have preferred dark, but for what it was I approve. The concentration of Earl Grey was just right – not too overpowering and allowed room for imagination (yes I am staring directly into an Englishman’s eyes sipping some tea and chewing on crumpets), but had enough swirl to make a profound statement.

第五:Insight

This last one was both surprising and interesting to me, since creativity is part of my neuroscience research (the hypothesis that meditation lends the mind to a brainset that allows for easier connections be made –> insight!!).

The monk who opened up about his thoughts on insight reviewed the garden concept. He talked about how once someone cultivates a good garden, he or she develops a vital skillset that leads to insight. In understanding our condition and how to transforming suffering into peace, calm, and happiness, one can create a space for insight to come about. Well hello senior thesis.

I love that New Tree operates their mailing list on the basis that we want to hear more about their chocolate innovations. That’s just too cute. Oh, stop it.

Two flavors that I nearly died when I tried them were ginger (#intriguing) and thyme (#ohmygodwhatisthisbecausethisisbrilliant). I’ve always loved ginger in stuff, but the fact that they combined thyme, a little bit of flax seeds, and dark chocolate = WIN WIN WIN. What a lush creation that I couldn’t stop eating.

Ginger is sexy, apparently.

Okay the meditating chocolatier is out.

“Buddhism needs to be recognized as a source of wisdom, a long tradition of practice of understanding and love and not just of devotion. The spirit of Dharma is very close to the spirit of Science; both help us cultivate an open an non-discriminating mind. You can join the Wake up Movement as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an agonist or an atheist. The practice of maitri, of loving kindness, the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, is at the foundation of the Dharma.”

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kanye’s workout plan 2.0

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and get them sit ups right and
Tuck your tummy tight and do your crunches like this
Give head, stop breathe, get up, check your weave
Don’t drop the blunt and disrespect the weed

We love those “core workouts”, don’t we? We’re obsessed with making our rectus abdominus (and by that I mean washboard abs) look beautiful so we can do a little laundry on them.

Athletes are also becoming obsessed with the idea of building a strong core, as it is seen as the fundamental connection for the movement of the body. Note – the core isn’t just those “washboard abs”, it also includes the external and internal obliques, the transversus abdominus (the deep stuff),  and your back muscles.

What if I told you that those 6-pack muscles are a metaphor for your identity? Or that they are the fundamental element for an innovative idea’s success? And that they are also the reason why a passion fruit flavored Yerba Mate drink by Guayaki was labled as Core Power: Passion? (hi random)

As you’ve figured out, I’m a little obsessed with different types of mind-body therapies, one of which is yoga. In yoga, the core is one of the most important parts of the body to be mindful of, as the contraction of it not only protects your spine in many poses, it also ennervates the intercostal, iliohypogastric, and iliinguinal nerves (thoracic nerves 7-12 & lumbar nerve 1).

You can get this going by doing a little navasana (boat pose) or udyanda bandha (upward abdominal contraction). In Forrest Yoga, the core is so vital to its philosphy of emotional healing, that the class begins with a 5 minute very subtle, yet very intense abdominal workout. This nerve stimulation awakens the third chakra, located behind the solar plexus, related to the element of fire.

The third chakra has to do with the ego identity and self-definition, dealing with proactivity, energy, will, self-esteem, individuation, and shame. The “igniting spirit” of a person stems from this area of the body. The nervous system patterns developed with this chakra are developed between the age of 18 months to 4 years, also known as Frued’s “Anal” period, or Piaget’s “preoperational” stage. This stage’s development happens before a child’s rational mind kicks in to justify its environment and relationships. Thus the nervous system acts on a more primitive, emotional level. And neuronal patterns developed here can last for a lifetime if not worked with.

In the third chakra, people can be energy deficient (weak will, low self-esteem, poor digestion, collapsed middle, passive), excessive (dominating, need to be right, temper tantrums, stubborn, competitive, arrogant), or even both, also know as a split, literally creating a blockage within the nervous system of the chakra due to the ongoing “tug of war”. This “tug of war” turns into a downward spiral of self-criticism.

People who have had critical parents or experienced intense feelings of shame as children are extremely liable to develop one of these three symptoms, particularly the third. Parents can even unconciously pass on their own experiences of shame, creating a culture that is hard to break out of (think East Asian cultures in particular).

Developing a strong, yet flexible core will transfer the energy to a person’s willpower, for the body is a metaphor for the mind. Breathing into the solar plexus, thus stimulating the sensory and motor nerves attached to those thoracic portions of the spine, will also release tension and allow a person to become more confident of their indivduality and less reliant on external validations of the self. Think of a person slouching vs. a person standing tall and relaxed. You know how those pick up artists are always talking about “faking it until you make it”? Well, that’s because the mind is expressed through the body, and the body expresses itself through the mind, both conciously and unconciously.

The endurer/masochist personality (Reich & Lowen): a collapsed, slouched posture blocking energy channels in the center (core) of the body.

Speaking of bodily metaphors: A week ago, I attended the Igniting Innovation Summit, organized by several students in the Harvard community and attended by speakers from many fields of social entrepenuership and non-profit organizations. One of the main themes of the summit was: movement is intelligent action. In the related panel, the founders of several local non-profits the importance of leveraging existing human behaviors for improving society. Here are some tidbits:

Panel mediator Kara Kubaryach leads the Intelligent Movement discussion with (L to R) Jason Cruz, Julia Silverman, Vic Acosta, and Sue Jones.

Sue Jones, Yoga HOPE (an organization utilizing yoga and mindfulness meditaiton to improve the mental and physical health of underserved women in recovery from domestic violence, homelessness, or substance abuse):

“These women feel an action in their body related to their unconcious, transcribed emotions and react too quckly [drugs]. They don’t realize you have choices to move your body, you can teach your sympathetic nervous system [fight & flight] to calm down.”

 

Julia Silverman, Uncharted Play (uses soccer balls to generate energy):

“There is a risk involved, always. It makes you question not just the product’s worth, but your own self-worth. You learn to harness energy, both literally and figuratively.”

 

Vic Acosta, Back on my Feet (Helps engage and motivate homeless people by teaching them to run as well as race to achieve goals):

Movement inspires. Runnings brings them back to themselves, and makes them realize that they can do something about it.

Jason Cruz, Raw Art Works (provides students with a positive emotional outlet and vehicle for self-expression):

“We take them from learning how to say “hi”, to making a movie about saying “hi”. We teach them to transcend physical boundaries by utilizing the power of creativity, which makes them transcend mental boundaries.”

I thought it was super cool how they were using physical actions, whether it be through yoga, running, creating artwork, or kicking a ball around, to create mental shifts for people and society. They use physical actions to reenergize and ignite the third chakras of people in need, giving them the physical and mental power to take control of their lives again.

Scott McCloud describes in his graphic novel, Understanding Comics, that “pure art” is essentially tied to the question of purpose of deciding what someone wants out of it – the core motivation of the idea. The creation of any work in any medium will always follow a certain path. Now in this case, he was referring to our understanding of a regular art mediums: comics, paitning, writing, theater, film, sculpture, design…

But you know me, I see everything as a creation. I take his “any medium” to an extreme and state that his theory can apply to any idea or any field, like science, business, athletics, education, etc.

McCloud uses an apple as an example. If the surface of an apple is shiny, but the core is hollow, there will be no flow (re: Czikhalminski and being “in the zone”). The work will eventually dry up or become meaningless because at the very core, the very passion linked to the work is not there.

It works like this:

There are 6 stages of the path. Here are how most comic book artists run through their journey:

6. Surface: The artist can draw comics as well as a professional, and impresses his friends, but the real professional sees the person as a con who doesn’t understand the anatomical connections of the body or persepective. They only know how to copy.

5. Craft: The artist now understands why the physical looks the way it is, and begins to develop a real artistic skill set by obtaining an education, whether through school or a mentor. But the storytelling isn’t there. Basically, the ability to convey ideas is missing.

4. Structure: The artist knows how to tell a story, and understands the impact of pacing and time. But he/she has no sense of identity, and only knows how to carry out other people’s ideas.

3. Idiom: The artist seeks their own person identity, and wants to express their own personal idiom. He/she is innovative and breaks paradigms, usually gaining external praise and recognition.

Here, something stops. Something feels neglected. Something fundamental. Something at the core of the artist. “It is only a matter of time before he asks that one simple quesiton…”

Why am I doing this?

Does the artist want to 1. Say something about life through his art (idea/purpose) or 2. Does he want to say something about art itself (form)

Which begs the question:

Do I have anything to say at all?

If the artist focuses on #1 (idea), then they focus on the storytelling aspect of comics. If they focus on #2 (form), then they focus on shaking things up.

So how does this work in other realms of the world? A couple examples.

Swimming [my own little anecdote]:

6. Surface: I can stay afloat.

5. Craft:  I understood the fundamental physical elements of the sport to be nominally good – the rolling of the body, the pressure of water against the hand and forearm, the steady & narrow quick required, the streamlining…

4. Structure: I train as elite athletes do – at least eight sessions a week, including morning practices with both swimming and dryland exercises. On stage, I know how to compose a race based on distance (50 meters vs. 400 meters), stroke (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, IM), and body condition. I understand the art of warming up and warming down before and after races, and what mental cues I need during the time frame. I’m implementing the details – the spark of the dive, the stretch of the finish, the whip of the turn. Basically, I deserve a spot on an elite team of some sort.

3. Idiom: This is when I stand out: I’ve been to World Championships, I am setting school and club records, and I am gaining attention. To do so, I must transcend others through effort and will. I will come in 30 minutes before anyone else does on my team to get that extra training. Innovation can come into play here, by coaches and swimmers working together to produce novel combinations of workouts and approaches.

But this is where I lose it. And this is why I can’t reach my full potential. Because I ask myself: Why am I doing this? Do I have anything to say at all?

I have no true reason for doing this. I don’t want to shake up the swim world, nor do I love the sport.

I am empty at my core. My third chakra is deficient.

I could be the most physically fit person in the world, but because my third chakra, my manipura, my will is absent, I lack the mental tenacity and excitement needed to push myself over the edge. It should feel effortless, but it is not. I am blocked and feel energetically depleted and moody. People can call be “the swimmer”, but my ego-identity doesn’t line up with my actions. I don’t want to face up to challenges set for me. I go through my coach’s training, but I don’t achieve what I should be achieving.

Free the Children’s Carolyn Miles (recently inaugurated CEO) spoke two weeks ago at the Harvard Kennedy School about taking over an organization – I’m going to go the other way on this one:

 1. Purpose: Think elevator pitch, think support. Everything must be related back to the core mission of the organization, otherwise…

3. Idiom: the core provides a stable foundation to be innovative, to create around a company identity. It involves the abilities to listen to fresh ideas, to drop preconceived notions, to takes risks, to let go.

4. Structure: as CEO, changing the culture of an organization requires cooperation and everyone’s involvement. To address efficiency, productivity, and connections, people must be reminded of the core mission. Basically, if you don’t model it internally within your organization, you won’t model it externally.

5. Craft: in creating the business model and joining the non-profit/social entrepreneurship world with other sectors, people need to know what they are investing in and whether or not they can relate to your core mission. The fine-tuning of skills and technology comes after a person’s belief in the core.

6. Surface: the pretty marketing packaging is easy if the core is defined. Logos, mottos, and all the rest come naturally.

————————————————————————————————–

There seems to be an intimidating element to core passion. It stems from the core of your being, the drive and will to express your purpose in life. It is a confident energy, yet it is not arrogant. To be able to defend your passion, and clearly state what it is with as few words as possible, will not only help you succeed, but will make it easier for people to support you, no matter what realm you’re in. Because, let’s face it, you love what you’re doing. And you believe in what you’re doing. That’s pretty intimidating.

Developing the good-natured, humored, and humble confidence requires a core purpose that typically transcends the self. As Carolyn Miles said in her speech: “Always, always relate it back to the mission.” Plus, you’ll get a nice little six-pack on the side too. Eight if you’re lucky.

 Daily Nutritional Facts:Thyme chocolate. Get at it. Also, Vosges’ gingerbread toffee bar is super lush. 

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