Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Living in "Get Set!" mode...

In my massage practice, I'm fortunate enough to work with a wide variety of people.

Sometimes we think of massage as a luxury. And for some it may be just that. But most of the people who come to see me are in pain of some sort.

They have pain in their neck, back, hips, elbows, shoulders; an endless list of sore muscles and joints. They may be pregnant or have a headache.

Here is a recent observation: lately I have been working on a lot of stressed out people.

This stress can manifest itself physically in the body. Our bodies are built to handle physical stress. Everyone has heard of the Fight or Flight response. But mental or psychological stress is much more confusing to the physical body.

Back in the early days of our ancestors, if we came across a saber toothed tiger, our body would produce the adrenalin to give us the extra strength we need to run from the danger, or if trapped to fight our way out.

I won't get into the whole scientific process of which glands produce what chemical reaction-- or which other bodily functions are on temporary hiatus until the danger is gone. Just know that the process was the same for our ancestors as it is today for us.

The difference though, for us, is that we rarely have to run from, or fight, our modern day saber toothed tigers. And so we never burn off that adrenaline. It just builds up inside.

This physically stresses our bodies. Think of it like this:

Imagine you are watching runners preparing for a 100 yard dash. They are stretching, walking around trying to stay warmed up. Mentally preparing themselves.

Then the person with the gun appears and everyone makes their way to their starting point.

You hear, "On your mark!" And the runners do exactly that. They get on their mark by kneeling down and placing their feet on the little foot brackets (I think they are called Starting Blocks).

When you hear, "Get Set!" -- the runners come up off their knees and every muscle in their body tightens up in anticipation of the gun shot.

The gun shot is heard on "Go!". At that point the runners make their way to the finish line as fast as they can.

The time span between "Get Set!" and "Go!" is usually not very long. But imagine if it was much longer. What if you had to stay in "Get Set!" for an undetermined amount of time? Maybe a minute, maybe five minutes or even up to an hour... That tension in your body would tire you out.

Try this little experiment. Everyone can lift five pounds. Take a five pound weight (or even three pounds) in each hand. Hold your arms directly out to your side, fully extended so your arms are parallel to the floor. See how long you can stay like that before your arms get so tired that you can no longer hold them up.

It won't take long. I think you will be surprised.

My point is this: we don't get to expend all of that built up tension and energy. And I believe that the built up tension manifests itself as physical stress.

There are many ways to deal with this stress. The following are just a few ideas.

The first obvious choice is to remove the stress from your life. In theory that makes sense. But the practical application is not always that easy. Maybe the stress is caused by your job. Well, not everyone is prepared to quit their job without the prospect of another.

Or maybe your stress is caused by a family member or some other friend or loved one. Walking away from family isn't necessarily the right thing to do (especially if they are sick or are in some other crisis and need help).

If removing the stress factor is not an option, a great way to learn to deal with it better is to exercise and eat right. Exercise is almost the same as being in Fight or Flight mode. And by eating right and taking better care of our body, then our body can take better care of us. All of our "systems" work more efficiently. Our circulatory system circulates better, our excretory system excretes better, etc...

Another effective tool is to learn the fine art of breathing. Luckily for us, breathing is something that our body does automatically. But just because our body is breathing-- it doesn't mean we can't be breathing better.

Most people let the muscles around their lungs handle breathing duty. Some people (singers and actors for example) take conscious control and use their diaphragm to produce a much larger breath so that they can sing louder or project their speaking voice all the way to the balcony seats.

This is a good start. But I propose learning to breathe with your whole body. You have done this before, without even realizing it.

I'm talking about the "Full Body Yawn". This is not the yawn you do at work or when you need oxygen or are bored. Not the yawn you do and politely cover your mouth. No. The "Full Body Yawn" is when you plant your feet into the ground; you stretch your arms way up over your head so far that when you lean back (which you will most likely do) your arms go way back behind your body.

And it is BIG. So big that you can't contain the noise that is created by the huge exhale of air. "Yeeaaaahhhhhaaaaaaaaahh...."

Another effective tool to relieve stress is Meditation.

Meditation is an extension of better breathing. I do a little workshop called "Meditation 101". In this one hour session we work on Breathing and Focus. By the end of the hour, you will have the tools you need to clear your mind, de-stress and return to your busy life, REFRESHED.

One of my favorite stress relief tools is my chime. I have a Zen Alarm Clock that will chime at any interval I set. Any timer will work. It can be the ping of your watch or computer or cell phone. It could even be an egg timer.

A good time to start with is 15 minutes (10 minutes if you are VERY stressed). At each 15 minute chime, take three really big Full Body Breaths. Not the kind you 'hiss' out. I'm talking about the big Full Body, Belly Breath that makes the big loud yawn noise that I mentioned earlier.

You should probably not be near other people for this exercise as it will very likely irritate others around you. That's how loud it should be.

Holding tension in your body while taking these three big, deep breaths is nearly impossible. It's sort of like trying to sneeze with your eyes open. You just can't do it.

Learning to breathe better, to meditate, to exercise and using the chimes all produce a great side-effect. They all make you more aware of your body.

Being aware of the tension in your body is the first step to making the tension disappear.

Sometimes we hold tension in our body and are not even aware of it. It has become a habit. We hunch over our computer. We lift and hold children. We grip our steering wheel until our knuckles turn white. We carry brief cases, pocketbooks, shoulder bags, etc. We hold our phone between our ear and shoulder so our hands are free to write or type.

These are all things that cause us to contort our body; to tense up our muscles.

We need to disengage our muscles. Make them "let go".

Massage is a very effective tool to help you disengage your muscles. At the end of each massage in my studio, I 'invite the chimes to sound' (as the Buddhist monks say). This is the signal that the treatment is complete. But it is also the beginning of some Pavlovian conditioning.

After just a few sessions, people start to associate the chimes with the Post Massage Relaxation. And soon people can use the sound of their own chimes to re-create that Post Massage Relaxation.

It may be true that we live in a "Get Set!" world, but it doesn't have to be that way for you. You can rid yourself of the physical tension caused by both physical and psychological stress, just by learning a few simple techniques.

Try some of these ideas on your own. If you feel like you need more help... schedule a session for massage, personal training, stretching or a "Meditation 101" workshop by going to www.nickrepoli.com .

Good Luck. Happy Thanksgiving.

Peace and Love,
------Nick

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lessons From The Human Body...

I have often said, "The human body is an incredible machine."

Made up of 206 bones, over 600 muscles, networks of nerves, systems for transporting blood and oxygen, a system for excreting waste... it even has a reproductive system to perpetuate our species.

At our most fundamental level we are made up of cells. These cells are essentially individual living beings. You most likely learned this by examining an amoeba floating in the glass slide under a microscope in high school.

Without the help of a scientist to keep it alive...the cell must do whatever it takes to survive. That means searching for a healthy environment to live in.

Essentially what happens is this: individual, self-serving cells band together to make little 'microcosms' that are also self-serving entities.

Then these microcosms band together with other healthy, self-serving microcosms and so on, until...next thing you know we have a human body.

I should say, we have an individual, healthy, self-serving human body.

Like the individual cell, the human body must do whatever it takes to survive. It must do things like breathe and eat and drink water.

Eventually, we figured out that our individual self-serving bodies benefitted from banding together and working as families and small communities. We created our own little human microcosms.

I think you can see where I am going with this. If we all learned a life lesson from our individual cells, we would see that it is possible to be self-serving and still work together to benefit the whole...

If we are healthy, human individuals and we create healthy families which in turn create healthy neighborhoods and communities; then those healthy communities can band together to create healthy states and nations. This of course would make the world we live in a much different place than it is now.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The point of this post is not to heal the world (although that will be a nice byproduct). The point is to heal our bodies.

The other day on the radio I heard a blurb about how in this country we spend substantially more on 'health care' than other countries. Yet, in those other countries they have a longer life expectancy than we have here.

I have a theory.

Yes, I know. I always have a theory. But especially in a post like this one, I don't want to pass off this information as scientific fact, because I am not a scientist and I have not done any extensive trials and experiments.

Instead, I will pass this information on to you as a theory. This is a theory that makes sense to me.

Let's go back to the cellular level. Imagine a Craig's List for cells: "Individual, healthy, self-serving cells seeking same."

As a general rule, these healthy cells don't want to bond with unhealthy cells. It's just not good for survival. Although once the cells have created the microcosm... of course they will do whatever it takes to help 'sick or unhealthy' cells survive, too. It only makes sense since they are bonded together and their own individual survival (for the most part) depends on the survival of all involved.

And so, it is the same with us. We are like a team. Imagine any sports team (football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc.), the athletes can be great individually, but it isn't until they play great together as a team that really amazing things happen.

This is why great teams have great coaches (or managers in the case of workplace teams). Someone to make sure everyone is doing the right stuff. Doing the basics.

It's the coach/manager who makes sure the individuals are all doing their part. Pulling their own weight. They make sure everyone knows the rules, warms up properly to prevent injuries, runs the drills and makes sure that everyone stays motivated.

For individual human bodies, the coach/manager is our mind. It is the mind that makes sure that all of our systems and little microcosms are healthy, motivated and ready to work for the greater good of the whole body.

There are many things in life that we have no control over. Luckily for us, our mind is one of the things we DO have control over.

Sadly, some of us give up control of our own minds to others. Really. It doesn't happen over night. People don't wake up in the morning and say, "I think I will give up control over my own mind today."

No, it happens gradually over time. Sometimes we don't realize it until it's too late.

Maybe you were a kid and you saw a commercial on TV and decided that you had to eat Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles for breakfast. It was certainly an emotional decision and not a rational one. Had you weighed the pro's and con's of putting that much sugar into your body in one sitting (that early in the morning) you most certainly would have opted for the oatmeal with fresh strawberries and blueberries.

But give yourself a break...you were just a kid. This time you get to blame your parents!

Or maybe as a teenager you decided that you absolutely needed to have that $200 pair of sneakers (or some other clothing item with a fancy label). But that's what all the 'cool' kids had, so you gave up a little bit of your rational thinking to fit in.

Perhaps it happened again as an adult. Your boss or someone that you admire, bought a fancy new (fill in the item here: car, boat, house, etc.). Well now you are just trying to 'keep up with the Joneses'!

Keep in mind that the person you are trying to keep up with is... well, trying to keep up with someone else!

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "It is the eye of other people that ruin us. If I were blind I would want, neither fine clothes, fine houses or fine furniture."

All of that just to say something that I have said in previous posts: THINK FOR YOURSELF!

We should all make a conscious decision to make our choices reasonably and rationally rather than emotionally.

For the purpose of this post, however, I will try to limit the scope of our choices to the health and wellness of the human body. So for now, if you can afford that fancy car, house, boat, etc., go ahead and stimulate the economy! I have no objection (as long as you are not living beyond your means).

The choices I'm talking about today are more about keeping yourself healthy. Which by virtue of my theory will benefit the greater good.

For example, if you eat fruits, vegetables and grains, food that is as close to the natural state as possible, your body will be able to use that food as fuel and efficiently eliminate what is doesn't need.

Unfortunately, most of the food we eat today is processed. It needs to be processed so it has an acceptable 'shelf life' in the grocery store. This makes it more profitable. It's always about the money.

Our bodies are not equipped to process the chemicals and sugar and whatever else gets put into our food. This makes it more challenging for our bodies to digest. Sometimes little particles of these inorganic 'food stuff' get left behind to clog up our intestines or arteries or does-- who knows what other damage.

This is why we get sick or need surgeries. I may be over simplifying here, but you can understand my point:

The better we take care of our body, the better our body will serve us.

The other thing we can do to care for our body is to be sure we are getting enough exercise. In the old days when we were hunter/gatherers we would get plenty of exercise. But now that we hunt and gather at the grocery store and then drive our meals for the week home in a car, the only real exercise we are getting is carrying the bags into the house. (Hopefully they are reusable canvas bags!)

Of course, if you are having your groceries delivered, your only exercise is putting the groceries away.

For more information on exercise tips, go to my massage website (www.nickrepoli.com) and sign up for my FREE monthly e-newsletter (which will also qualify you for $10 off your next massage).

My goal is to send out a newsletter each month with a new tip on health and fitness. In this month's e-newsletter (the first one) I talk about the five components of fitness and elaborate a little on cardiovascular fitness. I also explain how to find your Target Heart Range and why it is important information to know.

Over the next few months I will elaborate on the other components of fitness. If there is a topic you would like to know more about, send me an e-mail and I will consider it for a future edition of the newsletter.

The point is this: It's time to follow the lead of our inner cells. We must search out healthy environments and attach ourselves.

We have to make good choices. (Now there's a life lesson!)

We have to eat right and exercise. If you don't know what that means... do a little research. Find someone who does know.

Note: If you are reading this blog from the West Coast, look up www.shelleerae.com and "Have Tea With Shellee". She offers workshops on healthy eating. If you are on the East Coast, I suggest looking up Karen Sevenoff who is currently running a "Nutritional Healing Lecture Series" at the Fuller Yoga and Pilates Studio in Hartford, CT. Working with either of them will give you a great starting point on your path to healthier eating.

In my opinion, the reason people in other countries have a longer life expectancy than we have, is because they eat better than we do.

I realize that some of these other cultures make rich sauces that you might consider unhealthy, but they use fresh ingredients to make their meals, not chemically enhanced, pre-packaged, processed ingredients.

Using fresh ingredients makes it easier for the body to process the food. This in turn helps us to stay healthy, which is less taxing on the health care system.

I could go on and on about the faults and short-comings of the health care system... but that could be a whole separate post. For now, let me put the blame squarely on us.

"The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." So says Billy Shakespeare in Julius Caesar (and I agree)!

We can blame the system: The farmers and ranchers who use chemicals and growth hormones; the grocery store chains; or even the marketing and advertising companies, but as long as we keep buying their products... they will keep making and selling them.

In a perfect world the companies would unilaterally change their ways to make their products more healthy. But alas, this is not a perfect world and so we must be our own advocates and pressure the companies to do the right thing.

I agree that we shouldn't have to do it that way, but as I said, "It's all about the money." But luckily for us, the greed of these companies makes it easy for us to use economic pressure to change their wicked ways.

All we have to do is stop buying chemically enhanced , processed foods.

If you don't have the time or space to grow (or raise) your own organic food, you could join a food co-op or buy from your local farm or farmer's market.

One of these days I should write a post on the state of farming. This is a real problem, but I will save that topic for another post.

So where can you buy healthy organic food? Here are some websites that may help:

www.sustainabletable.org
www.eatwellguide.org
www.organicconsumers.org

Plug in your Zip Code and then determine your shopping radius (5 miles, 10 miles, up to 30 miles) and the site will give you options to find farms or stores or co-ops that offer healthier solutions.

You can find more ideas on the Links Page of my massage website (www.nickrepoli.com) that range from books to articles on genetically modified foods. Don't get me started on that!

Good luck in your search for healthier food.

Make healthy choices.

Peace and Love,
-----Nick

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Route 101 in NH...

If you happen to find yourself wandering around southern New Hampshire on Route 101 (and are in the market for some patio furniture or cool yard stuff) keep an eye out for the Patio Barn.

I was on my way to Wilton, NH to shoot a wedding (you can see some of those photos soon on the 3000 Words Photography Blog) and had to stop to take some photos of the colorful windmills, patio furniture and deck chairs.

Brett Wilson, the owner of Patio Barn was out rearranging the lawn chairs when I stopped by. He shared a little of the history with me. His Dad used to run a shop that sold handmade baskets from this same spot for many years. When Brett took over, he decided that Patio Furniture (and other interesting lawn accessories) was the way to go. Like his Dad, Brett is committed to offering only quality products and great service. It seems to be working out great.



More than just colorful... When you purchase these chairs you are not only getting great looking chairs, you are making an ecological statement. The chairs are made from recycled products like plastic bottles. And they come in kid size too!



They also have a wide variety of windmill products for your yard. Check out all the different themes. From firetruck...



To golf bag...



To golf cart...




To the gnome pushing a wheel barrel filled with flowers!



And all of that is on the outside. Go inside and find more traditional patio furniture and also some hammocks hanging from the ceiling.




And if that's not enough for you, there are some fun rainbow hot air balloons that spin like crazy in the wind:



One of my favorite things was the solar powered lights! Just stick them into the ground. They collect sunlight all day and then light up at night. Most of the lights I saw had three different colors. Very Cool!




Apparently, the whole Wilson family has that entrepreneurial spirit. Brett said that one day he came in to work and found that his son had planted a whole row of the lawn windmills out along the road...



That is what caught my eye...




Again, you can see some of the variety of windmills...



And after you get all the Patio Furniture you need, you can walk across the parking lot to treat yourself to some ice cream or a sandwich...



If you want to find out more before you drive up that way, check out their website: http://patiobarn.net .

I really love that area of Southern NH. Amherst, Wilton and all the way to Keene and Peterborough. Jaffrey is the home of Mt Monadnock which is one of my all time favorite mountains to hike.

Hope you are having a great summer and spending some time outdoors.

Peace and Love,
-----Nick

Note: Can you believe I made it through this whole post without making one joke about my Irish friend Patty O'Furniture? :-)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Photography Blog...

Now that I have updated my Massage Website (it still needs a little tweaking but it's up and running); I am starting to work on my Photography Website.

Since I'm starting from scratch, it will take a little time. And as you may (or may not) know, I lean a little toward the impatient side. So while I am working on the new site, I will be posting some of my photos to my new Photography Blog. This can be found at: http://3000wordsphotography.blogspot.com and you can link to it (or my massage website as well as my Mobile Me Photo Gallery) by clicking in the 'Check Out These Links' box just above my Profile in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Right now there are photos of some of the dance concerts that I have shot recently and also shots of the Sand Sculptures from the national contest at Revere Beach last weekend.

I also went out tonight to shoot the "Full Thunder Moon". I haven't really looked at the photos yet, but if any of them look interesting I will likely upload them to the 3000 Words Blog when I finish this post.

Why '3000 Words', you ask? Well, they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words" but I like to think that mine are worth more than the average picture. My original thought was that my photos were worth twice as much... but when I did a Google search to make sure that someone didn't beat me to the idea, I found that someone else did have a '2000 Words' site already. Sadly, the site is terrible, and the photos couldn't be more underwhelming and unimpressive.

So I went with '3000 Words' because '2001 Words' doesn't roll off the tongue easily...

Feel free to check out the site (and become a Follower if you would like to add a comment or make suggestions for future posts).

Enjoy.

Peace and Love,
------Nick

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Massage Website...

I know this will surprise and amaze you, but I have officially redesigned my massage website... myself.

Crazy, right? I admit that I had some help from the Apple Geniuses but that was mostly coaching and telling me what all the little symbols mean. But other than that, I really did do this myself.

I have gone from computer illiterate to Apple Computer Geek in a matter of months.

But here's the dilemma. Just because I built a website, doesn't mean it looks good (or professional). So in an effort to get some constructive feedback, I am offering $10 off your next massage to anyone who compares the new website to the old website and gives me some constructive hints on how to improve the site. (Both aesthetically and functionally.) Is there too much information? Not enough? Did I leave out anything obvious? Is there anything I can do to make it look better?

I have forwarded my www.nickrepoli.com domain name to the new website. The address of the old site is www.nickrepoli.massagetherapy.com . Thank you in advance for your help. Note: This offer expires on 7/31/10 so take a look soon.

My next project is the Photography Website! I am officially obsessed with digital photography, and am getting ready to add photography to my professional repertoire. I have shot a few dance concerts recently and I am hoping that the photography will help keep me in the Dance World, since my injury has forced me into retirement from being onstage.

I have also done quite a bit of Landscape Photography (while on my many hikes). And my studio lighting set just arrived yesterday so I will be experimenting with Portraits. That includes individuals (head shots), family portraits, kids, etc. Any volunteers for that?

If you or anyone you know needs a photo for a head shot, family portrait, dance concert, etc., I would be happy to do the photo shoot for free (in exchange for allowing me to use the good photos on my new photography website). This offer expires as soon as the new website goes live... so if you are interested, let me know soon!

One of my other goals with the photography, is to do what is called Destination Photography. That is when people go on vacation and bring a photographer with them to document their trip. The bonus is that they get quality photos and they get to be in the photos, too!

So if you know any rich people going on vacation (or a group of people who all want to chip in to share the cost), feel free to suggest that they bring me along.

As a funny side note-- I am thinking about sticking with the "Hit Man" theme in my marketing approach. If you haven't seen my car lately, then you haven't seen the sign in my back window. It reads, "Massage Hit Man-- I Rub Out The Pain In Your Neck", along with the phone number, website and my tag line, "Massaging the North Shore Since 1999..."

I was thinking I could use a similar approach with the photography. "Photography Hit Man-- I'll Shoot You and Your Whole Family" and then add the phone number, website and the different types of photography that I offer (landscape, portraits, family, kids, destination photography, etc.).

It may be corny but it's kind of clever at the same time. And with a name like Repoli... I think I could pull it off.

The last piece of information for this post is the new e-newsletter. I am thinking about sending out a monthly newsletter with tips on health, fitness and massage, so if you have any ideas that you would like to read about or learn more about, let me know and I will try to use that as a topic.

And if you have any suggestions on the best way to deliver that e-newsletter I would appreciate hearing about that too. Does anyone use Constant Contact or some other delivery system?

I hope all is well. And I hope your summer is off to a good start.

Peace and Love,
------Nick


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Books, Part 3

In the first section of this post about books I mentioned the 15 Books That Changed the World. Part two is more about my own personal list of books (that changed my world). Books, Part 3 is everything else...

The rotation in my book reading works something like this: I read a spiritual book, a business/marketing book, (auto) biography, health and fitness, current events, poetry or classic literature, easy to read novel, then back to the beginning.

I try not to read too many of the same type of books in a row. In one of my fitness rotations I made the mistake of reading The Sugar Blues, How to Lick the Sugar Habit, and Fast Food Nation all back to back and I was angry for months. It took some time for me to climb back down off of my soap box.

In the first of these three posts on books, I listed some of my favorite novelists. If you decide to read any of those authors, try to start reading their earlier works first. Many of them have recurring characters.

Here are some other novelists on my bookshelves (not mentioned in section one): John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Tim Green, Kyle Mills and of course I have a Stephen King novel or two. If you like historical fiction that mixes real life characters from history into your novels, you may like Caleb Carr.

Some of the biography/autobiography/memoir genre include: Walt Disney, Galileo, Twyla Tharp and Doris Humphrey (the last two are dancers/choreographers), and several versions of Einstein and Ben Franklin. And just this week I picked up Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Tom Brokaw's books off the $1 wall at my local bargain book store!

The most recent biography (that I just finished) was Carol Burnett's This Time Together. It is a very funny account of how she broke into show business and some of the behind the scenes antics from her TV show and some other events in her life. You will certainly remember many of the names and events that she recounts. It is well written and you will likely read it in one or two sittings.

If you want ideas for your spiritual reading cue; you might try Gregg Braden (The Isaiah Effect, Walking Between the Worlds), Robert Fulgham (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten), Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, My Ishmael), and of course Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

That is on top of the other authors I have mentioned in previous posts. Authors like Richard Bach, Dan Millman, Joseph Girzone, Thich Nhat Hahn and HH the DL. (For those of you not on such personal terms as I am, that is His Holiness the Dalai Lama...)

If I don't have any new spiritual books on hand to read there is the old standby. I may read a chapter or two of the bible. I have tried more than once to read the bible from Genesis to Revelations, but it is nearly impossible. Somewhere between Leviticus and Deuteronomy the words all start to blur.

If you are interested in making an attempt at bible reading but (like me) have had trouble trying to trudge through the old style terminology, I may have a possible solution for you. The NRSV. This version of the bible was suggested to me by my friend Father Bob (a.k.a. The Dancing Jesuit). He is the artistic director of Boston Liturgical Dance Ensemble (where I have danced for years). I could write a whole post on him... but let's get back to attempting to read the bible.

As you know there are many versions of the bible. The trick is to find a version that is easy to read (but not too colloquial in the translations). In the New Revised Standard Version you will find an easy to read version that has plenty of sidebars to fill you in on useful bits of information like who most likely wrote each chapter and when, what certain unfamiliar terms most likely mean, etc. And many times there are footnotes that compare terminology with other popular translations (like the King James Version).

Plus there are sidebars to discuss how a chapter might be relevant today. And plenty of maps to give you a visual of where things happened. If you decide to find this version for yourself, be sure to look inside the book before you buy it as they also make a version with the same translation but without all the side bars and info boxes.

Books on current events include, Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea about a guy who's failed attempt to climb K2 led him to become lost in a Pakistani village. It's the story of his bold promise to build a school for them and the obstacles he has to overcome to fulfill that promise. And Robert H. Frank's The Economic Naturalist-In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas.

Another author high on my list is Neil Postman. He wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death-Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It is about how our media is shaping our lives and what we can do to try to shape our media to serve us better. He also wrote a book on How to Watch TV News.

And of course I have Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. This is his entertaining account of his attempt at an Appalachian Trail hike. He also wrote A Brief History of Nearly Everything.

I also have a large selection of books on outdoor leadership, survival guides and all manner of books on day hikes (local or otherwise). I won't bore you with the titles of all of those, but if you are interested in a particular outdoor subject let me know and I will try to point you in the right direction.

For motivational books, anything by Tony Robbins is a safe bet. But there is also Dale Carnegie, Og Mandino, Brian Tracy and pretty much anything by Eckhart Tolle.

Most of the poetry books that I read, I get from the library. Poets are not like novelists... Just because you like one poem by a particular poet, it doesn't necessarily mean you will like all of their work. It takes a lot of sifting through to find the poems you might like (or find meaningful). And the range of work by poets is wide. I think that is because they write when inspiration strikes them. So depending on the mood they are in when they write, the mood from poem to poem can be radically different.

Every once in a while I like to throw in a classic, but I really have to be in the mood for that because it reminds me of required reading in school. For example, I picked up Moby Dick over a year ago (again for cheap at the bargain bookstore), but have not been able to bring myself to read it yet. Maybe because it seems like required reading or maybe for the same reason I never went to the theater to see the movie Titanic-- I already know the ending! Spoiler alert... the boat sinks. I've been told it's still worth the reading, but it will have to wait. I have too many other books on my current 'to read' list.

I also have a space on my bookshelves reserved for books written by authors I know personally. For example, a great book on recovery and getting your life back together called Suffering~A Path of Awakening by Shellee Rae. She is now on a book signing tour. If you see that she is coming to your area I strongly recommend taking her workshop. She will likely be writing a sequel and doing more workshops.

And there are others like Color is Good Medicine by Ellyn Epstein (on color therapy). Faces in Time (the poetry of Ray Bentley). We used some of Ray's work one year in a dance concert at Windhover. And of course, the book about Windhover by Ina Hahn titled Windhover... a person... a place... a dream.

Courting Equality by Patricia Gozemba and Karen Kahn with photos by Marilyn Humphries is a book documenting the legal battle of same-sex marriage. And Angry Ghosts by an up and coming novelist Alan Farnham.

Who knows, one of these days there may be a featured spot for one of my own books on the shelf!

This post would not be complete without a mention of my favorite philosopher - Dr. Seuss. He has a way of taking serious subject matter such as war, the environment and life choices and turning them into children's books (The Butter Battle Book, The Lorax, and Oh, The Places You'll Go!)

I am of course using the term children's books very loosely. These books are for children of all ages. And I have many of his books (and am actively in the process of acquiring the rest of the collection). I have a few anthology books on TG and his life before becoming the good doctor. Did you know that he used to draw political cartoons in the newspaper during WWII? It is quite a fascinating life. I even have the book his wife edited on Seuss-isms.

It has been said that "We are the sum total of the books we read, the people we associate with and the thoughts we hold in our mind." I'm not sure who said that but the quote stuck with me (and I know I didn't make that up...) If you think about it, there are many things in life that we do not have control over, but these particular three things are among the few that we do have control over. We become who we are by maintaining control over these things. We should do our best to become who we really want to be.

I often feel badly for under-educated children. It makes me sad to think that they don't have much control over the education that is thrust upon them. I am less sympathetic however for under-educated adults. At some point we need to take control over our own lives (including our own education).

Some will argue that the cost of higher education is prohibitive, but I am a firm believer in borrowing books from the library for FREE!! You may not get a degree to hang on your wall, but I believe that reading thought provoking books leads to independent (critical) thinking. And independent thinking is something we need a little more of in the world today.

Now that the nice weather is here, this is a great time to sit at the beach or on the back porch with a book. I like to take a little hike (up Mt. Monadnock for example) and when I reach the summit take some time to eat lunch (possibly take some photographs) and then sit and read for a while before I head back down the mountain. I usually carry a paperback to keep the pack light. But now with the modern technology you can easily download your books on an iPad, Nook, Kindle or other device. Or you can listen to an audiobook on your iPod. It doesn't get much lighter than that (and you don't even have to read, just listen)!

Also, audiobooks are a great way to read books for people who don't have 'time' to read. If you drive to work everyday, your commute is the perfect opportunity to listen to all those books you've been meaning to read. Plus it will keep you from getting road rage!

Happy Reading...

Peace and Love,
-------Nick






Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My List of Must Read Books...

In the last post you read about the "15 Books That Changed The World." Today I would like to share my personal list. A list of books that changed MY world.

I'm not talking about books that I enjoyed reading because they are good stories. Nor am I talking about books on the best seller list. No, these are books that in some way influenced my thinking or led me down another path.

When I find a book that I enjoy, I tend to find and read other books by the same author. Writers like James Patterson, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Patricia Cornwell, Vince Flynn and Jeffrey Deavers. These are all easy to read novelists.

But for the purposes of this list, I'm talking about books that make you say, "I could have written this." Or, "I should have written this." Or, "Why didn't I think of this on my own?"

Books that influence how you live your life or at least influence how you think...

Here is my personal list:

Illusions-- Richard Bach
Atlas Shrugged-- Ayn Rand
Being Peace-- Thich Nhat Hahn
Way of the Peaceful Warrior-- Dan Millman
10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management-- Hyrum W. Smith
The Prophet-- Kahlil Gibran
Joshua-- Joseph Girzone

Except for one (or two), each of these books could be read in a day on the beach. They are all well written, thought provoking and eloquently make their point.

I can't remember now if Illusions was the first book I read by Richard Bach, but this is the one that changed all the rules for me. It is safe to say I have since read all his books. He is probably best know for his children's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull but he also wrote A Bridge Across Forever and One. He has recently started writing a new series of fable books: The Ferret Chronicles.

The subtitle of Illusions is, "Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah." The modern day messiah is getting ready to retire and takes on a promising young protege to replace himself. But as the subtitle suggests the protege is... reluctant.

Bach follows the two main characters through the training process and he even shares some fun quotes from the Messiah Handbook.

In Dan Millman's quasi autobiographical novel Way of the Peaceful Warrior, a college level competitive gymnast finds an unlikely mentor named Socrates. Socrates is the attendant who works the overnight shift at the local filling station.

This book is filled with life lessons on body, mind and spirit. He has also written follow up books about what happens to the gymnast and another book revealing everything you could possibly want to know about the character of Socrates.

You have probably seen the bumper sticker WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) In Joshua, Joseph Girzone (a retired priest) tells us exactly that. The Joshua character bears a strong resemblance to Jesus in every way, from physical characteristics and simple attire to his calming, soothing, healing effect on people. Joshua is a simple man leading a simple life. Even the children gravitate toward him. Oh yeah, and he is a carpenter/wood worker who doesn't use power tools.

If Jesus lived today, this would be his story. Girzone has written several sequels including Joshua and the City, and Joshua and the Children. All of these books are uplifting and leave you hopeful. And there is a certain realism that makes you think it is possible for a messiah to walk the Earth today.

Kahlil Gibran was born in Lebanon in 1883. Even if you have never read his book The Prophet, you have almost certainly heard quotes borrowed from this book at several weddings (possibly even your own).

Gibran made a list of his life lessons and loosely threads them into story form. The story, of course, is just a way to present his lessons on love, work, marriage, friendship, joy and sorrow, children and many, many more.

Gibran spent his last 20 years living in the United States, when yet another sectarian war broke out in his homeland.

In a similar twist of fate, Thich Nhat Hahn (a Buddhist monk) came to the United States to start a grass roots campaign to stop the Vietnam War in his native country.

Being Peace is the first of many books I have read by him. He writes about mindfulness, meditation, our connection to other living beings and how to lead a simple life. Another book I highly recommend is Living Buddha, Living Christ, where he makes a great comparative study.

Hyrum W. Smith is the Franklin Planner Guy. He created his day planner with the organizational skills of Ben Franklin in mind. Eventually he merged his company with Stephen Covey's company. Stephen Covey is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Guy. I am a fan of Covey's books as well, but it was Smith's 10 Natural Laws... that moved me.

The motivational book market is huge. People LOVE to read about motivation. Unfortunately, they only love to READ about motivation. They rarely ever DO anything about it.

In 10 Natural Laws... Smith doesn't just tell you to take control of your life, he gives a step by step map that details exactly how to do it. This includes goal setting and decision making skills. And some surprising revelations about how we tend to set goals that don't meet our needs and distract us from what we really want.

You will probably find this book in the business section of the bookstore under productivity. But if there was a "life" section in the bookstore, it would be in there as well. This is not your typical time management book. This is a must read-- especially if you are a parent.

Finally, the one book on my list that is not a quick easy read is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. This book, at first glance, may seem out of place on my list, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Weighing in at just over a thousand pages, this well thought out novel has all the suspense, twists and turns that I look for in a novel (or movie for that matter).

Atlas Shrugged is a murder mystery of sorts. Not the murder of a person's body, more the murder of man's mind and spirit.

This book should be read by every congressman, senator and government official from the president to local mayors and selectman.

It should be read by every CEO and by business people at every level.

When I first read this book many years ago, I didn't want to believe what I was reading, but I couldn't help myself. When I finally reached the end of the book, I literally went back to the beginning and started all over again. I didn't want to, but I had no choice. The thought of reading another thousand pages was daunting. And even in paperback this book is heavy and bulky.

This is the kind of book you want to read on your iPad!

A few years ago I read Atlas Shrugged again and was surprised at how relevant this book is today. Reading this book now is like watching the movie Wag The Dog during the (W) Bush years. They blatantly stole ideas right out of the movie with no concern that anyone would notice. It's the same with Atlas Shrugged.

Sadly, it seems that we have shifted from the "big brother is watching" era of Orwell's 1984 to Huxley's Brave New World. Apparently 'big brother' is watching but it doesn't matter, because no one cares. If you have not read 1984 or A Brave New World, I suggest you read both.

You will find many more books in the next post of suggested reading, where I will share some more of my favorite authors with you.

Feel free to make (and share) your own list of books that changed Your world.

Peace and Love,
------Nick

Monday, April 19, 2010

Books...

When I sat to write this post on books, the thoughts just kept coming. I decided to break it down into smaller posts so it wouldn't be too long.

First: The 15 Books That Changed The World. Then I will list the Books That Changed My World. Next will be Other Books You May Enjoy. And finally, the Art of Giving And Receiving.

The best gift I ever received was from a very good friend who came across a list of the "15 Books That Changed The World."

My friend then tracked down 13 of the 15 books on the list and presented the books and list as a collection. These books still live on the top shelf of my bookcase.

The content of the books ranges from science and philosophy to economics and politics. They are written in the form of novels, memoirs and/or nonfiction.

In order to make the list, each book had to do as the title of the list suggests. They had to "change the world."

The books on this list didn't just bring on reforms and cause revolutions. They changed the way people thought about social issues and "current events."

They didn't just start wars, they also changed how those wars were fought.

Some of the books were written within the last century, but some of them were written hundreds of years ago.

Most of the books are still considered controversial and relevant today.

Here are 13 of the 15 books on the list, including the author's name, and year of publication. Two publication dates indicates a re-publication with updates or a date of translation into English. The other two books were so far out of print as to be unfindable.

These are in no particular order:

Uncle Tom's Cabin-- Harriet Beecher Stowe-- 1851-2
Interpretation of Dreams-- Sigmund Freud-- 1900
The Prince-- Niccolo Machievelli-- 1513
The Origin of Species-- Charles Darwin-- 1859
Common Sense-- Thomas Paine-- 1776
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783-- A.T. Mahan-- 1890
Mein Kampf-- Adolf Hitler-- 1927
Principia Volume 1: The Motion of Bodies-- Sir Isaac Newton-- 1686
Principia Volume 2: The System of the World-- Sir Isaac Newton-- 1686
Relativity: The Special and General Theory: A Clear Explanation That Anyone Can Understand-- Albert Einstein-- 1916 (1952)
An Essay On the Principles of Population-- Thomas Malthus-- 1798 (1830)
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy-- Karl Marx
Civil Disobedience-- Henry David Thoreau-- 1849 (1957)

I admit that not all of these books were easy to read. But they are all, without exception, thought provoking.

With Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe practically single-handedly swayed our nation's policy on slavery. She emotionally moved so many hearts and minds that we fought our bloodiest war with ourselves.

Some of the scientific books on this list are a little drier and more difficult to get through. Malthus' book on Principles of Population and Newton's Principia 1 & 2 were written by intellectuals for intellectuals with little or no regard for the general public.

Einstein on the other hand, made every effort to explain his theory in (mostly) plain English, just as the subtitle promises. Yes, that is really the title of his book. I didn't make that up.

Even Darwin's Origin of Species is surprisingly easy to read (as if he wanted people to 'get it'). As is Freud's book on Dreams.

The Influence of Sea Power took some time to get through. But I'm sure it would have been very interesting to a military strategist.

Each of the books by Thoreau, Paine and Marx are a must read for anyone who is interested in politics, economics and sociology. Whether or not you agree with the opinion of the authors, it will give you better perspective on how to be a good citizen. I firmly believe that part of the problem with our current political system is that too few people participate in the process.

And anyone who fancies themselves a leader of any kind (manager, politician, parent) should definitely read Machiavelli's The Prince. At times the theories may seem harsh, but you can tone it down as you see fit in our modern society. And as the oldest book on this list, it has clearly withstood the test of time.

The author that people are most surprised to see on my bookshelf is Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf was written mostly while Hitler was in prison (starting April 1st 1924).

He wrote his diatribe not as a manifesto to the masses of people, but more as a harsh reprimand to those in his own political party who he considered too weak to tow the party line. (I can imagine Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh writing a book with the same tone.)

The book is laced with a hodgepodge of propaganda that would make radicals on both the right and left of our current day political system blush for its boldness and light-hearted threats.

Strangely he writes about such noble topics as morality and educating children. To select a paragraph out of context, you may think that you are reading a quote from Jack Kennedy. But then when put back in context, the warped sense of purpose is clear to the objective reader with even a small amount of common sense. This is one of the things that really bothers me about the news coverage of today. It is filled with sound bites that can be made to fit anyones argument (pro or con) regardless of the whole truth.

At one point Hitler states, "The psyche of the great masses is not receptive to anything that is half-hearted and weak." This sounds eerily familiar to the 'squeaky wheel' bullying tactics of talk radio hosts and sharp tongued talking-heads on TV trying to pass themselves off as newscasters rather than shock jocks that are essentially political versions of Howard Stern.

It is interesting to read these books and find the parallels in today's modern world.

In the next post, I will share my own personal list of books that changed my world.

Turn off your TV. Pick up a good book. Feel free to read it outside now that the weather is getting nicer.

Peace and Love,
-------Nick


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Take a Hike...

I have been as patient as possible, waiting for the nice springtime weather so I can return to my hiking. But after seeing Avatar and watching the indigenous people of Pandora communing with nature, I have been more and more eager to get back out into the woods.

I have been working the leg, trying to strengthen and stretch, but it is still coming along slowly. Not quite 100%, yet.

"Why is the calf taking so long to heal?" you ask.

Let me give you an analogy: imagine that you get a paper cut on the pad of your thumb. The human body is VERY smart. It wants to heal itself! So that paper cut will heal fairly quickly.

But let's say that your paper cut is on the knuckle of your thumb. Of course, the body still wants to heal the paper cut, but because you use your thumb all day (bending and straightening it) you keep re-opening the wound, ruining all the healing work that your body is trying to do.

The paper cut will eventually go away but it will take much longer. It's the same with my calf.

To make this go away faster, I would have to stop walking. And since that's not going to happen, I have been doing what I can to help the process by keeping the muscles hydrated and pliable. And by strengthening all the surrounding muscles.

Also, my injury is in a spot that's hard for me to reach myself, but I do have tools that I use to help me stretch it out.

Last week we had a few beautiful days when I got to get out for some walking. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll take a test hike up Mt. Monadnock with a small backpack just to see how the leg handles.

Is anybody up for a little 3000 foot climb?

As I mentioned in the last post, I have a new plan for this summer.

As you know, my original plan was to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. But sadly due to my injury, I was forced into a section-hike.

Last summer I hiked most of CT and a good portion of MA, but then got sidetracked and I did a bunch of hikes that were not on the AT, but that allowed me to visit with friends in NH, NY and ME.

One of my biggest challenges in last summer's adventure (beside rehabbing the bum leg) was finding transportation to and from each section.

There were quite a few volunteers-- you know who you are, and I am grateful to each of you. Anyone who is curious can go back into the Blog Archives to read about many of them.

As I plot out my course for this summer I am realizing that many of the sections are fairly short (3-5 days). Also, they are not too far from home.

So... this is my Big Idea:

I am in search of anyone (individual or small group) who is interested in getting a taste of the great outdoors.

My plan is to head out for at least a few days each week. It could be a long weekend or it could be a whole week.

So if you have a particular hike that you would like to do (VT, NH, etc.) or if there is a specific time that you have free (vacation, long weekend, etc.) let me know and I will try to work around your request. My schedule is fairly flexible (with the exception of Mondays- when I teach my class at BU).

This will help solve the transportation dilemma. The drop off part of the hike is usually easy. It's the pick up that is a little more challenging.

Try explaining this to the pick up driver: "Look for the white (or blue) blaze on a rock, tree or telephone pole that sits back near a foot path, that may or may not be obvious, on a country road with no street signs. I'll be the homeless looking guy with the long hair and beard. I'll try to be there by noon (or whenever) but if I'm not there just wait for me. I'll be there soon."

But with this new plan we can leave one car at the beginning of the Trail and one at the end. No need to search (or wait).

Keep in mind that I won't necessarily be hiking the Trail contiguously so the location of your choice of hikes is not time sensitive.

You may also choose a level of difficulty. Some of the more challenging sections will include Springer Mountain in Maine as well as the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of NH.

But there are plenty of connecting trails that are fairly level if you want something a little easier.

If you would rather do a really flat, lowland Trail... you may have to wait until I backtrack down to PA (probably not this summer).

So... if you are interested in spending some time outdoors this summer, or if you know of anyone who has ever considered the possibility of an AT hike, and wants the opportunity to do a section or two to see if it feels right before taking on a thru-hike... you (they) are welcome to join me.

This month I will also be doing some day-hikes to fill in a few gaps that I missed in MA last summer. So if a day hike is all you are up to... call me soon.

If you are not interested in hiking at all, but are up for a drive, I am still looking for drop off and pick up rides on the weeks that I am hiking alone.

Peace and Love,
------Nick


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Avatar...

As a general rule, I am a big fan of going to the movies.

I really enjoy the whole experience. Watching the movie on the big screen, bucket of popcorn... the works.

Actually, I should say, "I used to enjoy it."

I stopped regularly going to the movies a couple years ago. Mostly because I can't bring myself to pay over $10 a ticket.

Really? $10, $11, $12... It seems as if the price just magically shot up like the price of gas. One day I'm paying $4 a ticket and six months later, it's ten bucks! Give me a break.

So lately I've been renting my movies. It's definitely not the same as watching on the big screen, but there are some benefits.

First: I am not at the mercy of the theater's schedule. I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want. And I can pause or rewind at will.

Second: I like to watch the "special features," the out takes, the behind the scenes interviews, the "making of..." and sometimes I even watch the deleted scenes and alternate endings.

Third: My local neighborhood video store is pretty good. They are very friendly and helpful. They provide a decent selection, get new releases right away and the price is right.

Plus they have 2 for 1 rentals on Mondays. And if you return a video the next day (instead of keeping it for the week) you get a dollar credit toward your next rental. Then on top of all that, if you rent (I think it's) five DVD's in a month, you get one free!

Should we calculate this? Let's say I rent my movies once a week on Monday (so I can get the second one free). Let's also say I watch one on Monday and the other one on Tuesday. As long as I return them by midnight on Tuesday I get my one dollar credit.

I have effectively brought the cost of my two movies down to $3.50. Times four weeks in a month equals $14 (for eight movies).

But let's also say that I rent one more movie during the course of that month. Now I qualify for a free bonus movie.

Since I will of course return my fifth movie the next day, that will add $3.50 to my $14 bringing my total to $17.50 for the month.

Recalculating... $17.50 divided by 10 DVD rentals equals $1.75 each. That's less than most cable bills to see movies that I choose-- not only the ones that the fancy cable channels want me to watch.

Did I mention that I can't bring myself to pay for cable TV either? It's just wrong! To pay for what we used to get for free... Now you can't even get the basic network channels without cable. Don't get me started.

So there you have it-- 10 DVD's complete with bonus features for $17.50 (if I opt to rent that many...) Or, go to the movie theater, pay $10 (or more) to get into a theater with broken seats, unfriendly ticket takers and sticky floors!

That doesn't include the popcorn combo for $9.50. Not to mention that soda is liquid poison (as is the fake butter flavoring that will likely kill cockroaches)!

No, I think I will watch the DVD's from home where I can eat something a little healthier. If I am in the mood for popcorn I'll just use my air popper, thank you.

Of course, if I want to see a movie on a big screen, I can just invite myself to visit with my friend (and computer guru) Steve.

He has a manly man's home theater with an actual screen that takes up a whole wall. I think if it was any larger he would need a permit from the town.

Anyway, I am sharing all of this background information to make a point.

I've been hearing all the hype about Avatar. Usually I don't pay much attention to hype-- but 9 Academy Award Nominations... that's significant. And James Cameron isn't just some hack, he's made some decent films.

And if the "buzz" was to be believed, this is not the kind of movie that you wait for to come out on DVD.

So when Steve and Annie invited me to see it with them, I decided it would be a fun night out-- even if the movie ended up being underwhelming.

I have never seen a movie in an IMAX theater before. So I went with high expectations.

Here is the short version of my review: "two thumbs up," "see it," four and a half out of five stars, and worth the price of admission.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, feel free to read on... no "spoiler alerts" here. I'll just be giving general info.

On the upside-- there is a little something for everyone. Action. Adventure. Love story. Heroes and villains.

I tend to like movies that twist and turn. Avatar had a few (although somewhat predictable) twists.

There was even a story with a plot.

James Cameron also got to showcase his new technology which made for a visually beautiful film, but I'm not sure what was really that "new" about it. It seemed like an upgraded CG or blue screen.

I will admit to being impressed by some of the creatures and plant life. It was definitely fun and creative.

Basically there were two downsides:

As I mentioned, there was a story with a plot. That's great, but it was a little too "cookie cutter" for me. It followed the typical "boy meets girl" scripts, which made it an acceptable "chick flick." But along the way, stuff gets blown up... so guys like it, too.

The problem is it was a little predictable. I think movie trailers should give you a taste of the movie. It should be the "sizzle." The movie itself should be the steak. But in this case the trailer pretty much spells it out for you.

Luckily, there is a visually stunning road to travel to distract the audience from the predictability.

The other downside was that I left the theater with a little bit of a headache.

Now I'm not sure if that was because I haven't been out to the movies in so long, that I'm not used to how loud it is...

Or, it could be because I saw it in 3-D! Again, I admit it was fun and interesting to have some of these creatures and other things coming toward me almost to the point of being able to reach out and touch them.

And I did get a kick out of seeing everyone wearing the funny red glasses.

Unfortunately, it took a little time to get used to the 3-D effect. And it also seemed like I was only able to focus on the main action.

I'm one of those people who likes to look at the edges of the scene, the background, the odd details. I'm the guy who notices that the actor has put his pen in one pocket but in the next scene retrieves it from a different (wrong) pocket. Or notices that the pen has mysteriously changed to a pencil, when the editor splices in cuts of the same scene possibly shot on a different day.

I'm not sure if I had a hard time with the details because everything moves so fast that I couldn't focus, or if it was purposely designed to pull the audience focus to what you are supposed to see.

Whatever the reason... I ended up with a headache.

I may have to go back and see it again, but not in 3-D. If I do, I'll give a full report.

Even with the predictability factor and my little headache at the end, I would still say that overall it was worth seeing.

And if you plan on seeing it, you definitely want to see it on a big screen. I'm not sure how this one will translate to DVD.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is the back story of the indigenous people of Pandora.

I wish they spent more time on how they relate to nature. Unfortunately the movie is so long already that they didn't have time for that. It was a missed opportunity to explain some of our own present day environmental issues.

Of course, that's what sequels are for!

Seeing the movie and it's "being one with nature" theme, made me realize that Spring is almost here.

That means it's time to start planning my upcoming hikes! I've been thinking about this a lot over the winter months and I have a new plan.

But that will have to wait until the next post!

Peace and Love,
-------Nick





Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enjoy Strawberry Moments...

Every day I try to live in the present moment.

This is sometimes a conflict for me because I also like to make the most of my time, so I have been known to multi-task. Often when I am eating at my local soup/salad/sandwich shop I use that time to catch up on my reading.

When I was doing a lot of theater I used to use my restaurant time to "people watch," observing all the characters and sometimes even taking notes. Well old habits die hard. Even though I mostly read while I am eating, I almost always carry a notebook with me to jot down any thoughts that I might want to remember.

These days most of those thoughts are business ideas or notes for my "things to do" list. But occasionally there are gems of moments that I just have to write down so I can use them in a story someday.

The other day I was at the sandwich joint and was distracted from my reading and eating by one of these gems. But before I share the restaurant experience with you, I want to explain what I mean by "Strawberry Moments."

There is an old Buddhist koan that goes something like this:

There was a Buddhist monk who one day found himself running from a hungry bear. The bear chased the monk to a cliff. There was nothing for him to do, if he did not desire to be food for the bear's hungry stomach, but jump. He did jump, and as he fell, he grabbed hold of a branch growing out of the cliff's side.

All of a sudden, he heard the roar of a famished lion, far below, waiting for the monk to tire, lose his grip and fall to its hungry jaws. As he hung there, hungry bear above, famished lion below, two gophers appeared and began gnawing at the stump to which he so desperately clung.

Then he noticed a clump of wild strawberries. He calmly reached out, picked the largest, reddest, ripest of the berries and put it in his mouth.

"How delicious!" he said.

The moral to the story: Life is a series of moments, either lived or lost. Since moments pass, as time... life passes us by, leaving some poor souls having never really lived, at all.

So now you understand what I mean by "strawberry moments." Sometimes it seems like things couldn't be worse. Life is doling out all the lemons you can handle. But suddenly from nowhere (if you manage to see it) there is a "strawberry moment" just waiting to be discovered.

Let's return now to the sandwich shop.

One day not long ago, I was sitting in the sandwich shop observing others as I ate and saw all the usual suspects: business men, blue collar workers, little old lady, etc., so I focused on my book.

Then a young mother came in with two little children (about 6 and 2). The six year old pretty much stayed with mom to order the food, but the two year old quickly lost interest and went off to explore. She was drawn like a magnet toward the little old lady. She played and sang at the lady's side.

The little old lady's face lit up with a smile brighter than any fireworks I have ever seen. Who knows the last time a smile like that spread across her lonely face?

Unfortunately, the young mother came and whisked the child away telling her not to bother the nice lady.

The little old lady was clearly disappointed but sat a little while longer, still smiling (though not nearly as brightly). She was likely lost in memories of her own children or grandchildren.

Eventually, reality set in and she got up and left. She did, however, sneak one last look at that little angel that lit up her day. She walked out the door smiling.

It was a privilege to witness that moment. I tell myself that I observe these "strawberry moments" for my writing purposes, or acting purposes, or to help me build characters in my "scribble writings." But to witness moments such as this one... is its own reward.

Truth be told, the moment I saw that smile morph the elderly woman's face into a whole new "awakened face" tears streamed from my eyes like someone turned on the water faucet. A little bit embarrassing in public, but I couldn't help myself. Luckily, I generally sit in a far corner and everyone else was so absorbed in their own little world that I don't think anyone noticed.

I live for moments like this. I wish I could be the cause of that type of reaction. Somehow the innocent can do it without thinking.

We often think that life is made up of the breaths we take. But really life is more about the moments that take our breath away.

Enjoy Strawberry Moments!
Peace and Love,
--------Nick

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Copernican Flip...

Shortly after my post on "The Meaning of Life...", I went to see some of my dancer friends perform in a concert that was based on the Walt Whitman poem, A child said, What is the grass?

Ironically this poem is about death...

To prepare for this show, the dancers went away together on a retreat weekend in western Massachusetts.

The bond that was woven on that weekend (working) retreat clearly carried over into their performance.

Small sections of dance were artfully stitched together to create one larger dance piece. The flow was seamless.

In most dance concerts, each dance has it's own music. You hear a song, watch the dance, the lights fade and you clap when it's over... Then repeat this process throughout the show.

But in this show, as in life... the transitions were almost too subtle to notice. Each of the smaller pieces of dance were connected by the natural flow of movement. Sometimes there is music, sometimes not. Music fades in and out. At one point a recording of Whitman's poem is heard and the dancers continue to move through it.

As a member of the audience, there were times when I really wanted to clap for the dancers to show my appreciation for their work. But the flow of movement didn't leave an obvious space for that.

Just as in real life we don't take the time to applaud each decision to transition our life down one path or another.

Of course there are a few obvious times in life that we try to celebrate or acknowledge those transitions, like a graduation or a wedding, for example.

Well one audience member did find such an opening to start a round of applause. If I had to guess, I would say it was the mother of a dancer who just exited the stage.

One mother's applause was contagious... eventually everyone else (unsure at first) did join in with their enthusiastic approval.

Leave it to a parent to go out of the way to help motivate their child. But that was the only spontaneous outburst. The audience became too caught up in the performance to be concerned with such trivial things as clapping... until the end.

And when the end came, there was plenty of appreciation! The performance was thought provoking and profound -- much like Whitman's poem.

If you have never read the poem, here it is:

-------------------

A child said What is the grass?
By Walt Whitman

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon
out of their mothers' laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it lead forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

--W.W.

------------------------------


One of the great things about Whitman is that, for the most part, he speaks his mind and states the obvious without being too flowery about it. Sort of a "manly man's poet."

On the other hand, he tends to write epic poems. Almost short stories, really. So you don't necessarily leave Whitman on the night stand. Although I suppose you could. He is thoughtful enough to break down his epic poems into parts for us.

'A child said What is the grass?' for example is part of a much larger piece of work. In his book Leaves of Grass, there is a poem called, 'Song of Myself.' This poem goes on for over 50 pages. Thankfully it is broken down into 52 sections. 'A child said...' is Part 6 of 'Song of Myself.'

Anyway I thought it was interesting that almost directly after my post about "The Meaning of Life...", that I was invited to re-explore Death.

Yes, I did say re-explore. In my many nature walks, wondering about the meaning of life, it is a natural progression to consider what happens "after life" as well as "before life."

Everyone has their own ideas about what happens when we die. If you haven't really ever thought about it, and are interested in doing a little research, a good place to start is by reading a book called "On Death and Dying" by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. This book is essentially about the 5 stages of grief. In short, it's about how the living cope with death, whether it's their own impending death or the death of a loved one.

Most of what we "know" about death is based on what we learn as a child in religion classes. Or it may be based on what our parents taught us as children to explain the loss of a grandparent or pet or someone else close to us.

And then we spend the bulk of our life finding ways to avoid thinking about our inevitable mortality. Intellectually we know that eventually we all die, but no one wants to face that fact. Some even fear it.

In my opinion, fearing death is like fearing the sunset. No need to fear... in a few short hours there will be another sunrise.

There are many analogies of life and death. Try this: At the end of the dance concert the lights go dark, the music stops, the theater is sent into pitch black with no sound. But suddenly there is thunderous applause and the lights come up on stage. Magically, the dancers are there to take a bow. Then the house lights come back on. There is a Q&A about the performance and then everyone is free to wander around to meet and congratulate the dancers on a job well done! There is even discussion about future performances... and then everyone goes back to their real lives as teachers, parents, students, etc.

Yes?

Essentially I am agreeing with Mr. Whitman when he says, "There is really no death, and if ever there was... it led forward life."

Almost all religions agree that there is some sort of "After Life." And to go along with that belief, they have given us a way to get there. The Soul.

We are told that when we die our soul goes toward the light to the Pearly Gates where we are met by St. Peter or a swath of virgins, or whoever... depending on your religion.

Whitman even takes into account those who are not religious and who think that when you die, you die... That's it. End of story. He says, "All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses. And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier."

In other words, from a purely scientific point of view, energy cannot be destroyed. If you paid attention in science class, you know this to be true.

So from this perspective, when we die, our body decomposes into the ground. But the energy or essence of our being, much like the leaves that fall from the trees, becomes fertilizer for the grass, flowers, etc.

We have all heard the expression, "pushing up daisies." And now that I am writing this and thinking about it... it gives new meaning to the title of Whitman's book, "Leaves of Grass."

Either way, soul or energy, it is the cycle of life. The essence of ourselves continues on.

Those of you who know me, know that I tend to look at things differently. And now I am going to ask you to look at this concept of death from a different perspective.

But in order to do that you will need to temporarily suspend your current beliefs. Keep in mind that this will be a temporary suspension and that you are free to go back to your own concept of death afterward. I promise I won't be offended! You may even find that my concept of death fits nicely into your current belief patterns.

Ready?

We have been taught that we are living this life... and then when we die, a part of us, our soul, continues on into the "after life."

But what if we make, what I like to call the "Copernican Flip"?

Remember Copernicus? He was ridiculed by the masses of people. Outcast by the Church for suggesting that the Earth rotates around the sun, when obviously the sun rotated around the Earth.

I mean come on, you can see the sun rise in the east, and move across the sky until it sets in the west! How could it not be true?

Of course now we know the truth, but old habits die hard. We still say, "The sun rises in the east" hundreds of years later.

Anyway, let's make the "Copernican Flip."

What if... instead of being a body that has a soul that breaks away to move into the "after life" -- we look at it the other way around.

What if we are a Soul that right now just happens to be in this flesh and bones body? I think that would make "death" a little easier to accept. Because from this perspective, death (as we know it) is not an Ultimate Death. It may be the end of my body... but it is not the end of me. The real me lives on.

We see this many different ways in nature: chicks break out from their egg shells, snakes shed their skin, caterpillars break out of their cocoons, etc.

Richard Bach said (and I am paraphrasing here because I couldn't find the exact quote) that death is just another transition, "a bit more radical that puberty."

There is another great quote attributed to Chuang Tzu: "I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"

And what happens to this Soul? This true us? Where does it go when we shed this temporary home (this body) that we inhabit?

Years ago, I used to work with a choreographer who had a small but beautiful garden. Occasionally I would help tend the garden, pulling weeds or trimming the edges. One day I was just finishing up, getting ready to leave when I saw her husband spraying out the large garbage cans.

I walked by just as he was pouring all the water out of the large can into the driveway.

We both stood there watching the water create a pattern as it flowed down the driveway making several twists and turns. Some water going off on different paths, some wide some narrow, until it came to the road. When the water reached the street, it banked to the left and again created multiple pathways until it disappeared out of sight.

I will never forget what he said.

"Isn't it funny how the water always seems to know where to go?"

That was it. Nothing else. At first I thought he was just being funny, but for days after that I realized how profound his question was.

Of course gravity pulls the water downward. But if it hits an obstacle with enough force it might go upward to get around it. And what of the breaking away and joining back together? The water travels many paths but eventually it always ends up where it belongs.

Let me try to be a little more clear about this. Maybe give you a better image of my theory.

Imagine the most beautiful waterfall you have ever seen.

For the purposes of this analogy let's imagine a large waterfall from a mountainside.



High up on the mountain top is an ice capped peak. Ice of course is just another form of water (H2O). The ice eventually melts, and little droplets of water drip down and join together forming a little stream.

Now imagine that more and more droplets join the stream until eventually they become a powerful river carving its way down the side of the mountain, flowing back and forth around all the little obstacles that it finds.

At some point the river reaches the edge of the mountain. When the river hits the cliff, it becomes a waterfall.

As the river bursts over the edge of the cliff, something very interesting happens. The water explodes into separate entities.

Maybe it becomes a big white frothy stream or a small clear stream of water. It might become small droplets again or maybe even a "spray" of water. And some of the water may even just trickle down the edge of the cliff, not jumping out with the reckless abandon of the other water.

No matter what form it takes, the water all still goes in the same direction. It "seems to know where to go."

Whether the water trickles down the side of the mountain, or jumps out a little only to hit rocks or plateaus and bounce again, or it makes a daring burst out away from the cliff-- all the water ends up in the same place.

It reunites with the river at the foot of the mountain, where it calmly continues to go where it's supposed to go.


At the risk of overstating the obvious, or babbling (water pun intended), I would like to explain the analogy a little more.

Earlier we talked about the Soul. Our essence or the true us. Let's say this is the water. Better yet, we should call it H2O because when our analogy begins it is ice.

So we apply a little heat and the ice becomes a trickle of water that eventually grows. And again for the sake of this analogy... let's say this trickle continues to grow for 9 months (give or take).

Then when it bursts out (often with a scream) it travels its own individual path (or life) until it reunites with the stream at the other end.

Still with me?

All of these individual lives are different. Some trickle down the mountainside taking their time, exploring every nook and cranny along the way. Some may take a more roundabout, troubled path, violently bouncing off the rocks and plateaus all the way down, until it reaches the stream.

Some may take that bold leap out away from the edge of the mountain, enjoying the free fall, possibly getting to the stream a little quicker.

And it is also possible that some of the "spray" may dissolve into the atmosphere before it has a chance travel with the rest of the water on the way to the stream below. But that's OK because we know that all that moisture builds up... and eventually it rains!

Don't worry, "the water always knows where to go."



On the way down, some drops may join other drops to make little "families" or "friends" and then break away to meet up with other drops along the way, until they eventually come to the end of their journey.

Also keep in mind that the way the water reunites with the stream below is as varied as the path it took to get there. Some crash hard, some trickle in...

But very soon after reuniting, you can't even tell which drops were which. They are all the same.

No. Not all the same, as in similar. I mean really all the same. They are one. Right? You can't distinguish individual drops or streams of water once it reunites. (Just as it couldn't be distinguished on the ice capped peak.)

Just one big water. The Ultimate Stream of Cosmic Consciousness (water pun intended again)!

video

So really, in the Big Picture, I am you. And you are me. We inter-are.

Somehow we forget that along the way. And that's too bad. Because it seems to me, that if we all knew this or realized it or even believed it to be true... the world would be a very different place.

You are welcome to adopt my theory if you want. And yes, it is just a theory. A theory that feels right for me (for now). I'm not stuck on it though. I'm open to other ideas or theories.

So if it doesn't work for you, you are now free to go back to your old thoughts on life and death. Or make up a theory of your own!

Nobody really KNOWS for sure, after all... until it is time to KNOW.

I will leave you with one last quote from Richard Bach that is appropriate to this discussion:

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
the Master calls...
a Butterfly."

Peace and Love,
--------Nick