What I’ve Been Reading: The Man on the Mountaintop

The Man on the Mountaintop is an audible original adaptation of a trilogy written by Susan Trott and performed by a host of narrators including Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones. The full cast performance makes this story/parable/tale of enlightenment quite engaging and sweet. It’s a comfortable reprieve from the past few books of harder, more abrasive types of self help.

The story is about an holy man who goes by “Old Man Joe.” Surprisingly, he indeed does live on the top of a mountain in a little hermitage, along with seasonal live-in monks. During the warmer months, people from all over the world come and hike the long path up the mountain and to the hermitage to meet the holy man and gain wisdom from him. The book goes through several pilgrims’ perspectives of meeting the holy man, before launching into a more cohesive story about the holy man’s personal journey to find a replacement for when he dies.

There are a few times where my own philosophies disagree with the wisdom that the holy man doles out, but overall, there’s a peace to this story that gives the reader (or listener) something to strive towards.

 

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Forgetfulness and Forgiveness

I’ve written before about how I am a numbers and metrics person.  I like data, spreadsheets, charts, but mostly, I like what these things represent to me. Progress. I you can measure it, you can improve it, and I’m all about self-improvement. I love tracking things. I track my calorie intake and burn (MyFitnessPal), I track my weight and fat percentage (Renpho), and I track my meditation length and frequency (Insight Timer).

It’s with this last one that I hit a snag. Because I committed myself to a 30-day meditation challenge, I really got into the groove of meditating for 15 minutes every morning – or at least every weekday morning. On the weekends, I typically mix things up and meditate in the afternoon when, during this time of year, there’s a chance I can go outside and enjoy nature while getting down with mindful self.

Things were going great. Every day I had timed and logged my meditation. I felt a small bit of elation every time I earned another little milestone star on the Insight timer app. 10 days consecutive, 20 days consecutive, 50 days total logged, and so on and so forth.

Last Sunday, just a few days before the 30-day mark hit, I woke up with a start. I had forgotten to meditate the day before. My 40+day streak of meditating had come to an end. I began feeling the rising disappointment that I had failed. That next star, that next milestone was grabbed from my grasp and put further down the road.

Balls.

Beans, My meditation companion most mornings.

But before flying off the handle and getting angry with myself, I stopped. This is what this challenge, or meditation in general is all about. It’s not just something I do to tick off a to do item on a task list. I don’t meditate to win or beat the numbers. I meditate to digest, to grow, to stop and allow myself to enjoy the present. I meditate to suck every last morsel of joy out of the marrow of life and let it nourish me and fill me with contentment and well-being.

I forgave myself the small slight and moved on.

 

 

My Meditation Setup

When meditating, it is important to be comfortable. Being present in your body goes from being pleasant and relaxing to near torturous when your focus centers on the sensation of your spine being compressed or the ache you feel in your joints.

When I first started meditating, I would sit on my basement floor, crossed-legged, with my butt directly on the floor – which happens to be thin carpet with little padding over concrete. This was fine for shorter 5 minute meditation, but when I began challenging myself to do at least 15 minutes, something had to change. My spine ached with the stress and pressure and I found myself focusing on that pain and discomfort.

Many people use a zabuton and zafu, a round pillow and a pad, to meditate. It gives your body a bit of padding and allows you to better relax and settle into a solid meditative position. You sit on the round pillow, with your legs crossed, but somewhat dangling loose in front of you. This takes loads of stress off your spine.

Believing that you don’t have to spend money to seek wellness, I improvised. I took a plushy blanket and folded it into a nice rectangle to give it a bit more thickness. And then I took a throw pillow that, while cute (It has a corgi face on it, of course), didn’t really do anything else for me – until now.

My typical setup

This set up has greatly increased my comfort and helps me focus on more pleasant or neutral sensations while meditating.

Which brings me do another point. If at anytime while you’re meditating and you feel stressed or tense in any part of your body and simple releasing doesn’t seem to help, take a breath or two to stretch. I find that rolling my neck or shoulders help release tension that sometimes builds up over a longer session.

Find your mind wandering to things beyond the here and now? Wiggle your toes a bit, and focus your thought on them. It’s a great little trick for bringing you back and breaking a rumination cycle.

A little bit of movement as needed is okay. What’s the point of meditating if it causes you suffering?

What set up do you use when you’re meditating?

Lake Russell Lady Slipper Trail (ish) Hike

Lake Russell Recreational Area in Mt. Airy, Georgia is a hidden gem, especially in the off season. The trails are quiet and isolated. And even during the months when the park is fully open, the beach area and campgrounds might be crowded, but the trails typically remain little traveled.

One of our favorite trails is the Lake Loop that, you guessed it, circles around the lake. This past weekend, however, we went on one of the other trails – the Lady Slipper Trail.

The Lady Slipper Trail starts off with a steady uphill climb for about a mile. Once you hit the top of the ridge, you merge into an old forest road. The official trail turns left, heading northeast. Greg and I eyed each other, and turned right, heading down the road going southwest into an area of the park we haven’t explored. We did about 3/4 of a mile, reaching the end of the road and going a bit further (a smaller trail continued beyond the end of the road) along the ridge through a pine forest. We would have kept going deeper into the woods, except we came across a hunter and didn’t want to disturb him or his dogs. So, we turned around and headed back.

Wanting to at least go for 5 miles, we hiked beyond where the trail enters the road and continued northeast and veered off onto the Lady Slipper Trail once more, where it departs the road and heads down a hillside. Instead of doing the loop though, we went for distance and then turned around to head back to where we parked.

On our way back, we actually met up with the hunter that we saw at a distance in the woods and exchanged apologies and pleasantries. He had two small hunting dogs with him that were adorable and friendly. Scotch and Beans behaved themselves and everyone had a good sniff. We also met a couple groups of mountain bikers on the return journey – making this the busiest we have ever seen this trail before.

The Lady Slipper Trail is a multipurpose trail. You can hike, bike, or horseback ride on it, so I’m really surprised we haven’t seen a lot more folks on it before.

The day was beautiful and the dogs enjoyed getting to stretch their stubby little legs. It’s been great getting out and hiking more again. I can feel my heart recovering from my last mystery illness flair up, and with each hike, I can feel my body getting stronger and more resilient. Being outside again makes my soul happy.

I am grateful for the abundant outdoor beauty that exists so close to where I live.

What I’ve Been Reading: Verbal Judo

Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by George Thompson, PhD is the next growth book I read this year. It’s a bit more of a “classic” self-improvement book, seeing how it first published back in 1993. Thompson himself, passed away in 2011, leaving behind a verbal judo legacy. This newest audio edition is narrated by Keith Szarabajka (Donatello the Prophet to you Supernatural fans).

Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion by George J Thompson, PhD

Thompson lead quite a full life, or multiple lives, if you want to think of it that way. He was a professor, a cop, and then a professional speaker/consultant. He’s got the experience and know-how to back up what he says, and he doesn’t let you forget about it.

Ego aside, this book can teach valuable lessons on how to persuade and discuss difficult situations. It shows you how to both listen and speak more effectively and explains the real value of empathy. Thompson also gives a good thorough list of dos and don’ts when it comes to classic argument, so that you can communicate successfully.

Though heavily geared towards law-enforcement type situations, the general argument presented in this book is compelling and useful to the everyday. It definitely made me rethink my approach to communication in different situations.

70 in February

February is typically the coldest month we suffer here in North Georgia. It’s when we have the best chance of our yearly snowfall, and it’s when we have the biggest heating bills.

The polar vortex thing that was happening touched us only a little bit. While certain places up north were experiencing wind chills of -60, we were balmy down here in the teens and 20s.

But that took a dramatic turn this past weekend and even through today. It’s been an early spring, with temperatures in the mid-60s and even hitting the 70s yesterday.

Holy crap, it’s been amazing.

And it is most definitely fleeting.

And so while it’s decently warm and sunny (for the most part), I’ve been enjoying the time outside as much as possible. We went for a hike on Saturday (write-up to come), and on both Saturday and Sunday, I did my meditation outside. Yesterday, we even had the windows open at work, letting the fresh air and warmth in the building.

My meditation set-up on my porch

And though by next week, the temperatures will return to a more frigid normal,  and I will remember this refreshing sneak peak of spring, and know that warmer days are on the horizon.

I am grateful for these glorious 70 degree days in February.