Thursday, September 30, 2010


Is It Possible?

Note to all cashiers and clerks everywhere: If you can't help people and talk at the same time, SHUT UP and just do the thing you're being paid for. If your fingers and mouth can work simultaneously, cool, but I've seen many clerks whose fingers stop the second their mouths start. This is not about ruthless efficiency at all costs, or rushing through life. It's about attending to the flow of energy around you and encouraging it rather than getting in its way.

I think true multi-tasking, that is, literally doing two tasks that require attention, consciously and simultaneously, is probably impossible for vast majority of human beings. Sure, we can walk and talk at the same time but the walking is automatic and not really a "task".

I consider myself pretty good at what other people would call multi-tasking. But when I give the appearance of multi-tasking it's because I'm doing one of two things: either I am rapidly shifting my attention back and forth between two tasks during the spaces in each task when my attention isn't needed there; or I am giving my full attention to only one of the tasks, because the other one is so automatic that I don't have to give it very much attention, like walking.

When I was a cashier, most of the tasks involved I had totally mastered, so my mind was free to chat a bit while I was doing it. I could also start one task chain and whenever there was a pause where I had to wait for something out of my control, I could start another. For instance, I'd put some smoothie ingredients into a blender and start it mixing, then I'd turn to the counter to ring someone up, I'd tell them their total and if they started to fumble around for change I'd quickly reach back and turn off the blender. If they fumbled further, I'd grab a glass and get it ready to pour that smoothie into. I'd take the payment, make change, pour the smoothie, put it on the counter, ring up the next customer, call out the person's name who ordered the smoothie and wipe the counter while that person was getting their money out. And so on, all through my shift. And if I was on top of everything, I could have some conversations with the staff and/or the customers while I was at it. But...if the tasks required my full attention, the first thing to go was the chatting, because chatting didn't help any of the tasks get done, and because I wasn't being paid to chat.

I once worked at cafeteria type vegetarian restaurant a few blocks from the World Trade Center in Manhattan. We'd do literally a couple of hundred lunches a day. I was in charge of ringing people up but I also had to keep all the drinks in a big iced display case thing stocked up and ready to go. The place was a madhouse at lunch. If a person even hesitated with their money, I had to remember their total and immediately ring up the next person and keep track of who paid what and who got what change. And this was doing all the math in my head as I went. If the second person also hesitated, sometimes my boss would start ringing up the third person back. It sounds crazy but we were all very good at it. And, I might suddenly get a tap on the shoulder and have to deliver a lunch on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center, while my boss took over the register. That would mean a dash out the door and through the crazy lunch hour pedestrian traffic into a quiet elevator for a relatively fast ascent, finding the office, delivering the lunch as courteously as possible, collecting the cash, another quiet elevator ride, and then another crazy dash through traffic right back to the front lines, ringing people up like crazy again! Needless to say, I did not do much chatting on this job! Most of my "chats" with the customers or the rest of the staff took the form of knowing glances and quick looks or smiles, at least until the lunch rush was over.

I haven't done that kind of work for years but just yesterday morning and afternoon, I was keeping an eye on a video transfer I was working on, burning and assembling CD's ( which included assembling the paper case inserts while the CD's were burning, and thinking ahead to which album I'd be burning next and getting things ready for that ), getting boxes and envelopes addressed and ready for mailing, as well as checking email and facebook. I did this because several of the tasks and mini-tasks did not require a lot of attention, and because whenever there was a space in one task chain that required any waiting, I immediately did something to move another task chain a bit further forward. To do this requires a certain amount of mental flexibility and processing speed. If you have it, you have it. If you don't, I suggest finding a job where it's not necessary.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Versus Positions...

A friend posted a link to a blog post on Facebook today talking about how Ping, the new social networking venture from Apple and iTunes, favors big label artists and won't let the little guys post things.

( Here's a link to that post:

This is a slightly edited version of the comment I posted about this on Facebook:

My feeling is that we are all of us independent contractors in this world, regardless of whether we are currently "employed" in a "job" or not. We have to pick and choose the extent to which we will "play" in any given game, or use any given tool available. I think the wholesale 100% acceptance or rejection of anything out there is risky. For instance, I like my Mac and I like the fact that iTunes will help me sell my music ( you can also get it all free on my site: ), I don't however, plan to join "Ping" which doesn't currently look useful to me, given my mission in life. I think having all of my involvements on "dimmer switches" rather than "on/off switches" is the best way to go, even though it requires more ongoing thinking and awareness. Extreme positions, in fact positions of any kind (as opposed to opinions which are works in progress and open to adjustment), are nearly always a liability. So if you're a person who thinks all things Apple are golden, or a person who thinks all things Apple are rotten, I'd advise you to soften your position and start developing an informed and evolving opinion.

This got me thinking about opinions versus positions in general. If you know me, you know that I'm a big fan of Werner Heisenberg, who said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "What you see is not Nature, but Nature exposed to your line of questioning." He is also famous for his "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle". I have a song more or less inspired by this idea called "You Are Wrong". ( If you're interested here's a link to a page with the lyrics and where the song will automatically start playing: ) So I start from the idea that whatever I think about anything is wrong. That is, not THE TRUTH. I am by nature flawed, biased, inaccurate, and always a part of the very thing I am observing. Error seems to me to be built into being human. Still, I haven't abandoned all attempts at coming up with some clue about what's going on in the world around me. I just try to stay open, flexible and ready to change my mind. Here's a verse from a recent song of mine:

I do believe in Truth
But not like in my youth
Now~It's more like a ghost than a grail
I know I'll never catch it
But I don't really mind
I just like to stay on its trail...

(From "Shut Up For A While" GB©2010)

I'd rather have opinions than positions. A "Position" is a military term which involves "holding" and "defending". It is useful at times, on a battlefield, to think in terms of positions, but generally, this is better in the short term than the long. Only rarely in life, does not budging an inch come in handy. Hitler had a "position" that a German soldier never takes a backwards step which was fine until he took on the Russians, where a tactical retreat would have been by far the wiser thing to do.

The people around me who take positions seem to be the most unhappy and defensive. I think this is because they identify so much with their position that giving it up is tantamount to committing suicide. If they are anti-Obama, it doesn't matter what he does, they will start from the position that he is wrong and then build their case backwards from there. And it's the same if they are anti-Palin or whoever. The position is the main thing. To me, since life is a constantly changing, never-the-same, ongoing flow of events, any position is a liability. Sooner or later, Life will rip your position to shreds. An opinion is different. Where positions are defended, opinions are expressed. Where positions are immobile, opinions are open to change. I may hold an opinion unchanged for a long time, but if it's really an opinion and not a rigid position, I will have checked to see if it still feels right to me and chances are, I will have tweaked it a bit too.

This is reflected in T'ai-Chi as well, both martially and health-wise. I am of the opinion that the best way to be, characteristically, is what I call "Neutral". In the Russian martial art, Systema, they call it "Normal". In this view, being always "yang" or "rigid" is not good. Neither is being always "yin" or "limp". T'ai-Chi is, after all, build on the principle of balance and change, and on the idea that yin and yang are inseparable. We can try to force them apart, but it's always to our detriment. This is why I don't like or train in tournament style Pushing Hands, where you are penalized for moving your feet. People who do this style will tend to adopt strategies which will help them win this game, but are not necessarily good for health, balance or everyday life. Staking out a position and being unmovable is, to me, next to useless in life. If I can keep the other guy form that would be more useful! In a fight or daily life, being able to move is a key to survival and successful adaptation to change. In the style of T'ai-Chi that I do, we try to maintain as much "Neutrality" as possible. We know we have to commit ourselves in life, it's impossible not to, but when we do, or immediately after we do, we try to return as much as possible to our "Neutral", ready state. Sensei David Harris, one of the most amazing martial arts I've ever seen, summed it up best when he said, "A man with a plan is a man on his can."!

I know it's a cliche, but notice trees in the wind. Every part of the tree, from the tiniest leaf to the base of the trunk, gives and moves in its own way. Only when the wind is truly overpowering does the tree go down. Most of the time, a graceful combination of yielding and grounding, keeps the tree alive. And beautiful too. Trees are my "gurus" of Neutral!

Over time, I've let go of all kinds of "positions" in life and replaced them with "opinions". I find I'm more flexible, my balance is better, I'm happier, kinder, more empathetic and better able to defend myself should the need arise. Defending a position all the time is tiring! Maintaining Neutral is much less so. I'm human, of course, and I uncover positions in myself all the time. When I do though, I see if I can let them go and have an opinion instead. I know it's not THE TRUTH, but at least I'm on its trail...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

These Are A Few....

...Of My Favorite Spams

I get much less spam than I used to and almost all of it gets caught in my "Spam Filter", thanks to the good folks at Yahoo! But still, some does arrive everyday. I always wonder, who the Hell buys this stuff? Someone must be buying it or they wouldn't keep sending it. I actually don't mind spam. I find it entertaining, actually. Here is a list of my favorite spam subject lines, spam content, and spammer names. All are exactly as I received them. Enjoy!

Best Subject Lines:

Open it or get constipation

Wake up! You're dying!

I like you swore eternal love, and left, as can that be?

Cheap Boner Pills

Become a Teacher~It's easy!

Become a Psychologist~It's easy!

What if you yxu try eating vegatables instead of fast food? Taking pills is easier!

gene_burnett, discount time begins readers fruit involves Princess mountainous

m long be kept alive, I

Mr. gene_burnett, here's 70% Sale Invitation. definite Nancy

Customer gene_burnett, this is a sale reminder. University freshman bracketed is Prussian

Welcome gene_burnett, super prices await you. sacred the and Under to

Gene, You Have Been Selected to Receive Working Mother

La, murmuring at the same time vague words of cajolery. Then as the cat remained motion

Hello, gene_burnett! Check our crazy discounts. dog had Barry in leaves

Your huge machine will drive her nuts

Dear gene_burnett, take part in our sale. Prescott atoll eulogy

For gene_burnett. Sale prices today-80%. clergy is ball communities were

"your wife photos"

Lonely? We have an App for that

Halo gene_burnett, 70% Sale tonight. Door in Greek place

Hey gene_burnett, 80% Sale. Subsequent Poland

And finally, this one. Hmmmm...could this be spam?


Best Contents:

Confess! You are broil about your organ size!

Hi-do you remember how we made love in your car? Mmm like it was perfect-the stars, moon, sky-and the lights of the city, here in Russia that does not happen again, I want you to come if you do not mind, write me?

When you are aged and never give up, it gives your he confidence, at any chance. at any place.

Best Spammer Names

Mr. Savadogo Mahama

Mountfort Dymphna

Jervey Deculus

Dr. FUNG Victor Kwok King

Alhaji Saeed Zongo

Goodfriend Vrooman

Deatly Dipaolo

Tester Gosewisch

Viruettta Vansickle

Beuttel Knop

Monday, September 13, 2010

Letting Go...

The Ultimate Teacher

Here is a link to a great article in The New Yorker about death and dying and how people and the medical system handle it. It's a very long article but well, well worth your time, in my opinion.

To me, Death is the ultimate teacher but I think a lot of people avoid even thinking about it. I also think a lot of people are not really living the life they would like to live
. I'm not talking about people whose life circumstances prevent them from enjoying of "the good life". I'm talking about people who for one reason or another, in whatever circumstances they find themselves are not moving towards the life that would make them feel most alive, or even more alive. When Death rears its head, if you are not living that life, you will likely panic, grasp for straws, and suffer much more than is necessary because you still hope to live that life someday. I've made many sacrifices and taken many hits and losses in order to live closer to that life myself and I find I'm much more clear-headed about death, and less attached to life than when I was not living that life. I've been focusing on quality versus quantity of life since I can remember. This hospice movement makes total sense to me. The whole practice of T'ai-Chi for me has been one of "investing in loss" and practicing letting go of whatever it is possible to let go of. And for me at least there's nothing like unfulfilled longing to make me cling to life. And clinging to life really gets in the way of living and of making the kind of decisions that may need to be made should a terminal illness arise. And of course, the attitude of our medical system doesn't help much. It sounds, from this article at least, that the tide might be turning a bit.

I remember reading about a how a man in Connecticut pulled out a butcher knife and went crazy slashing people. Literally every single person in the cafe where this happened completely panicked and there was a stampede for the door. I thought this over and thought, you know, I've lived what I consider a good life, I've done on some level at least, everything I ever dreamed of doing, I feel pretty complete in general about my life and sure, I'd like to continue, but I'm also happy with what I've done and I don't think I'm as afraid of dying as these people seemed to be. I was living in Seattle at the time and I was teaching a very early morning T'ai-Chi class downtown at a Retirement Center. Before class, I always stopped at this one Starbuck's which was right next to place I taught. Just a couple of weeks after reading about the above mentioned incident, I was having a cup of coffee when I noticed this really angry looking homeless guy sitting by the window across the room from me. He was muttering to himself in a way that was not just nutty, it had a really dangerous edge to it. He was wearing layered baggy clothes that could easily be concealing a weapon. I found myself thinking that if he pulled something, I would scoop up the chair I was sitting in and get between him and the cashier where the only phone in the room was. (This was before ubiquitous cell phones...) I figured that even though he was big and crazy-angry, I could hold him off long enough for someone to call 9-11. It turned out not to be necessary. He calmed down and soon left, but I could feel a connection between the kind of life I was living and my willingness to die if necessary to keep more people from being harmed.

I don't mean to be facile about this. I don't know how I'd face anything until I actually do, but I feel that looking at my own death and moving consistently in the direction of a more alive life, has left me more ready for "the end" than if I had not.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Migraine Headaches

And Good Posture...

Those of us who get migraine headaches have what we call "triggers". That is, things that trigger the headache response. Everyone I talk to has different ones. Chocolate, bright light, certain types of movies, flickering lights, dehydration, overeating, under-eating, all kinds of things. My triggers have to do with my neck.

My migraines are somewhat atypical in that I don't get one sided face pain, and only a little little nausea or light sensitivity. I do get a small visual disturbance, like a curved drop of water on a camera lens, about the size of a grain of rice. It's always on the right of my visual field. It appears and then it starts getting b
igger. ( I immediately take 3 aspirin asap when this visual thing starts happening, which really helps, and the sooner I take them the better. )

Soon the disturbance grows until it fills my visual field with flashing lights, gradually heading towards the outer right of my visual field where it then disappears. I can see right through these's sort of like the effect you get if you blink over and over really fast.

A few minutes after the disturbance disappears I start to get a wicked neck headache and my eye sockets get pretty tender. As I said, I'm lucky in that I don't get more than just a bit nauseas, I just get a little light sensitive ( which I am anyway ), and I don't get the one sided face pain. I also don't have to check out for a few hours, I can function right through them. Within several hours the worst of it is gone, thought my eye sockets remain a bit tender for a day or two.

Every single one I've had is very, very similar to the above description. I began to notice that certain activities involving holding my neck in certain ways would bring them on. I even found a place on my neck that I could press and initiate one. I tested it twice and never did it again!

So...I started working with special attention to lifting my chest and back, and bringing my chin down and head back a little. Really just standard good upper body posture. I also generally avoid locking my knees, always trying to maintain at least a little springy bend in them. Not locking the knees when standing goes a long way towards strengthening the legs. If you look around at other people as well as yourself, you will see that most people lock their knees when standing. I also work at maintaining what I call a "leveling" pelvis and an "uprighting" spine.

I use the "-ing" ending here because some people think the pelvis should be level all the time and the spine upright all the time. I find this makes for a very held, artificial, rigid body that is the opposite of what I want. So I allow for the necessary distortions of perfect pelvic and spinal alignment that moving demands, but within these movements and whenever I stop moving, I want my pelvis to be seeking a level position (as opposed to holding a level position ) and the same with the spine. So I say "leveling" and "uprighting" rather than "level" and "upright".

In general, I work to maintain a loose, neutral, ready state in of mind and body. I want to be feel that my basic skeletal alignment is good, my muscles soft and relaxed, my joints slightly open and suspended, and my breathing comfortable and free.

With the strong springy leg thing going, the leveling pelvis, the uprighting spine, and uprighting head, things have improved quite a bit. Once I discovered taking aspirin immediately that helped too. I also don't identify myself as a "migraine sufferer" and I don't let whatever pain I'm in stop me from living my life. I just do what I'd normally do, with the pain in the background instead of as my main focus. Most people who know me don't even know that I get these headaches.

I used to get a few a month! I was always about to get one, having one, or getting over one, and they took days to dissipate. Now, I get them about once a year and the only time I get them is after riding in a car, particularly if the road is winding. I don't get one every time I'm in a car, but almost every time I get one it's within minutes after getting out of a car. Luckily this is something I really don't do that much. Plane travel used to really kill my neck. Once at my destination, I'd be useless for about 24 hours. But I haven't been in a plane since 1999 and it would be fine with me if I never did for the rest of my life! Sometimes I'll just get a mild version of the headache without the visual disturbance. but again it's almost always connected to neck or eye strain. In general, since working on these posture points, when I do get one, the pain has lessened and goes away faster. I also think that my focus in recent years on drinking plenty of water has helped too, but I have less clear evidence that this is the case.

I know everyone's headaches are different, but good posture couldn't possibly hurt anyone. I strongly recommend Yoga, especially slow careful posture oriented Yoga, and/or T'ai-Chi to build strong postural habits. If you suffer from migraines, attention to your posture might very well help with your symptoms. And whether or not it does help, you have my sympathies.

Hay Fever!

Pollen Is Not The Enemy

Where I live, in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, it seems like something's always blooming and pollenating. It's particularly "bad" in Springtime. I put "bad" in quotes because, after all, the plants are just having sex, not trying to mess up my head. Although I've been allergic to cats since I can remember, I never had or noticed that I had what's called "Hay Fever" until I moved here, What's been becoming clear to me over time is that I'm allergic to small particles of almost any kind: cats, dogs, dust, mold, smoke, pollen, whatever. My cat allergy is the most extreme. If I'm in a house with cats for very long, breathing becomes pretty difficult. I get very wheezy. Generally, my symptoms are less so around other particles but still no fun.

Over the years I've tried many remedies, the most effective being over the counter anti-histamines, especially Claritin, which makes me less sleepy than the others. I've also gotten relief from Chinese herbs, in particular a formula called "Jade Screen & Xanthium Formula" from a company called "Golden Flower Chinese Herbs". I get these through an acupuncturist and I'm not sure if they're available any other way. What I've found is that the Chinese herbs would gently tap my symptoms down to tolerable levels, while the Claritin would pretty much knock them out of the picture. My usual plan going into "The Season" would be to take the herbs regularly and rely on Claritin if my symptoms were particularly bad or I had to sing or teach or do something incompatible with having a constantly running nose. This worked pretty well, but in the back of my mind, something just didn't feel right. I don't like taking medications in general and taking them to fight something that's not even a real "enemy" didn't sit well with me.

This season, for some reason, I tried something new and it's really working well. Basically, I don't take anything. (If my symptoms are really bad and I have to work, or if I have to be around cats for an extended period, I'll take the Claritin. But that's only been a few times this whole year.) I just got fed up with taking medication for this. Pollen and pet dander is not the enemy. My body is mistaking it for something threatening, but it's not. Dust, mold, and smoke (mostly forest fire smoke around here) are not good for me, but my body is still way over-reacting. I decided to let my body figure this out on its own, instead of arming to fight a battle it shouldn't be fighting in the first place.

My attitude has been alternating gently between two views, two different approaches.

The first one is more masculine or "Yang" and I call it the "F**K YOU ALLERGIES!" approach. When this one feels right, I take the attitude that I'm not going to whine about the pollen and identify with my "sensitivity". I steadily, with minimal force, power through the symptoms by ignoring them. I just go right ahead with whatever I'm doing with no shrinking or pulling back of my intent or energy. I extend through whatever is in my way, as a warrior would extend through fatigue on a battlefield. I use much less force, of course, and the stakes are much lower, but the attitude is similar. I have even imagined a self-help empowerment guru who's message is essentially:

"Stop whining, start living and start saying, F**K YOU! to allergies! Don't take the drugs because they are a crutch which only makes you weaker....Buck up, shut up, and put up with your symptoms and get on with your life. Pollen is just flower sperm. It's not the enemy, you are...If you're feeling sick and tired of drifting towards this morass of pathetic "allergic" people who do nothing but complain about what victims they are...If you're sick of that crap and you've got some strength, some balls, some ovaries left in you...If you're sick of sneezing and coughing and watery eyes and all that..join me now and say F**K YOU! to allergies! Power through it! The best anti-histamine ever invented is adrenaline!"

Now admittedly, this approach is pretty harsh sometimes. When it doesn't feel right, I switch to my other approach, which is more Yin and based on surrender. In fact I call it the "Surrender Dorothy" approach, after the wicked witch's skywriting in "The Wizard Of Oz". When this attitude feels right, I take the approach that since pollen is not really the enemy, I should relax and let it in. I imagine myself as being almost transparent to it. I welcome the pollen in and let it go through me. I imagined another self-help guru who's message is essentially:

"You're going to die anyway...Life is largely out of your control...Better to accept our fate and roll with it than to waste energy fighting it...Just be whatever you are and do the best you can...Let go of your shame...We all have weaknesses and things we can't say "No" to...Some people are just better at hiding them...Don't wrestle with your demons or your allergies...Accept them and they will become less powerful...Your demons, like your allergies, thrive on fighting...Let them in and they relax and lose their power...Don't fight the pollen, that's the mistake, you're fighting too hard....Don't take drugs that just help you fight harder...Relax...Taking drugs is like giving an army more weapons to fight a war that you don't want to fight, against an enemy that isn't an enemy and that you shouldn't be fighting in the first place...Let the pollen in. Pollen isn't the problem, you are."

When one of these approaches isn't feeling right, I just switch to the other. This method evolved over time as I kept listening to what felt most deeply right, experimenting and noticing the results. And the results have been amazing. What happens most of the time is that the symptoms will start to appear, like my throat will get itchy and tight, or my eyes will start to sting, or my nose will start to stuff up, and instead of taking some medication or other like I'd usually do, I do nothing but adopt one of the above attitudes and just keep going on with my life. Usually what happens is that within 20 minutes the symptoms disappear or are much less noticeable. I think my body is finding its own balance instead of being thrown off by the medications every time I start to feel symptoms.

This has been, I am told, a particularly bad pollen and particulate year. It's been relatively dry and we've had some fires in the area. I honestly don't know if the above approach would work for anyone else but me. I practice T'ai-Chi regularly, drink plenty of water, do my best to get enough sleep, and I avoid caffeine and things that sap my energy. But I offer it as an example, at least in my life, of how "The Unforced Life" can unfold.