Did you ever read something that felt so right it stopped you in your tracks? Then you scrambled to save it, jotted down the author or the title, or copied the link, or copied the entire piece to a word document you would not lose it?
I did all those things when I read it a few months ago while at work. The company I work for (Liberty Mutual Insurance) has an internal website that employees can use to create online communities. I was viewing an online community called Mindfulness@Liberty, when I came across a post, on a website called mrsmindfulness.com. It was posted by Mellie. You can check it out at the end of my post, where I put the link.
The post asks (and answers) 3 questions:
What stops people from living a life that’s true to them?
What are values and why are they so important?
How to discover your core values in six simple steps?
It also presents a short piece by Joseph Campbell, which I love, entitled Follow Your Bliss.
“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one that you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” –Joseph Campbell
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start purging my stuff, you know, simplifying and down-sizing. It’s what us baby boomers are doing now. Most of us just have too much stuff. But I did not start purging random stuff like books or clothes; I started to purge my musical equipment.
You see, I used to play in a band, actually a few bands. All cover bands. Boy was it fun, nothing like it actually. I started my first band at the tender age of 13, with my best friend Jim, who is still my best friend by the way. We used to rehearse in the basement of the Lady of the Lake church and my dad swore he could hear us 1/4 mile away at King’s Corner to our continued delight. I played in college and then again when my kids were young and finally quit the last band about 2 years ago; an acoustic ensemble I did with my daughter and occasionally another musician or two. We did not need a lot of equipment for this last band, however, I kept much of the gear I used in a few previous bands.
Amps and guitars, like mixing boards and microphones are not like old exercise equipment or lawn furniture. Musical equipment is special, even when its old, at least to me it is. That’s because it’s used for music-making, and music-making is a pretty special something, no matter the venue, the kind of music, the age of the performers or the number of audience members.
So, I sold the items above in the last couple weeks. The sub-woofers and power-amp were used to power the kick drum and bass guitar, to add that thump in the chest when we played R&B songs like Mustang Sally or dance songs like Love Shack. The mixing board was used to run the vocal mikes for multi-part harmonies and all the instruments. I sold other stuff too, PA speakers and stands, a Marshall guitar amp and another power-amp. I gave away speaker cables and guitar cords.
As I parted ways with this wonderful stuff and helped load it into the cars of random strangers and one non-so-random but cool high-school friend named Rich, who is still in the music business, I grew melancholy. Not sad but very much aware of the poignancy of the exchange: the high hopes and excitement of the buyers countered by my own sentimental thoughts, of how the years have come and gone like the gigs and songs of my youth.
I still have a few guitars left as well as a microphone or two but I won’t be parting with them anytime soon. I am thinking (and hoping) there may be a few more gigs to play and songs left to sing, before this guitarist sings the blues for the last time.
This week, I attended my first volunteer session at the Center for Mindfulness (CFM) lab at UMass Medical school in Shrewsbury. The CFM offers training programs for mindfulness-based practices and conducts research on the affects of mindfulness.
I attended a 5-day mindfulness tools training program about 18 months ago in January, 2016, where I was introduced to the center. Since then, I have occasionally attended free guided meditation sessions offered to course graduates and the local community.
The center offers several training courses like the Mindful Eating course above which helps attendees use mindful practices to change unhealthy relationships with food. Another course that many people have taken is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Research – One day a few months ago, I was looking at the CFM website to see what was new and noticed that the research team was accepting volunteers to work in the research lab as technicians. I immediately applied, had an interview and was accepted.
I learned that the research lab is currently exploring the effectiveness of real-time neurofeedback for augmenting mindfulness-based stress reduction training. Basically students in the MBSR course above are given the opportunity to participate in the research study that monitors the affect of meditation on the brain in real-time.
My role as an EEG technician volunteer is to attach and detach electrodes to the head cap shown below and support the scientist leading the research session by updating an online tool with data obtained during the session. The photo below shows the head cap on a research participant from the CFM website.
One more thing, the Center for Mindfulness also has a research study that is exploring how to use mindfulness for smoking cessation. So if you are a smoker or know someone who is, you might want to check them out at the link below.
Today, May 7, 2017 I rode my bike on the Nashua River rail trail, from Ayer, MA to Pepperell, MA, a distance of 8 miles. During this ride, which took 1 hr. 33 minutes in total, to ride to my destination and return, I tried to remain mindful of the experience. Here are some thoughts as I reflect on my ride, about 2 hours later.
Colors. The photo above captures many of the colors I saw today. On the left you can see the brown leaves on the ground, which darken as they are in the shade. The tree trunks are very dark brown, almost black. The grass along the trail is not yet green, but the leaves on the trees and the vegetation have many shades of green, especially the pine or spruce trees that are scattered around the trail.
The photo below captures the brilliant green of the water grasses. Riding along this water, I skidded to a halt. I backed up and took this photo. The green against the darkness of the water pulled me in. The dark green pine trees in the background help to make the bright green grass in the foreground leap out of the photo, the same way this scene lept out of the landscape as I was driving by. The green of the grass almost made my eyes hurt. The sun had come out at this point and I moved quickly to capture the sun on the grass so I could capture it in a photo.
I love to look to the side when I am riding my bike, altering my perspective. The trees rush past, but only the trees in the foreground. The trees in the background pass by more slowly. I was in the moment when I was looking to my sides as I was riding today. I was aware of what I was doing and I was aware of how the landscape was moving past me. I looked on both sides, deliberately. I peered into the wooded areas, looking for anything out of the ordinary, an animal, an unusual shaped rock or bush, anything. I did not see any animals but I did see a few trails, perhaps trails used by wildlife.
When I was taking the photo above of the bright green grasses in the water, something splashed in the water right in front of me. A frog or a fish I suspect. It reminded me of the wonderful and various life forms in and around of us on the trail. I took the following photo on the trail as a sort of teaching moment, a bold reminder that we are in a special place. We need to be sensitive to our surroundings.
Temperature. I was chilly when I started about 2pm. It was 66 degrees under mostly cloudy skies. I had a thin long-sleeve jersey over a t-shirt. Not enough. I almost turned around, but decided that I would eventually warm up, which I did. The chill I felt for the first 2 miles definitely distracted me from being mindful about the entire experience of riding. Even so, I was very aware of my discomfort. So I learned this about myself. If I am physically uncomfortable, a mindful practice may be elusive for me. I will have to try harder in those situations.
Wind. The wind today was a constant companion. I felt its strength on the ride to my destination. It was behind me the entire way. I pedaled almost continually, the entire 8-mile distance, coasting only a handful of times. My body felt strong, however looking back, the strength I felt in my body had clearly been augmented by the tail wind that was helping me along. I discovered this fact on the way back, because on the way back I was headed into the wind. And it slowed me down…considerably. In fact, what took me 42 minutes with the wind at my back, took me 55 minutes to return headed into the wind. I also noticed the gears I used were different. On the way to Pepperell, I was in the 8th gear (harder), most of the way. On the way back to Ayer, I was often in the 3rd, or 4th gear (easier) and did not get higher than 5.
Historical Perspective. The Nashua River rail trail follows the former railroad route that ran from Worcester, MA to Portland, ME. I know this because there are many granite markers along the route, preserved by the trail committee. Below are photos of the same marker from different views. At this particular spot, Portland is 118 miles away to the north, while Worcester is only 29 miles away to the south. I have heard that conductors would use these markets to gauge the distance during their ride.
Water. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of water along the Nashua River rail trail. Here are a few photos of the water views from the trail.
In the photo above, I am heading south on the return to the trail head in Ayer, MA. This is a great stretch because the trail bisects this body of water. A few moments after I took this photo, while riding again, the water became visible on my left. This is a favorite place for walkers and cyclists to stop and rest and perhaps catch a glimpse of a bird, or duck or the splash of a fish. It is interesting to me how water seems to attracts both wildlife and people, drawing us all in. I took this photo because of the juxtaposition of the straight, horizontal line of the fence, with the vertical line of the trees, highlighted by the water in the background. I also liked how the fence on both sides of the trail seemed to vanish in the distance as they appeared to move close to each other.
In the photo above, you can see a beaver home in the middle of the pond, which is common site in New England. I was drawn to this view because of the ripples on the water, making the pond come alive with movement. The sun glinting off the water also caught my attention as I was riding. I only noticed this because I was deliberately looking to the side as I was riding today. This helped me to be mindful as I practiced being a careful observer.
At the end of my ride, I checked the app on my phone, which you can see in the image on the left. It shows that I traveled almost 16 miles in 1 hour 33 minutes.
It was a fun ride. When I finished, my body felt good. I felt both physically tired and emotionally exhilarated. My senses felt ‘full’ from the experience. I had seen, heard, felt and smelled many different things during the 93 minute ride.
I drove home with a smile on my face, my tired body sitting heavily in the driver’s seat, with my bike standing upright and swaying gently behind me in the rack on the bed of my truck.