Still? Still. Still?

Let’s talk about the word “still”. Five letters assembled together into a single syllable word that has a few different uses, a few different meanings, both good and not so good. Still.

An Effort to Evolve

Still; a bad thing. It takes motion and activity to accomplish things, from getting out of bed in the morning, to acquiring knowledge, to running a marathon. Being still, when we should be moving, then, is a bad thing. We cannot accomplish goals, learn, grow, be healthy, prosper, if we are still. Stillness suggests inaction, or, perhaps, complacency. Sure, we may move, physically, during the course of our day, but are we in motion towards anything greater than we currently are? That is the question. We were meant to learn, grow, achieve, by design, to which stillness is the enemy.

We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve
We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve

Further, we were designed, by nature, to move, physically. We are hunters, we are gatherers, by nature, our bodies, our minds and our souls require frequent, vigorous physical activity to thrive, to survive. Consider, then, stillness, the killer. Stillness robs us of our youth and our quality of life.

We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.
We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.

Are you still? Are you too still?

How do we know how to move, what direction to go, what to seek, to chase, to learn, to achieve?

Through stillness!

Still; a good thing. To connect to ourselves, in order to, perhaps, decide what it is we are meant to do, or be, or accomplish, we must be still, in body and in mind. This, though, for only a portion of our day. To learn to sit and quiet ourselves so that only our breath and the immediate moment surround us. In quieting and clearing our mind, in connecting our body and mind to our soul through breath and presence, we become aware of the current moment, the present, and we are more clear on who we are and in our purpose. There are many ways to practice stillness; meditation, peaceful, solitary activities such as walking or hiking, yoga, cycling, running or paddling. We simply need time set aside to allow the mind to quiet and the constant noise of our thoughts to cease. We need time to be present and focus only on our breath as it comes and goes, daily. In this stillness we have the opportunity to become ourselves, to connect our spirit to our being, and to be present.

Is your mind cluttered?
Is your mind cluttered?
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.

How do we accomplish our goals, our purpose, or even just stillness?

Still; a good thing. Still is also a word used to imply consistency. Much of what we wish to do with our lives, in this world, relies on consistency, constancy, and perseverance. Whether achieving and maintaining our health, our fitness, a skill, some knowledge, or the ability to sit in stillness and connect to our breath, it all will require practice, consistent, regular practice. Still. A lifetime, sometimes.

Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills
Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills

Are you still? Are you still? Are you still?

Vessel

ves·sel
/ˈvesəl/

Noun
1. A hollow container, especially one used to hold liquid, such as a bowl or cask.
2. A ship or large boat.

We are very much like a vessel. At birth, we know nothing but how to breathe, and even that we sometimes have to be “encouraged” to do with a little tap on the back by the doctor, in the first moments of life. From that point on, for the rest of our lives, we are filled up with things. We learn to cry for food, for items and actions necessary for our comfort. Eventually, we are filled with knowledge necessary to speak, then read and write and perform arithmetic. This process continues until we become adults. Some of us learn just what we need to know to hold a job, others of us seek new knowledge as a lifelong pursuit. Always, we are available to be filled with new knowledge and information, like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. We begin as a hollow container, we become filled throughout life.

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Much of what we hold, as vessels, are beliefs, opinions and information. Some of these are destined to change as we learn more or obtain new, more relevant information. Like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask, we can pour out what we no longer consider useful and be filled with knowledge or information that we prefer or can benefit better from. The beauty and utility of vessels are they are reusable many times over, they can always be filled with what we want to enjoy at each moment in time. Consider the coffee carafe, we fill it with fresh, hot coffee and fill our cup, and can even offer some to our guests. When the coffee in the carafe becomes too cold to enjoy, we can pour it out and refill the vessel. We are really no different.

Ideally, at some point in our lives, in our careers or as parents, or perhaps as volunteers, we can share some of the knowledge and information we have with others. We can share, we can teach or mentor. It is a fact that the best way to truly learn a topic or skill is to teach it to someone else. Like a vessel, a pitcher or vase, a glass or cask, we can pour out some of our contents for others.

Consider, now, the other use of the word “vessel”; a large ship or boat. This, too, is a container that is used to hold things. The area in which things are stored is, actually, called the “hold”. Of course a ship can hold far more than a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. And with a ship, it also moves forward, often great distances, bringing its contents to many others. A ship’s contents benefit many people far and wide. If we are all like vessels, which type of vessel would you rather be? One that holds a small amount of knowledge or information and makes it available to a few intimates? Or a great, large ship, moving about the world bringing large amounts of good things to many, many people? I think I’d like to be more like the second type of vessel.

We are limitless, as humans, in our ability to hold knowledge and information. I can remember lyrics to almost any song I enjoyed at any time during my life. It is amazing. I am always impressed by the amount of knowledge sports fans can recall about their teams and even individual players, including statistics and very specific dates. Incredible. And yet, if you ask me anything about math or science classes I took in high school or college, or to cite tax regulations, I would be of no use. Yet, I know people who can do these things. When we are passionate about something, when we believe in something very strongly, we are like the largest vessel on the ocean in our ability to share our gifts.

In our effort to evolve, I think it is important to consider what we know, and more importantly, what we need to know. Whether we are trying to become healthier, or develop better relationships with people in our lives, have a successful intimate relationship, dissolve self-imposed limitations, take on new challenges, overcome fear, or overcome victimization, there is knowledge and information we need to obtain. There may also be some deep-seated beliefs we need to “pour out” and “refresh” in order to evolve, make progress and achieve our desired results.

Over the past few years, I feel as though I have dumped out most of the contents of my vessel and have refilled it, now, with that which has carried me through many personal trials and eventual triumphs. I am hoping to be able to share some of my experiences, knowledge and resources with other people who may find them useful, informative or beneficial. Whether I am a pitcher or an ocean going vessel, I have plenty that I’d like to offer to as many people as possible. And in this manner, I will continue to learn and grow, to fill my own vessel, the contents of which I can continue to share. As you evolve and change and grow, as you follow your own personal path to fulfillment, I encourage you to share what you learn along the way. Don’t be afraid to pour out what you know and believe, for the benefit of others, or to refill yourself with more useful knowledge and information. You are the vessel and you get to choose your own contents. There is no shortage, you have no limits, and no one can take that from you!

Sponge Worthy

I am a sponge. I thirst for knowledge. I thirst for information. At no point in my life will I assume that what I know is adequate. Knowledge evolves on a moment-by-moment basis. We are inches away from discoveries that will alter the world, that will alter our lives. I don’t know what these discoveries are, but as a species, we evolve constantly. As a member of this species, I think it is my responsibility to continue to soak up knowledge, to evolve.

There was a famous episode of Seinfeld where there was a shortage of contraceptive sponges on the market. In fact, they were off the market for many years, but, thankfully, have returned. In this famous episode, Elaine had to decide which men in her life, at the time, were “sponge worthy”. As a human sponge, soaking up knowledge, I have to decide what is sponge worthy because it is not possible to acquire all knowledge. I’ll admit, I am a little ambitious in my endeavors outside of work. There is just so much to learn, to know, to do, to experience, I am having sort of a hard time prioritizing them all. All of these things I want to learn, know, do and experience require soaking up some knowledge, some information. And so, I have about two hundred unread books on my Kindle on various topics of vital importance and I want to read them all NOW!

I have much that I consider “sponge worthy”. There is a lot out there that I consider unworthy. Like the food I put into my body, cleansers and products I use in my home, I am equally discerning about the information I’ll fuel my mind with, knowing that I cannot possibly soak it all up and wring out what I don’t find useful. When it comes to information, and information overload, all I can recommend is to know, and trust your source. I can’t tolerate quotes that begin with “they said …”. I don’t know who “they” are; I can’t even begin to discern their expertise, their trustworthiness as informants. I don’t know how “they” arrived at their conclusion. Who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? Please don’t thrust a newspaper at me as “proof” against a belief of mine, and by all means, don’t read the newspaper article out loud to me. I will go ballistic! You’ll give me no choice but to ask how they arrived at their conclusion, who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? One liner references to a study administered on a topic will never convince me of anything. Four or five books by respected authors citing relevant sources may. I’ll soak it all up and decide what to wring out. You can imagine how I must fare in front of the evening news on television! Let’s just say I don’t go there.

As a member of this quickly evolving world, again, I think it is vital that we soak up the information we consider sponge worthy. If not for the sake of knowledge and personal evolution, then for the sake of those around us, our friends, family and loved ones. We are never too old to learn, to make changes, to evolve. At what point in life does knowledge become irrelevant? The last split second before death. Up until that point, it still applies. I can hear an audible click, like a phone being hung up, so often, during conversations with people of all ages, but mostly my age, or older. I can almost see a little display on their forehead that says, “You have been muted for the comfort of the occupant”. They may as well clasp their hands over their ears and scream, “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” We have all become so closed-minded; we are unwilling to soak up any information that requires some application of thought. I am a Republican. Click. I voted for Obama. Click. I believe in abortion. Click. I support the second amendment. Click. Processed food is bad for you. Click. Our minds are not like a soda can, capable of holding only twelve ounces. Once filled, no more knowledge will fit. Really? Never can anyone, ever, say, “I know everything I need to know.” “No more knowledge necessary here, thank you.” Knowledge isn’t like Girl Scout cookies! You can’t turn it away because you don’t want any! We never reach an age where a new way to do something isn’t going to be beneficial. “I’ve made it this far on what I know”. Just making it just isn’t making it.

Admittedly, I can’t be swayed by a brief blurb on network television or in a newspaper, I believe with all my heart that we need to know both sides of every story, of every argument, before we can wring out the sponge. I studied crime and politics in college. Two separate fields of study, not one, though you have to wonder sometimes. In both these fields of study, it was impressed upon me to know all of the arguments, all of the supporting philosophies. I studied a lot of criminal and civil law, and I needed to be able to argue either side of the case. It is ingrained in me to learn and to know both sides of any argument, anything less than that is being uninformed, or worse yet, ill-informed. On a daily basis, with the barrage of popular media and it’s sensationalized delivery, where the reporters sound exactly like the guy advertising this weekend’s monster truck pull, it is nearly impossible to get both sides of any story. For this reason, if not for the assumed, panicked expression and monster truck announcer’s tone of voice, I don’t participate in popular news media. I am old enough to remember when a counter view was allowed to be expressed on television after the news or other similar programming. That’s when popular media was popular with me. That’s the last time the media was unbiased. Once the opportunity for a counter view was removed, popular media news became nothing more than propaganda. I’ll soak up current events in a number of places, contemplate both sides of the argument, and usually arrive at a pretty moderate conclusion. All by myself. Shut up monster truck announcer news guy, you have been muted for the comfort of the occupant. I’m going somewhere quiet, with my Kindle. You are so not sponge worthy.

I’m an Evolutionist

Healthy Living

Are you an “evolutionist”? I am. In many respects. Do you think Steve Jobs was ever satisfied with what he produced? Do you think the engineers at Boeing ever stop designing airplanes that will be safer? Do you think a heart surgeon performing open-heart surgery ever says “this is how I learned to do this in medical school twenty years ago, I’m sure it’s good enough”? I certainly hope not! And yet what those people do, what those companies produce are always being improved on. Their knowledge, technologies, their processes, all evolve. An iPhone from the fist release is nothing compared to what is available today. What was the best thing in the market one, five, ten, fifty years ago is inferior in nearly every respect today.

Continued professional education is required for many fields because of ever changing information and developments. Information and knowledge evolve, as a result, professions evolve. How we treat people in the medical field has evolved tremendously over the years. What used to be the best available, has improved tremendously as our knowledge has evolved. There is always room for improvement. This is true for every industry, every field of study, every field of science.

This applies to what we know about nutrition and exercise, about lifestyle and our environment. Advances in knowledge are made daily that can enhance our health, our productivity, our longevity and our quality of life. Don’t settle for what worked ten years ago. It may have been the best we knew then, but what we’ve learned has evolved. In speaking with people about my philosophies surrounding diet, exercise and the use of organic and natural products in my environment, I am often met with resistance because this is all based on information that has been recently gathered and is still being analyzed and developed. Again, what had evolved ten years ago in nutrition we have found to be not very good at all, and actually, quite harmful. This field of study has evolved tremendously over time. One hundred years ago, people, for the most part, ate what they grew. There was very little use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. During the past century, we have taken our knowledge and developed a vast array of chemical compounds that kill pests that plague our food supply and that will allow us to produce large quantities of food in non-native areas across, non-native climates and for unnatural growing seasons. What we are learning now is that those chemical compounds are actually altering our hormonal balance. We have, in striving to produce larger quantities of high quality food, poisoned ourselves. What evolved in chemical enhancement of our food supply has evolved into chemically poisoning our food supply.

My mom was a registered nurse and studied for her vocation in the 1940’s. She firmly believes that exercising “overuses” our joints and causes damage. Her arthritic knees provide tangible proof, in her eyes. My mom never exercised regularly, in my eyes. She walked while working, and occasionally she walked for “fitness”. On rare occasions she would submit to a fad exercise program for about a week. This being the “exercise” that destroyed her joints. She could be right, but I am putting my stock in the vast amount of contemporary information that supports building strength and flexibility by routine, vigorous activity, building core strength and weight bearing exercises. At the age of 49, my knees are perfectly pain free and strong. I am a marathon runner, a field of exercise plagued with knee injuries, and I say “injuries”. Marathon runners don’t have bad knees because they are marathon runners, they frequently have injured knees because they have trained inappropriately or because they have over trained, done more than their bodies were prepared for. Any form of exercise will be prone to injury if done improperly or in excess of what the body is ready to handle. Every joint needs to be protected by a network of strong muscles and connective tissue around it. Failing to appropriately build and train those supporting muscles will make you more prone to joint pain and injury. This based on the evolution of study in the sports medicine field.

Just think of what all has developed since the 1940’s, in all fields of study, in all fields of science. We’ve put a man on the moon since then. I’m pretty sure what we’ve learned about nutrition and exercise has improved, and what was believed to be the best information then is no longer very relevant, now.

In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, it became very popular to package simple to prepare mixes for cakes, main courses and side dishes. Think Rice a Roni, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Betty Crocker’s vast array of products, Hamburger Helper. This practice has continued and now we can buy just about anything powdered, frozen, boxed, or canned. It’s a heat and eat world. And all of this has altered our food supply, how we prepare and ingest food, and even the family dynamic of mealtime. We have evolved into families that no longer visit in the kitchen while whole foods are turned into a delicious and nutritious meal. We have evolved into families who eat on demand, often solitarily, or “together” in front of television. This all thanks to the science and developments of their time, improving on what was the best science, technology and information available. In my opinion, these ready-to-heat-and-eat foods, now, are irrelevant. Our knowledge has evolved. The additives and preservatives and processes required to make something that will move from market to TV tray with minimal effort on the consumer’s part doesn’t just remove the effort from preparing food, but also the nutritional value of the food, the knowledge of the content of the food from the consumer, and the social family aspect in preparing and eating a meal from raw ingredients. You are eating food that is more chemical than food, and more processed than many complex machines we produce. It is depriving you of your health, and is impacting your quality of life. This all is based on what we have learned more recently, on recent evolution in studies of health, disease and nutrition. In food, and in many things, our knowledge has evolved and we’ve found that simpler is better. Simple, wholesome food with simple, wholesome ingredients provide better nutrition. Our bodies will never evolve to be able to know exactly how to metabolize or understand, all the pre-packaged, chemically enhanced, genetically modified, over-processed non-foods on the market shelves.

This simplicity also translates to other areas, other products, that we use a great deal of and, as a result, can actually be quite harmful to our health, to our hormonal and metabolic balance. Hormonal and metabolic balance is responsible for how fat we become and for how diseased we become. There is a whole field of science and research in this area that isn’t really making the over-sensationalized, contrived, mainstream, media news. Our knowledge has evolved, but we just don’t know it yet because the message hasn’t arrived in the popular media.

Household cleansers are one of the biggest offenders. At this moment, my mom is spraying, indoors and out, every window in the house with a commonly produced commercial window cleaner, now chemically reformulated to not cause streaks. I just pleaded with her to allow me to use vinegar on the windows in my office and my bedroom, even if it provides a less than streak free result. Reluctantly, she agreed, giving me that wide-eyed look that translates into “my daughter is some kind of hippy freak.” Because this chemical window cleaning cocktail is available on every market shelf means it must be the smartest, mostly highly evolved thing available. Yet, after a recent hospitalization for a chronic and life threatening anemic condition, she asked her doctor if the condition was genetic. The doctor replied, no, it is most likely environmental, the result of exposure to properties in the environment that caused her body to no longer produce enough red blood cells. Like maybe decades of overuse of a common chemical window cleaning cocktail? Just a thought. She uses this stuff everywhere, all the time. She sprays it on every surface food comes in contact with, the countertops, the stovetop, the vinyl tablecloth. It is used so often it never gets put away. At any time of the day or night, I guarantee you will find the window cleaner and a wad of saturated paper towels on the counter.

I just cooked my lunch, a nice yummy burrito. I walked down to the garage where I keep my old-fashioned iron skillet, toted it upstairs and placed in on the stove next to my mom’s non-stick pan. I could feel the questioning look from across the kitchen. I just really, really don’t want to use anything chemically coated to apply heat to my food. Is that unreasonable? The fact that you are hard pressed to find any other kind of cookware on the shelves at Target doesn’t make it safe to use. My mom’s response to my action was to tell me I should read Nora Ephron’s essay about her love and affection for non-stick cookware. I love Nora Ephron. I will miss Nora Ephron. She was a delightfully gifted and talented writer. To be kind of a bitch, but hopefully to kind of make my point, I couldn’t help but ask my mom how Nora Ephron died, tragically, at such a young age, way before her time. Ah. Cancer. Right. No proof that it was her affinity to non-stick cookware. No proof that it wasn’t. Recent information, our evolution in knowledge, seems to indicate that non-stick coatings may be linked to cancer. The advice the popular media is willing to share is that non-stick cookware should no longer be used if the coating is scratched in any way. Um, I’ll stick with my cast iron skillet over non-stick cookware, no pun intended.

I guess my point, here, is, that as we evolve in our knowledge, advance in the many fields of study and science, as information is gathered and analyzed, we should consider that knowledge that evolved a year, five years, ten years, fifty years ago, may not be reliable, or safe, anymore. And even if our knowledge and studies and science move us in a direction that seems to be the opposite from the technological advances of yore, it is based on the best information we have, on where we have evolved. For the sake of health, of longevity and of quality of life, I am always going to seek out, discern and apply the most recent information to my lifestyle. I am, after all, an evolutionist.