August 10th

How much time do you have left to live?

Approximately until the end of this breath.

Don’t worry if you missed it.

You have another chance at life.

How much time do you have left to live?

Approximately until the end of this breath.

Maybe it slipped away again.

Don’t give up.

How much time do we have left to live?

Approximately until the end of our breath.

How many opportunities do we get at it?

About 12,000-15,000 a day.

Most of us only take them when our inner state is perfectly aligned with our circumstances

Like a broken clock occasionally synchronized with the rest of the worlds time

12,000-15,00

How many times will you live today?

 

July 17th

Don’t become too happy 

Don’t forget what’s wrong in your life

That familiar bittersweet taste of self proclaimed problems

The in-house draught

If you keep drinking it, you’ll keep making it, and we can ride this train of thought to it’s final destination

This sweet nectar needs to be stirred consistently

Keep your palette clear of other flavors so your tastebuds can remain sensitized to it

Don’t go getting off the train to breathe in the warm air of summers flowers 

Or opening the windows at night to let the cool breeze in

If you must take a break from stirring, make it quick

If you must sit and rest and feel in to the reality of your life,

To connect with your body, your mind, your soul, and the world of possibilities around you

Take the minimum amount of acceptable time and take five minutes less than that,

Ensure you don’t disrupt this delicate and traditional process, lest you forget what you were put on this Earth to do

July 8th

This ego takes up precious space

It fills up the room of my life with useless furniture

Blocking the view from my windows, covering the floor with old clothes

It uses a single trick with astonishing reproducibility,

A conviction of urgency and significance.

Cycling through all of the possible reasons to keep propping things up against the walls, 

Refabricating them endlessly and counting on me to overlook the repetitiveness and fragility of its justifications

It will do anything it can to keep me in this trance,

Because it knows that the moment I come to my senses, it won’t have a place to live.

May 10th

If your mind was like the Earth,

The ground would the Base, 

The vast spacious awareness able to house all experiences,

Without preference, spanning in all directions and supported by a hard and impenetrable core. 

 

If your mind was like the Earth,

The flora and landscapes would be the components of your unique personality,

Rooted terrains that have established themselves and stood the test of time, 

That differ from one world to another, and help direct the way that energy flows.

 

If your mind was like the Earth, 

The clouds would be your pre-thoughts,

A field of potentiality storing latent energy, both to occlude the incoming sun and to bring down rain, snow, and lighting, when the conditions present themselves.

 

If your mind was like the Earth,

The sun would be the Truth,

The immutable field of power cradling and nourishing the growth of your inner being,

Without which the Base would be barren,

A light which is only covered superficially and temporarily by the clouds.

Transmuting Worry into Gratitude

Maja Kuzmanovic

Photo credit: Maja Kuzmanovic

Take a moment to think about the state of the world that worries you the most. Whether it’s the circumstance that worries you the most often, or the one that worries you to the largest degree, reflect on how often you find yourself in that state of worry and how much this state affects the rest of your life.

There’s a way to, at least partially, transmute this worrying into gratitude by using its own power against it.

The type of worrying I’m discussing always refers to something that hasn’t happened yet. And as long as that fact (it’s absence) remains true, there is the potential to transmute that feeling of worry into gratitude.

In other words, by worrying about a possible state of the world, part of our mind has to be acknowledging that the world as it is right now doesn’t include the thing we’re worried about. It seems that we rarely notice this repository of relief within the state of worry, possibly because it’s drowned out by the worrying itself.

If we go back to reflecting on the things that we were most worried about above, is it possible to feel grateful for the fact that our worry hasn’t come true yet?

Is it possible to acknowledge that, to the extent that we’re anxious about an upcoming event, we can also feel relieved and happy about the fact that we’re living in this world as opposed to the one we’re worried about?

Ideally, it could affect our state of mind to the same extent as the worrying does, but along the dimensions of gratitude and relief.

 

FIFA’s Tie Breaker Mechanic Further Punishes Teams Based on Race

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For Senegal, their hopes of making it through the World Cup ended Thursday in a rare and questionable fashion.

Senegal and Japan ended up tied in a series of categories, and for the first time in the history of the World Cup the result came down to FIFA’s “Fair Play Conduct Points”, which accounted for yellow card fouls given by referees during the group stage games.

The top two teams from each group advance to the group of 16, and Senegal represented the last African nation still in the tournament.The final standings for Group H:

1. Colombia (2-0-1, 6 points)
2. Japan (1-1-1, 4 points), (-4 “fair play points” for 4 yellow cards.)
3. Senegal (1-1-1, 4 points), (-6 “fair play points” for 6 yellow cards.)

After having the same number of points (4), goal differential (0), goals scored (4), and head to head results, the difference between Senegal and Japan’s World Cup journey was decided based on the difference of 2 yellow cards.However, this begs the question of how fair it really is to decide a tie breaker based on cards given and FIFA’s “Fair Play Conduct Points”.

Specifically, there is good reason to believe that individual Senegalese players are significantly more likely to receive carded fouls compared to their Japanese counterparts because of differences in how players of different races are refereed.

There is plenty of scientific data on the prevalence of racial discrimination in sports. Maybe most relevant here is the 2013 report entitled “A Statistical Study of Racism in English Football”.

Researchers at the University of Manchester analyzed player data collected from two hundred and ninety players and seventeen teams to determine the number of fouls, yellow cards, and red cards given to players of different ethnicities both by English and non-English referees. The study was conducted in the English Premier League from 2011-2012.

According to the results, Black players have a significantly higher chance to receive red and yellow cards:”One unit increase in the number of cards awarded by an English referee as a percentage of total cards awarded increases the oddsof being a Black player by 4.416 with a 95 % confidence interval of (1.547, 16.040); one unit increase in the number of cards awarded by a non-English referee as a percentage of total cards awarded increases the odds of being a Black player by 5.083 with a 95 % confidence interval of (0.863, 30.674).

The writers acknowledge that this result is significant, however they also say that there could be deeper factors than racial discrimination influencing the results of the data.

What if the differences in cards account for differences in aggressiveness or style of play between different groups?

It turns out that this hypothesis has also been well researched:

In 2013, a substantial research study found that non-White players in the EPL were 15% more likely to receive a booking than a White player, after controlling for player, team, referee and match characteristics.

They analyzed over one million in-match events, and “perhaps most importantly found that between White and non-White players, aggressiveness and style of play was not found to be statistically different”.

This is a multi-layered issue, from the implementation of rules, to the representation of populations, to the underlying assumptions and narratives that permeate the culture of football.

The forms of discrimination from the referees is consistent with the types of representation seen at the management level; only two Black individuals occupy management spots across all of the ninety two teams in the Football League (Cashmore and Cleland 2011).

It doesn’t end here. A study entitled “Racism in Soccer?” found evidence that suggested Black individuals were thought to be more aggressive and associated more with threats compared to White counterparts.

One explanation of this was down to the fact that Black individuals were often viewed as more athletic and thus perceived to be more aggressive.

Look no further for evidence of the underlying culture around these issues than Sunday before Senegal and Japan drew 2-2 to get them into this situation.

Japan’s coach Akira Nishino said that “[Against Senegal] rather than physicality, we have to use our brain to come up with some tactics and strategies”, reasserting this common narrative among commentators, pundits, and now coaches.

Admittedly, there shouldn’t need to be such special and rare circumstances before we can have a meaningful discussion of the role of racial discrimination in football.Even disregarding the new tie breaker rules, receiving cards poses a significant disadvantage to players and teams. The idea that these decisions is partly influenced by a player’s race is unacceptable.

By having the rules dictate that certain tiebreakers will be decided by “Fair Play Conduct Rules”, FIFA has built these dynamics into the structure of the tournament, increasing the weight of their significance and allowing for the types of situations we’re seeing now.

It could very well be that this tie breaking mechanism, ironically called “fair play”, allowed a deeply unfair system to make the difference between elimination and continuation for Senegal and the continent of Africa at large.

The Great Equilibrium

The sun shines through the clouds over the Arctic Ocean Aug. 17, 2009.

Nothing inspires me to connect deeply with what’s going on around me, to appreciate it, to pay attention to it, to be at peace with it, quite like the realization that my life is happening right now and that it won’t last forever. It’s strange that this ever needs to be a realization. Who am I to think that I would live forever? But a realization (sometimes a sudden one) is exactly what it feels like every time it becomes clear. Often, it’s accompanied by a feeling of stepping out of a trance, a feeling of waking up and suddenly being immersed in my own life again. The brevity of life is so obvious a fact that I feel like it shouldn’t be so elusive. But the truth is, if I’m not consciously reminding myself of this fact, I lose touch with it extremely quickly.

You might wonder why I care about losing touch with the fact that I am going to die. Isn’t reflecting on it unnecessarily morbid and depressing? The reason is that, in my experience, being in touch with this fact has the uncanny ability to cause me to make the most out of my time instead of reacting habitually to my surroundings. When I say “make the most out of my time” I’m not talking about efficiency, success, or better reaching my goals. I’m talking about all of the things that are left when my goals aren’t in the way. All of the things that we consider to be deeply important to us that transcend all the goals that relate back to our life circumstances and who we want to be.

I’m sure we’ve all reflected on what we would do if we had one day, week, month, or year to live. If you’re like me, you’ve found that very little of what you truly want out of your life involves success in the conventional sense. It’s much more likely to involve connection with nature, relationships with loved ones, and deep personal experiences, states that are actually available to us in everyday life but are often uncharted territories due to concerns that are thought to be more immediate. I believe this sense of immediacy is an illusion. I think that deep down, we all have a sense for the states of experience that we ultimately want out of life and there are different levels at which we can connect with those states, but our lack of enthusiasm to face the truth of our limited time holds us back from engaging with our lives more deeply. I also think that by practicing a deeper level of connection with the truth of our lives we can genuinely transform our experiences for the better.

Many of the things that cause me hardship in life are rooted in the feelings that I have towards death and impermanence. When I experience loss of any kind, it triggers the same feelings of insecurity that underlie my relationship to death. I recently became aware of this, and it caused a huge shift in the way I’ve been relating to things that are out of my control. I’m starting to frame these things as a safe training ground for the more fundamental and ultimate things that are out of my control, namely aging and mortality. This accomplishes two things for me. Firstly, it gives context for why experiencing loss, even trivial loss like having a few bad days in a row, can affect me. It frames those negative experiences and makes me feel like the pain associated with them is understandable and natural. Secondly, it allows me to practice acceptance of uncontrollability in daily life situations in a way that gives me confidence for the less trivial situations that I will inevitably face.

Another reason that I feel so passionately about this subject is that I feel like it has the potential to be universally empowering. Bringing it to each other’s attention, not ubiquitously but not sparsely either, allows us to share the wisdom of this reflection that spiritual traditions have been pointing to for a long time while still having enough room for each person to interpret the implications for themselves. The question of how to be with life, given that it will end, is both deeply personal and profoundly universal. It aligns my thoughts, feelings, and actions with my intentions in a nearly effortless way, and I think that this process is the center of the bulls-eye when it comes to spirituality. When my thoughts, feelings, and actions are coming from this place they feel exceptionally genuine. With this feeling of genuine connection comes a deep sense of rest, a sense that I’m allowed to just enjoy what is happening without needing to make it any different.

I’d like to share three pieces of audio that I’ve been inspired by on this topic. The first is a piece called “New Beginnings” by This American Life, which is essentially the story of a man sharing his experience of living six months of his life as if they were his last. The second is the Waking Up Podcast episode “Lessons From Death”, where Sam Harris speaks to Frank Ostaseski, a long time Buddhist and end-of-life care practitioner who has numerous deep insights on the topic. The third is a talk given by Joseph Goldstein during a meditation retreat where he discusses what it really means to live as if you were dying, and I embedded the audio file below. These are ordered in terms of popularity, and ordered backwards in terms of how meaningful they have been to me personally. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll have a chance to listen to whichever of them interest you.

The Impact of Formal Practice

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It’s amazing how easily my mind can convince itself not to meditate.

“I want my whole life to be more meditative”, it says. “I will practice body awareness while I exercise, I will practice mindfulness while I’m doing my work, I will practice compassion and kindness while I am around my friends and family.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?

This causes us to grow out of touch with the immense depth of inner resources that are available when the time and space are given. The remedial effect of formal practice, which I simply define as the time that is set aside for undivided meditation, seems boundless. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

I have a friend who has been pushing himself to run farther and farther distances each day. Today he told me a story about running farther than he has ever done before. His route was about 9 miles, and as he approached the last mile he ran past a man sitting on his porch. The man looked at him and said “run an extra mile for me today”. Taken aback and slightly annoyed at the fact that this man had no idea how long he had been running, my friend responded saying, “I think I just ran a couple of extra miles for you”. The man looked back at him, slightly smiling, and in a completely earnest tone told him this: “you need to get better”. At first, my friend was resistant. After all, what did this guy know about running? But after letting the experience settle, he obliged and ran the extra mile. He said that he basically limped home, and it was an exceptionally formative experience. I thought this was fascinating. I’ve personally never had an interaction with a stranger that remotely resembled this one.

About this time last year I attended a lecture by one of my favorite meditation enthusiasts, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He came to a church in Boston and they had set him up to address the audience from a great big podium. Instead, he chose to sit and face us from on top of a banister that was situated one level lower. It was an incredibly inspiring lecture and one of his central messages was the impact of formal daily practice. He encouraged us to set a timer, meditate till the end of the timer, and meditate longer than that.

The most disruptive trick I play on myself is the trick of forgetting to meditate. We have the time that we think we need, and if we use it right, we will often find that we have the answers to our own questions. Formal meditation is a resource that is virtually always available, and it is the resource that I have found to be by far the most useful for living a life more in line with my own personal goals and values. The beauty is that no matter what your goals and values are, meditating will help you live a life more in line with them!

For anyone who likes to listen to guided meditations and Dharma talks, I recommend Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, and Akincano Marc Weber. However, don’t forget that there is no substitute for silence.

A Vegan’s Appeal to Environmentalists

I want to give a big welcome to any and all readers out there who consider themselves environmentalists or sympathize with the goal of preserving the future of this planet. If this is the first time you are learning about the environmental devastation caused by animal agriculture (the practice of breeding, raising, and turning animals into food) then you are surely not alone. A huge part of the problem we’re facing is that the environmental destruction caused by eating livestock, which accounts for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, is rarely given the appropriate amount of attention by our government, media outlets, and environmental organizations. Unfortunately, the lobbying power of the animal agriculture industry in the United States directs an immense amount of resources towards obscuring the environmental degradation and instability that it causes. It is really astonishing that animal agriculture, which is the leading cause of habitat destruction, water depletion, deforestation, species extinction, and ocean “dead zones” is rarely part of this conversation.

It has been said that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the second best time is now. As environmentalists, we should be basing our efforts on a full understanding of the issues the world is facing right now. I think one of the most interesting ways to learn more about this is to watch the film Cowspiracy. It can be streamed on Netflix, but if you don’t have a subscription, you can download it directly off the Cowspiracy website for $5. I think we are all responsible for being aware of the ways that we can make the biggest difference in the realm of environmental preservation.

Many of us are already making personal sacrifices like recycling, composting, not littering, and being aware of our water use in order to engage in this project. It has been incredibly inspiring to find out about the magnitude of impact that eating choices can have. I hope that we can start a new conversation where conscious eating is added to the list of environmentally sustainable habits that are actionable in our daily lives.

Here are a few facts from the movie which can help contextualize our efforts and recalibrate our framework:

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Here is the official trailer:

 

We’re All Vegans Sometimes

About 3 months ago, after listening to a discussion on a podcast and doing further research around the web, I decided to try eating vegan. I became convinced that my choices mattered more than I thought, and I was unnecessarily harming animals while abiding by the status quo.

Years ago, a friend of mine told me that being a vegetarian isn’t all or nothing. This still strikes me as one of the most insightful points on the issue.  You don’t have to sacrifice your own well-being in order to not harm non-human animals. Any time you want to make a vegetarian or vegan choice, you can do that. And for every one of these decisions you make, there will be a corresponding and measurable positive outcome.

First of all, let me give my definition of what it means to be a vegetarian or a vegan.

Vegetarian: someone who wholeheartedly tries to never eat meat.

Vegan:  someone who wholeheartedly tries to never eat anything that’s production might involve the suffering of animals.

I’m going to get pretty specific about the reasoning behind making vegan choices. But first, I want to talk about why I was convinced that I should take these issues to heart.

For the first time in my life I became aware that my decision to eat eggs, dairy, and meat had nothing to do with a concern for my physical health. I’m not sure where I got the idea that my body needed animal products, but this was my good reason for continuing to eat them. I think in one way or another, most people are skeptical that being vegan is as healthy as being an omnivore. From what I’ve gathered, this skepticism about eating a vegan diet is not based in evidence, and runs counter to the current scientific consensus. I was even falling victim to one of the oldest and most common myths about vegetarianism, that it might lead to protein deficiency.

After educating myself further on the issue, I realized that a vegan can be as healthy as an omnivore. Moreover, I think that vegan choices actually lend themselves better to physical and mental health than omnivorous ones. The vegan options that are usually available to you tend to be less processed and more free from additives and other artificial substances. Of course, an omnivore can decide to eat vegan any time they want, so there’s no basis for saying that an omnivore can’t be as healthy as a vegan either. But, from the point of view of nutrition, veganism is a totally viable way of eating.

The Impact of Forgoing Meat

I remember a time when I used to think that vegetarianism didn’t make any sense, because if you went to the grocery store and chose not to buy meat, the meat was still there, which means that the animals had already been killed.

This turned out to be a naive way of understanding the impact of vegetarianism. However, I can see why the incorrect notion was easier to grasp than the truth. The truth is, we’re lucky to live in a system where our individual choices in the market will affect what happens both within and outside the grocery store.

Imagine you go into a grocery store and you had planned on buying one of their 1 lb. packages of chicken breast. Then, as you’re walking through the aisle, you remember reading about the effects of vegetarianism, and you change your mind and buy something vegetarian. There is a whole cascade of consequences that arise from your decision to not buy the meat. The impact of making vegetarian or vegan choices is realized in the reduction of demand for those products, which has effects on the economy of meat production as a whole.

Think of a grocery store. In a general sense, the way that a grocery store works is that they purchase products from a supplier, and then make those products available to people who want to buy them. Eventually, the grocery store always either has to restock their products (because they run out, or because the product expires) or decide to stock the shelves with products that they think will do better. Either way, they will be making a decision of how much of that product to put on the shelves in the future.

Lets say that, until today, the grocery store had been selling 50 packages (1 lb. each) of chicken breast a day. Every two days, they sell 100, and then they restock their shelves with 100 new packages of chicken breast.

When you decide not to buy a package of chicken breast, they sell 49 packages instead of the 50 that they usually sell. The next day, instead of having 50 packages of chicken breast left over, they have 51. Again, they will sell their 50 packages. But because one of their regular costumers decided to eat vegetarian on one occasion, when they go to restock, they are left with 1 lone package of chicken breast that was not purchased. They cannot keep this package to use later, because it’s now past its expiration date. So they have to throw it away.

For every package of chicken breast that they buy without selling, they lose money. And every time they lose money, they have to reconfigure their estimations of how much they expect to sell, so they can avoid losing money in the future. Assuming that you are going to continue to stop buying chicken breast, they should only order 99 packages from their supplier instead of 100. Even if you were going to go back to always buying your normal amount of chicken breast, the expectation of how much they would sell will never be 100 again. They might expect to sell 99.9 packages, when accounting for your one arbitrary decision to eat vegetarian, but that number will always go down from 100. Lets say that you decide to only eat vegetarian half the time. They should still expect to do better financially by ordering 99+100 in their next two orders than if they ordered 100+100. Therefore you’ve decreased the number of chicken breasts they want to order by making some vegetarian choices.

 

Further down the supply chain, the supplier of the meat will need to decide how much chicken breast they need to prepare. The grocery store usually orders 200 packages every four days, so that is how much the supplier gets ready to provide. It costs the supplier money to raise, feed, and kill each chicken that is used for meat. But this cost is made up for by the money that the grocery store pays for the meat.

For simplicity, lets say that they have to raise, feed, and kill one chicken for every 1 lb. package of chicken breast. If the grocery store all of a sudden says that they only want to buy 99+100 (199) chicken breasts, because of your decision to eat vegetarian, then the meat supplier will have raised, fed, and killed one chicken that they will not make any of their money back for. Because you have decided to always change half of your meat eating choices to vegetarian ones, the supplier should expect to do better financially if they decide to only raise, feed, and kill 199 chickens every four days.

In this scenario, every four days, you would be saving one chicken from being born into a miserable life. And this life really is miserable. The conditions in factory farms are actually so appalling that I won’t force you to confront them. But if you are interested in or skeptical of how bad an animal’s life can be in this setting, it’s not hard to find out about this online.

Of course, the numbers used in my example were made up for the sake of simplicity. But this post on the Counting Animals blog is a great resource for figuring out how many animals you could save by making more vegetarian choices. The post specifically deals with vegetarianism, so I’m sure the numbers for vegan choices would be even more inspiring. To summarize, here are some conservative estimates that were gathered from Counting Animals’ research:

A vegetarian saves more than 25 land animals each year, about 24 of which are chickens. For sea animals, the average American eats about 12 fish and 137 shellfish per year, but between 144 and 293 wild sea animals are killed annually to feed the fish and shrimp eaten by the average American consumer. In capturing these sea animals to serve the consumption of an average American, between 46 and 104 wild sea animals are unintentionally discarded dead or dying. And finally, when all these figures are added up and consolidated, it is conservatively estimated that a vegetarian saves between 371 and 582 animals annually, which accounts for more than one animal per day.

Conclusion

I decided to focus this post on the direct effects that our eating choices have on the well-being of other conscious creatures, but there are so many other good reasons for making more vegetarian or vegan choices. One of the most important ones is the impact it can have on our environment, which I encourage anybody reading to learn more about.

I also didn’t go deep into the differences in impact between being a vegetarian and being a vegan. The way I understand it, there is a comparable amount of suffering that comes out of the production of eggs, specifically, and if you can go without dairy products, you’re definitely having a positive impact through that venture as well.

Our choices about what we eat have consequences that relate specifically to the way that the food was created. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the consequences of eating eggs, dairy, and meat are extremely undesirable. I think that at some point in the future, people will probably look back on how we treat animals now and be embarrassed about this part of their ancestry.

I’ve been posed the question of whether I would eat meat if the animals that were being killed had great living conditions. What if we cared about the animals we ate the way we cared about our pets? This would be amazing of course, but we have to admit that none of us are close to having access to meat that is being produced in this way. I think the question of what to eat would be a lot different, and many of the current reasons to forgo eating meat wouldn’t apply. But wouldn’t it still be weird to want to eat our pets whenever we deemed that their life had been long or good enough?

For me, the decision is often between, on the one hand, all of the reasons for making more vegetarian choices, and on the other hand, the convenience, comfort, and taste of eating meat. The question would be significantly more complicated if personal health were an issue, but thankfully it is not. Still, this is a personal decision. If you don’t feel compelled to make more vegetarian or vegan choices, then by all means do not force yourself to do that.

If you do feel compelled to start eating vegetarian or vegan more often, that’s also great! I use this handout, which I’ve cross-checked with other resources, as a general guideline of how to stay healthy while making more vegan choices. Furthermore, there are a ton of resources, both in print and online, and a huge community of people that are engaging in the same project. I think you’ll be pleased with the amount of great food you can make, the new eateries you’ll find yourself frequenting, and the general feelings of personal well-being that I attribute to making more vegan choices.