Acts of Kindness: The Un-Named Man’s List

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More Kindness

A shower so he can use the sleeping bag he just got

Community gardens with fresh food

Dental care

Safe shelter

 

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Historical Repetitions: (Considering the Things I’ve Not Seen But That Have Happened Before) c

 

There’s a lot of unhappiness even among the wealthy. It seems that money cannot buy everything, and what it can buy is not always available. Take, for an example, the numerous Google employees purported to be living in their cars. I’ve known about poor students doing it, and the community of full-time campers near my home, but they’re under employed. This is something different. Presumably, these Google homeless are the lucky ones; they can shower and eat at work and are probably not harassed by the police. Still, it’s hard to ignore that one of best-known tech companies on the planet has homeless employees. You gotta wonder about how the people who are chronically under-employed and have no regular income are surviving.

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Unemployed and Homeless, NYC

Sadly, this is not new. We are in a cycle, repeating a dismal fate. The Hoovervilles of the 1930s also had explosive mass migration and homelessness. But, we’ve forgotten them, or have failed to teach these lessons to our children. We think we are immune to history, even our own. Hoovervilles are created when wealth is consolidated in the hands of few. Will the government step in to correct the disparities? They can start with raising the minimum wage and taxing the wealthy. After all, people like Trump should pay their share. If not, only some of us pay of the price of inequality: it’s due every April 15th.

 

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Hooverville, USA

We could all use jobs. We all want healthcare. We all want a home to rest our bodies through the night and at the end of the day; preferably that home is dry, clean and heated with good, old-fashioned fossil fuels. The challenge to do so, for all of us, regardless of race, is tasked to our new president, a man promising to make this a great nation, again. This is a familiar moment from a historical standpoint: the mass migration of hundreds of thousands of people, looking for refuge, opportunity and peace is the same one that has driven previous generation to enact change, from the bottom up. We forget, that the people who rule our nation are the 1%, the most elite among us. We are the many.

 

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Hooverville, Seattle

Homelessness in the SF Bay Area

 

It makes me sad that as a society we are continually trying to criminalize poverty, while we create the very conditions that undermine the ability of people to sustain themselves with productive employment for meaningful wages. Until the time comes when we engage in a system of economic and financial stability for all, we will have to live with homelessness and other residual symptoms of capitalist over-consumption.

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Waterfront Home, Oakland, CA

Last month’s elections confirm that many San Franciscans don’t want to see homeless people on their streets. Unfortunately, we can’t vote our way out of this problem.

A Crash Course in Aikido: Living a Healthy, Memorable Life with Martial Arts

Most of us don’t start thinking about health and longevity until an unexpected death occurs. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for bad news to make changes. The challenge for most of us is to balance lifestyle, diet and family history with physical ability. A great way to take care of the externals is to join a martial-arts school. It’s easier than you think, and with rewards like new friends and mental and physical agility, Aikido may be perfect for you.

There are some unique benefits to joining a dojo like Aikido SF. Aikido is a good way to reclaim health and flexibility, replenishing stamina and energy for doing things with the people who matter. Training with a robust group of children, adolescents and adults at all levels of Aikido provides community and emotional connection. Plus, most people place a high value on staying independent in their advanced years, when it will really count. Maintaining physical and mental plasticity are important ways to promote long-term resilience.

While you may think it’s impossible to train in martial arts after a certain age, it’s really not the case with some non-competitive forms, such as Aikido. And apart from the benefits of increased physical prowess, evidence that intellectual capacity, social intelligence and positive personality traits are boosted by an athletic lifestyle is mounting. The martial-arts community emphasizes community work, civic engagement, respect, participation, health and meditation as part of the practice.

Opportunities to learn in a dojo vary greatly. An example is the annual Aikido SF Seminar, where I watched skilled teachers and students from SF Bay Area train for a half day. There’s a lot to be gained from the venerable tradition of observation, disciplining the mind to understand physical principles, then applying those skills later.

Need more incentive? There’s ample evidence correlating a lack of exercise and poor diet to increased incidences of early onset dementia like Alzheimer’s. That’s evidence I’m not willing to ignore. Most of us want to call our spouses, friends and grandchildren by name. When the consequences of a sedentary life means risking the loss of precious memories, the idea of Aikido training gets even sweeter. After all, a sharp mind is critical to longevity. And, Aikido’s non-competitive discipline is a great habit to cultivate.

With huge gains to garner, like optimal brain functioning and a smaller waistline, Aikido is a big winner. Add caring instructors and supportive peers, and it’s clear that anyone can learn to take better care of her body in a nurturing environment, where physical and mental training are important aspects of good health. Of course, you don’t need to study martial arts to improve your health A small commitment to walk just 15 minutes a day could turn the tide enough to impact the rest of your life. Do it for you. Do it for your family.

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Laugh for Life: The Benefits of a Good Guffaw

 

“A vegan and a Big Mac walk into a bar…”

 

I don’t know the punch line for that joke, but I do know that laughing is good, and that most of us want to laugh when we can. For example, on a recent social call, we spent an afternoon with friends who made us laugh nonstop. For about four hours, we laughed at jokes, each other and ourselves. The afternoon left us feeling lighthearted, energized and glowing. Imagine my delight when I found out that laughter is better than an anti-depressant pill. Now I’m on the hunt for my next big laugh. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Have you ever laughed so hard that your face hurt and the skin behind your ears got hot and your cheeks ached? If you answered yes, endorphins were coasting through your veins, and you were happy, truly and simply happy—naturally. That is what laughter is all about. There’s a reason why people feel light, balanced and happy after a day with friends. Friends are awesome, especially if they make you laugh. What’s more, I’m convinced that laughing makes us look and feel younger and more vibrant.

 

As it turns out, this is not just my fanciful idea. There’s plenty of research that confirms that laughter really is good medicine. Don’t take my word for it, investigate positive psychology and see what you learn. And, there’s also such a thing as laugh yoga, which focuses on daily laughter techniques. Because of what I’ve learned, I’m adding laughter to my list of 2015 goals, and here’s why you should, too:

 

  1. Just look at someone who laughs a lot. What do you notice? Laughter peels the years off of our faces. When we’re laughing, we’re literally working countering gravity, pulling our face muscles up—they’re tightening, drawing up and flexing, and we’re shining and beaming like a porch lights. We are meant to do this. We are meant to be bright, our eyes cleared with tears of laughter.
  2. Laughing is great exercise. This is in intuitively true. Think about it. When we laugh hard for even five minutes, what happens to our bodies? First, abdominal muscles contract, and who couldn’t use some free sit-ups? Next, some might experience shortness of breath or other physical sensation caused by peals of laughter. This is like running around the block because it’s aerobic, only you don’t need to shower afterwards, unless you’ve been rolling around the ground in utter jocularity while at a picnic, which actually sounds quite awesome. During all of this, the brain and other muscles in the body are getting fresh oxygen. Clearly, this is a superior method of staying young. Simply laugh off the years.
  3. Another benefit of laughing is that apparently we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously. That means we must choose to be positive. We can turn the tide of our emotions by exercising the positive ones. When we do, chemicals in the brain and body are altered. We can’t hold grudges while we’re laughing. So we  essentially free ourselves with laughter. Laugh long enough and all your troubles will be forgotten. That sounds marvelous to me.

 

Now that I understand some of the benefits of laughter, I’ve been looking for more things to laugh at in my daily life. In dance class, I’m quick to laugh when I make a mistake, and it makes the time more pleasant, the learning easier. It also means I can bounce back more quickly from uncomfortable situations. I start looking for the humor in my actions and thoughts and take myself a teensy bit less seriously, because life is more fun when I’m laughing.

 

Curious about how to get more laughter in your life? Check out Dr. Madan Kataria’s video introduction to Laughter Yoga: Laughter Yoga Video

 

 

Integrity and Grace: Lessons from the Cliffside

Devil’s Tower National Monument is a strange aberration, rising almost 1300 feet above the surrounding prairie. It’s a sacred place for several native cultures, but, outside of tourist season, prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope are more common than people in this windy and open landscape.

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Devil’s Tower is also a destination for rock climbers. And when you rock climb there, you better prepare to talk to the tourists. They usually notice that you’re carrying ropes and other climbing paraphernalia and some even ask you if you’re a rock climber. But most assume because you’ve got the gear that you are a climber and they almost always ask some variant of these three questions:

  • Did you make it to the top?
  • How long did it take you?
  • What’s it like on top?

As natural as these questions are, they reveal a misunderstanding of the difference between rock climbing and mountaineering. Mountaineers, or alpinists, sometimes climb rocks and rock climbers sometimes climb mountains, but the activities are very different. The primary goal of mountaineering is to get to the top of a peak or other feature and rock climbing started because sometimes mountaineers need to do it as they make their ascent. Mountaineers began to practice climbing on relatively short cliffs and sometime in the mid-20th century, rock climbing began to be something people did as an activity unto itself.

Unlike mountaineering, getting to the top is almost never the point for a rock climber, because there are almost always others ways of getting to the top. Sometimes it’s as simple as walking up the backside of a cliff on an easy trail. Sometimes you actually start at the top of a cliff and lower yourself down to the bottom so you can climb back up.

With Devil’s Tower, there’s no easy backside trail, but a rock climber doesn’t go there to get to the top. In fact, when you do get to the top, you enjoy the view for a few minutes, but usually for far less time than it took to get there. Instead, you go to Devil’s tower for the unique quality and size of the routes. DSC013201

Climbers like rock in ways that other people don’t. They speak of rock features in an entire specialized language – arêtes, dihedrals, faces, cracks, and specialized subcategories of each. Rock can be slick or friable; cracks incipient; handholds and footholds solid; routes have cruxes. Geometry and shapes are seen on rock walls, like glacial clouds. Devil’s Tower rock has cracks, grooves, and straight-sided chimneys that are rare elsewhere.

So the point of rock climbing is in the pleasure of seeing and touching rock up close and, more importantly, from moving over it. When all is right in your climbing world, you move fluidly over rock, feeling the exhilaration of a well-functioning body and mind. You feel confident and competent and ready for whatever comes next.

When all is right, there is no need for the 200-foot ropes and other gear that climbers use. The gear is there to protect you in case you fall, for those days when the holds feel small and tenuous and your body feels weak and incapable. You hope never to need the gear, but you bring it because you know you’re human and you know that there are bad days – and bad days, too, contain the satisfaction of safely negotiating your vulnerability.

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Rock climbing is about deciding how you will get to the top and staying true to your intention. Or if you fail that day, it’s about coming back another day and trying again. It’s as much about about process as product. Getting to the top is nice, but getting to the top with integrity and grace is a transcendent and transformative experience.

It’s hard to talk about transcendence and transformation. It sounds mystical and a long way from carabiners, pitons, and clinging to nubs of rock as you struggle up parts of a 1300-foot wall. So, when tourists at Devil’s Tower ask their questions, you try to smile and answer with the same integrity and grace with which you attempt to climb. Sometimes you fail. But there’s always tomorrow to try again.