Saturday, June 23, 2012


Something I experienced today at the SF Zen Center is an appreciation for appreciation.

I went in there this morning, in the middle of a hectic slew of midterms for Gen Chem 2, Bio 1, and Genetics, filled with feelings of gnawing dissatisfaction and impatience.

Buddha statue in the
SFZC dining hall. 
Meditation helped calm me, but didn't make the feelings go away, nor did it reveal the root cause of the feelings. What did reveal the root cause was a conversation I overhead at my table during lunch in the dining hall. Someone told a story about her family, and afterward one of the Zen Center teachers thanked her for telling the story. This response surprised me because I felt like we were doing this person the favor of listening to her story, so I didn't feel like thanking her for telling it. But right in that moment, it occurred to me that I could have appreciated her story if I had allowed myself. In other words, I saw that there was no real reason I couldn't or shouldn't appreciate it.

In the hour or so afterward, an understanding dawned in my mind that my failure to appreciate things was directly tied to the miserable emotions I'd been feeling through the week.

Thinking back on the positive experiences that I've had at the Zen Center, I saw the cultivation of appreciation as a unifying theme. Beyond that, in the realm of my everyday experience, I can think of many times when I was feeling miserable even when things were going well, and those were generally times when I was not willing or able to appreciate things, no matter how wonderful they actually were. Conversely, I can think of many times when I could appreciate things, both great and small, and I was filled with happiness. I've even enjoyed unpleasant things when I was able to appreciate them for what they were.

It seems that being able to appreciate people and experiences is a tremendous gift. Without it, even a fortunate and successful life seems bleak. With it, it takes very little to feel happy.

When I'm in a foul mood, I instinctively grasp for something that will alter my perceptions, perhaps so that things seem different, new, and more obvious, making it easier to appreciate what's around me. In the past, I grasped for alcohol, and maybe that temporarily led me to appreciate things more, but I don't think I ever pinpointed the importance of appreciation in that pursuit, at least not in a way I could remember and use next day.

The Simple Things
There is something about the Zen practice and the community that helps me shut down the mental processes that block appreciation, and it does so in a way that I can use in everyday life. I keep coming back to meditation and to the Zen Center because it's been reliably effective at making me grateful and therefore happy.

For that, I'm expressing my appreciation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vegetarian Tip #1

Butter. Put it on everything.

Saturated fat is not only a useful source of long-term energy, but it leads to a feeling of satiety that is otherwise hard to get on a vegetarian diet.

Of the three macronutrients--carbohydrates, proteins, and fats--the fats, especially the saturated fats, have gotten the worst reputation. The book Good Calories, Bad Calories makes a convincing case that the vilification of saturated fats is more political than evidence-based, and it shows that there is significant evidence implicating refined carbohydrates in many chronic diseases attributed to fat consumption.

Even though saturated fats contain twice the calories per gram, carbohydrates--especially sugars--somehow make you more hungry even while you're eating a big meal. This makes it possible to consume a very large amount of carb calories without attaining a feeling of satisfaction. And, if you're eating too many carbs, you're not eating the all-important vegetables and protein. I've found this to be a major problem as a vegetarian. Butter, on the other hand, does lead to a feeling of satiety relatively quickly (try eating a stick of butter if you don't believe me). The result is that it's hard to consume as many calories through butter as through sugar, so you feel more full but you actually have more room for eating nutritious foods like vegetables.

Once you realize that you have nothing to fear, you can put butter on everything.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guilt/Joy Hierarchy

Given a choice between a "good" action and its opposite, a "bad" action, consider whether the following statements are true:

- The worst situation is to feel guilty about doing the bad deed, but doing it anyway out of apathy.

- The less bad situation is to feel guilty about doing the bad thing and to avoid doing anything, good or bad, out of fear.

- The least bad situation is to have no feelings of guilt regarding the bad and no feelings of joy regarding the good, but to do the bad deed because some aspects of it are temporarily enjoyable.

- The okay situation is to have no feelings of guilt regarding the bad and no feelings of joy regarding the good, but to do the good deed out of idealism.

-  The better situation is to feel guilty about the bad and to enjoy the good and therefore do the good deed to avoid guilt and experience joy.

- The best situation is to have no feelings of guilt about the bad but to enjoy the good and therefore do the good deed purely for the joy of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012