Snow Say, “Look Meh!”

The BBQ is off limits
The BBQ is off limits

I tend to be oblivious to some things at times, but yesterday’s snowfall had to be an “in your face” kind of event. A Trinidadian friend I have known since 1965, when we we taught Sciences and Math together in a small town government secondary school in the island’s southeast, likes to use phrases like the above title about extreme weather. On a very hot day he would exclaim,

Sun say, “Look meh!”

Translation: The sun says “Look at me! Pay attention!”

I shoveled enough yesterday morning to get the car onto the road so that I could drive my youngest daughter to the airport. I got help from my neighbours, Gord and Marilyn, which was much appreciated because the one thing my cardiologist forbade me to do after two heart attacks a week apart  in February 2000 was – shovel. Fortunately the first attack did only about 10% damage and the second did none, since it occurred when I was still in ICU recovering from the first.

Neither attack came while shoveling snow, which I do slowly and never get chest pain while shoveling. I have done upper body exercises ever since, and am careful not to overdo it when I shovel. Get a snow blower? No. Considering the small amounts of snow we usually get here it’s not a necessity.

Actually the first sign of the oncoming attack, angina, happened while I was sitting right here at my desk on a previous desktop computer typing up a quiz for my new, semester two senior chemistry class. It was a new sensation for me, so I tested my condition by doing 20 pushups. Since this experiment did not cause a recurrence I went to school. The attack came at the end of first period, so I did a rare thing: let my students go early.

I lay on the couch in the science office and an ambulance was called. Picture my mortification being wheeled around the entire second floor of the school to the opposite corner where the elevator was. Students came to the doorways to view what all the excitement was about.

I guess my Trini friend would have expressed what happened that day this way:

Heart say, “Look Meh!”

Ever since then, I’ve paid attention to my heart and listened to my body’s feedback. Not to mention regular exercise and as close to zero trans fats as possible, apart from an annual cherry pie on my birthday. Only 8 1/2  more months to wait…

Anyway, I went out again last night after the snow finally stopped just to clear the sidewalk – my duty as a citizen, and then did a little more. My neighbour on the other side, Graham, and a friend of his were shoveling at the same time. They came over and shoveled the driveway and our path to the house with me, doing the lion’s share of the work. Neighbours like we are blessed with – virtually everyone on the street – are a reason to stay even in a house that has become bigger than we empty-nesters need.

This morning I shoveled a path to the bird feeder so that I could put sunflower seeds out for the cardinals, nuthatches, juncos, chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers who still feast on the stairway to our deck. Rarer now, for some reason are the blue jays. Some used to stay all winter; now we see them mostly while they are migrating.

Then I went to the front to remove the snow dune the plow left at at the bottom of our driveway and was aided again by Graham and Gord. Many thanks to these kind people.

A path to the bird feeder.
A path to the bird feeder.

Tonglen with Tai Chi?

On the wall at Xi’an – “Monster Trip” – 2008

I have been combining Tonglen breathing as described by Pema Chögrön with Tai Chi (24 form) and with my strength exercises.

Tonglen is a simple process of breathing in dark things like pain and suffering (yours, that of those close to you, that of friends, strangers and, ultimately, that of all sentient beings), assuming this suffering, and breathing out healing and peace.

Physical Exercise: My personal trainer at the local gym after my heart attack(s) in February 2000 showed me how to breathe in prior to performing an exercise and breathe out while you are performing the strenuous part. This is safer for the heart. So, for example, I breathed in while I descended in a squat and breathed out while ascending. I breathed in before pulling on a rowing machine and breathed out while pulling. Now I breathe in slowly while resting between sets of an exercise and breathe out slowly during the entire action.

My morning program now consists of:

  • Treadmill walking for 30 minutes while listening to CBC podcasts on (mostly) philosophy or literature (simply walking on a treadmill is so incredibly boring otherwise for me)
  • Squats and dumbell exercises combined with tonglen breathing in my own home while listening to restful, oriental music
  • One performance of tai chi 24 method combined with tonglen breathing meditation while listening to restful, oriental music

Tai chi is supposed to be done while breathing in the chi (energy) and pushing it back out.  I had thought of the chi as positive energy, so it seems counter-intuitive to be breathing in “hot, dark and heavy,” (i.e. suffering), and breathing out “cool, white and light,” (i.e. healing and peace). Somehow, for me, this works really well to give me a feeling of peaceful healing.

As for the strength  exercises, at first it seemed weird to be breathing out peace and healing while one is doing the strenuous part of a physical exercise, but then I thought:

Bringing about peace and healing in the world, beginning with yourself, is hard work.

It makes sense to me now.