A Little More on Leisure…

Following on yesterday’s post about rest and leisure

One of my favorite bedside books is The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. Lin gained popularity as an erudite Chinaman back in the 1930’s but, to my knowledge, none of his fine books are in print today.

Lin was a great believer in leisure as a means for refinement and reflection. He states that,

It is clear that only in a society with leisure can the art of conversation be produced, and it is equally clear also that only when there is an art of conversation can there be good well-written essays.

…both the art of conversation and the art of writing good prose…is possible only in a life of leisure.

Is this true? Can you grind away at your job for twelve hours a day and then rush into your office and dash out sensitive haiku or enlightened prose? Lin thinks not:

Businessmen who are busy the whole day and immediately go to bed after supper, snoring like cows, are not likely to contribute anything to culture

But we have quashed most leisure out of our culture. We take our work home each day on our iPhones and computers. Paying the family bills takes two parents working full time. We order dinners, groceries, and dog-walkers on-line. And conversation? How? How to break through the surgically attached headphones or the stare that never swerves away from the phone screen?

It’s fascinating and prescient that Lin connects art, writing, and conversation with leisure. He argues that it takes time laying about to develop these skills. They can’t be crammed into a busy brain. It’s a kind of play, really. Playing with words, or ideas, or paint. Play rarely happens under pressure.

So take a few minutes this weekend to be a bum. A layabout. A lolly-gager. You’ll be better for it.


Go here to read more about Slow philosophy.
See here for a Kindle download of The Importance of Living.

The Art of Resting and Lolling About

Maybe you’ve noticed something now that you’re forty or sixty or eighty: your body takes a little longer to do what it used to do easily and effortlessly. Use this information wisely. Be nice to yourself. Take care of small scratches and cuts as they can take longer to heal. Be patient with others as they are moving a little slower, too.

This is essential advice if you exercise. Back in the good ol’ days, I could step on the scale on Friday morning, frown, run ten miles on Saturday and another five on Sunday, and smile at the scale on Monday morning. Not now. Now that I’m on the brink of sixty losing weight takes a concentrated effort.

I had an interesting insight into rest and healing and health last summer. I’ve lived in South Carolina  now for four years and am still not used to the sunny, blistering, buggy, and drippingly humid weather. It’s glorious in April but by the end of June I wake up to 85 degrees and a forecast of 100. Running on paved roads where you can see the steam rising as you run adds another five degrees. My wife loves this stuff. Natives complain less than I do but for this coffee-infused Son of Seattle, it’s a tough slog.

So, I quit running. I took August off and did yoga to the hum of the air conditioner. I ran a three-miler once a week just to remember how to run. September came and it was just as hot as August. I decided to start back up in mid-September to get ready for a race in early October. When I went out for my first Saturday morning run in six weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect – and I was seriously shocked when I turned in one of my fastest three-milers ever. I felt smooth and comfortable the entire run. At first, I thought it was my new Lycra tights. They admittedly look pretty sweet but I don’t think they contributed to my times. I wondered if it was the cooler temps and I’m sure that helped. What I’m most convinced of is that the time off helped. Stretching and resting gave my legs time to repair from long runs in the late spring and it took a few weeks of rest to begin feeling the benefits.

Every fitness book and trainer talks about rest. It’s when our bodies repair and recharge but few of us really believe it. We’re athletes! We push through pain! We force our body to submit to our iron will! Well, maybe not. So I’ve incorporated indolence and sloth into my weekly regimen and I feel so much better for it. When my legs feel like lead on Tuesday, I listen to them and take off until Saturday. I stretch. I get a couple hours of extra sleep. I loll about and read.  Maybe even spend some quality time with the family! And I feel better for it.

So go work out. Work hard. Breathe hard. Pump your muscles. Feel your body work. And when you’ve worked enough – you’ll know when that is – take a rest. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a week. Or for six weeks like I did. It’s not the end of the world and will almost certainly make your world a little better. And isn’t that exactly what exercise and living the good life is all about?

She Hired a Track Coach at 77! Another post about older bodies.

How about you? What have you learned about rest and recovery?



Remembrance Great and Small

Next time you start feeling uppity, remember the Ring Nebula. It’s an exploding star that is millions of miles away. Since it is blowing up, it’s expanding. Astronomers can measure these things and say that the Ring Nebula expands at a rate of 43,000 miles an hour. That’s a million miles a day. Can you imagine such a thing? Can you imagine that our universe is so indescribably huge and wonderful (I’m mean, really, how can you describe this with our meager language and understanding?)  It’s amazing and helps me keep my little troubles in perspective.

That’s not to say that our lives and worlds are without meaning. As wonderful as an exploding star is, it’s not nearly as important to me as a sick child or a cup of coffee with my wife. But, sometimes, it’s good to remember that the universe rolls on in mysterious and enormous ways.


There is no such thing as stress…

There’s no such thing as stress…

If there were, it would be bleeding out of my eyes right now.

But I remember something that my old nemesis Wayne Dyer used to say:

There is no such thing as stress. There is only you responding to the things going on around you.

I thought about this today listening to someone talk about how our cells vibrate to an unhealthy energy when we are stressed. Good gawd. Look. I’ve been stressed. I’m stressed right now. For all I know, I will be unemployed in a week. Certain issues at work will very soon be worked out and I haven’t a clue yet as to what that will look like. Will the supervisor take the fall for the group’s issues? It wouldn’t be the first time.

But stress has nothing to do with energy or vibrations or past-lives or your mother hitting you with a ruler. It has something to do with life and luck. It has mostly to do with your decisions and your behaviors.  You know how to resolve these situations? Decide now to make the right decision. Get help seeing clearly if you need to. Move. Move in any direction and then reassess. Then move again. Write down what good looks like for you then write out all the steps you need to get there.

So, quit vibrating. You can’t see clearly with all that shaking, anyway. Think about what’s solid and secure and true. And then stick to that script. Make a decision. Do something.

See Beware – Little Things Become Big Things here.
See a post about Priming and Focus  here.



What If You Wasted Your Entire Life?

Leo Tolstoy and the Meaning of Life

Book Review: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy

Like many wealthy young men, Tolstoy spent his days vacillating between the responsibilities of a young noble and the pleasures of the whore house. Finally, he mostly gave up on both and found religion.  Found True Religion is more accurate. He was Russian Orthodox his entire life until renouncing orthodoxy for his own version of True Faith in Jesus. The Death of Ivan Ilyich – a novella easily read in an afternoon – was his first published effort after his awakened faith. It tells the story of a man who, with no real effort or drive, rises to a mid-level bureaucratic position, and in so doing, learns to despise his once beloved wife, largely ignores his once adorable children, and spends his time proving to his colleagues and neighbors that he is a man of great culture and import. He is a Kardashian: pretense with little substance.

While hanging curtains in his new and ostentatious home,  Ilyich falls. Over the next days, he feels an ache in his side and then develops a metallic taste in his mouth. At his wife’s nagging, he agrees to see a doctor, then doctors, and then specialists who all fail to accurately diagnose his ailment. He knows, but will not admit, that he is in a downward spiral toward pain and death. He comes to detest his life and despises those around him. Death was never meant for him. Not now! Doctors, friends, and family are all liars who feign concern but plot their escape to the card table. People avoid him, he thinks, because he reminds them of death, of wasting, and of their own demise. His only comfort is his peasant servant, a theme seen throughout all of Tolstoy’s writing.

His last days are excruciating. Not from pain only but from the pestering realization that he has lived his life wrongly. Like a vapor. He has lived a false life elevating artifice and selfishness just as those he now despises. Just an hour before dying he feels release realizing that a good life is an authentic life.  A peasant life.  A life of empathy and compassion. His heart turns and he is washed in love and pity for his family and friends. He sees his death as their release from the burden of his care.

No Answers But Good Questions

But Ilyich is no mere pamphlet.  Tolstoy avoids pedantry and Ilyich’s dying revelations are implied and open to interpretation. Is this part of Tolstoy’s genius? To let each reader meander to their own meanings? Can we live authentically as wealthy people? What good is it to ‘inherit the earth’ if you are poor, weak, and dying? Thirteen years later, Tolstoy will publish Resurrection where the themes of Ilych are expanded. The Death of Ivan Ilyich rests comfortably on the same bookshelf with other great philosophical fiction (and isn’t all Russian lit philosophical?). Tolstoy presents the problem, hints at solutions, but raises as many questions as he answers.

What does it mean for readers of It’s The Good Life? Tolstoy’s protagonist came to see on his deathbed what we already know: the good life includes living intentionally, engaging relationships, and knowing what is truly meaningful. There are still questions: are leisure and fine things wrong? Is there an intrinsic reward in service and hard work? I’ll let you read the book and work these things out for yourself.

Modern readers can struggle with the prose and Tolstoy famously takes time to develop the story. But it is a wonderful and thought-provoking read. Can be profitably read and re-read.

Four stars.

Go here to see the book on Amazon.
Go here to see the book on Goodreads.


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Beware – Little Things Become Big Things

It was a Monday, and when I backed out of the drive for work, I felt an almost imperceptible rhythmic bumping from the front of my car. It was such a faint sense that if the road was too rough, I couldn’t feel it. After a week, it got a little louder but still not enough to alarm me. I grabbed a flashlight and looked under the car and couldn’t see a thing. Finally, I was driving home from work and – BANG! – I thought a SCUD missile hit the car. A tire blew out and I don’t mean started leaking air. I mean it shredded. It blew a hole large enough to shove a soccer ball through.

So here is my take-away: take care of little things before they become big things.

When I first felt that bump, I could have taken the car to a tire shop and had them poke around. They would have told me that the steel belt inside my front passenger tire is delaminating and, if I don’t replace it, it’s going to go on me. When I’m driving. Instead, I wondered about what was going for two weeks. Then the tire blew. But not at home and not near a tire store. I was twenty miles from home and pulled over into knee-high grass along the side of the road. I got out my mini sledge-hammer to remove the wheel from the car because it’s rusted on. And I’m hoping like hell that the donut I have for a spare will get me to the station. Then, I have to do everything I should have done earlier. Just take care of things, will you?

Closer to home, I remember when my Father’s shoulder began to hurt him. He was in remission from cancer so he was hypersensitive about anything odd with his body. If he dug hard, he could feel a little ‘BB’ rolling around deep inside the joint. He called a friend – a physical therapist who taught at a medical university – who said he had probably just pulled something. Had he attended to the small things, he would have gone to see his oncologist at the first sign of something amiss. He didn’t and we learned later that he had developed a treatable lymphoma. In time, his shoulder pain grew worse. When we finally went to the doctor, cancer had spread through much of his body. Would immediate diagnoses have changed the outcome? I don’t know. What I do know is that your best chance for anything to do with health from a cold to cancer is early diagnosis.

Big things start out as small things. Wisdom tells us to attend to those little things. Laziness tells us to ignore them. So, just like every journey starts with a step, and just like the road to better health can start with one decision,  the path to disease, illness, and injury can start with a simple scratch that goes uncared for.

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Goals for the Next Year…Updated

My birthday just passed and I forgot that I wrote this post last year. Let’s see how I’m doing…

I had a Happy Birthday call yesterday from my daughter in Japan. She surprised me and asked what my goals were for the next year. Huh? She said that I always taught her that we should be improving in some area of our life and keep goals to track our progress. I was surprised that these things stick. It’s good advice. Goals help us stay on track, keep us engaged in our own life, and remind us of a desired outcome. It’s common advice for anyone wanting to be happy and healthy. The goals don’t have to be big. They don’t have to be grand. But they should be specific and measurable.

Here’s a few of mine off the top of my head:

I want to ride in the Mt. Washington Hill Climb the summer of my sixtieth birthday. It’s considered the most difficult bicycle hill climb in the world and will remind me that sixty doesn’t have to mean decrepit. I’ll need a bike first. And bigger thighs. Not sure if I will make it. It’s still a goal…but not my wife’s goal. In her world “New Hampshire + cold +bike race + time off from work” does not equal “vacation.” And the time is a tough one. 

I want to pass my Certified Health Physicist exam next summer and would like to join Sigma Xi and The Society for the Study of Evolution. Am taking the CHP test next summer. Joined the Society for the Study of Evolution. Yet to pay up with sigma Xi.

Mal and I had our first date-night in about two years last Friday night. We played a little tennis and had a nice time just being together. I think we should definitely ramp up the romance to at least once per year. See? I like to set a low bar. Then I can pat myself of the back for achieving another goal. We’ve had a few more dates but not enough.

I have two papers I’m working of for publication, two longer projects that I want to have roughed out by next summer, and one other side writing projected to complete. LOL. I have no clue what this is.

There’s talk of going to Disney World this year. Have motel and tickets for November. Ugh.

I might need a new car if my New York Rust Bucket finally snaps in half. Purchased a 1990 Saab 900 Turbo. I don’t know if it’s true love or if I’ve just fallen for a cult but I never want to drive another car.

I am planning on running a couple of 5ks this fall and would like to break 25 min for a 5k next spring. I would like to break the famous (at least for Mittons) seven minute mile barrier this fall. Ran another 5K and will do another this Fall. 26:42 is still my best.

There’s a start. Thanks for the reminder,  Rebe!

There are all kinds of sites to learn more about goal setting. I like Brian Tracy quite a bit. Don’t get too bogged down in the planning but focus on the doing. And have some fun.

As always, thanks so much for reading. Be sure to add your email above to receive notification of more posts. Please do leave comments and if you like the post please pass it on by using one of the share buttons.