Mandalas and Meditation

This is a painted stone mandala. It’s a fun, satisfying craft that isn’t too hard once you figure out how to make the dots round. All it takes is acrylic paint, a rock, and pointy things like toothpicks and knitting needles to make the dots.

A mandala is a design that represents the universe. It can also represent the vibrations or sounds that make up everything in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a nice idea, and I enjoy looking at them. However, I wanted some design ideas, so I found a book of Buddhist mandala art at the library. It was rather creepy, with fiery devil guys and weird blue ladies. I think I’ll stick to mandalas made of geometric shapes.

There are a lot of aspects of Eastern philosophy and medicine that are very intriguing and useful. Meditation is one of them. There are many different types of meditation, but they all aim to train your mind. It’s easy to see a picture of someone sitting in lotus, motionless, with their eyes closed, and think meditation is pretty weird. Really, it’s mind training. Just like you learn to read, walk, and talk, you had to learn to think. Just as people can develop poor posture while walking, it is also possible to develop poor posture in your thinking.

I understand that if your “thinking posture” is doing fine, meditation may seem like a waste of time to you. But if your posture is a little out of alignment, meditation can perceptibly “straighten out” your thinking. As with physical posture, I think many people don’t notice when their mental posture is a little slouchy, or even when it is totally out of alignment.

I have been meditating for about ten minutes in the morning and in the evening, and it has been very helpful to me. A little time goes a long way while meditating. All you need is a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, and a guided meditation soundtrack with earbuds is helpful (there are plenty on YouTube).

My favorite types of meditation are mindfulness meditation and loving kindness meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves becoming very aware of your own body and of your thoughts, while abstaining from any sort of judgement. Yoga incorporates some aspects of this technique. Although meditation, properly done, does not require any straining or effort, it is really difficult to continually be aware of your thoughts without judging them or getting caught away by them. This type is very good for overthinking, anxiety, and depression, because it helps you separate yourself from your thoughts, which in these disorders are too frequent and distressing.

Loving kindness meditation feels really nice and I’ve seen it translate into my daily life. There are so many problems in this world, so many injustices, which we really can’t control. But we can control our attitudes. In this meditation, you begin by choosing someone close to you that is easy to love, and imagine sending love toward them. After a while, you choose someone else, who you do not know as well, to send love toward. You progress outward, from close friends and family to your community, to your country, and to the world. When you are ready, you can direct the increased love in your heart to someone who has hurt you. Finally, you can direct the love to yourself. Now, this exercise may sound cheesy, but it is based in truth. Things that annoy and hurt are more noticeable than things that are good. Taking the time to consciously remind ourselves of the good in ourselves and others helps us see the world in a more balanced, true way. It also helps us solve what problems we can, by being more understanding, kind, and influenced by truth.

Like everything I post about, meditation is not for everyone. But ten minutes a day is not much of a risk to take to find out if it works for you.

 

It’s Parkour, Dude

Here is one more idea for a non-boring exercise program: parkour. Many people have never heard of it. It’s also called freerunning. It’s basically like training to be a superhero, running up walls, vaulting over barriers, balancing on railings.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/sports/1194823328659/the-women-of-parkour.html

The stunts some parkour practitioners do look rather dangerous. Also, I highly recommend not doing parkour at great heights, like the top of a skyscraper. However, anyone can do parkour to some extent, at least according to this video:

I gave it a try, and it’s a lot of fun and a quick way to get your heart rate up. The safety roll is a great move to protect yourself from falls. It’s important to get to know your body well, and with careful practice I think parkour can actually reduce instead of increase your risk of injuries.

When You Give a Sister a Hermit Crab

My little sister has had hermit crabs for over a year now.  She started out with a nice little 15 gallon tank and 3 crabs. She eventually upgraded to a 30 gallon tank with 7 crabs, and you would think that would be the end of it.

But she is my sister, so you know more is coming.

Now the crabs have a 50 gallon tank, complete with DIY decorations, climbing material, and water dishes. No longer will Crabby, the most adventurous crab, need to resort to escape to get his climbing in.

However, before this came to be we had a lot of work to do. We bought the tank (and stand) on KSL.com from a man who was done using it as a fish tank. It was stinky and slimy, and caked in hard water residue. Plus, it was quite heavy. With the help of the entire family, we got it bought, transported, cleaned, and parked in my sister’s room. With her ingenuity, she crafted a tank setup that would make any crabber (person who keeps crabs) jump for joy. This included positioning the tank on its side so the crabs would have more horizontal room.

I’m not crazy about animals, but hermit crabs are pretty cute. It’s fun to try something new, and there is always more to learn.

Much Moss

My little sister and I both happen to love moss. So, we went on a moss gathering trip up the canyon by our home. We live in a desert, so I was doubtful whether we would find more than a few small clumps. But searching by a mountain stream, we found more than enough to make a small moss terrarium and fairy garden.

The moss is pretty easy to take care of. I just mist it with water twice a day. I use the dechlorinated water that my sister uses for her hermit crabs, just to make sure the moss is happy. It is planted on potting soil, with some rocks in the bottom for draining. The lid is important for keeping the moisture in.

Since then, I’ve been noticing moss everywhere. Peeking out of cracks in fences, crawling up tree trunks, hiding in grass. It’s magical stuff, and those who believe in it, see it.

Try saying this three times fast: Ma’s moss moths must miss mist.

The Hunter-gatherer Inside

The prey darts back and forth, in and out of my narrow window of vision. I patiently wait. A patch of moss seems like a likely spot for the creatures to be foraging, so I slowly adjust my viewing angle.

There! Wriggling furiously, a plump victim appears. I make sure it isn’t about scurry away before I take my eye off the lens.

“Got one!” I whisper.

My brother puts his eye to the glass, aims, and pulls the trigger.

Click.

Click click click.

“Yeah! Nice one!”

We have just captured our prey–on camera. We now have several photos and videos of wriggling microbes that, try as I might, were not visible to the naked eye. The trick was my microscope, which can magnify up to 400x, though the critters were visible at 100x.

I wanted to find some tardigrades, which are super resilient and surprisingly detailed creatures. They are nicknamed “water bears,” and they have a striking resemblance to bears and manatees. I didn’t find any, but I did find some rotifers, which look similar.

To get the critters, I soaked some dry moss in water and kept the water after taking the moss out. I left the baggie of water on my desk for a week, since I never got around to pulling out the microscope. When I finally did, I was delighted at the fauna I could see.

Using a microscope can be exciting, but it definitely takes practice. It is tricky to use the focus when viewing critters in water; since they can swim up and down as well as side to side, you have to keep one hand on the focus knob to keep a wriggly subject in focus. Moving the slide is also counter-intuitive: push the slide to the right, and the image moves to the left. Finally, if you want to view a water droplet at 400x, the lens gets so close to the slide that it touches the water.  If you can handle all that, then you’re ready to juggle a camera pressed to the eyepiece as well, to get footage like the following:

I may not be a hunter-gatherer, but I still like hunting and capturing. Even if it’s just a little tardigrade.

 

My Crepuscular Activity

I have now been using the crepuscular hours for silks practice. I just recently tried my first drop, which was scary and exciting, like jumping off the diving board. A drop is when, after preparing the proper wraps, you let go and the silks catch you. My first was successful, I am happy to report.

By now you are probably wondering what I mean by “crepuscular.” It is my new favorite word. It means “pertaining to twilight.” It’s so hot in the day that practicing outside is rather uncomfortable. Evening is just right. I even saw some crepuscular creatures one night: bats.

My second favorite new word is “virga,” which apparently refers to columns of rain that evaporate before hitting the ground. It is quite a pretty meteorological phenomenon. Also, though Wikipedia says the plural of this definition of “virga” can be either “virga” or “virgas,” the Corpus of Contemporary American Usage (or COCA) and a Google search side with the s-less version. If you like words, check out the COCA. It’s free, and if you decide to sign up with your email it won’t spam you.

By the way, the definition of “corpus” in linguistics is a body or collection of real-world text samples. The COCA has samples from fiction, news, spoken language, and academic writing. It’s search functions make it easy to see how people are using a particular word.

The Silks have Arrived

Look at these gorgeous blue aerial silks! Once I learned to climb the rope, I decided it was time to splurge on something new. And this hobby is very new.

Aerial silks are pieces of fabric that are meant for climbing and gymnastic tricks. They’re usually performed in a circus setting. The silks are a lot easier on my hands and feet than the rope. However, it is quite the upper-body workout, and some of the wraps are quite tight. I’ve been working on the tricks demonstrated in this video. I’ve also been oohing and aahing over how easy the experts make it look in videos like this one.

In the photo you can see a pair of old mattresses below me. They are there for safety. Technically, aerial silks should be learned from a trained instructor, since you could injure yourself badly by falling from the silks or by using incorrect form. I invested in secure rigging, and I never practice without someone else around. And I keep my tricks pretty close to the ground.

There are so many wonderful, unique things to try in this world. Pick something that interests you and try it.

“One without a hobby is missing out a lot.” -Anonymous

The Ants Go Marching

I’ve always thought ant farms were so cool. Honestly, who doesn’t? When I was younger I was given an ant farm for my birthday. After ordering the ants, I checked the mailbox in anticipation every day—for two months. Those are the days that I think of every time an Amazon package arrives in just a couple of days. Once the little tube of ants arrived, I chilled them in the fridge, as per the instructions, then dumped them in their new home.

I repeated this process about three times. The first time, all the ants died without digging much, and I’m not sure why. The second time, the ants all escaped from a hole in the top. Determined, the third time I made sure the ants were fed and watered properly and sealed all the holes. Well, all but a little hole at the bottom of the container. I thought the ants probably wouldn’t dig that far. I was so happy to see the ants alive and digging heartily right from the start. That is, until a couple of days later when I went into the garage to check on the ants. They had dug a tunnel in a perfect trajectory for the hole, and they were all gone. Sigh. At least my ants weren’t dumb.

I decided I wanted to try again this summer. With some wood, a Q-tips container, glass from a picture frame, and a lot of hot glue, I made my own ant farm designed to be hung on a wall. I filled it with sand dampened with sugar water, to provide sustenance and structural reinforcement.

I dug up a few shovelfulls of an ant hill in the garden to put in it. So far, the ant tunnels have been very visible and numerous. Unfortunately, the day after gluing it all together, the glue peeled up a bit off the glass. I had to reinforce after some escapes. Also, the cute backdrop turned out to be an ant trap, which is a little sad. I have also had a few escapes from the door in the top, which I’ve been taping down.

My motto for dealing with insects is “If there is a hole, it will escape.” I used to have a pet cricket when I was younger, and I wanted to make sure it had enough air. It escaped and popped up (literally) in the worst place possible—my bed.

I like my ant farm’s on-the-wall feature. It makes it easier to look at the ants without crumbling their delicate tunnels by touching it. However, I’ll need to keep working on a design that is escape-proof.

 

 

Hangin’ around

Today has been warm and windy—a perfect day for playing outside. My siblings and I had a great time at the park. I brought along my hammock and slackline, both of which I’ve been enjoying very much this summer.

This was the first time the hammock (cutequeen brand, $12 on Amazon) has been hung up so high. A little wild, but it worked. This hammock has been a good place to read in the shade, a novelty for my nieces and nephews, and a nice place to relax. Earlier this summer I spent the night outside in the hammock. My original plan was to get in a sleeping bag inside the hammock and then wrap another sleeping bag around it for warmth. It was very warm, almost too warm, and extremely squishy. So I decided to just wrap both sleeping bags around the hammock with me in it. I tried several configurations late into the night, until sometime after midnight I was comfortable enough to fall asleep. I woke up very cold and still somewhat squished, but I still had a good time, though I probably won’t try to sleep in it again. I love sleeping under the moon and stars, and to hear the birds in the early morning. Something must change between one and five in the morning, because the mild night gave way to a chill morning.

The slackline is also a recent hobby. I like doing things that I’m good at and that challenge me, and the slackline includes both. It is like a loose, flat tightrope.  It’s exhilarating to finally master it enough to walk from end to end.

The third suspended hobby I have is rope climbing. I didn’t really think I could climb a rope until recently, and with a few YouTube tips I can climb it quite well. The trick is to use your legs more than your arms to propel yourself upward. I got the rope at Lowes (12 feet for about $8) and tied it to a swingset.

Once I went to see a group of acrobatic circus performers. The group stunned me with their strength, balance, and skill. I could tell that they truly were masters of their craft. I appreciated their dedication to the very best. The crowd would have been impressed with feats half as difficult, but the group held themselves to a standard higher than any audience would demand. They performed tricks I thought impossible: for instance, a man jumping high in the air off a teeter-totter, spinning head-down, landing with his hands on a beam of wood stuck through two ladders. Sometimes what limits us are our beliefs that the attainable is unattainable.

Since watching the circus group, I have been interested in aerial silk acrobatics. This is a beautiful, free type of gymnastics that is done by climbing fabric. Since I can climb the rope now, I’m ready to order some silks of my own. Time for some more summer fun!

So cute

Ok, if these aren’t the cutest inanimate objects you’ve ever seen. I got them at the craft store, in the itty-bitty section. There is a lot of cute stuff available at Michaels. I’m still not sure how to write on them, but I intend to.

My sister and I decorated the bonsai a couple of months ago. The birdhouse, fence, and bench are all made of popsicle sticks and hot glue.

Sometimes life is about the cute little things that make you smile. Those things are just as real as the more serious ones.