2017-08-11

Relocation

We moved into a new apartment (even on the same floor in the same building in Jerusalem) on the eve of our first wedding anniversary (according to the Jewish calendar) this Sunday. This is the 11th relocation for me. Though this new apartment happens to be the best of all 11 apartments I've lived in so far, the main reason why we decided to leave our old apartment, where I spent 12 years as a bachelor and we spent one year as a married couple, is to restart our married life in a new place where both of us have equal says.

From Sunday until Thursday this week we also happened to have the 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies here in Jerusalem, so we could host some of our common and separate colleagues from abroad in our new apartment. Those who were in our old apartment were also impressed with this new one.

Having talked to many people from various countries, including native Israelis, in our new apartment as well as in the venue of the congress in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Japanese, I've observed with great interest the default way of constructing discourse in each of the cultures represented by these languages. I've reconfirmed that it's the traditional Ashkenazi way of speaking in Yiddish (and other languages) that I feel most comfortable in. My impression is that it requires more mental efforts than the typical Israeli and Japanese ways of speaking.

As I don't always get along well culturally with many native Israelis, I'm glad our new apartment remains a Yiddish-speaking ghetto in the sea of the Hebrew- or English-speaking population. But we are planning to invite here even more guests, including not only Yiddish-speaking friends but also speakers of other languages. Hospitality may not be an exclusively Ashkenazi cultural trait, but both my wife and I have adopted it from our haredi mentors and friends here.

2017-07-28

Unconsciously Wired Negative Neural Circuits I Have/Want to Unwire Consciously from My Brain

Having been practicing daily mindfulness meditation for about three months, I've become more mindful of more and more autopilot (i.e., mindless) behaviors of my own even when I don't meditate and realized many of these behaviors seem to cause a lot of trouble in my interpersonal relationships with others. Having read a couple of books on neuroplasticity, I've also understood that they originate from negative neural circuits I've wired unconsciously.

This week I read a book entitled Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. It's a practical guide for unwiring such neural circuits consciously from the brain through meditation. The major steps are as follows:

  1. Open the door to your creative state: induction
  2. Prune away the habit of being yourself: recognizing; admitting and declaring; surrendering
  3. Dismantle the memory of the old you: observing and reminding
  4. Create a new mind for your new future: creating and rehearsing

I've asked myself what are the most damaging of all the negative neural circuits I've wired unconsciously that I have/want to unwire consciously from my brain for my less troublesome interpersonal relationships with others. Here is a list of such negative neural circuits of mine:

  • When someone who sent me questions or asked me to do something remains silent without acknowledging receipt of what they wanted to receive from me, I become enraged and sometimes complain to them emotionally.
  • When someone who doesn't know me personally asks me what I consider too personal a question, I lose my temper and often protest them emotionally.
  • When someone rehashes some old interpersonal issue we've already settled, I lose my temper and often threaten to sever (and sometimes do sever) my relationship with them.
  • When students pampers themselves too much or behave unethically, I often criticize and preach them emotionally.
  • When students in class whisper to each other, I automatically interpret they are speaking badly of me behind my back (because of one such traumatic experience I had).

By unwiring these (and other) negative neural circuits from my brain, I want to remain calm without being affected emotionally by such people and their behaviors as it's me and not they who has to pay the price after all by causing damage to myself through my own autopilot behaviors. I'm even happy for myself as I've never dreamed that I'll come to such realization some day though there still remains a long way to go. Becoming aware of a problem is the first step toward its solution.

2017-07-21

The Power of Neuroplasticity

This week I made some new "discovery", which is probably the most important one so far since I started this whole process of mostly conscious transformation, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically as a result of my response to various psychological issues I've experienced after getting married last August. It's called "neuroplasticity", or our ability to rewire our brain through conscious efforts. I had to take a rather lengthy way to come to it from the initial shock of married life through psychological counseling, search for additional therapies, and discovery of mindfulness.

In a couple of days I've looked for popular books on neuroplasticity and made a provisional list of several books on this relatively new discovery in neuroscience. The first of them, which I've started to read, is a true gem entitled The Power of Neuroplasticity by Shad Helmstetter. He describes succinctly in a simple language how neuroplasticy works:

Everything we think, feel, or do, imprints or rewrites our brain. Our rewired brain, in turn, affects everything we think, feel, or do ... which again, in turn, imprints or rewires our brain.

He enumerates in this book of his the following as the seven rules of neuroplasticity for rewiring our brain positively:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Choices
  3. Intention
  4. Focus
  5. Repetition
  6. Emotion
  7. Belief

I'm so excited at this new "discovery" of mine, especially because of its far-reaching implications for almost all areas of my life, especially in my attempts to solve, or at least, alleviate, a number of psychological issues of mine. I'm going to spend this summer reading this and other books on neuroplasticity and trying to rewire my brain with the power of neuroplasticity for not only mental and emotional but even spiritual and physical well-being.

2017-07-14

Expressing Gratitude

In spite of my training to be non-judgmental of others or at least judge them favorably through daily mindfulness meditation, I still can't always help judging one type of people unfavorably - those who don't express gratitude for the favor they've asked and received. Though I don't generally complain to such people, I often ignore them next time they ask me a favor.

After I heard from my spiritual mentor, who is a haredi rabbi in Jerusalem, last week that expressing gratitude is the foundation for all the other positive character traits, including even humbleness, I've started to watch people and see if they express gratitude in those cases in which I definitely would. From my experience of answering questions and requests I receive by email from various people, including total strangers, on a daily basis I already know that many people simply don't express gratitude in such cases. I haven't seen any significant difference between secular and religious people in Israel in this respect though Judaism, if understood and practiced properly, is supposed to raise one's moral level. I was quite shocked at the result of my mindful man watching, so to speak, on its first day. Far less people I watched thanked others for the favor they've received from them than I had thought.

Instead of criticizing such people if they are my friends, I've started thanking everyone more mindfully for the favor I received from him or her even if it's a small one. I've already experienced one amazing result. One woman who is apparently used to complaints from her customers emailed me excitedly a message of gratitude for the gratitude I expressed her for her effort before asking her to correct her mistake. So I've decided to check if there are people who do the same if I thank them by email. Few so far, including my friends and colleagues. But unlike before I'm less bothered now with this or any other lack of gratitude from others as I've realized that expressing gratitude mindfully by focusing more on positive rather than negative things in everyone significally improves my emotional state, making me more compassionate for others.

PS: I want to thank all of what few regular readers I seem to have of this blog-shmog of mine.

2017-06-30

Mindless Learning and Learning to Teach Mindfulness

The more I practice mindfulness not only in the form of meditation but also in other forms such as praying, running, swimming, and yoga, the more I notice the mindless learning of many students in the classroom. Instead of being judgmental about them, I've been thinking of the detrimental effect of mindlessness to their learning and how to teach them mindfulness so that they may be able to apply it to learning in the classroom (and probably other daily activities).

I don't know which comes first, mindlessness or academic weakness/indifference. That is, are students mindless because they are academically weak and/or uninterested in the subject, or are they academically weak and/or uninterested in the subject because they are mindless? Anyway, there must be some significant correlation between the two.

The three strongest temptations for their mindlessness in the classroom are cellphones, which I call electronic pacifiers, tablets, and laptop computers, which they use more for checking email and social networks than for any other purpose - a kind of digital addiction, and a very serious, if not incurable, one at that.

So I've decided not only to continue learning and improving my mindfulness, hoping to make my teaching itself more mindful, but also to learn how to teach mindfulness, if not in the direct manner.

Of all the guidebooks to mindfulness I've read so far I like best and recommend Mindfulness for Dummies by Shamash Alidina. While surfing the net looking for some online course for learning to teach mindfulness, I've stumbled upon a three-month course by this author - Teaching Mindfulness Online. I wish I could start it right now, especially because my three-month summer vacation started today. But I'll have to wait another year or so as I've been planning to start taking now a series of self-directed courses called Conscious Transformation, which will last for about one year and can definitely be a good foundation for learning to teach mindfulness.

I feel I've undergone some significant conscious transformation, as it were, since I was diagnosed with OCPD about three months ago. In my constant search for possible ways for alleviating this mental disorder, I've found many and even started practicing a few of them. Mindfulness is definitely the most important of them all. That's why I feel a strong urge to share this skill by teaching it to my students, again indirectly, and hopefully to other people as well by learning how to teach it first.

2017-06-23

Strictness vs. Compassion

Having been practicing daily mindfulness meditation for about two months and trying to be an observer of my mind, I'm gradually realizing how strict I have been with both myself and others, whether I know them personally or not. Though I'm still very strict with myself about punctuality (i.e., never to be late for any appointment) and suppression of egocentrism in public (especially about noise and dirt, I've become less strict and even more compassionate for others especially because these two positive values are exceptions rather than rules in Israeli society.

But I still can't be compassionate at all for and remain even very strict with self-pampering behaviors, especially of those I'm supposed to be responsible for. By self-pampering behaviors I mean those behaviors that reveal total lack of strictness with oneself and childish expectations from others. I've constantly been surprised to encounter far more self-pampering people in Israel than in Japan.

At least in one specific context I have to teach them that such self-pampering behaviors are totally unacceptable. Fierce resistance is the typical reaction I get from self-pampering people when I try to make them become aware of their problem (and I can't help countering their fierce resistance with even more fierce resistance to give in to them).

This week I had a pleasant surprise. Someone whose self-pampering behavior I tried to make become aware of apologized to me sincerely. Then suddenly I felt such deep compassion for him and found some compromise that was also beneficial for him. His (positive) response was totally beyond my imagination. Then I understood that compassion could be more effective than strictness in order to have my message received.

But unfortunately, I still can't help being strict with those who resist such attempts of mine fiercely even without the slightest hint of gratitude and apologies. This must sound very judgmental, but at the present stage of my spiritual development I still can't be compassionate for those who don't seem to have developed the minimal degree of interpersonal manners. In the meanwhile I continue to colide with these people, hoping that one day they will realize that self-pampering is not self-compassion (and I myself will also be able to have compasson for them unconditionally).

2017-06-16

Possible Danger of Walking as the Only Regular Physical Practice

I often tell my friends and colleagues outside Israel half-seriously that the most popular national sport in Israel is eating. But to be serious, I doubt if the percentage of people doing any regular physical practice in Israel is high enough. I have, however, met enough people who walk as a special physical practice in the early morning.

This may seem better than doing nothing special except for eating, but it has a possible danger. Many regular walkers I've spoken to seem to think that walking alone is enough for maintaining or even developing their muscle strength. All the medical books I've read so far on physical well-being show that this isn't the case. Walking is barely enough even for cardiovascular endurance and definitely insufficient for muscle strength.

We lose our muscles by 1% every year if we don't do any regular muscle strength training after we reach our 30s. So by the time we reach our 70s, we lose 40% of our muscles if we do nothing special for maintaining our muscle strength. I wonder if those whose only regular physical practice is walking are aware of this possible danger.

In the park where my wife and I run every weekday morning we see quite a few walkers, mainly those in their 60s and 70s. I haven't spoken to any of them personally, but from the way they look like in terms of their (lack of) muscles, I seriously doubt if they also train their muscles.

Actually, I myself was one of such people until about ten years ago with running, which is only efficient for cardiovascular endurance, as my only regular physical practice. Since I read not only the importance of muscle strength as one of the most important factors contributing to our physical well-being, especially at an old age, but also the fact that we can start developing it at any age.

I've been trying to preach these gospels to as many family, friends and colleagues as possible, stressing that regular muscle strength training is a wise long-term physical investment. But most people I've spoken to seem to be too lazy to start after the age of 30 or so some new regular physical practice they have never done before and continue to lose their muscles by 1% steadily but surely.

My wife is the only exception so far I know personally who has been convinced by me and started muscle strength training. She still keeps doing it as well as running, swimming, resistance stretching, yoga (and mindfulness meditation, which is for our mental muscles, so to speak) regularly with me.

The kind of muscle strength training I find the most convenient is the so-called bodyweight strength training, and the best guides to bodyweight strength training I've found so far are Your Body Is Your Gym (for men) and Body by You (for women) both by Mark Lauren.

2017-06-09

"Destiny" of Bread in Israel

Though I have been living in Israel for about 18 years, it was only a few years ago that I became fully aware of the "destiny" of bread here from the moment it leaves the oven until it reaches the table. It's displayed on shelves by sellers, often examined and returned to shelves by potential customers, chosen and taken to the cashiers by customers with bare hands, checked by cashiers, and handed to the customers. In all these five stages the bread remains unpacked and touched by bare hands that don't always look very clean. In short it's treated more like an unwashed vegetable than like cake.

When I first encountered this "horror scene", I doubted my eyes. But as I've watched in my full awareness more and more of the same or similar "horror scenes", I've understood that this is a norm rather than an exception. And this will remain as one of the last things I would never be able to get used to in Israel. When I saw quite a few construction workers with really dirty hands examine bread without buying it in different occasions in different places, I stopped buying and eating unpacked bread here except for challah or another kind of bread for Sabbath, which isn't always packed.

Even this has become difficult for me after I saw a couple of weeks ago the most incredible "horror scene" since I became aware of the "destiny" of bread in Israel. One seller from whom we used to buy for Sabbath arranged various types of unpacked bread on shelves with his bare hands that had become really dirty after touching and arranging schnitzels and other unpacked deep fried foods on other shelves.

My wife has been telling me that I should get used to bread touched by many bare hands partly to develop my immune system as there may be many other, hidden, unhygienic foods here. In the meanwhile I've developed my new hobby of watching people who touch and examine bread with their bare hands without buying it, checking the way they are dressed, and trying to find a possible correlation between "actors" of this "horror scene" and their sociocultural background. I even saw, though very rarely, people picking unpacked bread with an empty nylon bag as I always used to do before stopping to buy it. Then I felt like approaching them and interviewing them about the "destiny" of bread in Israel and their strategies of coping with it by disguising myself as a cultural anthropologist investigating the awareness of food-related hygiene in Israeli society.

2017-06-02

Planning Another (Research-cum-)Honeymoon Trip

We've just finished making all the necessary reservations for our trip to Japan in the first half of this coming October, including flights between Israel and Japan as well as hotels and flights inside Japan. I see this as another (research-cum-)honeymoon trip of ours though we already had one to Moscow (and Tbilisi) last summer right after we got married here in Jerusalem.

The main purpose of (the first half of) our first trip was my getting acquainted with who and what have made my wife in her native Moscow what she is now both privately and professionally. In this second trip of ours I want her to get acquainted in turn with who and what have influenced me in my native Japan in both areas of life.

In the research part of this trip we'll work at one of the libraries of an alma mater of mine in Japan, which has one of the biggest collections of books on languages and linguistics. In the (belated) honeymoon part of the trip I want to introduce her to my parents and close relatives, private friends, and professional colleagues as well as the places I lived in and/or I like in Japan and the Jewish community in Kobe, my Jewish "alma mater" in Japan.

Unfortunateky, we'll be forced to visit only a small number of places in what little free time we have, including Yurihonjo, Nyuto, Kobe, Kyoto, Tokyo and Hakone, and leave for other trips of ours in Japan so many places I like to visit again or for the first time with my wife, including Beppu, Yufuin, Kurokawa and Kusatsu.

Planning this short trip of ours in Japan, I'm amazed anew to find how rich the country is in its culture and nature. I also reexamine it and its possible attractions from the viewpoint of my wife, who has never been to Japan, this time. In the meanwhile she has started to learn Japanese quite intensively as a (or often the) means of communication with those people she is going to meet there.

As I plan this trip of ours in Japan and also reexamine it and its possible attractions from the viewpoint of my wife, who has never been to Japan, I feel as if I were rediscovering Japan and its natural and cultural richness. I'm especially interested to hear her impressions of the country, including its nature, culture, and people after and even during another (research-cum-)honeymoon trip of ours, as Japan is fundamentally different in many ways from both Russia and Israel.

2017-05-26

Thinking vs. Being

Many of us human beings are actually human doings, especially in our days. Those of us who are not enlightened spiritually, including, of course, myself, are addicting to doing, including thinking, instead of focusing on being in the present moment and enjoying it non-judgmentally.

The more I practice mindfulness, first and foremost in the form of meditation, but also in an increasing number of areas of my daily life, including davening, running, and swimming, and the more I read about mindfulness, the more keenly I realize how my mind, including my thoughts and emotions, has hijacked myself. We can realize the existence of something only when we experience its non-existence. Only after I've started to experience short-lived glimpses of non-mind, so to speak, through mindfulness, I feel even intuitively how my life has been controlled by my mind.

Except when I practice mindfulness, my mind doesn't stop working even in those contexts in which it does more harm than good, thinking and feeling, mostly negatively, about the past and the future, and judging others, again mostly unfavorably. But on the other hand, in those contexts in which I need my mind, it can't work in a focused manner.

I've known of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for quite some time, but I haven't taken the trouble of reading it, dismissing it as yet another shallow bestseller. When I started to read it this week, I understood I was totally wrong. It's one of the most amazing books I've ever encountered in my entire life. It doesn't deal explicitly with mindfulness, but no other book I've read seems to capture the essence of mindfulness better than it.

I (and probably many other people) have been indoctrinated to think that we have to think constantly. Descartes went even so far as to say, "Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am')". But as Eckhart Tolle explains in the above mentioned book of his, nothing seems to be more distant from the truth about our thinking and being. Our thought, he says, is nothing but a part of our consciousness. Unfortunately, I can neither understand nor feel this consciousness beyond thought or the state of being without thinking. This is a new self-imposed mission in my life - to become spiritually enlightened by attaining this state. This must be an important step in pursuing the purpose of my life - to train my soul in my physical body.

2017-05-19

Lifelong Learning

Since I started my daily mindfulness meditation about three weeks ago, I was looking for a frum Jewish teacher of this meditation method in Jerusalem. Yesterday morning I stumbled upon an announcement about an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation starting on the very same day and immediately arranged my registration, feeling as if it were bashert. We had our first weekly session last evening.

The greatest benefit of and my main reason for participating in such a course is that one can't acquire skills, including mindfulness meditation. fully and accurately, only from books. In our first weekly session I could confirm that my practice of mindfulness meditation based on books is alright.

Since I consider training of the soul as the main purpose of my life, I find lifelong learning crucial and have always like to learn new life skills in various aspects of life first by myself and then sometimes also formally. The life skills I tried to acquire in the past ten years this way include navigating in the sea of the Talmud (I spent a year learning it at Ohr Somayach, a haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem), Chi Running (from a private teacher), Total Immersion Swimming (from a private teacher). I also continue practicing these skills in order to improve them for my spiritual and physical well-being.

After I was diagnosed with OCPD, I started to take an interest in acquiring new life skills for my mental and emotional well-being. Mindfulness meditation, which is recommended in a number of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectal and behavior therapy, it was the first life skill I decided to learn formally.

Now I'm seriously thinking of learning three more life skills formally in the next several years not only for myself but also hoping to share my newly acquired practical knowledge to help others, mostly spiritually and physically: Conscious Transformation (in an online course), life coaching (at a school in Jerusalem, probably during my next sabbatical), and shiatsu (at a school in Jerusalem I can attend in my free time). I have no plan of leaving my present occupation and start working exclusively as a life coach and a shiatsu practitioner, but I feel like learning these life skills systematically now even if I have few or no chances to practice them for others immediately after completing formal learning and receiving certificates. I have been interested in shiatsu as both its receiver and (non-professional) giver since I was a child, whereas my interest in life coaching is very new.

I feel I'm at an important turning point in my life now. Especially since I got married last summer and was diagnosed with OCPD a few months afterwards, I've been looking for more and more ways for my self-empowerment not only for myself but hopefully and eventually also for others. I'll probably encounter other life skills I want to learn formally to complement my lifelong learning.

2017-05-12

Scrivener Workflow

Unlike 99% (or even more?) of my colleagues and students in linguistics and Jewish studies, who use Microsoft Word or some other word processor for every imaginable sort of writing with a computer, I don't use these bloatware programs for the same purpose. When I tell this to them, they are shocked first, then ask me immediately what software I use if not Word, as if it were the only writing tool on this planet. I use EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor for note taking, where physical layout is irrelevant, and Scrivener, which I call "integrated writing environment", for writing academic articles. I also use these two powerful (commercial) tools with MultiMarkdown.

Since I stumbled upon and started using Scrivener several years ago, I've been preaching its benefits. But the number of fellow researchers who started using it as a result of my preaching is only one so far, who is very computer-savvy. Now I'm in the middle of showing my wife how to make smooth transition from Word to Scrivener for writing her PhD dissertation before she starts writing it with, God forbid, Word.

If you had experienced the benefits of Scrivener, Word or any other word processor would seem so stupid and inefficient. But even if you've been convinced of these benefits, the migration from the stone age to the 21st century isn't so easy because of the steep learning curve of Scrivener, especially if you also want to use MultiMarkdown, which is natively supported by and incorporated in Scrivener.

Since I started using it several years ago, I've been thinking of sharing my workflow, especially in combination with MultiMarkdown, publicly so that more people will stop torturing themselves with paleolithic writing tools. I'm finally doing this. This workflow can also be a good reminder for myself. It's based on the Windows version of the software, but it must also apply to the Mac version.

Preparation

  • Learn MultiMarkdown syntax through MultiMarkdown Guide.
  • Reach Chapter 21 "Using MultiMarkdown" in Scrivener's built-in User Manual, which you can open by pressing F1.

Interface Customization

  • Hide "Format Bar" by going to "Format" on the toolbar and unchecking "Format Bar" in order not to be tempted to change physical formatting locally as in a word processor.
  • Open "Inspector" by clicking the "i" icon on the right top corner.

Project Structure

  • Split the project, which is equivalent to a single document in a word processor, into documents, each of which corresponds to a chapter of a section.
  • You don't need to plan all the chapters and sections in advance. You can add and rearrange them any time later.
  • Put those documents that will be a visible part of your end product under "Draft" and those that are only references under "Research". In the Inspector window of each of these latter documents uncheck "Include in Compile".

Actual Writing

  • Concentrate on the semantic structure of each document instead of being distracted by its physical formatting by marking up the semantic structure of each paragraph by choosing the appropriate syntax element of MultiMarkdown instead of changing its physical formatting locally.
  • You can split the screen either vertically or horizontally to open, for example, a "Draft" document and a "Research" document simultaneously.

Compilation [the most complicated part]

  • You can use the same Scrivener project in order to convert it into multiple output formats.
  • Let's suppose you want to convert your project into ODT, Word, and/or PDF formats.
  • Press the "Compile" icon (the one with a rectangular arrow).
  • Choose "Compile For: MultiMarkdown to OpenDocument Flat XML (.fodt).
  • Press "Save".
  • Open the saved FODT document with LibreOffice Writer.
  • [Optional] Open a blank ODT document from your own favorite OTT template, if any, and copy and paste the content of the above FODT document there.
  • Convert it to ODT format by saving it as an ODT document.
  • [Optional] Modify the physical formatting of non-default paragraphs not by manually changing each of them locally but by changing the associated "Styles" by pressing F11, choosing the style you want to change, clicking "Modify", and modifying the details. This modification will globally change the physical formatting of all the paragraphs associated with this specific style.
  • You can convert this new ODT document into Word or PDF format with LibreOffice Writer.

2017-05-05

Financial Recovery and Fitness

Now that I've already been working on my emotional and mental well-being in addition to my physical well-being, I've decided to start working on something I've been postponing for a long time - my financial well-being - or to be more precise, achieving full recovery from some serious temporary financial "disease" and maintaining financial fitness for years to come through some "workout". Of the several self-help books about personal finance I've found Financial Recovery by Karen McCall and The Net Worth Workout by Susan Feitelberg especially helpful.

The most important advice I've learned from the first book (and started to try to implement) is distinguishing between need and want. She write, among others:

A need, when filled, sustains us. A want, when filled, entertains us. Attempting to substitute wants for needs eventually drains us. [...] The urge to buy on impulse is a good indication that something is a want, not a need.

Now I realize that the main reason why I haven't been so successful in saving money is that I easily give in to the temptation of satisfying wants, especially when they are books and/or cost a small amount of money, and these wants sum up to quite a large amount after a certain length of time. This financial urge may even be compared to addiction.

What I like best in the second book are the physical metaphors it uses in talking about finance. The author uses the term "workout" to refer to a series of efforts we are supposed to make in order to recover and maintain our financial health. She makes the following metaphorical comparisons:

  • Earning = metabolism
  • Spending = calorie intake
  • Saving = strength training
  • Investing = cardiovascular workout

Since I've been doing various physical workouts, these metaphors help me estimate my current financial "shape" even intuitively, which is already a progress for me. But the harder part is how to set my financial goals and make plans to attain these goals. Unfortunately, being a total novice in financial workout, I still don't know exactly how to accomplish these two tasks. I'll probably have to read these two books again (and again) and/or even take a course in financial planning as I've never taught it as part of the school curriculum or in any other formal setting. Another important thing I've been planning (and postponing) to do is to start using a personal financing software program (such as GnuCash) to track what comes in and goes out and in what forms.

2017-04-28

Daily Mindfulness Meditation

I've decided to start my daily meditation, first and foremost as a way to access my pre-birth plan as suggested by Robert Schwartz in his online document entitled A Meditation to Access Your Pre-Birth Plan by embracing my life challenges and knowing my true nature, and then as a way to alleviate my OCPD and improve my general well-being as was recommended by our psychological counselor.

Of all the practical guides to meditation I've found and checked Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian has appealed to me most because of its detailed practical guidelines and explanation of their underlying physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual principles. And of all the meditation techniques mentioned there mindfulness meditation has appealed to me most. He defines mindfulness as "moment-to-moment awareness of your experience as it occurs". Here are some of the tips he writes about mindfulness meditation which I find most useful:

Because mindfulness grows like a house on a foundation of concentration, you need to strengthen and stabilize your concentration before you can proceed to the full practice of mindfulness. That's why the initial meditations provided here emphasize focusing on a particular object of concentration: your breath.

Ultimately, the goal of mindfulness meditation is to develop the capacity to be fully present for whatever is occurring right here and now. When you've stabilized your concentration by focusing on your breath, you can expand your awareness to include the full range of sensations, both inside and outside, and eventually just welcome whatever presents itself, including thoughts, memories, and emotions.

As soon as you've developed a certain ease in following your breath, you can expand your awareness as you meditate to include the full range of sensations both inside and outside your body: feeling, smelling, hearing, seeing. Imagine that your awareness is like the zoom lens on a camera. Until now, you've been focused exclusively on your breath; now you can back away slightly to include the field of sensations that surrounds your breath.

When you become accustomed to including sensations in your meditation practice, you can open your awareness wide and welcome any and every experience - even thoughts and emotions - without judgment or resistance.

I've also found some useful practical tips about mindfulness meditation on a content-rich website called Mindful:

After reading these practical tips I've started to mediate daily by following two guided mindfulness meditation practices: Meditation for Dummies Resource Center (track 4, which is about mindfulness meditation), and Mindfulness Meditation Lite (free daily program and part of Mental Workout) by Stephan Bodian, the author of the above mentioned guidebook.

I'll also complement my understanding and practice of meditation with Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most important authorities on mindfulness in the world, Increasing Wholeness by Rabbi Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz from a Jewish perspective, and Integral Meditation by Ken Wilber as part of Integral Life.

It's still to early to see the effect of this new daily practice of mine. But I really hope it will at least serve as yet another way in my struggle with my OCPD, if not as a way to access my pre-birth plan. One important thing I've already learned is that (mindfulness) meditation is simple but not easy as Jon Kabat-Zinn also writes.

Now my daily practices on weekdays (after getting up at 05:00 and before going to bed at 23:00) look like as follows (and the best part is that I do all these practices with my wife):

2017-04-21

Preparation for Relocation

My wife and I have decided to move this August to another apartment, which happens to be not only in the same building but even on the same floor where we live now. This is mainly for starting a new page of our married life as equals, especially emotionally. Until my wife moved into this apartment after we got married last August, I lived here alone for 12 years. I'm afraid she must be feeling as if she were a guest here as it's only I who chose this apartment and decided where and how to arrange the furniture.

Though we still have a little more than three months until our relocation, we started preparing for it this week. Since the new place is much smaller (but in a much better condition) than the present one, we first took upon ourselves the task of classifying a rather humble (but selected) collection of some 1200 books I have in my private library here into three groups - 1) about 600 more important books to put in the living room, where we'll also work, 2) about 400 less important ones to put in the bedroom, and 3) about 200 to give or throw away - and rearranging them physically on the bookshelves so that we may be able to move each of them to the new apartment as it is.

This physically rather demanding task has turned out to be even an intellectually refreshing exercise. Though I've kept buying many books, the number of the books in my private library has always remained between 1000 and 1500 in the past few decades. I haven't kept non-academic books after reading them for lack of physical space as well as my minimalism and essentialism except for some very rare cases. This has become less of a problem in recent years as more and more academic (and even non-academic) books I acquire are electronic. So this must have been the first time in the last several years that I reexamined my private library, asking myself about each and every book if I want to keep it or not, and if yes, where.

It was quite easy to decide which book to classify into the third category mentioned above, but it wasn't so easy to classify the remaining books further into one of the two first categories. I spent half a day reclassifying these books while my wife was looking and laughing at me. ;-) My (or should I say "our") library has become fitter and easier to navigate. It looks like as follows in terms of its composition now:

  • More important books: 600
    • Dictionaries: 100
    • Languages: 200
    • Linguistics: 100
    • Judaism: 100
    • Jewish history: 50
    • Jewish literature: 50
  • Less important books: 400
    • Dictionaries: 100
    • Languages: 200
    • Linguistics: 100

This has nothing to do with relocation, but now that I've made an order in my physical library, I feel I have to do the same with my ever growing electronic library, which holds about 1000 books now, especially by cataloging them. I'm afraid I'll probably need at least one whole week for this task. What I've accomplished so far is fairly miserable - I've only cataloged some 50 books on lexicography, which is the main area of my present linguistic research-shmesearch, using Zotero, my favorite bibliography manager.

2017-04-14

Pre-Birth Planning

I've come to be firmly convinced of the existence of the afterlife (also known as the life between lives and the "Other Side") and past lives after reading Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls - two collections of testimonies of life between lives regressions conducted by Dr. Michael Newton - and Many Lives, Many Masters and Messages from the Masters - two collections of testimonies of past life regressions conducted by Dr. Brian Weiss respectively years ago. This week I stumbled upon and devoured two similar and no less amazing and no less convincing books about (not only the afterlife and past lives but also) the so-called pre-birth planning - Your Soul's Plan and Your Soul's Gift by Robert Schwartz.

The author, unlike the above mentioned two, turned to one psychic medium in order to understand one life challenge he had been experiencing and was introduce to his spirit guides, who in turn told him through his psychic medium about his pre-birth planning. This life changing spiritual experience has lead him to find and interview through psychic mediums those people who had experienced life challenges such as mental illness and addiction, to name just a few, and their spiritual guides. The author made two insightful collections of their testimonies about their respective pre-birth decisions to choose these difficult life challenges for their spiritual growth.

He writes so convincingly how his experience of getting aware of his own pre-birth planning has given a totally new meaning to his present life and has even had a healing power for his life challenge. You can also hear him tell this spiritual experience of his even more vividly in various recorded interviews of his in YouTube (please just type the author's full name in the search window there).

Having read and heard what he has to share with us, I've felt a renewed interest to hear what my spirit guides as well as deceased ones who were close to me have to tell about my pre-birth planning about the specific life challenges in my present reincarnation. Actually, I've been looking for a psychic medium in Jerusalem for years in vain. But since I understand know that this can also be done over the phone, I may contact one of those credible (but not too expensive) psychic mediums I've found on the web.

In his online document entitled A Meditation to Access Your Pre-Birth Plan Robert Schwartz writes "there are three ways in which you can determine what you planned before you were born: 1) through working with mediums and channels; 2) through hypnotic regression to the 'life-between-life' state; or 3) through meditation." In addition to or instead of a session with some psychic medium I may try his own between lives soul regression. But before these two I'd definitely like to follow his advice and try meditation.

2017-04-07

Two Physical Exercises for Flexibility and Strength with Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Benefits

Since I stumbled upon The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx and Stretching by Bob Anderson when I was still a freshman in the university, I've been running and stretching regularly on weekdays with a couple of intermittent breaks. Just as my running was fundamentally changed by ChiRunning several years ago, I feel my stretching is being revolutionized by "resistance stretching" called Resistance Flexibility and Strength Training, which I found this week while looking for more ways to integrate body, heart, mind, and spirit into my life and have already started trying by consulting The Genius of Stretching by Bob Cooley.

What has totally taken me by surprise is the first of the seven principles of resistance stretching he has found through his experience with himself and others who asked for his help - "You need to contract and lengthen your muscles while stretching" or "True flexibility occurs only when a muscle can contract maximally throughout its entire stretch length." Until I read this eye-opening book, I was very careful not to avoid any resistance of the body parts I was stretching. It's still early to see the physical benefits of this method.

Even more astounding is the author's explanations that resistance stretching has also emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits as the sixteen different stretches he has devised are connected to sixteen muscle groups, sixteen energy meridians, and sixteen personalities, which are grouped into physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual groups. I don't understand yet how this resistance stretching, but not non-resistance stretching, can benefit not only our body but also our emotion, mind, and even spirit, but here again I'm ready to continue trying it.

This chance encounter has rekindled my interest in yoga, which is actually the first physical exercise I've practiced regularly in my life. When I was still a junior high school student, I stumbled upon a textbook of what came to be known later as Oki Yoga. I was so fascinated by not only the physical benefits of what I started to practice daily by myself but also its integral approach to life to encompass emotion, mind, and spirit as well.

Actually, I resumed my yoga practice several years ago by attending a course in a derivative of the so-called Iyengar Yoga for two years, but for some purely technical reason I had to stop attending it. In retrospect I can tell now that after I stopped practicing yoga, I started to become emotionally less stable. Last summer right after our wedding my wife and I took a trial lesson in the authentic Iyengar Yoga at Iyengar Yoga Jerusalem, hoping to attend their course for beginners in this academic year. Unfortunately, we had to give up this idea, but we are planning to participate in such a course in the next academic year. In the meanwhile we are practicing this yoga, if not daily, using what I consider the best textbook of Iyengar Yoga written by its initiator himself - Iyengar Yoga.

I can understand better and even more intuitively how yoga can contribute to our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being than how resistance stretching can. I'm also wondering what are the most fundamental differences between Resistance Flexibility and Strength Training and Iyengar Yoga, both of which are supposed to benefit not only our body but also our heart, mind, and spirit, and improve both our flexibility and strength.

PS: I also practice regularly the so-called bodyweight strength training for my strengh as well as ChiRunning and Total Immersion Swimming for my endurance.

2017-03-31

Integral Theory and Integral Life Practice

While looking for things I may be able to do by myself for my OCPD in addition to the professional psychotherapy I receive, I've encountered a book entitled Integral Life Practice by Ken Wilber and his three colleagues, which in turn has lead me to a mind-boggling theory called Integral Theory by Ken Wilber himself, on which it's based.

This practice, which is also called Integral Life Practice, is one of the tens of applications of Integral Theory. It proposes to integrate body, emotion, mind, and spirit into life or to strive for physical health, emotional balance, mental clarity, and spiritual awakening in all of what Integral Theory calls "quadrants", or perspectives or dimensions of reality, which can be summarized schematically as follows:

  • Individual/interior = subjective ("I") - intentional
  • Individual/exterior = objective ("It") - behavioral
  • Collective/interior = intersubjective ("We") - cultural
  • Collective/exterior = interobjective ("Its") - social

Integral Life Practice proposes to work on these "quadrants" in the following modules:

  • Core modules
    • Shadow (= repressed, primary, authentic emotion)
    • Mind
    • Body
    • Spirit
  • Additional modules
    • Ethics
    • Sex
    • Work
    • Emotion
    • Relationships

And it practices both "vertically" and "horizontally". "Vertical" practice works on the "depth" in each module in each quadrant, while "horizontal" practice covers the "breath" of the modules and quadrants to work on.

Since I've encountered this practical application of Integral Theory, I can't help being exited. Unfortunately, the above short schematic summary of mine can barely scratch the surface of the depth and breath of Integral Life Practice. Like many other practices it's rather difficult to learn only from a book what one is supposed to do. So I've decided to enroll in an online audiovisual course called Integral Life Practice Starter Kit. Integral Life Practice seems far more fundamental than psychotherapy, and I can also continue it after I'm forced to stop receiving professional psychotherapy mainly for financial reasons in a couple of months.

What I live best in this practice is "shadow work" in the shadow module as the prerequisite for working on the other core and additional modules. Simpl(isticall)y speaking, it's to bring the repressed emotion from the past, especially from childhood, from the unconscious to consciousness and liberate oneself from its shackles in the present. I'll also continue my "shadow work" using other books I've found. It will affect me not only in my treatment of OCPD but in my life in general.

In order to better understand Integral Life Practice and implement it into my life I've also decided to read some of the books by Ken Wilber himself, including A Brief History of Everything, A Theory of Everything, Integral Psychology, Integral Spirituality, and Integral Meditation.

2017-03-24

OCPD, Studying Musar ('Jewish Ethics'), and Living in Israel

This week I had to decide to suspend studying Musar ('Jewish ethics'), which I started to study systematically both in a weekly study group guided by a haredi rabbi and privately. The study of Musar is supposed to improve the negative character traits of its learners. But as for me, I came to realize that this study made me become more sensitive to flaws of other people and criticize them instead of working on my own.

One of the symptoms of OCPD is that its patient is "overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)" according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 301.4 (F60.5). My study of Musar has made me start expecting a higher level of morality (not only from myself but also) from those around me. As a result more and more situations in my interpersonal relations came to trigger more and more obsessive thoughts, which in turn triggered more and more compulsive behaviors, which in turn cause more and more conflicts with others.

In retrospect, I seem to have shown the major symptoms of OCPD even when I still lived in Japan until more than 12 years ago. But they didn't cause any serious conflict with others there as some of the core cultural values are rather similar to some symptoms of OCPD, including perfectionism, order, and morality, though I encountered other sociocultural problems there, mainly with the system, and not necessarily in my interpersonal relationships.

Living in Israel, I've been experiencing difficulties mostly in interpersonal relationships, and unfortunately, these difficulties are worsening. I can't help feeling that Israeli society is far less OCPD-friendly, so to speak, than its Japanese counterpart in that people in the former are far more egocentric and insensitive, probably except in the case of national emergency. For this reason I've been thinking of leaving this country to save my mental and subsequently physical health. But I don't think this option is viable for all intents and purposes. So I have to train myself to become more resistant of egocentric and insensitive behaviors, whether verbal or nonverbal, here. This is also part of the so-called exposure and response prevention therapy I've started receiving.

2017-03-17

Heavy Price to Pay for Remaining True to Myself

I have been paying a heavy price for remaining true to myself since I paid the first heavy price for this when I was a junior high school student. It seems I'll have to pay what seems to be the heaviest price so far - the price called divorce for the life decision I've made (and haven't changed for decades) to choose to remain childfree. Though the woman who is still my wife legally as of this writing told me before our marriage that she wasn't interested in children (and this is why I proposed her marriage in the first place), she seems to have changed since then. I heard from her for the first time yesterday that she has decided to choose her future children over me if she can't have both. I for one choose to remain childfree over her.

I don't remember meeting anyone who understood me when I told them even after marriage that I'm not interested to have my own children. Many of them were intolerant of this free choice of mine and even tried to convince me to change my mind. I have many reasons for preferring to remain childfree, but I've become tired of explaining them to those who have never doubted that having children after marriage is the only conceivable and legitimate choice. I'd like them to explain to me convincing reasons why they want or have to have children. If they accuse me for being egocentric in my decision, they look no less egocentric to me in theirs. But I'm alright with their decision as long as they don't try to impose their views upon me as I'm the one who has to pay the price of having children for the rest of my life.

Probably the sincerest account of people like myself who prefer remaining childfree by choice is Childless [sic] by Choice by Laura S. Scott, but the people described there are couples unlike myself both members of which have chosen to remain childfree. A more hilarious account is No Kids by Corinne Maier. They are far more eloquent than my possible account of myself.

PS (2017-03-19): In the meanwhile we met my spiritual mentor who also arranged our wedding. Before we met him, we were very close to divorce, but after our meeting smiles were back on our faces. Thanks to his insightful advice to focus now on the treatment of my OCPD and postpone the decision about children we seem to be able to avoid the worst scenario of divorce.


2017-03-10

Living with a Land Mine inside Myself

Before I got married in August 2016, I worked with a frum psychological counselor for half a year, and after my marriage I renewed his counseling with my wife. It took even him many weekly sessions to diagnoze me once and for all beyond any doubt (but just by chance) as someone with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) defines it as follws:

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost.
  2. Shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met).
  3. Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity).
  4. Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification).
  5. Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.
  6. Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things.
  7. Adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes.
  8. Shows rigidity and stubbornness.

All the descriptions except for 5 and 7 match my daily thoughts and behaviors. An online article entitled How to Recognize Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder describes this personality disorder in a more friendly manner.

Anyway, I feel I've finally found one single unitary explanation for all the difficulties I've been feeling, especially after I moved from Japan to Israel, which I find extremely OCPD-unfriendly, in interpersonal relationships. But on the other hand, the more I read about OCPD in professional books, the more keenly I become aware that actually, I'm living with a land mine inside myself in that various interpersonal situations trigger my obsessive thoughts, which in turn trigger my compulsive behaviors, which often make my interpersonal relationships with many others, including my wife, very difficult and even problematic.

In the meanwhile I've started to work on my OCPD first and foremost in order to improve my married life with my beloved wife, who, unlike all the other people I interact with regularly, fully understands the significance and implications of OCPD. Under the guidance of my counselor I've started to try the so-called exposure and response prevention as part of the so-called cognitive behavioral therapy.

I've also started thinking about the best ways of putting some of the traits of OCPD such as orderliness and perfectionism more consciously to a positive use both privately and professionally. I've decided to come out of the closet, so to speak, hoping that non-OCPDniks will understand OCPD and us OCPDniks more.

PS: Some useful links

2017-03-03

Teaching Languages vs. Teaching on Languages

Before I started teaching on languages (i.e., teaching linguistics) after assuming the present academic position in Israel a little more than 12 years ago, I had taught several languages - Japanese, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto, Aramaic and Arabic, if I'm not mistaken - at various settings as both a university and school teacher and a private tutor for almost 20 years.

During these 12 years I've been too busy teaching on languages theoretically to stop to think about my previous career of teaching languages practically. It was only after I resumed teaching Yiddish this academic year both communally and privately that I started to realize that actually, teaching languages is my professional anchor, so to speak, and it has laid the foundation for my present job of teaching on languages. Though there is at least one school of linguistics that seems to claim that linguistics is first of foremost the study of language, I'm more inclined to another school of thought that linguistics should at least start by empirically studying languages.

This old-new experience of teaching a language has made me realize again that teaching languages not only complements but also enriches the task of teaching on them. And just as I can't separate the learning and teaching of languages from the society and culture of their respective speakers, I can't separate the study of languages from their sociocultural settings, so many of the elective courses in linguistics I've been teaching are with a sociocultural slant.

As my communal and private courses in Yiddish will end in four months, I've already started to look for a way or ways to keep teaching languages together with their respective culture as I've also realized that I enjoy teaching languages even more than teaching on languages and that I may be able to share my practical knowledge of learning languages efficiently (but not necessarily my experience of learning linguistics) with other people who are also interested in languages.

2017-02-24

Farewell to Facebook and Back to Blogging

I started using Facebook as a kind of experiment at the end of last August, about one week after my wedding, as a means of updating my parents, my sister and her husband, and my wife's mother at the same time about our new married life. Since then I posted to Facebook almost daily, sometimes even several times a day, until I decided to quit it forever this week (unfortunately, it will take another week or so until my page is completely deleted automatically). And the more I used Facebook, the more I drifted away from my initial purpose of using it, showing a clear sign of addiction.

I had my first doubt about Facebook when the number of my "friends" approached 150 after a few months of using it. From my experience with email I already knew that this number called "Dunbar's Number" is the maximum number of people with whom I can maintain personal relationships. Every time my email address book exceeded this number, I checked it and cleaned up the addresses of those with whom I had no contact at least for the last few years. And this is what I also did with my Facebook "friends". I unfriended those with whom I had never had any interaction at all, reducing the number to a little less than 100, but on the other hand, I read all the posts of all the Facebook "friends" I had kept.

My second doubt about Facebook arose when I had my relationship with some of those whom I considered friends even offline seriously damaged as a result of a series of my objections to their political (and religious) views. I myself had decided from the very beginning never to post my own political (and religous) views though I have my own even very strong opinions about politics (and religion), but I couldn't ignore other people's views that didn't look fair enough purely logically. This way I lost some Facebook friends.

But the main reason why I've decided to quit Facebook forever in spite of its few benefits is that I've seen so clearly beyond any doubt that Facebook is first and foremost for those who are interested in shallow posts, whether as writers or as readers. The shallower the posts are, including my own, the more "liked" they are. As such posts constitute the majority and I'm not interested in them, I've come to a conclusion that Facebook isn't simply for me. I was too naive as to believe that it could also serve as a place for intellectual dialogs.

I've also seen that the more I wrote on Facebook, the less ready I became to write blog entries, which are by nature much longer and require more thinking. I even forgot that I have my own blog and didn't realize that I hadn't updated it for more than four months! I started blogging in September 2000 (the archive here is only from 2010) as an opportunity to reflect every Friday morning on what happened on that week externally and internally in preparation for Sabbath. Now that I've quit Facebook, I'm resuming this old weekly "ritual", hoping that I can still express myself verbally.

It's true that blogging is a dialog with oneself, at least in the way I blog. But blogging has at least one big advantage over posting to Facebook - the former is a collection of stocks that can be reread, while the latter is a collection of flows that are seldom or never reread and are consumed and discarded instantly instead.

In saying farewell to Facebook I have to thank it at least for one thing. It has helped me find several long lost old friends and get acquainted with a couple of interesting new people I couldn't have met except on Facebook. I'll definitely remain in touch with them by email and offline. And no less importantly, I can reappreciate life without Facebook now.

2017-02-17

Planning to Resume Blogging

I'm planning to resume blogging next Friday, hopefully weekly. In my first renewed blog entry I'll explain why I couldn't update my blog and I've decided to resume blogging after such a long time.