Pleasures of public transit

I am taking public transit as a part of my wellness journey.

I am on a trip to Ottawa today, which meant an early morning wake-up at 4am to catch the early train. I took the GO Train at Aldershot Station with the other bleary-eyed riders to Union Station in Toronto. Then VIA Rail from Union to Ottawa.

I meditated for 10 minutes on the train and felt the fatigue from only sleeping 5 hours dimish. I understand that meditating reduces blood cortisol levels, but somehow I feel more awake after meditating, especially when tired. Odd.

In Hamiton, I have been taking public transit as much as possible. I have taken the bus to McMaster since I returned from my research leave. This is for three reasons:

  • Stress reduction. It reduces my stress levels significantly. Even if my bus ride is only 15 minutes, I can still do some light reading or just look out the window. Very peaceful when compared with driving.
  • Earth-friendly. It is environmentally much more sustainable. I have only filled up the gas tank in my SUV once in the last two weeks, instead of twice.
  • Cost savings. My parking spot at McMaster costs about $1200 (not including gas and wear), whereas transit will cost only about $800. I spend about $150 in gas to drive to Ottawa (not including wear), whereas I can get a return ticket for about $120-$150 if I take advantage of the Tuesday deals.
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Personal discovery: Nutrition is a practice and requires planning

Proper nutrition is a practice, I am finding. And not necessarily one where the path is obvious. I am discovering that for me, proper nutrition requires a little research and planning coupled with mindful cooking and eating.

After paying the $50 or so annual membership to unlock the hidden features of myfitnesspal, I have been surprised to find out that what I thought – through rough estimation and intuition, mostly – to be a healthy diet, is lacking in certain areas.

So I started tinkering with myfitnesspal to see what a balanced, healthy day within my calorie limit might look like.

Along the way, I learned some interesting truths and realised some replacements might be in order. Go ahead and laugh at me if these were common knowledge to you:

  • Peanut butter is rich in micro-nutrients, but almond butter seems to have more.
  • Cereals are very deceptive in terms of nutritional content. Amazingly, spoon-size shredded wheat seems to be a winner, with high nutrients and low sugar. Kashi Go Lean Crunch is good too, but has a lot of sugar (and is a lot more expensive).
  • Chips, regardless of how expensive, organic, non-GMO or other attractive, virtuous labelling are truly empty calories.
  • Strawberries are very high in potassium
  • Kale, spinach, swiss chard and collard greens are very high in calcium
  • Beans and lentils are must-eats for iron, potassium, calcium and protein
  • Potatoes are kind of a wonder food: very high in potassium!
  • Bananas are very helpful, as are most fruits
  • Dates are nutrient-rich
  • Avocados are rich in potassium and other nutrients, but very high in fat.

My takeaways:

  • I will add almond butter to my pantry, and when I have two toasts, I may make one with peanut butter and the other with almond butter.
  • Time to cut chips and other “empty calories” out. Eat only what contributes to day.
  • Spoon-size shredded wheat appears to be a great breakfast cereal, when loaded with fruit and berries and eaten with oat milk.
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale and swiss chard need to be a bigger part of my life, as do potatoes
  • Bananas and dates are in. As are avocados, in limited quantities.

Since I have gotten serious about fitness and wellness, I am going to be more systematic about nutrition. Let’s see how this goes.

Remember, I am talking about research and observations for myself here. I am not making any recommendations to anyone except myself. Go do your own research, experiment and find out what works for you.

A lovely day

I woke up early today (5:30) and made myself an americano and some spoon-size shredded wheat with blueberries and strawberries. Then meditated for 10 minutes and spent the morning working peacefully, writing and editing on the deck as nature woke up around me.

Then an easygoing 50 minute swim at the Ancaster Lions Pool, lunch at The V-Spot in Dundas (noodle salad with spiraled rainbow veggies and thai peanut lime dressing). A treat after – an ice cream from Purple Pony in Old Ancaster then some writing, dinner (tomato and onion on toast with vegenaise), then herbal tea, meditation, reading in bed and sleep by 10:30 (I hope).

I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.

Sleep and not sleeping

Sleep is central to our well-being. It is a healing time when the body rebuilds itself and our mind consolidates memories and learning.

I have found that sleep is a good barometer for how I am doing in terms of day-to-day wellness. I always thought that I only needed 4 to 6 hours of sleep and I wore it like a badge of honour.

People marvelled at it, but now I realise that they were not marvelling at my not sleeping long as an achievement, rather they were impressed that I was willing to make such a terrible sacrifice.

Since my focus on wellness started on Ash Wednesday, I have not focused on sleep. Last night, after a productive day of editing, taking care of things at the office, and an hour-long, easy-going swim, I felt exhausted and slept eight hours. The first time since Ash Wednesday.

I can’t say I woke up rested, but I definitely felt better, calmer, stronger.

I am going to start paying attention to sleep.

Gratitude

I woke up today feeling very grateful.

Grateful for having been blessed with privilege and opportunity.

Grateful for having a supportive family and friends.

Grateful for professional friendships based on trust and warmth that have created opportunities for me to contribute in academia, politics and professional communications practice.

Grateful for life in a peaceful, tolerant and well-managed country, Canada.

Grateful for the warm sun, nearby trails and a cool blue outdoor swimming pool in my town.

Grateful. Warm. Calm. Alive.

Finally rained

It has been a very dry summer in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live.

This morning I was awakened by loud claps of thunder and the sound of rain pattering on the windows and roof. I realised that it has been a long time since I heard this sound. It even felt a little strange to hear it.

This got me thinking about how quickly we adapt to our circumstances. Normally, in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live, summer rain is a part of life. This summer, however, we’ve had a drought. So rain stopped being part of what I expected to see.

I was happy to be surprised by refreshing rain this morning. I could almost feel the plants’ relief.

The quantified self makes us more human

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the quantified self. Since Ash Wednesday 2016, I started a fast that meant that I went pescetarian.  While I thought that I would miss beef, chicken, pork and duck, the reality has been that I do not.  It helps that my favourite foods have always been fish and seafood.

Being a researcher by nature and by profession, I started reading about the benefits of not eating meat and found them to be legion: farming meat animals is a terribly energy-intensive process that generates a lot of waste water and pollution.

This led to a greater reflection on my life and its impact on others and on the environment. I decided to track what I ate to be able to quantify my diminished impact on the environment and so doing realised that I had been over-consuming calories on a regular basis. Logging the food and drink that I consumed made me aware of the reality of what I put into my body. That was illuminating and brought me some peace, strangely.

I started to add fitness to this regimen and tracked its impact on my net calories per day. I enjoyed the feeling of self-knowledge and personal calibration that I could achieve by tweaking what I ate and the calories I burned through different types of exercise. A side benefit was that I started feeling a lot calmer on the days I ran or swam or rowed and more alert and clear on the days I practised intermittent fasting or was under my calorie goal for the day. It was a good feeling.

It was at this point that I realised what I was doing was an exercise in mindfulness. I was finding that the data and quantification – in my case it was a simple excel spreadsheet and myfitnesspal – gave me a feeling of knowing myself  and being present in my life. That was a very good feeling.

I also started to realise that gently introducing and then tracking new habits wasn’t so hard. I realised that it’s mostly a factor of letting a habit that makes me feel better (like exercise) sink in so that it feels natural and I miss it if I haven’t done it that day.

I realised that my main motivation for keeping a good habit was if it made my life easier, happier or better (after the initial period of adjustment, of course). For me, that meant that the habit involved finding peace. Since then I have added other habits that are generally good for the environment and for my personal peace: I stopped swearing, committed to always obeying the speed limit when driving and to very brief daily morning and evening meditation.

I found that after an initial period of frustration, each of these habits brought me greater calm and a greater feeling of being present in my life and in my surroundings.

My greatest surprise on this journey has been that: tracking these habits became an exercise in mindful living instead of a burden.

I will post on this from time to time during the coming year.

It’s been a good journey thus far.

 

On the simple life: find your peaceful thing.

Every new year, I hear many of the people I know express that they want to “return to a simpler life” or eliminate clutter. I often have this noble ambition myself. This year, I asked myself what this really means. I came up with a couple of ideas.

Eliminating clutter doesn’t mean stripping back all things you do. Rather, I think it means looking at why you do the things you do and asking yourself if there is a reason for each. When I went through this exercise, I found that of the things that caused me stress were inherently stressful. No, rather, it was that I simply didn’t really want to do them.

So how do you determine if you really want to do something? It’s a tougher question than it seems. First, you have to ask yourself what it is that organizes your life: is it religion? is your family relationships? is it friendships? is it work? Then, you ask yourself whether that organizing factor brings you peace or whether it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety when you think of it.

If it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety then you have your answer: the thing around which you have organized your life is wrong for you. If it brings you peace, then it is probably that many of the things you do are in sync with the thing that your life is organized around. That means that you are doing things that, in the end, are meaningless to your life.

So, find the thing that your life centers on or is organized by. Ask yourself if it brings you peace. If not, change it. If it brings you peace, then evaluate the other things you fill your life with: do they jive with your organizing center? If not, jettison them.

I am in the process of doing this. It feels good.

Mindful of small pleasures: drinks

I sometimes take a moment to think about the things that make me happy or comfortable. I was having a conversation with a friend recently who asked me to blog about stuff that I brings me comfort. I thought that I might write about a few. As you may remember, I wrote a series of 100 posts about my “Life-Loves”. Today I will focus on drinks.

A good flat white. My favourite coffee concoction is the flat white. It’s like a cappuccino, but much velvetier and with a sweeter, more intense coffee flavour. I was happy to see that Starbucks has started offering the flat white in Canada and that the barista who works the mornings in the Starbucks drive through that I frequent can make a great one.

An ounce or two of Amaro Averna after dinner. When served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of muddled rosemary, Amaro Averna is a fragrant reminder of sunny summer afternoons. It was first recommended to me by a waiter at Soho House Toronto – it was a lovely gift.

I am not a very big tea drinker, but I must say that in winter, I often will have a ginger tea with lemon, or a lemon tea with ginger. I brew this myself, if I can, with filtered water, thinly sliced ginger and lemon. It makes a lovely warming, stomach-settling drink.

Finally, there is nothing like a cool, clear glass of filtered water. Or, my favourite – filtered water (I use a Zero Water filter) carbonated through my sodastream machine. There is nothing more refreshing to me than a glass of freshly made, sparkling filtered water.

I think it is important to think about the things that bring you comfort. You might take a moment to think about what your list would contain.

I won’t get into wines for that requires its own post.

Define your motivations to defeat fear and bring happiness

Many of spend much of our time dashing about, feeling busy. We cycle through feelings of relief for having “caught up” and then are plunged back into the anxiety of feeling “behind.” The question to ask is the following: why are we in this negative cycle driven by fear?

Fear is a terrible motivator. It is uncreative and stressful. It pushes us relentlessly toward making bad choices. It makes us submissive and willing to cede control to someone else, just for the relief that having “someone else in charge” brings.

To break this cycle of fear and anxiety in your life one needs to take a moment to know one’s self. By knowing oneself, one can then manage oneself more effectively and start leading a life of creativity, peace and calm.

How does one come to oneself? The answer simple, but the implementation is difficult. A good place to start is to make a list of the things which worry us, versus the things which bring us peace. Here is a table with some of mine

 

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Achieving my own goals.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

Etc.

Honestly going through this exercise will be difficult. It will take many tries. Sometimes you’ll feel as though a thing you’ve put in one box also fits in another box – so you have to refine.

For example, for me, “meeting the expectations of others” also brings me happiness sometimes – when I make someone smile, or when I bring someone reassurance because I did something that that I had promised them. So, in my case, I would change the chart after reflecting:

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Keeping my promises.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me, but keeping my promises means that I am beyond reproach.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

This is a more accurate representation of what really motivates me.

You should try making a fear-happiness chart for yourself. You may be surprised at what you come up with.