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Wine and the Fifth Precept

June 7, 2012

When I picked up the primal diet, I also began to drink a small amount of wine. I had to develop a taste for it, since I rarely ever drank before that time. I started the practice of a little wine each evening on some research suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption.

Buddhism on the other hand, has five precepts that all lay practitioners are suggested to follow. The fifth of which is to “abstain from alcoholic drinks that cause recklessness.” Depending on the translation you read, this could come across as “abstain from alcoholic drinks.”

So how do I reconcile the two suggestions? My first thought was to not drink alcohol. Paleo eating and exercise offer many benefits to cardiac health so perhaps there wasn’t a need for that drink at night. A diet rich in meat, veggies, berries and nuts was found to reduce systolic blood pressure, and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 reduced by 72% (Article from Nature).

But it is difficult for me to not follow sound research. Today I came across this study that looked into the optimal dose of alcohol a day balancing the benefits and detriments varying amounts had on long term health. The final determination was a Quarter glass of wine each day. This is lower than the suggested amount that I had been following, which was one full glass. Since it’s not natural for me to drink, this will be an easy change in my habit.

From the Buddhist perspective, I feel that as long as the drink does not “cause recklessness” or “cloud the mind” then it is acceptable to drink. It should be noted that minimal drinking does cloud the mind to some degree, even a single glass. It is very difficult to meditate with a mind that is clouded by drink. What I’ve been doing is to have my glass, now quarter glass, of wine with dinner around six in the evening. By the time I’m ready for the evening session, three hours later, my mind has cleared.

Clarity of mind is the key here. And it seems that with these latest recommendations of a quarter glass of wine matches that well. So as long as I am mindful with the amount that I am drinking, then I feel very satisfied with the idea that the little bit that I’m consuming has some excellent health benefits.


Five Methods to Break Down Meditation Barriers

May 31, 2012

I was having an unusually difficult time in my evening session but it turned into one of the best I’ve had in some time. I had to use several techniques to help me through the difficulties, and I was so pleased with the outcome I thought I would share.

In no particular order, I use these as necessary:

Be content with what you are doing. Every session isn’t going to be a land of bliss. Meditation isn’t always easy, you’re not always in control of your mind. The subconscious is going to do what it wants.
If you find yourself unhappy with how things are going, try to be content with exactly how things are. It is the nature of meditation to be rough at times, so be ok with it.

Be thankful that you are even able to find time to meditate. Your life is busy, maybe hectic, and you’ve been able to steal some time to sit quietly with yourself. It’s a rare opportunity with all the emails, phone calls, meetings, appointments, etc. The happiness in gratitude helps keep things in perspective, and makes it ok that you might be having trouble settling in.

Just be
I heard it once said that we are “Human doings” not “Human beings.” We are always doing one thing or another. Busy, busy, busy. This mental habit, and pace keeps going early on in meditation. It’s at these times that I remind myself that I should “just be.” It’s normal that your mind will try to remind you of the days trouble, or the meetings you might have first thing in the morning. This is your “human-doing” mode, turn it off and just “be.” Be the pain in your knee, be the feeling of the floor beneath you, be with your breath, the temperature of the room, etc.

Let go,stop trying
Very similar to above, but more specific. Meditation isn’t meant to achieve something, it’s meant to let go. I’ve sometimes found myself trying hard to feel at peace. Frustrated when I don’t get, so I try harder. It’s very, very counterproductive to struggle trying to find a little Zen. They are incompatible. You are only moving further away from your goal. Stop trying to achieve something, let go of that goal if Zen, let go of the concept of peace, just let go.

Be kind do your breath
Lastly, be kind to your breath. There are lots of methods dealing with watching the breath, these all have a time and place to be utilized. For me, they often distract as they are too goal oriented. When this is the case, I stop counting and following. I just try to be kind to my breath as if it was a visitor in my home. I relax and let it feel comfortable. My breath gets to be whatever it wants to be, deep or shallow, quick or slow. This lesson I learned from Ajahn Brahm. Again very practical, a little amusing, and effective.

I hope one of these help you in some way.

Happy Meditating.

1 Month Check-in: Intermittent Fasting

May 29, 2012

A little over a month ago I began experimenting with IF. Today I’d like to leave with you my impressions based on the most popular questions I fielded.

First some numbers. Starting point was 195 (evening weigh in so who knows how much water and food was sitting around), normally I’m around 185 and 12% body fat. Today I’m 183 and 11% body fat. So I very quickly returned to my preferred weight. Now on to the popular questions:

“That would never work for me, I’d be too hungry!”
For the first two or three days, this may seem like an issue. But my hunger pains were brief, lasting ten or fifteen minutes, and occurred twice at most in the morning prior to lunch. Once I became accustomed to the new eating schedule, it wasn’t all that bad. Actually this last week I had company in town and went out to breakfast on two separate mornings. Both times I felt stuffed even though I didn’t eat all that much.
The second thing I noted is that IF works much better when you have a consistent schedule. Otherwise you’ll be asking a little extra from your willpower. Whenever I kept to my 10pm-6am sleeping schedule, with an active morning, I had little to no issue with waiting for my eating window. Several times I was able to extend my fasting to 18-21 hours.
But on those days that I stayed up late, it became a struggle. It’s easy to fast when you’re asleep, not so easy when it’s midnight or 1:00 am.

“Don’t you overeat when you finally get the chance?”
Nope. My experience I wasn’t ravished when lunch time came around, I was still just hungry. I did wonder if I should force myself to eat more, but I was always too full. Lunch tended to be my largest meal anyhow, so it worked out well.

“How can you exercise without any energy?”
Turns out I have plenty of energy. Prior to both weights and basketball, both of which are at the end of my fasting period, I took 30 grams of whey, mostly for the protein synthesis benefits, and I had no problems with energy.

“How can you meditate when you’re stomach is distracting you?”
This was an added distraction, especially in the morning. But now the morning session is my favorite, I seem to be more clear of mind, and peaceful. Little tummy grumbles by nature are short lived, so I use them to in my practice of letting go.

Thanks for reading.


Anywhere that you don’t want to be is a prison.

May 22, 2012

Two types of sayings have been helping me stay calm and happy recently, so I thought I’d share.

Type 1: What place is most important?

I’ve been remodeling my home, which takes a degree of patience with all of things that don’t go according to plan. I’ve also had to help my wife deal with the imperfections that come along with this project. While redoing some plumbing beneath a kitchen sink, I believe it was during hour number four; my frustration began to take over when I reminded myself that “Anywhere that I don’t want to be is a prison.” I had heard it while listening to Ajahn Bram, who had a similar saying “I am exactly where I want to be.”

I’ve used both at different times, and for different reasons. But both deliver the same impact; be happy and content with the way things are right now. The various scenarios I’ve used this:

  • Physically in places I may not want to be. Under a kitchen sink, in traffic, or in a meeting.
  • Mentally in places I may not want to be. Bothered by plans not going correctly, or a disagreement from earlier in the day.
  • Not in the state of health I may want to be in. When my muscles are sore after exercise, or I’ve rolled an ankle playing basketball.

Each of these scenarios can become a prison, a place that causes you to feel trapped, overwhelmed, or unhappy. I may want to escape the repeated frustrations brought on from plumbing. I may not want to deal with a problem at work any longer. Or I wish my leg would heal so I could run again. Each scenario is a mental prison.

By reminding myself that I can chose that I am exactly where I want to be, changes the perspective, reduces or even removes the stress, and I can continue on.

Type 2: Who is the most important person?

This one has been surprisingly helpful in prioritizing what I do with my time. The most important person is the one I am with at that time. If I’m with my dog, then it is him. If I am alone, then it’s me.

Often times I’ll have many things I feel that need to get done, by reminding myself who the most important person is, I again gain perspective and relieve my stress. I also feel happier because I’m now doing something good for someone else. I think this is a fantastic rule for family and friends. Your wife, child, and pets are all taken care of. They are the relationships that matter the most, and when those are happy, it’s easy to be happy. When they themselves are stressed, or the bond is weak, then my personal happiness is fragile.

Since incorporating this thought, I feel I’ve been better in my prioritization and those around me have become happier.

Due to all the causes and conditions of the universe, the moment I find myself is exactly the way it’s supposed to be, it couldn’t be any different. How I deal with the now is very important, and what I do now will help define my future. So I remember:

  • “Anywhere that you don’t want to be is a prison” or “I am exactly where I want to be”
  • “The most important person is the one I am with”

The Five Remembrances

May 18, 2012

Not more than a year ago I came across the five remembrances, a Buddhist discourse on “Subjects for contemplation.” In a short amount of time I took to the habit of recalling them daily, and it developed into my primary focus of morning meditation sessions. I was already familiar with each of the remembrances, but only as separate parts within the whole of Buddhism.

The Buddha is said to have advised that these five facts should be reflected upon often by lay or monastic individuals. There are several translations; this is the one that I use. I recommend the first part to be inhalation; the second part exhalation:

  • I am of the nature to age; there is no way to escape aging.
  • I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape ill health.
  • I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.
  • All that is dear to me, including my loved ones, are of the nature to change; there is no way to escape being separated from them.
  • My actions are my only true belongings; My actions are the ground on which I stand.

I personally then add a sixth.

  • My thoughts precede my actions; What I think, I become.

So yes, this looks exceptionally gloomy. We age, we get sick, we die, and everything we love will be lost……ahh those jolly Buddhists.

For me, two key things develop when contemplating the five remembrances. First, the primal reason; they are to me inarguable truths. We all age, we all die, change is a constant. It makes sense that our ancestors knew these truths because they lived them. They wouldn’t need to be reminded. This is a reality that we often fight with either ignorance or avoidance. We all know that life can change, or be lost at any moment. But we tend to think it’s more likely to happen to someone else than it is to us. This is a part of the optimism bias that ill prepares us for when these truths surface. ( TED Talk on Optimism Bias )

We are more likely to think someone else’s mom will get cancer, rather than our own. Someone else’s pet will get ran over, not ours. And so on. So remembering that this is not the case; Remembering that we, and all that we love are fragile, is a truth. And I don’t like to speak in truth or fact terms. So that realization struck me first.

That lead quickly to the second development – Life is amazing, wonderful, and precious. After meditating on this in the morning, I first feel solemn, then at peace, and then very happy that I can feel my breath, I have my health, and that I have my loved ones around me. I’m energized for the day, and I’m appreciative and enjoy each moment more often. I’m not fully trained to be in a constant state of present awareness and appreciation, but I’m getting better at it. And it’s making me happier and more at peace.

After sharing the five remembrances with friends and family, I didn’t get the reaction I was looking for. Only a few said, “aha, that’s right! I can see why that’s valuable to remember”. I decided to rewrite the five remembrances to put a positive spin on them. I came up with something like this:

  • I am of the nature to age; I’m happy with my current age.
  • I am of the nature to have ill health; I’m fortunate for my current good health.
  • I am of the nature to die; I am so happy to be alive.
  • Everything and everyone I love is likely to change; I’m lucky to have my friends, and family who care for me.
  • My actions are my only true belongings; My actions are the ground on which I stand.

I tried this for awhile personally, but never shared it with anyone else. I did not feel it was worthwhile. It seemed to skip the step of self realization. I’m a firm believer that ‘learning the hard way’, i.e. personal realization is the best way for learning to take place. By telling someone to be happy with their age, good health, friends and family there is no lasting impact. There is much of this advice out there already.

I feel that actual meditation, actual visualization and feeling of these five remembrances happening to you is vitally important. It also needs to happen often, I do think daily is best. It’s easy to slip into that optimism bias (if you happen to be naturally optimistic, which is a good thing in for other reasons). Spending just a few minutes each morning, reminding yourself that life can change for the worse in one way or another, keeps life in perspective.

My job is not so stressful, I’m not so likely to put in extra hours so that I can go home and see my wife and son, I enjoy the weather – rain or shine, I appreciate just about everything I can. I remind myself often. I feel that life is no longer slipping by unfelt, like a song on the radio in the background….not really heard, the melody distant, the lyrics unappreciated….and then the songs over.

I know it sounds contrite, but please appreciate every note in this orchestra of a life. You never know when a violins string may break, your friend won’t come back from a restroom break, or that the lights in the concert hall might just go out.

Thanks for reading.


My Meditation, Fasting, and Exercise Schedule

May 12, 2012

I was asked how I fit everything into my day, so I thought I’d share. Here I’ll go over my Intermittent Fasting (IF), exercise, and meditation ‘schedule.’ I work a regular 40 hour a week job, but I have more flexibility with my hours, and meetings so what works will for me may not for others. I’m also lucky if my week goes according to plan. When it does, things go great for me. So hopefully this can provide some ideas.



Eating window (12:00-8:00p)

  • Lunch/Snack/Dinner
  • Whey protein before and after morning exercise.


  • Mon/Wed/Fri (around noon) – Weights and/or Jogging
  • Tue/Sat (morning) – Basketball or Sprint workout
  • Thur/Sun (Rest or Hike)


  • On the Five Remembrances ~15-30 minutes. 6:15a
  • Follow the breath ~30 minutes, 9:00p

IF Schedule

I’ve been doing IF for about three weeks now, and have noticed an improved ‘mirror test’. By the numbers I’ve dropped from 195 to 187. I know that pounds lost aren’t the best way to measure, so I’ll get another body fat percentage test done soon.

Monday through Saturday:

  • I eat at noon, and stop by 8:00 pm.
  • I generally eat a good sized lunch, then have a snack a few hours later, then dinner with my family.
  • Often I won’t eat until 2:00 or 3:00, once the morning hunger goes away, I generally don’t feel the same strong need to eat. So I think psychologically I still expect bacon and eggs in the morning, and that’s creating a false and increased sense of hunger.


  • Is a wildcard day based on my mood. If I want French toast the moment I roll out of bed, then I’m having it. Though, I haven’t allowed myself this luxury, I like the idea of it.
  • I also can go for the full 24 hour fast on these days. I have not tried this yet either. I suspect my actual first full day fast (likely 7:00 PM to 7:00 PM) will happen spontaneously when I don’t feel all that hungry and get inspired to keep busy until dinner.
  • Thus far, each of my Sundays have been regular IF days for me.

Exercise Schedule

I’ve been doing this for a few years. I’ve experimented a lot with exercise, and I’ve found this weekly schedule to be the most effective and fun for me. I feel good, and not burned out. I might do a more detailed post on the actual workouts another time.

Monday and Friday (Weights):

  • I typically lift weights around noon. My office is next door to a 24-Hour Fitness, so it is very convenient.
  • No matter what lift I’m doing, my reps are between 5 and 10, and I’ll do three sets of each:
  • I do a form of – Leg Press; Bench Press; Pull-Up; Shoulder Press; Plank
  • No single set takes longer than a minute, except for the planks, so I’m done with my lifts in under 30 minutes.
  • If I have the time, I’ll slip in 15-30 minutes of treadmill, usually split into two sessions before and after the lifts.

Tuesday and Saturday (Basketball):

If work and family plans allow for it, I’m playing basketball for ~90 minutes, early in the morning. For me, this is the best form of sprint workout I can think of. It’s also one of the main reasons I stay motivated to be fit. I really enjoy playing the game and competing just for the fun of it.

The running also seems to shake off any muscle soreness I might have from the previous days weights. As long as I stay up on good warmups and stretching.

Note, I’ll have a little whey protein before and after playing basketball.

Wednesday (Cardio):

This has traditionally been another noonish lift day for me, but it has recently turned into a run day. I strap on my Vibram five-fingers and head out for at least a 3-Mile jog. I try to run for at least 30 minutes, but generally not for much longer than that.

I am lucky enough to have some great neighborhoods, and a park where I work, and my goal is to enjoy the run more than push my limits.

Thursday and Sunday (Rest/Fun/Hike):

I used to only allow myself one day of rest per week, and as I’ve gotten older, that wasn’t cutting it.

Two days of rest are necessary, and sometimes I’ll sneak in a third.

On Thursday nights I’ll often participate in a bowling league with friends, and on Sundays I’ll often take a walk at the nature reserve near my home with my family.

Sleep and Meditation Schedule

I’ve been doing this schedule for a couple of years now, and it works great when everything goes according to plan.

I’m typically awake by 6:00 am. I’ll be able to stretch out, gain some awareness, and meditate before my 1 year old son wakes up. The morning meditation is typically on the Five Remembrances.

During the day, if I’m feeling stressed at work, (again, I’m lucky) I’ll use the meditation room for a quick 15 minutes of guided meditation. I’ve been so busy recently, this hasn’t happened often, but for some time I made a point of doing this.

By 9:00 pm I’ll have put my son down to bed, my wife will be relaxing on her own, and I’ll sneak in at least 30 minutes of meditation. Here I typically follow the breath, or try something new. Evening sessions typically are the deepest for me. After the meditation is over, I like to read, then get to bed by 10:00 pm.

Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions!


Intermittent Fasting

May 5, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try intermittent fasting, or IF. I understand that this sounds unpleasant, but my experience has been otherwise. This style of eating already exists in Buddhist culture and strikes me as a logical fit for a primal lifestyle.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

In short, IF is a modification of the common eating traditions of three to six meals a day, in favor of fasting anywhere from 16 to 24 hours between “eating windows.” One of these windows could last days, several hours, or just a single meal.

So why is IF Buddhist?

Siddhartha Guatama suggested an “eating window” of morning until noon. This practice was followed for a few reasons:

– Train the mind to overcome unnecessary bodily desire. (Note: Hunger for more food than needed to maintain health)
– Train the mind to let go of attachment to food and good flavor. (Note: Still enjoy the food while eating)
– Compassion for others by “giving up their share.”
– A courtesy to the lay people so they would know when to expect the monks would be walking for alms.

Followers of the Therevada Forest tradition fast daily from morning to noon. This appears to best correlate with a six hour eating window.

In Mahayana tradition, fasting is seen as a “Dhutanga”, a way to “shake up” ones practice. This optional practice can be a strict fast, or simply the giving up of the more pleasurable foods like meat.

So why is IF Primal?

Our pre-agriculture ancestors probably didn’t have three square meals a day. There may have been a good ‘kill’ every several days. That kill would have to be eaten relatively quickly as it wouldn’t keep for long. Combine that with research that suggests a wide variation of eating habits for hunter-gatherers depending on where they were located. The seasonal availability of plant resources for harvesting would have forced several different levels of fasting throughout a year.

My experience with IF

For these first two weeks I’ve kept to an eight hour feeding window from Noon until 8:00 PM. My largest meals have been at lunchtime, with one or two smaller meals.

The first couple of days I was very motivated, and made sure to stay active to minimize my focus on any hunger pains. Truthfully, there weren’t that many, and they weren’t that bad. I did resort to the trick of taking a couple of fiber pills in the morning, and I drank a lot of water.

I did notice very mild and temporary headaches the first few days. I have not had any since. I have a feeling this was due in part to an addiction response to the change in feeding pattern.

After a week into this daily fasting schedule, my hunger became less frequent and less difficult. I felt more satisfied after a meal, and certainly appreciated the taste and texture more than usual. I have not noticed any need to increase my daily calories to prepare for the fasting period. In fact, I feel that I’ve reduced my total calorie intake.

Physically and mentally I feel energized, I sleep well, and I’ve been able to exercise without detriment.

There have been several days that I felt I could reduce the eating window to six hours. I haven’t done so yet, but will soon. I like the concept of matching the Therevada practice of a six hour window, and those extra two hours should provide that much more benefit. Up to 70% of the fasting benefits occur in the first 24 hours.

My goal is to attempt a 24 hour fast once or twice a month.

My morning meditations were difficult at first. My thoughts drifted often to food, and the anticipation of waiting until noon for it. But as my body got used to the pattern, my mind settled and I’ve been exceptionally clear minded and peaceful.

I did not notice a change in my evening practice.


I highly recommend this as an optional practice for both Zen and Paleo lifestyles. I feel that intermittent fasting is an excellent tool to strengthen ones skill in releasing from unnecessary attachments. My experience of increased clarity of morning meditation has also been beneficial.

Aside from the exceptional list of health benefits, cycling between a fasted and fed state has a certain evolutionary rhythm to it. For me, it’s akin to a day hike in the forest, both challenging and peaceful, with a delicious sunset picnic at the end.

Suggested Further Reading:
– Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D. – On Fasting From a Buddhist’s Perspective
– Mark’s Daily Apple Primal Fasting
– Lean Gains
– Eat Stop Eat