The Amazing Voice of Scotsman Andrew Johnson

Relaxing with Andrew Johnson

The voice of Scottish self-help and guided meditation master Andrew Johnson is hypnotic and oh so easy to listen to. Even if his words had nothing to do with relaxation and calm, his voice would help anyone relax who took the time to listen. The Insight Timer app has a broad selection of his guided meditations. YouTube also features several, including this one:

When my day doesn’t permit a luxurious sit of 20 minutes or more, or when I’m so stressed I just need a reliable route out of the tension, I listen to one of Andrew’s lush guided meditations. Many are very brief, others 30 minutes or more. As I’m going through some stressful times these days including a long distance move and all that it involves, Andrew’s guided meditations have saved my serenity. When I’m feeling exhausted, meditation of any type consistently refreshes me as well as or better than a nap in a fraction of the time.

Visit Andrew Johnson’s website if you’d like to learn more about him or browse through MP3s available there for purchase and download.

The Apple and Google app stores also offer Andrew Johnson apps, both free “junior” versions and longer ones for a modest fee to put his voice at your fingertips.

I’ve never used my blog to simply pitch anyone or anything, but I’ve shared interesting things I’ve found along my journey these days. So take it from me, a woman of Scottish ancestry, this voice really delivers relaxation. But I also love the bagpipes as most Scots do, and some people cannot stand them, freaked out as if being tortured by fingernails on a chalk board. So, to each his or her own. But I am enjoying Andrew’s efforts so much since I stumbled on his guided meditations that I thought you might want to check him out yourself.

Namasté

Workers of the World, Unite!

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Pete Seeger, in Shielagh’s translation of a photo originally appearing in Bluegrass Today

Today is May 1st, May Day, the International Day of the Worker, a day to show solidarity with labor unions and their hardworking members everywhere. If you work an 8-hour day, thank a union. If you work a 40-hour week, thank a union. If you get a break in the morning and the afternoon, thank a union. If you get paid overtime when your hours exceed the 8-hour day or 40-hour week, thank a union.

Lest we toss the Workers of the World Unite slogan, attributed to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, into some extremist dustbin, read what Abraham Lincoln said in his first annual message to Congress in 1861:

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. 

— U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1861

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Union blood runs through our veins in this family. My parents were both union members. My dad, an architect and set designer for the motion picture industry (MGM and Twentieth Century Fox) in the 1960s, belonged to the IBEW, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. My mother worked as a draftsperson and also as a set designer for RKO Pictures in the late 1940s and belonged to the IATSE, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. I belonged to the CWA, The Communications Workers of America, when I worked in the business office of Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania and then belonged to the IBEW during a brief stint as a directory assistance operator. My husband retired as a member of the CWA after a career in the public sector. His father belonged to the APWU, The American Postal Workers Union as a postal worker. His mother belonged to DC 37 of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, as a human resources clerical employee for the City of New York. And for almost 20 years, I maintained my psychotherapy office in the Amalgamated Lithographers Union Building near Union Square in New York.

This country was built on union strength. Let’s support those thousands of hard working men and women lending their collective strength to extend the union movement and thereby strengthen this great nation. Our best times as a country have been when unions have surged, bringing freedom from want, freedom from preventable illness through affordable healthcare, and freedom from job insecurity.

So, let us turn up the sound and let our voices ring, as we join Pete Seeger singing, “Union Maid” with its iconic refrain, “You can’t scare me, I’m sticking with the union.”

And perhaps you remember the ballad of Joe Hill, a martyr to the union cause, as sung so beautifully by Joan Baez:

Namasté

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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 4

Diversion seems essential these days. I get mine from observing the birds, turtles and dragonflies on the large pond behind our place, reading well-written legal novels and police procedurals, cooking and baking, walking and working out, visiting with friends and family, and enjoying the gorgeous Florida weather, sugar-sand beaches and gulf waters. And my writing is less of a diversion and more of focused, creative process, which thanks to WordPress and the Daily Post I’m doing much more regularly. I also read the blogs of my fellow WordPressers. Many have inspired me to do more, write better, and persevere. We really have some great writers in this community. I’ve begun a series of short stories on this blog, or perhaps chapters of something bigger, but for now it’s at least a serial fiction. Lit crit is welcomed!

So where are we this week with diversions?

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Do you meditate regularly? Me, too, but there are many kinds of meditation, and you might enjoy trying something new.

 

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Did you ever wonder what your choice of car color may mean about you? Gas Buddy has some answers.

 

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Photo courtesy of Demoose, airliners.net.

 

 

 

 

 

I never knew how dehydrating inflight air can be until I read several blogs on the subject. I don’t fly more than once or twice a year, but some of my friends and family take lengthy flights across the globe with some frequency. Info in these three blogs might just save your skin. Really! Even you guys might learn something you can use.

 

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Flow chart courtesy of Ferguson fan @tbskyen

Lastly, I need to remember this above all. Truly. I mean tattoo it on the insides of my eyelids. Or print it out and put it on a mirror or inside of a cupboard door, or over my desk. These short questions are golden. Many thanks to Craig Ferguson for asking them. He probably wasn’t the first to say them, but he has brought them to the masses, i.e. us. In fact, this may be the best part of this post today.

So, Lionel Richie:

Namasté

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The Aesthetics of Spirulina (or not)

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It’s also called blue-green algae. Turns your smoothie a dark turquoise color, doesn’t add to flavor but does supposedly add to nutrition, with a high level of protein and essential vitamins. The aroma of the powder is not so pretty, sort of a stagnant  waterfront smell. Or like your cat’s breath.

And not so fast. A healthcare professional and one of my most trusted sources of medical information, Dr Michael Greger, suggests skipping spirulina in favor of chlorella. Spirulina can contain dangerous toxins and therefore may cause neurological, liver and other problems. Eek! I just downed a smoothie made with pomelo, Meyer lemon juice, banana, ginger and Knudsen Mega C juice. And a teaspoon of powdered spirulina.

Then I looked up “spirulina odor” and learned that if it is “unpleasant” it may have oxidized and shouldn’t be used. Not only does this one stink but I can smell it when the cupboard door is closed. Opening the door makes it stronger, and you could faint sniffing the closed container. So in the midst of writing this post, I found the receipt and put that and the spirulina into a ziplock bag to return.

Aesthetic? Not so much. But then when I first saw this Daily Post topic, I thought it says anesthetic.

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For The Daily Post

Meditating to the Rhythms of the Palms and Opening Our Hearts to those in Need

Every day I sit to meditate, except on those days when I have too much pain or fatigue to do anything but lie down. The practice has brought me great peace, calm and even moments of joy. I highly recommend it. I love to meditate to silence, but this is not always possible, so I find nature sounds or subtle music that doesn’t distract to accompany my sessions.

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Maui Beach

Recently I discovered an album on Amazon Music called Hawaiian Spa and I really enjoy the sounds.

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I haven’t been able to locate a YouTube of any of it online, so I’ll share this Amazon Prime link where you can hear it, or order it for yourself.

And if you can’t access Prime, you can also listen to this instead, with lovely music and calming Hawaiian scenes to enjoy as you relax.

Ahhh.

 

Now, if your stress has melted away and you feel pretty good, here’s a way you can help someone else feel good, too! My dear cousin Paula’s son Brian and daughter-in-law Amber lived in Gatlinburg, Tennessee until a couple of days ago when the massive wildfires there totally destroyed their house. They need so much help, escaping with little more than the clothes on their back and their three kitties. If you can help even a little, here is the link to their GoFundMe page.

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Brian York and Amber Hosea

I and my family thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the generosity of all who pitch in to help Brian and Amber.

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Revisiting Compassionate Listening

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In the two years since I first published a post on compassionate listening, I’ve had many opportunities, both personally and professionally, to experience how very essential to our wellbeing and our relationships compassionate listening truly is.

Whether our listening involves another person face to face, on the phone, or via text or email, or just watching a speaker on TV, we can miss a lot if we aren’t giving what we hear (or consume electronically) our full attention. True wisdom mandates we really attend to the other person openly, empathically and with kindness.

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I have encountered two more potential impediments to compassionate listening and both relate to aging that I experience in my work as a psychologist practicing psychotherapy. Because I’m now a Medicare provider in an area with fewer such providers, my psychotherapy practice embraces more older men and women than ever before. As I and those around me get older I’ve had many personal experiences with these listening impediments as well.

The first impediment is impaired hearing in which the listener mishears or fails to hear all our words and “fills in” what they think we said, sometimes getting it very wrong. Later someone one tells us emphatically that we said thus and so, perhaps something very contrary to our intent or even tragically so, creating a conflict we must now try to resolve, a potential distraction to the potentially sensitive work at hand. It can be extremely frustrating to both speaker and listener for the communication to break down simply because one or both parties can’t hear as well as they think they do. While it can be amusing, as the photo below illustrates, usually communication failure due to hearing problems is far from funny. It’s embarrassing and frustrating and interferes with friendly interactions.

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The second impediment is the increasingly frequent word-finding difficulty most older people experience. We all do this from time to time, and as we get older it happens with greater frequency. Speakers may pause as they search for certain words or familiar phrases, creating gaps in the narrative. A frustrated listener might quickly offer suggestions, and this can be perceived as a failure to respect the speaker’s competency or autonomy.

Another variation on the word-finding phenomenon is the speaker reaching into his or her vast vocabulary database, as it were, and pulling out a similar but incorrect word. image The similarity may be sound (e.g. tractor for factor). It may be the way the word begins or ends (shrimp for sharp), or relate in some other way we cannot fathom as the speaker struggles to get a point across. The listener then wonders what this is supposed to mean and may ask. The annoyed or frustrated response may follow, “You know what I mean!” Perhaps we do, but what if we don’t?

Compassionate listening involves seeing and feeling the struggle that others are experiencing and giving them time and space to find their way. If they grow silent with overwhelm or discouragement, or say, “Forget it!” we might ask, “Want me to try to help you with what you’re trying to say?” If they ask us to suggest a word, we should do so, but with the tentative deference suggesting we leave it to them to confirm or reject our suggestion. I find it helps to offer something like, “I’m having trouble hearing what you’re trying to say. My fault. Would you please try again?”

As we ourselves get older we probably will do the same sometimes. Our compassion for others with these difficulties will help us be compassionate towards ourselves if we fumble to express ourselves so that our listener understands. And if we have developed compassion towards ourselves by practicing Metta, or loving kindness, in our meditation practice as well as our daily interactions, we will naturally feel more compassion as we listen.

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Namasté

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Daruma or Bodhidharma: Early Zen Master

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This craggy early Zen Master, known as Daruma in Japan and Bodhidarma elsewhere in the Buddhist world, has been immortalized by Zen scholar Hakuin.

Learn more about the gifted monastic artist who painted Daruma and other Buddhist figures many times during his 15 years of artistic expression in this post at Buddhism Now https://buddhismnow.com/2016/05/01/the-sound-of-one-hand-paintings-and-calligraphy-by-zen-master-hakuin/

In the accompanying video at Buddhism Now and produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), curator Rob Singer gives the background and context of the artist Hakuin.

Namasté

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Nine-eleven Fourteen Years On

Cityscape, by Michael Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

Cityscape, by Michael J. Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

September 12, 2001

Brooklyn, New York

Yesterday our world changed and our lives will never be the same again. Yesterday at 8:46 a.m., while I was driving to my Manhattan office, just yards away from entering the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, I looked up at the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What I saw will be burned in my memory forever. I saw the North Tower explode into a fireball, with confetti-like showers of shattered glass glinting in the sun across the blue sky around the buildings. Plumes of black smoke began pouring out. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked to the people in the cars around me, and no one else seemed aware of it. I had 880-News Radio on, and they were not speaking of it. I tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through. I called (my friend and colleague) and told him what I was seeing. By then I was going into the tunnel, unable to leave the queue in which I found myself. As I proceeded with painstaking slowness, often dead-stopped, I listened to Don Imus on the radio and CBS radio also. About 20 minutes after the first explosion, which I now knew was the impact of an airplane, I learned another plane had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Before I emerged from the tunnel into the now-war zone of lower Manhattan, I also heard President Bush speaking of the crisis for the first time.

When I emerged, I saw both towers flaming and spewing clouds of black and gray smoke. All traffic was diverted to downtown, emergency vehicles and MTA heavy equipment blocking all routes north. Unable to get to my office, which I would have done if permitted, I got on the FDR heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. There were very few vehicles on the FDR, and most were pulled over by the side of the road, their occupants standing together, cameras trained on the WTC towers, which were still burning furiously. I opened my window and shared a sentiment of shock and dismay with a man standing by his car. Car radios were all on 1010-WINS, as was my own at that moment, the doors open and the sound of the news briefs and unfolding events in the air. I got on the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Traffic was very heavy and slow onto the bridge. I saw masses of people streaming north and east, away from the Financial District. As I listened to unfolding events, I learned that the South Tower had collapsed and wasn’t there anymore. Suddenly people began running onto the roadway where I was, running furiously away from a large, billowing white cloud rolling from Ground Zero towards me. I had to use my wipers to remove the ashes and dust that began to accumulate on my windshield. I put on my fog lights and headlights as my car and those people around me became enveloped in a thick dust cloud. We crept onto the bridge. Pedestrians clogged the center walkway, and I had seen probably thousands walking across the bridge to Brooklyn before my view was really obliterated. As I crept across, pedestrians hurried along the paved roadway, too, and at times they seemed to engage angrily with drivers ahead of me, but I was not aware of why. At one point, a car came at our queue head on, speeding the wrong way towards Manhattan, filled with men who looked like plain-clothed police.

When I got to the Brooklyn side of the East River, I stayed on surface streets and laboriously wended my way home. I parked my ash-covered car in my parking garage, and tried to find out about (my husband). His brother didn’t answer. I knew he was in the field, working the New York City primary election. I didn’t know which borough he had gone to, and I was worried. I called my mother to tell her I was okay. She had been beside herself with worry and had tried to call but all circuits had been busy, she said.

I finally got through to my husband’s boss who said he had heard from him and he was in Brooklyn. As we spoke, he came through the door to our apartment. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life. We have been together since, attending meetings and calling friends and family. He has been unable to reach anyone in his organization. I can’t get to my office because no one is permitted below 14th Street in Manhattan, and my office is between 12th and 13th Streets. I have called my patients. As far as I know, they are all okay.

Today I made arrangements to stay with my husband wherever I go, and to meet (a close friend) at a meeting. We’ll have lunch together. I also left my name and phone numbers with two local hospitals in the event that my services as a clinical psychologist are requested. I have heard that the volunteer response to this act of war has been incredible. (Our son) and I spoke last night. He has his own challenges now, but he was relieved to know we are safe here.

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September 11, 2015

Brooklyn, New York

Today I elected to pull a long-ignored journal from its place in my office armoire at home, thinking I would read what I wrote about my experiences on 9/11/2001. It’s interesting to me to read what I believe are discrepancies with what actually happened, but then perhaps those details that feel real and true now are the discrepancies from what actually occurred. For example, my recollection is that I looked up and saw a gaping hole in the North Tower with flames pouring out and sparking shards of glass, which we later learned were mostly papers floating out from the offices that had been blown open and were now on fire. For days afterward we found some of these papers, singed or intact, on our lawn in Brooklyn. My recollection now is of compulsively calling my mother while I was in the tunnel, but unable to get through. I believe I was in there over an hour listening to eyewitness accounts of what was going on above. I carried a cellphone and had for several years, but my husband did not, so I never tried to call him, not knowing where I’d find him that day.

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

A year or so later I published a professional paper, “Impact of the World Trade Center Disaster on a Manhattan Psychotherapy Practice” and gave my impressions of that day from my experience and from the perspectives of my patients. Reading it later I cringed at how patriotic it seemed, but such were those very overwhelming days. I don’t mean to suggest that loving one’s country is in any way undesirable. But in the months and years after 9/11/2001, love of country seemed often to be co-opted by some for political gain, or fearmongering, or whipping up war fever.

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We drove across the Brooklyn Bridge today, just blocks north of the memorial events downtown. The traffic was brutal what with closed streets to accommodate the dignitaries and the grieving survivors of that awful day. Our city now is vibrant and still ever on the build. Cranes abound as new skyscrapers arise, and parking spaces are harder and harder to come by in Park Slope.

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The best thing about the news today that I sampled on my iPhone as we traveled to the country for the weekend was the photo of a group of 14-year-olds on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, all born on September 11, 2001, wearing t-shirts reading Hope, and Unity, and Kindness. Life goes on, and that we must never forget, even though we eventually will die, as will all those we love, but this is as it should be. Impermanence is an oft denied reality of life as we know it. The shock of knowing it so starkly as we did that day knocked us sideways. I conclude this post with a version of the Buddhist Metta Sutta, adapted from that offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice (2011, Parallax Press):

May each of you be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.

May you safe and free from injury.

May you be free from anger, fear, afflictions and anxiety.

May you learn to look at yourselves with the eyes of understanding and love.

May you be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in yourselves.

May you learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in yourselves.

May you know how to nourish the seeds of joy in yourselves every day.

May you be able to live fresh, solid and free.

May you be free from attachment and aversion but not be indifferent.

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Savoring the Bounty of Summer

This has been an interesting summer here on the Pocono Plateau of northeastern Pennsylvania. The first few weekends were washouts, dashing hopes for long awaited tennis events and swimming plans. The woods became more dense with lush leafy growth of shrubs and trees. I have read this is due to higher levels of carbon dioxide produced by warmer climate. In previous summers one could see through the trees in the back yard to streetlights beyond but not so this year.

Our garden Buddha sits atop the remains of an old stone foundation wall, and it has been necessary to cut back the berry canes and other shrubs around it several times this year.

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We also have seen no fireflies here or in New York this summer. I haven’t seen any news stories to address this in 2015, but apparently light pollution is a major factor. When the night is bright, fireflies fail to see one another in their usual mating courtship and therefore produce no offspring the following year.

In addition to the lush vegetation we see all around us, our small plot in the community garden is a tangle of tomato abundance and exuberant Italian parsley and fragrant basil. The parsley is an essential for summer green smoothies, offset nicely by ginger root, fruit and other healthy additions, depending on one’s tastes and what is available. We’ve made piña colada mojito smoothies, minus the spirits but tangy and delicious all the same.

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These Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are ready to pick when the bottom is purply-red and the top still green, and frequently cracked as well.

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Sliced, these Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are dark red with a purple tinge. They are delicious!

Savoring summer’s bounty has been a very happy experience this year, as has casting our meditative eyes on our lovely Buddha, surrounded by the lush woodsy growth, ferns, clover and the potted begonia that has flourished without any care as it celebrates its honored place.

A lotus for you,

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