Thursday, December 27, 2012

Longboard Helps: Which Helmet to Get?

A Viking helmet!
I actually don't reccomend
this for longboarding
Like I'm sure you've seen, I am a big advocate for helmets. If you are riding a board you are guaranteed to fall at some point in time. You need to be well protected. Thankfully if you break a wrist or an arm, your bones and muscles regenerate and heal. However, your brain cells don't regenerate like a broken bone do. Damage is often permanent. This may seems silly, but if our brain cells were always dying and regenerating, like skin cells or blood cells, you would be constantly forgetting and relearning things over and over. There is a method in this madness.

Since brain damages are permanent it is vital that we take care of it. In this post I want to talk about what to look for when purchasing a helmet. I am no authority on the subject and just got my information from reading and research. In the end the best thing you can do is read up on the subject and be safe.

As a younger person I didn't like to wear helmets. I thought they didn't look cool and were uncomfortable. It took a frightening crash and more information on helmets to convince me to wear one. I tried a few helmets but I ended up sticking with the basic Triple 8 Brainsaver. This is a nice helmet. It is great for simple skateboarding and longboarding. I love the terry-cloth liner inside and how comfortable it is. The model that I have, however, is not certified in any way. This means that I should not ride it on a bike, or at high speeds. It's perfect for the cruising and longboarding that I like to do. Especially good for a long distance trip.

Some of the best skateboard helmets are "dual-certified" to both the ASTM and CPSC standards. These provide much more protection for dangerous skating and bicycling.

But what does ASTM and CPSC mean? Well these are just tests that are run to see how well the helmets perform. A CSPS test is when they simulate a drop from 6 feet at a 14 mph impact. These kind of helmets are for bike riding. The ASTM test is a from from 3 feet at a 7 mph impact. ASTM helmets are made for skating. Helmets should be used for the proper activities and are not always guaranteed to prevent injury. But why take the chance without one.

In your quest for the right helmet you may hear about soft-foam or hard-foam helmets. This is just referring to the foam inside of the outer shell. This is what compresses as your head hits an object and helps slow down your head and reduce injury. A lot of helmets advertise as multiple impact, but, once again, why take the risk. After a bad crash or impact (and especially if you see damage to the helmet) you should throw it away and get another one. Small impacts you may be okay, but why gamble your brain on the $40 it takes to get a new helmet?

There are lots of different helmets out there and lots of good companies. Like I've mentioned before, my personal favorite, for the past 6 years, has been Triple 8. I like the design, and the comfort a lot. The helmets are quality and classy. Beyond the product itself Triple 8 is just a good company. I really like the forum they have where they take suggestions from people.

All that really matters though, is you get a helmet, and put it on your head when you ride. DO IT!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Simple Christmas Gift

Christmas lights in Bucharest Romania
I've been thinking a lot about Christmas recently. Most especially when I was in Romania. Those where special Christmas times for me. My second Christmas I was in Sector Five of București. It was a frigid winter where we would walk outside and moisture would freeze to everything. Our coats, the fences, the trees, our faces, everything. As cold as this was it did look beautiful.

I was far away from my family and looking forward to talking to them on Skype come Christmas Day. The distance made it really hard for them to send me anything for Christmas so I wasn't really expecting anything. This was actually really liberating. I was away from all of the hustle and bustle of the season. Away from wanting gifts and things like that. It taught me that I don't really need things. All that matters are relationships, like talking with my family or visiting the people I was working with.

Ferentari, A neighborhood in Bucharest where
Mihaela lives.
During this season we were working with the Nița family. They lived in a very poor and dangerous area of town. It was hard to get people to make visits with us because they were afraid of that part of the city. Mihaela was the mother and sole breadwinner her family of three children. She worked a security job to try and make ends meet. They lived in more than humble circumstances. Little food, few possessions  lots of bills.

Despite these trials they tried hard to be happy and to have faith. One day we visited and Mihaela had "decorated" the apartment. A few ribbons, a couple Santa figurines, and picture of the nativity. We complemented her on the added touch to her home and the festive feeling it brought. Flattered, Mihaela presented us with a gift. One which is now amoung my most cherished Christmas gifts.

She took an old Santa figure, the kind that is supposed to dance and sing, but was too old, broken, and had nor batteries, and gave it to me as a remembrance of my București Christmas. It was one of the grandest decorations they had, but they gave it from the bottom of their hearts, sharing all they had to give, all they could give. I was profoundly touched by the present. That this family, who often had no food in the refrigerator, who had no career or financial stability, no new things of their own, could take a moment to think about me.

It taught me something important. We don't need to get. We don't need the big flashy gifts to have a Merry Christmas. It sounds cliche but Christmas really is about giving. Selflessly offering what we have to help the people we love, or people in need. I was given a plastic broken doll and I was immensely happy. Not because of the gift, but for what it represented; the relationships and friendships formed with this family.

This year I've only put up one decoration in my apartment. A little broken, plastic, Santa Claus that I keep on my desk. It reminds me, especially in this time of year, not to worry about the getting, but to seek to find how I can give to others. It doesn't have to be big, it just has to be something, and it has to be sincere.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All You Need is Love

Harry Harlow
I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the Romanian children and their situation. As I've been thinking on the subject I realized that, were I to write it all down it would make for an interesting but excessively long blog post. Therefore I decided to do another series of posts leading you through my thought process. Similar to my posts on service.
Love at Good Park,
 by Deborah Blum

This past semester I read a very interesting book entitled "Love at Goon Park." It is a biography of Harry Harlow, one of the prominent psychologists in the study of affection and attachment, and probably one of the reasons why your mother held you as a child.

Before Harlow's time, in the first half of the 20th century, the world of science and psychology was charging ahead into misdirected "progress" as it so often does. Psychologists believed that a child's bond with its mother was based only on the mother as a food source, and any emotion were just conditioned responses to external stimuli. Any discussion of love or affection in child rearing was deemed unscientific, or just mushy sentimental fluff.

Some scientists, like Watson with his little Albert experiments, took this thinking too far. In more of a case study than a true experiment Watson took an infant named Albert and conditioned him to fear anything furry or white, like a rabbit. Watching videos of the process scares even me and looks like an old man just terrorizing a helpless child. However, thinkers of the day took this "experiment" to prove how children are just conditioned to do certain things. In fact, Wilson went on to write a best-selling book where he cautioned parents of the damaging consequences of love and affection.

The "Baby Tender" created by Skinner
B.F. Skinner and all of his behaviorist ideas had a thing or two to say as well. He believed that every single thing about us is a conditioned response to a stimuli. In theory  you could "condition" or "create" the idea human being with the right environment and stimuli. He took the "Skinner Box" used in his pigeon studies and designed one for children, and even placed his own daughter inside of it. It allowed for the child to be isolated in its own space and a piece of glass on one side allowed visual interaction between child and parent.

Forgive me for saying this, especially since I have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight vision, but these ideas were dumb. Especially given the evidence against it. The isolation that so many scientists were calling for was in fact damaging the children. In orphanages where children lacked the love and affection mortality rates were astronomical. Children would literally turn their faces to the wall and die from lack of will to live, which resulted from a lack of love. The children were living in deplorable circumstances.

One anecdote tells of an orphanage where mortality rates were high in all sections of the hospital...except for one. All the researchers strove to find out the difference. Diet? Peers? What was it? The answer was that when the cleaning lady in charge of that section of the hospital came in at night, she would pick up the babies and hold them while she worked.

Harry Harlow enters the picture with his monkey studies. A famous experiment of his, which is featured on the cover of the book above, is where he took infant monkeys and gave them surrogate mothers. The surrogates were made of wire and wood. Two of these surrogates were placed side by side. One had a milk bottle, and the other was wrapped in a terry cloth to make it warm and soft. Monkeys spend a vast majority of their time with the softer mother and only went to the wire mother when they needed food. This debunked the thinking that we form our relationship based on food alone, and showed instead that we need love, we need affection, that is what matters most to us.

In a Romanian Orphanage

After battling the zeitgeist of his day Harlow, and others, were able to show us just how much we need love. This was able to prevent situations seen in the hospitals and mortality rates dropped significantly. It now became a thing of the past. At should have. However, orphanage situations in Romania mirror quite close to the way things were run in the early 1900's. Bridge of Love describes the situation as follows,  "Babies and toddlers stayed in their cribs nearly all day, starved for love and attention. The bedroom walls were bare, and a cold breeze seeped through the windows of the poorly heated orphanage/hospital.
               There were no blankets or toys in the room, and the workers changed the babies’ diapers in silence. The toddlers rocked their little bodies back and forth for hours, the only stimulation they could create. The older toddlers banged their heads on the side of the crib—over and over—creating a new noise and huge lumps on their heads.
               Laurie described the situation as “children living in a zoo.” They each had their own cage from which they couldn't escape. Most of the children had been abandoned at birth, with little or no information about them left behind. There were no plans for these children—they just existed."

It makes me sad when I'm reading a journal article on an attachment or rearing study and instead of some monkey experiment, the researchers were just able to go to Romania and observe the effects there. This is why I feel strongly about what I'm doing, and I'll explain further in later posts. These children need help, and we are in a position to offer it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Kahuna Creations Magic! has been far too long since last I posted. I apologize. After I got engaged I had to bunker down and get through the last two weeks of school. Projects, quizzes, papers, and of course, final exams. I have triumphed and made it through the storm. Thank goodness.

Chief FreeWind desiging the board aesthetics.
Courtesy of Kahuna Creations
During this time of trial and testing terror, I was shown that there is still light and goodness in this world by my friends at Kahuna Creations. In a moment of agony and studying I decided to waste a minute or two or ten and take a break. Did I take a nap, or go on a walk? No, I got on Facebook of course, where the rest of the student population was also wasting time.

I logged on, and in my news feed I saw it...a magnificent work of art. All the splendor and magnificence that can be compressed into one glorified piece of maple wood. The Black Wave. A finely shaped board which has been artistically "tattooed" by Samoan Chief FreeWind. This is an attractive looking board to be sure, but the designs and intricacies of Chief FreeWind's craft have set this board apart, not only as a great board, but as a work of art. It comes in black and clear coating.

I love the Kahuna products. They have displayed innovation with their highly useful "Big Stick". I use it every time I board. One time I went four miles without my feet even touching the ground. They have a plethora of beautiful boards and recently even got their own wheels...sick orange wheels. Up till now they have been a great company, friendly, customer oriented, active but now....with this board....they have further set themselves apart with distinction.

Nice work Kahuna, I am more than impressed. Felicitări.

I took the liberty of borrowing this picture so you can see the boards. Seriously, they look great.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Deșteaptă-te, române!

Well....I've been a little slow in keeping up with the holidays. I think I have a good excuse for missing this one. The one I want to talk about now is December 1st. A great day for Romanian history.

December 1st is the Unification Day or National Day of Romania. Kind of like our fourth of July. It memorializes the unification of Transylvania into "Greater Romania" in 1918 as well as Bessarabia and Bukovina. The unification was held during the reign of King Ferdinand I. The declaration was read at a public event in Alba Iulia where 10,000 citizens attended.

I remember being in the capital city, Bucharest, on December 1, 2010. Lots of the roads were closed and traffice was bad due to the huge parade. I was, unfortunately, unable to attend the parade, but those who braved the cold weather and snow had a grand old time.

La mulți ani România!!!

Happy Birthday to a wonderful beautiful country, with wonderful beautiful people and a wonderful beautiful heritage and language. Over this weekend I got to meet a man from Romania and speak to him in Romanian. I miss that language, it is so beautiful.

The day of December 1st will forever have special significance to me beyond Unification Day of Romania. It was also the day when I asked my sweetheart, Jamie, to marry me. She said yes. Hence why I was a little slow in posting about December 1st. I was too busy trying to surprise her.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dracula's Dash for Hope 2012

Recently Bridge of Love had their annual 5K fundraiser race, Dracula's Dash For Hope. I know its been a while since it happened but I wanted to talk about it.

I went to the race this year only as a volunteer. I really regret not having run the race. I woke up at about 6:00 am, put on my hippie costume and drove down to the race with other volunteers and race participants  We arrived in the dark of the morning and helped set everything up. There were people running around everywhere, marking the course, hanging signs, setting up speakers. I wasn't entirely sure what was happening, but the coordinators had it all under control, and everything came together very nicely.

The kids lining up for their race. I think that the Captain Hook kid
had the coolest costume.
I helped set up and then I was in charge of running the information booth. I lingered near the set up of pictures and pounced on people answering their questions and giving information. I had a lot of fun.

It was nice to see some friends of mine there. I was surprised to see the Lundbergs who were supposed to be out of the country, however, due to a passport problem, they had to stay. I'm not going to lie, I was happy they were there.

The children's race started. Kids all lined up in their really adorable costumes. The gun was fired and they were off. The race was only half a mile but some of those kids were intense and really racing hard. Parents ran alongside and a man in Dracula garb walked the course to make sure no one got lost.

Soon after the 5K race started. Everyone lined up and I was reminded of my high school cross country days. That sinking nervous feeling you get as you stand on the line waiting for the race to start. The gun went off, and the race began.

To be fair, the course was pretty tricky. Wet grass and quite a few hills. There was a lot of competition and it was a lot of fun to watch. Since I was silly and didn't run I had some free time, which I took advantage of by taking a moment to talk to Chad Hymas. Chad Hymas is a motivational speaker and author. I read his book a few months before the race and was delighted to see him there. I had been forewarned about his presence and so I brought my copy of his book, and, like a silly little fan, nervously asked him to sign it for me. Which he was kind enough to do.

I took some pictures, which I've put into the blog. There was a nicer camera and photographer documenting the event, and as soon as I get access to the good photos of the event I'll be sure to post them or put a link so you can see the fun and festivities.

The race ended and prizes were given out. Chad Hymas was at the microphone for all of this. All in all, I had a really great experience, and I'm sure many more did as well.

A successful fundraiser! Which really helped to raise money to support the Romanian orphans. It really makes me so happy to see so many people coming together to help out in the world. People just looking to do something kind for someone who needs it. What a wonderful wonderful thing it is to serve another person.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I know its a few days late, but I had to recover from my sugar coma from eating too many pies. This year my mom had to limit my dad to making only 15 pies.

Thanksgiving was a wonderful needed break. I love getting together with the family. This year we had about 30 people come from my Dad's side of the family. I loved seeing people I had not seen in years. We had a fun few days together. I even got a few longboard rides in. The best was Thanksgiving morning when my little sister, Sydney, came along with me on her bike. We had a lot of fun and, except for one bad fall I had, the ride went very well. I loved spending that time with my sister.

Family is a big deal to me. I think that this has come from the ideals and values my parents have taught me and the things that I learn from my faith. Having and creating strong families is a big deal to us. As well as family history work. When all of us kids were in school my mother went back to college and got her degree in Genealogy. She knows so many stories of my ancestors and is great at helping others too.

One story she shares every Thanksgiving time is about John Alden. He was a young man who came over to the Americas on the Mayflower. He married another passenger named Priscilla Mullins. They survived the hardships of settling the land and from their work my family came to live here.  Before we all eat ourselves sick on Thanksgiving feast she tells us about the hard times the early pioneers had. The first winter was so bad that they had to cut back to severe rations. Each person only got five kernels of corn a day! In remembrance my mom always puts five kernels of candy corn by each of our plates.

This is a good reminder of the many blessings we have. I look at my life, my experiences, my relationships, my things and I see a bounty bestowed on me. It makes me feel a gratitude towards God and my family. Then I think of the words of the song, "Because I Have Been Given Much, I Too Must Give" and I feel a responsibility to share what I have with others.

I'm grateful for so many things. Life really is a wonderful and beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wet Leaves and Dog Poop

Skadi: Norse Goddess of Winter,
who enjoys skiing,
spear hunting, and ruining
 my life in Provo Utah as well. 
Slushy, snowy, icy cold weather. That's what I've had recently. This poor weather has really hurt my training for my trip. I've been swimming to exercise instead of running and longboarding, which I enjoy, but its not as nice as riding my longboard. appeared that someone had appeased the Provo Gods of Winter for a day and we were blessed with a sunny warm day. I thought to myself, "I think I should go for a ride."

Donning my shorts and t-shirt, headphones and helmet, board and Big Stick I set off down the street towards my usual Provo River trail. Cruising down the road I reach the river trail and then I start pushing fast. Covering the trail are piles of leaves everywhere. Due to the snow and rain the leaves are sodden and rotting, letting off a decomposing smell. Every time I ride over the leaves my board slows down, also the wheels catch the mud and water and throw it everywhere. Whenever I try to push with my foot or the Stick I have to beware the leaves or else I slip and almost fall off. It was a great workout, lots of fun, but frequently frustrating. 

Wheel Shields by Chase Kaczmarek
I reach home and flip my board over to see it has been caked in mud, mud which has been thrown all over by my spinning wheels. My board is muddy and wet, not a good thing for the maple wood deck. Mud is all over my lower legs. I have a flashback to a similar experience when I was going along the trail and someone hadn't cleaned up after their dog. My quickly spinning wheels run over the stinky "doggy deposit" and I instantly regret not being more attentive. 

Since that day I've been looking into something to prevent this. I was on Rob Thompson's webpage and he mentioned wheel shields. I've looked into that and I found someone who has made that idea a reality. Check them out here. I'm not sure I will ever get them, but I'll think about it. Especially if the weather keeps playing tricks on me like this.

Curse you Provo Weather Gods of Winter and Rain, curse you....

Monday, November 19, 2012

Helmets and Traumatic Brain Injury

This gave me a good laugh.

I'm a big advocate for helmets. I study psychology in school and I learn a lot about brain damage and its impact on us. Helmets are a necessity  They do quite a bit to save your brain and your head. You are your brain, without it you cannot function, so I say, lets all wear helmets!

The main thing that helmets do is they keep a closed head injury from becoming an open head injury. It is obviously preferable to keep your brain inside of your head rather than spread on the pavement. Especially because the consistency of a brain is like pudding, and it will not stay solid for long, but will "melt" out onto the pavement. Wear a helmet, keep your brain inside your head, and keep things from entering your brain.

Even with a closed head injury there is some damage that can be done. Your brain is a very mushy substance that floats in a liquid inside of your skull. When your head hits the pavement it has been accelerating. It hits the ground and stops quite suddenly. Sadly, your floating brain takes longer to stop. It will continue to accelerate until it hits the inside of your skull, this is called the coup. It will then bounce off your skull, move backwards, and then  hit the other side, this is called the contre-coup. Both of these impacts can cause severe damage to your brain known as Tramatic Brain Injury, or TBI.

Coup and Contrecoup
TBI is the leading cause of death and disability for children and adolescents. There are roughly 2,685 deaths a year due to TBI, and at least 37,000 hospitalizations with 435,000 emergency room visits. The most incidence of hospitalization and death occurs from ages 14-18 years old. There are different types of TBI, such as contusions which is bleeding in the brain. Or concussions  which is similar to a contusion but it includes the loss of consciousness. Depending on the severity of these one may develop mild to severe TBI. Loss of many forms of functioning can occur.

Along with concussion and contusion is Axonal Shearing. The inside of your skull is not smooth. My Behavioral Neurobiology teacher gave the good example that it is shaped like a skate park. Ramps, bowls, dips and hills. There are quite a few ridges inside your skull. When your skull rotates quickly and then stops even quicker, like hitting your head on the ground, your brain does not stop rotating and these ridges literally "shear" or tear through your brain matter, causing bleeding and severe neural damage.

Inside the top of your skull. Usually there are no
screws sticking into your head so...ignore those.
Pay attention to the ridges instead.
How does wearing a helmet help to prevent this? Well, most of this damage is cause by your speeding skull being stopped suddenly, while your brain takes a moment longer to slow down. Helmets help lengthen the time it takes to slow your skull down making the deceleration less damaging. As your head hits the ground, the foam in your helmet is crushed by your head. As it crushes it slows your head down gradually, rather than all at once. This causes the damage to be less severe, and can very well save your life, if not your neural functioning. 

This is why you should buy a new helmet if you get into a crash. The foam has been crushed and will not work the same again. It is safer to buy a new helmet. 

Wear a helmet, just do it. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Make a Wish Bram Stoker!

Today Bram Stoker was remembered in a Google Doodle on Google's homepage. This is Stoker's 165th birthday. Bram Stoker is best known for his still-popular novel, Dracula. I love that book. It is masterfully written. I love the format of the book. It doesn't read like a normal book, but is more a collection of journal entries, letters, and newspaper articles, which all combine to tell the story of the Vampire. It is an engaging read, and one that really scares you at times. I would recommend it to anyone. It's no wonder why it is a "classic".

Vlad Tepes,
or Vlad the Impaler
"So Mason," you may ask, "Why are you putting this up on a blog about Romanian Orphans and Longboarding? I fail to see the connection. Why Bram Stoker? Why Dracula's Dash for Hope too?" Well, I do this because the main inspiration for the character of Dracula is none other than Romanian national hero, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. Even the name Dracula comes from a Romanian word that means, "The Devil." Transylvania is a region in the central part of Romania. I got to live there for a while. It is a beautiful area of the world, but a little eerie on a foggy winter night.

Vlad was a very bloody ruler who helped to unite Romania. His methods were violent and often involved impaling hundreds of people till they die. The Romanians love him. Why? Not because he was so ruthless, but because he was able to hold the country together and keep the Turks from conquering. There is an anecdote that the Turks sent an army to scout out Romania before the larger force arrived. When the main part of the Turkish army reached the borders of Romania they found their scouts...but not in the condition they expected. Every soldier in the scout army was impaled on a pole and their bodies lined the road that led to Romania. The anecdote says that the Turkish Sultan was so disgusted and horrified that he vomited, and then turned his army around, leaving Romania alone.

Stories about Vlad are fascinating, macabre, and at times they can be far-fetched. My favorite, however, is Bram Stoker's story. Thanks Bram, I appreciate what you've done for us all in giving us the gift of your book.

Now...the question, do vampires exist? Were they really killed. Here are two thoughts for you to think about. In order to kill a vampire one must drive a wooden stake through their heart and chop off their head. SPOILER ALERT: In the book, Dracula is hastily "killed" with a Bowie knife to the heart, and a kukuri knife to chop off his head. This is close, but where is the wooden stake? Did it work? I believe that this is the question that led to the Dracula sequel, written by Bram's descendant Dacre Stoker. I've never read it, so tell me what you think.

Bram Stoker
Another evidence for vampires, is someone I met in Romania. We used to teach free English classes to people in the cities in which we lived. On lady we taught was about six foot three inches tall, and apparently a judo champion, very intimidating  She always wore black, with a turtleneck or a high collar. Sometimes dressed like a pirate, knee high boots and frilly sleeves with a vest. Her son was a really nice kid who was also really tall, thin and had a "goth" look. We could never tell how old she was, 29 or 50. One time we asked the class what they all did for work. Her answer, she is a real estate agent for a Count who lives in a castle in Transylvania  Sound like Jonathan Harker to anyone else. Vampire? Well, I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wear A Helmet

There is an attitude that bothers me quite a bit. In the culture of bike riding, skateboarding, longboarding, etc, kids think that is is not cool to wear a helmet. That is looks dumb. I'm not going to lie, but the instant I see someone riding without a helmet I assume they are a person of sub-par intelligence. If they had any shred of smarts, and their mind was an asset to them, surely they would want to protect their brain. If they don't want to protect their brain I guess its not that important to them, which means their brain must not be that high-functioning or helpful. AKA they're dumb. 

I hope I haven't put it too strongly, but when you buy a board, or a bike, a scooter, or a motorcycle you should buy a helmet at the same time. 

I study psychology in school and we look at a lot of different brain damage. When I hear someone tell me they won't wear a helmet because it will make them look stupid, I tell them they will look more stupid when they suffer Traumatic Brain Injury and have to live life as a vegetable. I'm pretty passionate about wearing helmets, and I plan on posting much more on it later. Until then, here is a friendly message from the Brain Injury Association

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Psychology of Service: The Wishing Tree

Just one more of these and then I'm back to writing shorter posts I promise.

To wrap up my ideas, for now at least, on why we serve other people I have a parable for you to read. The important part of the story is last third of it, concerning the crippled boy, but I've included all of it in order to give the proper context and to allow better understanding.

There are elements to the whole story that I like, and parts that I don't quite agree with. To be certain it deals with more topics than just service. However the overarching meaning, the larger take away message of service and love is what I really like from this message and what I hope you take away as well.

This was a speech given by Purushottam Lal at Brigham Young University. I heard it for the first time from my History of Psychology Professor, Dr. Reber. It really made me think a lot and I hope it touches you in the same way it did me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Wishing Tree:

“So there was another parable I had been told to explain this problem that faced us all the time, and this was a parable of the wish-fulfilling tree. That is magnificent. In fact, I will have to end with that because I’ll have nothing more to say.
“An uncle goes to the city and he comes back to his village where his nephews and nieces are playing with toys and sticks and stones and pieces of string—simple, trivial, ordinary things—and he tells them, “Look, you fools, this is no way to play. Don’t you know that there’s a wish-fulfilling tree right outside your cottage? All you have to do is go to the tree and stand there under the tree and start wishing and the tree will give you exactly what you want. All you have to do is go there and ask for it.”
“And these children are very smart like all kids nowadays and know that’s not true because, after all, you don’t get what you want. You have to work very hard to get what you want. And even if you work hard, someone else is working harder and he gets it first. And besides, some others have connections. They really get it first. So they don’t believe him and he goes away.

“As soon as he goes away, guess what they do? They rush to the tree and start wishing. (This is a tree whose roots are in the sky and whose fruits are in earth. It’s the tree in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 15.) And they start wishing. And of course we know what kids wish for: sweets, candy. And you know what kids get—stomachaches. (What did you think they would get?) The trouble is that the tree will give you exactly what you want and with it, its opposite. Guaranteed. Nothing in this world comes single; everything comes with its built-in opposite. (Don’t ask me why; I didn’t make the world. I’m just suffering as much as anyone else, believe me.)
“And so what else do they want? They want toys. And what do they get? Boredom. And they want bigger toys. They get bigger boredom. Bigger and better toys. Bigger and better boredom. Mattel toys. Swell boredom. There’s no getting out of that. The tree will give you exactly what you want, guaranteed, with its built-in opposite. Don’t forget that. That’s part of the game.
“So the kids grow older. They’re suffering and they don’t know what’s happening. Now they’re called what I was in 1947—a young adult. (How nice. Fancy phrases. Overgrown kids.) They stand under the tree. (There’s nowhere else to stand. That’s where we all are. Where will you go? The tree is everywhere.) And now, of course, they don’t want kid stuff, not toys and sweets. They want other things—the four fruits that hang from the tree: sex, fame, money, and power. These are the four fruits; there’s nothing else available. Nothing else. (If there is, please let me know, because as a Hindu that’s what I was told.) All you have to do is reach out, grab them, and you’ve got them. Reach out, grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it—because the tree will give you the opposite too. Guaranteed. The tragedy of life is not that you don’t get what you want. The tragedy of life is that you get exactly what you want—and with it, its opposite. You dream it, you wish it, you think it, you do it, you grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it—because the tree will give you the opposite too. Guaranteed. That’s the real tragedy of life—that you discover too late the curse of getting exactly what you want. You dream it, you wish it, you think it, you do it, you grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it. There’s no getting out of this. And here I was, looking for a job, and I was being told this parable. So the kids suffer and they agonize. They don’t know why they agonize.
“Now they grow old. That’s all you can do under the tree. Now there’s another fancy name for them. Senior citizens. They’re under the tree waiting to be carried to the funeral pyre where they’ll be burned to the proper Hindu crisp. And now they are terribly worried. There’s not much time left. They huddle in groups and one group says, “Oh, it’s a hell of a world.” Fools, they’ve learned nothing from life. And there’s a second group which says, “You know, we have the answer. We made the wrong wishes. This time we’ll go and make the right wish.” Bigger fools. They’ve learned nothing at all. And there’s a third group which huddles and says, “If that’s the way the world is, I want to die. What’s the use living?” “All right,” says the tree. “You want to die? Take it.” And with death comes its opposite, rebirth. Oh my goodness, there’s no escape. Or is there?
“Yes, there is, because the parable doesn’t end here. Parables don’t end like that. There’s the drop of honey and the lota of water. And there is a lame boy, a cripple, who also ran to the tree with his companions, but he was pushed aside. He fell down and he couldn’t get up easily; so when he got up, he found his friends under the tree wishing away. He crawled back into the hut and he waited. He said, “I’ll wait. There’ll be some time under the tree when it will be vacant. I’ll go then and make my wish.” (Now I don’t know what cripples want. Whatever they want is what he would wish for.) So he waited, looking out of the window. He saw his companions under the tree. Young children asking for sweets and getting stomachaches and suffering. He saw them asking for toys and getting boredom and suffering. He saw them as young adults grabbing sex, fame, money, and power. He saw them suffering, he saw them getting the opposite, he saw them agonizing and not knowing why they were agonizing, and he saw them dividing into three groups, one group saying, “It’s a hell of a world,” another group saying, “We made the wrong wishes,” and a third group saying, “I want to die,” but getting reborn. And in one dazzling, illuminating spectacle he saw this whole thing and stood there, marveling at the spectacle of the universe—these are the words now, very carefully used when the story is told again and again by village storytellers, by mothers, by others, whoever tells it, “marveling at the spectacle of the universe”—at the cosmic swindle of life, at the divine comedy (well, tragicomedy). There was a gush of compassion in his heart for his companions under the tree. And in that gush of compassion, he forgot to wish. He forgot to wish and the tree couldn’t touch him. He was free. (And it wasn’t the British who gave us that freedom. That was a freedom I learned from my mother.) The tree couldn’t touch him.
“He had not done the good act, which is very easy to do: you must make up your mind to be good, and what you’ll get is heaven, and heaven is a punishment for good deeds because the Hindu heaven is temporary and you’re born again. He had not done the bad act, which is also very easy to do: just be selfish all the time, and you’ll get hell and then you’re born again—it’s a temporary hell. He had not done the absurd act. (We don’t even think of it; we leave it to the French. They are very expert in that kind of thing. The Hindu mind is not so subtle.) He had done what is known as the pure act. The act—well, I won’t define it. That act cuts through karma, cuts through maya, cuts through the tree at the root, and gets what? If freedom could be had by just punching a few buttons—if you knew the coordinates of freedom—would it be freedom anymore? He’s free, let’s put it that way.
“And of course, the question always is, “But how is it possible? What kind of thing is this pure act that you talk about, this nonwishing gush-of-compassion act?” And inevitably the storyteller says, “Don’t ask me. Ask any mother why she puts the baby on the dry side of the bed at night and puts herself on the wet side, joyfully. Is it because she wants the baby to look after her twenty years later? Could be a very calculated act. Is it because it’s instinctive? Could be. Let’s ask a psychologist. Is it because she’s irrational? Could be. Is it because she gets a Freudian kick out of it? Could be. Ask her and she’ll say, ‘Would you mind not wasting my time? You go to college and find out. Meanwhile, let me look after the baby, please.’ She just does it. And the others try to find out what’s going on.”
A rupee note
“That’s one way the storyteller explains it. The other explanation he gives is to ask the people, “Does any one of you have a rupee note?” (A rupee note is hardly ten cents.) Everyone has it and they produce it. He says, “Now you can do four things with it. One, you give it to charity, you do good to someone, you put your name to it—you do for yourself, too—you’ll get heaven. Serves you right—you’ll be born again. You can take the rupee note and spend it all on yourself, act as if you live in a vacuum and no one else exists in the world, you’ll get hell. Serves you right—you’ll be born again, and given another chance to do better. You can do the absurd act. (The French have found that out.) You can take the rupee note, tear it into little bits, and put it into the trash can. It’s your life; you’re free any time to take it. Or you can do the pure act, too. You can take the rupee note and give it in charity and, like the mother who puts the baby on the dry side of the bed and puts herself on the wet side at night joyfully, like the boy who stood there marveling at the cosmic spectacle of the universe, you, in a gush of compassion, give it; and though you want to add your name to it, you, in that gush of compassion, forget to add your name to it and by doing so you have done the pure act.
“Ah, but don’t remember to forget or the tree will get you.
And that’s all the literature of belief that I know.”

(Purushottam Lal, “The Hindu Experience: An Examination of Folklore and Sacred Texts,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1981), 89–108.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wax Philospohical #2: Psychology of Service

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.
- Emily Dickinson

I love this poem, quite a bit. Emily Dickinson reminds me here of what George Eliot said, "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?" I wonder…why do we feel this way? Why do we want to help people?

A large group in the world of psychology would disagree with Emily and George here. "We are conditioned, unchanging hedonistic creatures ,” say many psychological thinkers; “We are nothing more than the firing of neurons in our brain that have organized themselves based off our genetic predispositions and subsequent environmental conditioning. This conditioning has caused us to seek our own pleasure and minimize our own pain. We live for our survival. If you dig deep enough you will see that every kind thought or action has a selfish origin. Hedonism rules supreme and you cannot change this."

Ayn Rand
Well...isn't that right? I was born and conditioned this way, and I can't change. This conditioning teaches me that the world hurts and I need to alleviate my personal pain as best I can. I've learned that as a human being I want things, and so I try to get them for me. Isn't that right? Consider author Ayn Rand and her book, The Virtue Of Selfishness. In this book Rand presents the idea that selfish living, or "good" selfishness, is the greatest of virtues while altruism is a vice that is destructive to society. In another book of hers, The Fountainhead, her character Howard Roark plays the egoist, and he succeeds in his life by focusing on his own happiness. He does not live for others, nor does he live off them, and he asks no one to live off him. Isn't that right?


I forcefully submit this answer. Sorry to all you Any Rand cultists. Let me explain, because I think Rand is close in her thinking, but enough off the mark to be wrong.

Bad news for you too Paul Simon, because no man is an island, and no man can do it on his own. We are an interconnected world of beings that depend on each other. In our childhood we must live off our parents. We depend on them. This is so much a part of us that as infants we cannot even regulate our own body temperature. Without affection and being held by our parents we would easily die of exposure to cold, even in a warm room! Then we grow up and others depend on us. Our families and our friends need us. We need relationships and the connections that come with them. We cannot be alone and without love. We are not robots. I admit there are moments where we must take care of ourselves. I need to make money to pay my rent so I can live. If I focused solely on others I would die. There is need to understand and take care of oneself, but we would be better people, the world would be a better place, if in addition we  sincerely sought to help one another. What if I worked so I could earn money to pay my rent so I can to live, and I lived to help other people? I'm certainly not perfectly doing this, but its an interesting thought isn't it?

Scene from "A Man For All Seasons". Moore
and his daughter
Now this is a hard way of thinking in the world in which we live. "People just aren't like that." I've heard said. In response I think of quote in the movie, A Man For All Seasons, delivered by the character that plays Sir Thomas Moore. He is at risk of being executed for standing up for what he believes in. His daughter berates him and tries to make him give in, calling him a hero. His response is, "If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that avarice, anger, pride and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes."

Now I'm not saying we should seek to be heroes. That would defeat the purpose, but we should seek to stand fast and really love other people. The question is, if we love someone, what is best for them?

I submit that we live for others. That is what life is about. This thinking, of complete selflessness and absolute concern for the help of others, reminds me of the bodhisattvas. These are people in the Mahāyāna Buddhism belief who have attained enlightenment, but instead of breaking from the wheel of life, they have turned their focus towards working for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings. A bodhisattva is one who has a determination to free sentient beings from samsara, or the continuous flow of life, and its cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. This type of mind is known as the mind of awakening or bodnicitta.

C. Terry Warner, founder of the Arbinger Institute and author of the phenomenal book, Bonds That Make Us Free, talks a lot about our relations with other people. He talks about how we all have a moral sense and when we don’t follow the promptings of the moral sense we betray ourselves and damage relationships around us. The best way to view people, Warner says, is in what is called an I-Thou relationship which we attain when we follow our moral sense.

Martin Buber. I don't mean
any disrespect, but I really
like his beard, and his way
of thinking.
This is an idea adopted from Jewish theologian Martin Buber. The theory is that there are two ways to look at a person, “I-It” and “I-Thou”. In an “I-It” relationship we see other people as objects, either as vehicles to our goal, obstacles to our goal, or irrelevant for they aren't connected to our goal. The other way to see someone is an “I-Thou” relationship, where we see them as real human beings with goals, needs, dreams, and wishes that are just as important as our own. We can then live for the sake of another person. I want to point out that one must have an understanding of both parties in this relationship, the “I” and the “Thou”. If one is too focused on the “I” the relationship becomes imbalanced, and a similar thing happens if one understands the “Thou” with no concept of the “I”. Both must be in equal conjunction.

It is important to note that the “I” in an “I-It” relationship is different than the “I” in an “I-Thou” relationship. The person that we are when we see others as objects behaves differently than the person that sees others as real human beings, and we love them.

Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Jesus commands us to love each other. He says in Matthew 16:25-26, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Then link this to what a prophet, King Benjamin, said in the Mormon Canon of scripture in Mosiah 2:17, "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." 

These are the things that form my paradigm and my motives. We find true joy by serving God, and we serve God by serving others. We can truly serve others by understanding ourselves, by seeing others as real people, and making a conscious choice to do what we can to help.

What do you think? I would really like to know?

Elder Ballard

In my last post on service I spoke about my church’s General Conference meeting we had recently. Another speaker that struck me was Elder Ballard. He gives the example of bees, and how they work and their impact. An interesting fact that he shared was that in the lifetime of a bee it will produce only one twelfth a teaspoon of honey. This is a figure that seems small, but with the combined efforts of other bees making honey this adds up. Elder Ballard then goes on to apply that to us. "Imagine what the millions of Latter-day Saints could accomplish in the world if we functioned like a beehive in our focused, concentrated commitment to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
             The Savior taught that the first and great commandment is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. …“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37, 39–40). The Savior’s words are simple, yet their meaning is profound and deeply significant. We are to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together, united as followers of Christ, anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us—our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens. 
             As the Epistle of James notes, service is the very definition of pure religion (see James 1:27)."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kahuna Big Stick

As a college student, it goes without saying that I am poor. That is just the life we all lead, and its not that big a problem, I eat, I have a place to live, I'm doing really well. I am also paying for this trip from my own pocket. However longboard equipment gets expensive. I have been petitioning help and I would like to introduce one of my sponsors.

Paddle Handle
The rubber blade
I've been wondering how to get more endurance and mileage out of each day, and I thought a stick to push with would be good. At first I contemplated using a crutch, or a broomstick with a rubber tip. Thankfully, a company that saw where they could help stepped in and gave me some assistance  Kahuna Creations is a company that makes longboards and also a really cool little invention they call the Big Stick. Its like a paddle, but at the end there is a rubber blade of sorts that you can use to push off the road. A genius idea. They helped me out in acquiring two sticks, one for me and one for Kenton.

I have been nothing but impressed with them and their product.

I got the adjustable stick which will be helpful to carry on my backpack on the trip. It is much more sturdy than I anticipated and the rubber end is quite durable. I've been able to go on rides for four or five miles and my feet never touch the ground. It adds a whole new element to longboarding! It is also a really good core and arm workout. I went out for an hour when I got it and I was beyond sore the next day. For distance longboarding this thing is a must-have.

I really love having it. I get some funny looks sometimes, but I like to think everyone is just jealous of how awesome I am.

Over the weekend a friend and I went up Provo Canyon to ride around and look at the fall leaves. It was so beautiful we decided to take some pictures while we were up there, we rode a casual three or four miles. It was a perfect day, and using the Kahuna Stick was a lot of fun.

My lovely friend and photographer, Jamie Wheeler. She's a little upset
 because I made her wear a helmet.
The fall leaves were amazing. 
I feel a little vain with this montage of me. 
I hope you are all of jealous of the beautiful day I got to spend. 

Few things make you as happy as spending time in nature, riding your board, and
spending time with good friends. Good day.

Thanks Kahuna for the help. I really appreciate it. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Allow Me to Wax Philosophical #1

Bear with me on this one.

I've been thinking a lot lately. My life is busy. I work part time as a teacher, I go to school full time, dating as well as other social commitments, I have a volunteer responsibility in my local church which takes up huge amounts of time, and this longboard project just adds to it. Quite a considerable amount too. I wonder occasionally, "Why am I doing this longboard for charity thing? What am I thinking? I've got way to much on my plate without having to worry about this too. I don't have time to blog, to contact schools, to get sponsors. Why did I decide to do this?"

I was pondering on this the other day while mowing the lawn (mowing the lawn and taking a shower seems to be the moments of meditation where most of life's insights come to you. The Shower Principle) and I realized why I want to go one this adventure. Rather than give you a huge rant few will ever read, I've decided to give you my thoughts in parts. This is installation #1 of the motivations of service and adventure.

I've talked before about my desire to go on an adventure and why I want to serve a cause in this adventure. One reason why I want to go on this trip is, will be a lot of fun. Lots of hard work and pushing a board, but traveling in a beautiful place, camping, talking to people. Sounds like a blast! However, like I've said before, doing something of this magnitude and commitment just for kicks isn't a good enough reason.

Recently, my church just had something we call General Conference. For one weekend all the members attend or watch series of meetings where the Prophet, Apostles and other church leaders speak to us. They teach doctrine and share what they think the church members need to know. I really enjoy this semi-annual meeting, and, this time especially, two talks really stuck out to me. I will discuss one of those in this post and the other at a later date.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared some thoughts. In his talk entitled "Of Regrets and Resolutions" he spoke about regrets many people in hospitals express as they reach the end of their lives. He says, "[A] regret of those who knew they were dying may be somewhat surprising. They wished they had let themselves be happier. So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial. The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.
          "We do matter.We determine our happiness.You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.
          "My wife, Harriet, and I love riding our bicycles. It is wonderful to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature. We have certain routes we like to bike, but we don’t pay too much attention to how far we go or how fast we travel in comparison with other riders.
           "However, occasionally I think we should be a bit more competitive. I even think we could get a better time or ride at a higher speed if only we pushed ourselves a little more. And then sometimes I even make the big mistake of mentioning this idea to my wonderful wife. Her typical reaction to my suggestions of this nature is always very kind, very clear, and very direct. She smiles and says, “Dieter, it’s not a race; it’s a journey. Enjoy the moment.”
         "How right she is!
          "Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable.
         "Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end?
          "Do we listen to beautiful music waiting for the final note to fade before we allow ourselves to truly enjoy it? No. We listen and connect to the variations of melody, rhythm, and harmony throughout the composition.
          "Do we say our prayers with only the “amen” or the end in mind? Of course not. We pray to be close to our Heavenly Father, to receive His Spirit and feel His love.
         "We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.”"

I often see myself and other people making this mistake. We say, "I'll be happy when I graduate, or when I get married, or after the semester, after this midterm. I will be happy sometime, but not right now." When I start feeling this way, I feel the need to pause and look at my life, my wonderful family, my friends, my life situation which is such a precious gift. I have many blessings, and I need to remember that. I need to remember that I can be happy now. There are things I can do now that can bring joy. One reason I wanted to do something out of the box is to shake myself from the routine, and from focusing on being happy when I graduate college, or when I get married, or when I catch up on sleep. Because the reality is, I'm at a wonderful time in life and I can enjoy that time and have great experiences. I don't want to get caught up in the routine grind of things and forget to enjoy life.

Another regret President Uchtdorf explained was that, "Perhaps the most universal regret dying patients expressed was that they wished they had spent more time with the people they love. Men in particular sang this universal lament: they “deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the [daily] treadmill of … work.” Many had lost out on choice memories that come from spending time with family and friends. They missed developing a deep connection with those who meant the most to them. Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.
         "Is it?"

This is a sentiment President Uchtdorf speaks of a lot. That we would do well to slow down and take a moment for the things that matter most. I have a friend who is quite an accomplished young lady. Smart, pretty, capable. She is quite impressive, however, she is so busy, and she wears this as a badge of honor. I think she is really great person, but we are only capable of a very shallow friendship. Whenever we get together she only has time enough to hang out for an hour maximum and I hear much about the things that keep her busy, and when we talk she forgets things I've said to her and forgets things she has told me. She is with me, but not really there with me as she is distracted by her many things in life. She has a lot of growing up to do. At first I thought I may just be boring to her, but other friends of hers have expressed the exact same sentiments, that they felt they weren't as important to her as her busy life, outward image, and accomplishments she so dearly desires to have. Her friends feel this way up until they no longer desire to be her friend. Its sad how we lose sight of that which matters most, meaning, other people. 

This also frightens me because I'm busy. President Uctdorf continues to say, "I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished. I can’t see it. Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time."

So the thought is to spend time with people we love. So how does adding one more responsibility to my life give me more time for the people I love? Well, by doing this project I get to spend time and effort on people I love; other people, most especially the Romanian people. I also had the chance to make more friends with people who have found my blog and asked for help in learning to longboard. I've spend time with family and friends as they help me with this endeavor. Its been fun.

Also, I've found that it can be easy, especially in my stage of life, for a person to become fully focused on oneself. My schooling, my education  my grades, my grocery shopping, my entertainment, my time etc. etc. This is the norm, look out for #1 right? This project helps me to look outside of myself towards others. I am very anxious to be able to raise enough money to hire a tutor for the abandoned children. I've met many during my time in Romania and they need this help. Stopping and helping others allows me to stop and appreciate my own life. I've been blessed in a way that is almost stupid. Life is been charmed it seems. Its hard, its difficult, but I eat, I have home and clothes, I have family and friends, I have an education. This evaluation helps me be grateful, and to be grateful is to enrich ones life. 

In conclusion, the first reason for why we serve is to slow down from our daily hustle and bustle and find some joy in a moment we spend outside of ourselves, as we focus on someone or something that we love. As we do so we become more grateful, we develop meaningful relationships and our lives are further enriched.

What do you think? Why do we serve other people?