Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Learning About Tools

There are some processes of learning that we take for granted—either because we learned them through observation of others, especially in our childhood, or we learned them as a gradual building-upon of our own studies. After a while, how we learn becomes a set pattern that we take for granted. So, first to help us appreciate some of the steps our minds go through, I wanted to cover the learning process of using tools. Then, by way of illustration, broaden that to learning to use our greatest tool, our brains, for using our greatest spiritual tool, the Bible.

So here is a bulleted list of the steps I’ve identified in using tools:
  • First is the knowledge that a tool exists
  • Next is acknowledging that you need and would be benefited by acquiring the tool.
  • Now comes how to use the tool, and in this regard, there is a note of caution. Merely watching someone else use the tool will not give you the "feel" & experience. Consider a chain saw. Waiting until you actually need it and then trying to use it means your mind & body didn't gain the first hand know-how of how to balance it in your hand, how to apply sufficient pressure--without applying too much force.
  • Following “how to,” comes practice, experience and gaining proficiency. This is what separates the rookie from the journeyman and a future pro.
  • There is an art to nearly everything in life. We see (although perhaps not always realize) the art in a task when an accomplished person makes it look “so easy.” (Like those who can carve figures from stumps of wood or blocks of ice.)
There is so much that our minds process while learning something new, that we can easily take for granted the intricate & complicated steps. When we break it down, we realize that not only our brains, but our whole body is making rapid decisions that we don't even realize. A great example is learning to ride a bicycle. It takes practice. We are training our mind, our eyes, muscles and skeleton (indeed our whole body) to work with balance and forward momentum. Merely watching a YouTube video and then expecting to ride is foolish. Another good example may be skiing. Unlike bike riding, for many this is not a skill that they learned in childhood. Some as young adults and others as full grown adults have tried to learn this skill, only to do a face plant. No shame in learning and falling a few times. But my point is that we’ve all seen people skiing, we all know its possible. But for those of us that have never skied (I’m one), just because we’ve seen it done does not mean we can just “jump right in and do it.”

Okay, so now, how about the abstract learning of concepts such as using the Bible. (I’m referring to more than merely turning a page or quoting a scripture.) When it comes to learning of God, many want to stop at bullet point number two—acknowledging the value of the tool. They puppet back “just believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Really, just our coverage of how learning works should demonstrate the fallacy of that misapplied, misinterpreted thinking. When we consider what the two main goals are in becoming a Christian, this point is further accentuated. Besides the “two greatest commandments,” loving God and then our neighbor, there is also the point Jesus made about lighting a lamp. Yes, once we light the lamp of God’s truth in our hearts & lives, we need to shine that lamp on others. It is not enough to merely say “I’m Christian.” Helping others to learning is a requirement of our claim to being Christian. So let’s take another look at the bullet points.

  • First is the knowledge that a tool exists. Some today do not know that the Bible is a tool. They may know it exists, but don’t realize it is a tool. I compare this to some kitchen devices I’ve seen. Although I found it in the drawer of odds and ends in the kitchen, I had no idea that it was a tool or what it could possibly be used for.
  • Next is acknowledging that you need and would be benefitted by acquiring the tool. Once I realized what the tool was that I found in the kitchen drawer, I may not have readily been willing to use it—preferring to use a more recognizable tool I was accustomed to using. Once it was demonstrated to me what a time-saver or effort-saver that tool was, I became willing to try it. Similarly, those we meet in our preaching efforts gain appreciation for the wisdom and direction the Bible gives. At first they may feel the counsel is impractical or they have grown accustomed to their own ways of handling life’s decisions and moral questions.
  • Now comes how to use the tool. As the student we are teaching progresses, indeed as we ourselves progress, we learn how to apply the scriptures in our own lives. We begin to see the benefits of doing it God’s way.
  • Following “how to,” comes practice, experience and gaining proficiency. In the early stages of learning anything, it is common for new ones to make inaccurate conclusions and decisions based on their yet increasing but limited knowledge. Notice here that I am not at all referring to scripture memorization. Rather, I am referring to making principled decisions based on a well-rounded knowledge of what pleases God.
  • There is an art to nearly everything in life…we see this in accomplished people who make it look “so easy.” After a decade, probably closer to two or three decades, we finally have not only a well-rounded experience of service to God, but adeptness in helping others achieve their spiritual goals.
  • Recertification: I didn’t have this in the original list. But especially in the professional fields, demonstrating proficiency and learning advanced and added skills is necessary. So it goes for those that would let their light shine and not hide it under a basket. Refining our teaching skills and not falling into a rut of a comfort zone helps keep us alert and active. The kings of Israel were required to read the “words of the law” every day. Similarly, we can set a goal of daily Bible reading. In addition, regular reading of Christian literature designed to broaden our horizons of understanding are beneficial.
Indeed, merely being able to recite scripture verses but then not training or mind and heart by actually applying them in our own lives and preaching/teaching them to others will never make us adept at "handling the word aright." 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brainstorming Lucid Daydreams

While brainstorming story lines with a friend, he started talking about his dreams and how they are fodder for some of his stories. He mentioned how the glimpses he gets of what seem to be a continuing saga, he tries to interpret as a progressive timeline. He senses it is progressive because, in at least one instance, the subsequent dream started where the prior one ended.

I went on to tell him of two dreams that I had as a child, neither of which were progressive, but rather repetitive. The first was being chased by a rock monster something on the order of Fantastic Four’s The Hulk. I started having this dream in the first 10 years of my life and I always woke up frightened, gasping for breath, and heart pounding. After several years of having this dream, I awoke one morning and decided I’d had enough. I told myself that the next time I had this dream, I was going to pick up a pebble from off the ground, fling it at the rock monster, shatter it to smithereens, and then I would laugh as hard and long as I could. For the next month or so, every night after going to bed but before falling to sleep, I would run through the exact scenario of what I would do. Well, about a month later, sure enough, the rock monster came for me. I did exactly as I had told myself I should do. And sure enough, the rock monster shattered and I laughed. I never again had that dream.

The second dream was much more pleasant. I dreamt I was flying. At first, because of being influenced by 1950’s TV Superman show, I flew in the same fashion as he did—leaping into the air, flying belly-down and head lifted, looking forward. But, then over years of time, while awake I realized that such a posture was actually a strain on the neck. I tried to imagine what comfortable flight might be like. Then I started having dreams of being in standing position and just gently “floating” off the earth. I was able to control lift, direction and velocity merely by willing it. Then I started having favorite spots to visit during flying. Before falling to sleep, I would image those scenes so I could enjoy them during my sleep. They typically started off from a hillside overlooking a valley village like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. From there I would investigate the aerial view of the town and then zoom out to just outside of earth’s atmosphere.

My friend observed that my being able to condition my dreams sounded to him like lucid dreaming. By definition, lucid dreaming is not only being aware that you are dreaming, but also being able to control what happens in the dream. I’m not sure that was the case with me. After waking, I knew I had been dreaming, but while dreaming, it was all very real to me and I was not aware it was only a dream. But his observation made me wonder if it was possible to somehow have "productive" dreaming sessions.

I recommended to him that he try the following method to expand his stories—“Rather than letting your dreams take the driver’s seat, use periods where you can be alone in a quiet place, and while awake, to just sit and imagine progressions in the story-line. Write down ideas that seem worthy of adding to the story. Some of these ideas may actual be progressions or they may be mere glimpses of other parts of the story. Approaching creative writing in this manner puts the author in the driver’s seat, and the sleep-time dreams riding shotgun, or maybe even in the backseat in a kiddy chair. One observation, though: Our rational minds tend to look for logical progress, sensible solutions. In writing stories, it may actually be advantageous to do what our dreams do—come up with wild and bewildering progressions. Although these may not be incorporated exactly as imagined, they may help us find alternative paths. In this regard, using a wall and sticky notes to “throw mud on a wall” (the mud of our musings), may be helpful instead of using a linear journal.

We then moved on to discuss the purposeful planning of stories. I mentioned that while “creative juices” are good, knowing how to control and direct those is part of the science of writing. In this vein, the author becomes the ring master of his circus performers (his dreams and inspirations). I then played two videos of an accomplished author that discussed how to tame those wild animals. (Video 1, Video 2). So to me, lucid day-dreaming may actually be more productive than the hit-and-miss lucid dreaming we hope for. It can be enhanced both by moments of quiet reflection and by brainstorming using storyboarding techniques.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bible Reading: Annual, Recirculating

Not A Simple Task
Annual cover-to-cover reading of the Bible is a challenge for anyone. For me, it was either that I didn't have a Bible available at the moment, or I grabbed a Bible whose page numbering was different than the one I used the day before. In the past the schedules I made for myself were based on reading five pages per day and based on the numbering of the Bible I started with.

Using Online BiblesAdding further complexity to a daily Bible reading schedule, currently, it is possible to read the Bible online in any of vastly different translations and in them page numbers are no longer relevant. I needed a new system. It dawned on me, instead of using page numbers, use the Bible Books and chapters in those books to set a beginning and end for each day's reading. This is not a new idea. Currently Jehovah's Witnesses employ the idea for their weekly congregation assigned readings.

Designing A Daily Reading Schedule
I, however, wanted to build a daily reading schedule that would complete the whole Bible in one year and then automatically restart each subsequent year. At the pace I designed, the reading would be completed yearly by the middle of November. That seemed a bit aggressive so I incorporated rest periods, about 1 day per month, into the schedule. This would end the yearly reading by the end of November/beginning of December. 

Rest/Research Days: These rest days can be used either as a rest day or a day to research questions that came up in your mind during the reading for the past month. (Obviously this means you are actively making notes when you come across passages that you want to understand better. An excellent research tool can be found at Watchtower Online Library.)

EOY Auxiliary Material: Although not considered in this design, most Bibles, even those online, have front and back matter, introductory and reference material. You may not read all that material, but each year you can select one or two of those articles. So at the end of the year, if you desire, set a personal goal to read some of that material. (Note to Catholics: Having been raised a Catholic, I am aware that Catholic Bibles contain books collectively known by some as the Apocrypha. The reading schedule I propose here does not include them. You can use the schedule at the end of the year to get through those books if you so desire.)

Using The Schedule
Here is the link to the schedule: Bible Reading Schedule
After opening the link, bookmark it in your browser so you can open it each day. Note the highlighted start and end references for "Today" and then, using whichever Bible you want, turn to the section in your Bible and read the cited passages. Next to the start/end reading, is the time (exact & rounded-up/approximated) it take to listen to the audio recordings.

Other References
For people who have problems reading due to impacted health, I provide a link in the schedule to the online audio recordings of the scriptures from the 1984 edition of the New World Translation. Merely click the provided link to access the Bible. There are other websites that provide audio Bibles, but I don't like them because they add very moody, somber music in the background of the reader's voice. It is too distracting.

Dateline Hemotropolis - The Continuing Saga

Dateline 2014, April 15/16. 4AM. City of Hemotropolis, State of Bart’s Body. Bart’s Brain reporting. Well, it appears the renewed U.N. peace keeping forces (2nd chemo treatment) decided to go on special maneuvers and marching drills all night long on the streets of Hemotropolis (my blood stream). Like tanks rolling down main street, all the inhabitants of fare Hemotropolis and indeed the whole state of Bart’s Body are being kept awake by the roaring chemo streaming through town.

Yup, I started this post at 4:00am and I have insomnia. I actually put myself to bed at 8:30pm last night but have been up and down all night. The only explanation seems to be the treatment. I created a video shortly after the treatment where I was very disoriented and exhausted and then another one at nearly midnight where I was very alert & coherent. Yet I had not actually slept between those two videos. I had dozed off for 5 minutes or less at least a dozen times, but no appreciable sound sleep. I mention in the 2nd video that I'm hot and yet cold to the touch. Especially my hands and feet are extremely hot but now, even as I end up this post at 5AM on Wednesday, only my torso, arms and legs feel cool enough to cover up. I need to leave today in just 3 hours to go for my second session in the 2nd month of treatment and I don't feel the least bit tired.

Finally laid down at 5:15AM and woke at 7:30AM.

Addendum: Date 5/16/2014
Rather than start yet another article, it seemed more expedient to just append here. I had my 3rd chemo treatment on Tuesday and Wednesday this week (May 13 & 14). Typical reaction: Exhausted, dizzy, weak. For some odd reason, after the second day's treatment I get the hiccups that evening and it lasts (on and off) for about 48 hours. The doctor said that what is prescribed for that symptom is actually an anti-psychotic medication. I declined it. I found that the anti-nausea pill he prescribed worked for the hiccups but only about an hour or two. Since the pill can only be taken once every 12 hours, that leaves me with about 10 hours of strong, loud hiccups. This is especially disruptive when I try to sleep at night--which further compounds my exhaustion during the day.

Another issue that came up this time (and with the second treatment) is that leaving the vein tap in after the Tuesday treatment so that on Wednesday all they have to do is hook me up isn't working. Once again, when they started the line, I felt immediate pain and the process had to be stopped; another vein identified; and infusion started up again. But now they are running out of good candidates for the tap. Both sites for this week's treatment are swollen and painful to the touch. One site from the second treatment is still not healed. The nurses urged me to talk to my oncologist about having a "port" installed. I did speak to him and asked what the downsides were. He mentioned infections. I asked if the port would be removed after my last chemo treatment. He indicated that Kaiser usually doesn't remove it but it remains with the patient for their lifetime. I decided against it but am now beginning to wonder which is the lesser of the two evils.

Addendum 6/10/2014
Nothing significant to report. Had 4th treatment. Very tired. The dosage of one of the chemo drugs was boosted slightly because of my body's favorable tolerance of the last (3rd) treatment. Took 2 capsules of "Lip-Flavonoid" when I got home. This over-the-counter supplement was reported to reduce ear ringing, which seems to get worse after my treatment for several days. I'll be interested to see if really does anything. Oh, I did decide to finally have a port put in. That will happen in the coming weeks before my 5th treatment. I opted for this because the nurses were running out of surface veins to tap for the infusion. Also, I spoke to the head infusion nurse who calmed my fears and concerns regarding this procedure.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Comments Welcome

To those that may have tried to post comments and were not allowed: Please note that I have changed the permissions so that anyone can post comments however, the comments will need my approval before they become publicly visible.

Regarding comments: I welcome anyone, even those with opposing viewpoints. However, I will use the admin right to remove any comments that are merely personal attacks or laced with profanity. In short, fashion your comments to the address the subject, be respectful, and I will be happy to permit the post.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bones Visits the 20th Century

Nearly three decades ago there was a Star Trek movie whose theme was “Save the Whales.” In one scene, Chekov had taken a bad fall and ended up in 20th-century surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. Somehow, I mistakenly remember Bones, after beaming down, coming into the operating room and exclaiming that drilling a hole in a man’s head "was barbaric." Here is what he really said.

In the elevator scene, before finding Chekov, there were two young doctors discussing “radical chemotherapy.” Back when this movie was made, I had no clue what that was. Now that I am undergoing chemo treatment for leukemia (CLL), and discovering that one of the infused treatments I am receiving had an element in it that appeared it was derived from the words “mustard gas,” I got curious. I looked up Mustard Gas in Wikipedia and was shocked to discover I was right. If you read under the “History” section, there is a sub-section on how mustard gas is being used to treat my form of leukemia. Why? Because back in World War I and subsequent to it, medical science discovered that one main side effect of exposure to mustard gas (on a cellular level) is a significant drop in white blood cells. (I confirmed my suspicions with the nurses at the Infusion Center that told me the reason they dawn protective gear when starting my I.V. is because the mustard gas is extremely dangerous.)

In my case, that is the exact results the oncologist wanted because my white cells had turned into a spontaneous mob riot, replicating to more than four times the norm for an adult. They were bashing in the windows of my platelet counts, overturning the cars of my oxygen-carrying red blood cells, and killing and maiming the innocent bystanders of my immune system. Medical science's answer? Declare martial law, call in the national guard of chemotherapy and systematically kill all looters and curfew breakers. More accurately, the best answer is to commit genocide on my white blood cells—how’s that for barbarism!? LOL

To date, I've only had one chemo treatment. I must be hyper-sensitive to stimulus of any sort because my white cell count crashed to the bottom end of the normal range. To illustrate—most people live in a small range of elevation—from sea-level to the lower mountains. That corresponds with the white cell count for most humans (3.5-12.5 K/uL). In contrast, my white cell count was living on top of Mount Everest (49 K/uL). Within two weeks, it was brought to just above sea-level (5.8 K.uL). (Did anybody hear that “splat!”?)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not finding fault with medical science. It just seems so “dark ages.” Instead of having found a treatment method that would be akin to using the finesse of precision microscopic surgery tools, for all of medical science's advances, cancer treatment methods seem akin to using a harpoon. (I'm sure medical science would balk at such a comparison, but chemo is undeniably harsh on the body--more like the proverbial "bull in a china shop.")

My oncologist has been the absolute best doctor. Very thoughtful, compassionate, patient and understanding. His treatment of my leukemia has been tailored for my needs. In fact, even though the original chemo infusion was, as he stated, the weakest dosage he would ever start with, after he saw the fantastic results, he is now thinking of reducing the dosage even further.

Although the post-riot scene is quiet, it is still a disaster. The National Guard (chemo) is still patrolling the streets of Hemotropolis (my bloodstream). Although some of the good citizens (my immune-system Neutrophils and blood-clotting platelets) have started roaming the streets in greater numbers, transportation (oxygen-carrying red cells) is still greatly impaired. Although it appears that leukemia has been arrested and the riot has been squelched, my oncologist is still planning on completing the 6-month-long chemo treatment. I think the UN calls these forces "peace keepers." (LOL) 

I am still dealing with the fallout symptoms from chemo, which cause extreme vertigo and fatigue (not to mention numerous other symptoms). For the time being, I have decided to stop driving—for my own safety as well as others on the road--at least until the dizziness goes away. That decision has been the toughest. I've basically become housebound and dependent on others to transport me. I am glad to see the excellent results with just one treatment. I’m still apprehensive about my future "quality of my life." But “one foot in front of the other,” “one day at a time,” and so goes my life right now.

Index of Blog Articles

Below, the left chart is pre-chemo. The right is after just one treatment of chemo.

Addendum 4/4/2014: Just came from meeting with my oncologist. As I understand him, although the riot has been squelched, there are trouble-makers lurking in the dark alleys of Hemotropolis. They are opportunists that are waiting to rebuild and reorganize. The refreshed forces of the National Guard (The remaining 5 rounds of chemo) "can" (no guarantees) completely crush the rebellion and restore real peace in the city. The downside is that this is not without impact on the good citizens. Right now, his main concern is on transportation (oxygen-carrying red cells) -- they are already low. Crippled transportation can starve a city.

Another insight (that I had already suspected) is that the results achieved in this first treatment were more drastic than the doctor had anticipated. He indicated that normally these results are not seen until after the second or third chemo treatment. This confirms that I do indeed seem to be hyper-sensitive to these drugs. Part of the balancing act of dosage is the body weight verses bone density. In my case, I am about 100 pounds over-weight, which adds to the complexity of dosage calculation. Guess I need to lose weight (Duh!)

Story continued here: Dateline Hemotropolis-The Continuing Saga