Something I recently learned about chronic pain

“Pain depends on how much danger your brain THINKS you are in, not how much danger you are really in.” – Dr. Lorimer Moseley

After several years of chronic upper back pain, my doctors had done all they could for me, and sent me to Carolyn McManus, a specialist in managing pain with mindfulness. I learned some things from her I wish I’d known thirty years ago.

Once an injury has healed, if you continue to feel pain in the area for months or years, this is happening because of the messages your brain is sending to the area. A feedback loop is created when you think things like, “There’s that pain again, will it ever go away? Maybe I will be like this for the rest of my life! I wonder why my doctors can’t find anything wrong? I better take another Tylenol…” By thinking these sorts of thoughts, you are effectively making things worse. The new hypothesis of chronic pain indicates that emotional memories modulate our experience of pain, and the result is “a brain that has learned to filter emotions, actions, and reward through the lens of pain, rendering the brain addicted to pain.” (From this research paper)

Professor Lorimer Moseley has a fascinating YouTube talk called “Getting a grip on pain and the brain.” He explains how a person can continue to feel pain in a body part, even when they no longer have that body part. Damage to a body part doesn’t have to be painful. Conversely, you could be in a lot of pain without any tissue damage. He tells a story that may feel vaguely familiar once you realize once he’s getting at: pain accompanied by fear and worry is significantly worse than pain accompanied by a relaxed acceptance.

It’s important to understand that this theory does not mean “pain is all in your head.” The pain is real. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that thinking negative thoughts about it isn’t doing me any favors. By continually focusing on the area and how it feels, I’m not only tensing up the muscles inadvertently, but I’m also burning neural pathways that make it easier for me to go down this same negative thought spiral again and again.

The solution, then, is mindfully being aware of the “sensation” you’ve labelled as pain, and noticing that it comes and goes, just like a cloud in the sky. “You are not your pain” to quote a book of the same name. There are other suggestions as well, which you can find either in the book and other links I just mentioned.

This focus on mindfulness and meditation resonates with my practice of Buddhist meditation to some degree. In fact, it could be argued that Buddhists who have reached a high level of attainment have managed to eliminate pain and suffering…after all, isn’t that what Shakyamuni Buddha was said to have done for his own mindstream? Look at this real life example from the life and death of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, as described by his Doctor (minute 27:50 of this documentary).

#BlackLivesMatter at Seattle Public Schools

On October 19, 2016, hundreds of people who work at Seattle Public Schools will be wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts to school, and many educators will be using part of the day to teach students about institutional racism. Capping off the day is a rally at Washington Hall (153 14th Ave. Seattle) from 6-8pm, featuring speakers, musicians and poets.

I sincerely hope we are beginning to see a big shift in the conversation about racism.

If you are a white American like me, it’s likely you were raised to be “colorblind.” The post civil rights era I grew up in was framed with the assumption that all races are equal, so naturally, we assume, there’s no more racism, except perhaps in some backwoods southern or rural outposts. But this utopian idea hides an important truth: despite the occasional exception, African Americans in general are still struggling. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a hollow platitude when tossed haughtily at people who have been unable to grow wealth thanks to redlining, the school to prison pipeline, and bias in the criminal justice system.

Returning to Black Lives Matter, I know some of you may wondering what the organization actually stands for. Please take a look at the guiding principles and 11 Major Misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter Movement. And if you are still saying, “But…All Lives Matter,” please watch this video.

From the Major Misconceptions link above: “The statement “black lives matter” is not an anti-white proposition. Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied “too,” as in “black lives matter, too,” which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion.”

We are all in this together. When some people are left out in the cold, we all suffer.

White supremacy: “The belief that white people matter more than others.” -Prof. Eddie Glaude

#BlackLivesMatter: “an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.” –BLM official website

Why I’m not voting for a third party presidential candidate this election

In 1980 I was in 7th grade. My social studies class took a poll of hands to see who we would choose for President. I believe I was the only one who raised my hand for John Anderson, the Independent candidate. More the half the kids raised their hands for Ronald Reagan, and the rest for Jimmy Carter. I didn’t like Reagan because I believed the rumors that he was a warmonger who would get us in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. I liked Jimmy Carter, but believed the rumors that he was a weak President. I can’t honestly remember a thing about John Anderson — what he believed or stood for — all I knew is that he wasn’t one of the other guys. And I really didn’t want Reagan or Carter to win.

Hopefully, you are versed enough in history to know what happened. Looking at the popular vote numbers, Carter wouldn’t have won the majority even if all of Anderson’s votes had gone him. It’s like the hostage crisis did him in. But some people, Carter included, believe that he could have won had it not been for Anderson. And in hindsight, I would have much rather had four more years of Jimmy Carter than any years of Ronald Reagan.

So now it’s 2016. I adore Bernie Sanders, admire Hillary Clinton, and dislike Donald Trump with the fire of a thousand suns. I believe if Bernie Sanders had switched and run as a third party candidate, he would have done pretty well in the election. But like me, he’s been around long enough to believe that third party candidates at this stage in US history tend to just split the parties. So now he’s campaigning for Hillary Clinton, which doesn’t surprise me frankly, because you could see even during their first debate that he respected Hillary.

These are the other candidates for President who I cannot take seriously:

Jill Stein, Green Party candidate, is not even on the ballot in all states, has nearly lost every election she’s ever been in, including those at lower levels of government, and she has a history of backpedaling on her views when they prove unpopular.

Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate, is pro-Citizens United, pro-fracking, and doesn’t support paid medical and family leave, for starters.

There are dozens of other people running as well who have no chance of winning.

I do hope I see the end of the two party system in my lifetime, but I don’t think it’s going to happen until we get campaign finance reform, as well as a groundswell of seriously charismatic, accomplished third party candidates running and winning seats more seats in Congress.

Things and stuff and stuff and things

It’s the last day of summer before the kid starts middle school, and I haven’t had much time to post. Here’s a brief rundown of the latest life news.


Tricking the Brother printer into thinking it has enough toner

Here’s a public service announcement for anyone who uses a Brother printer. These printers tend to give you a message about the toner being low long before the toner cartridge is really empty. Just cover the sensors on both sides of the toner cartridge housing with a piece of black electrical tape, and you will be able to print freely until you decide when the toner truly needs replacing. Which will probably be when your prints start looking faded, not when the company decides it can’t wait to sell you a new toner cartridge. Pictured here is the TN360 toner cartridge. My DCP-7040 can also use the TN330 cartridge.

Cover the sensor (there's one on each size of the toner cartridge) with a piece of electrical tape.

Cover the sensor (there’s one on each size of the toner cartridge housing) with a piece of electrical tape.

Steering Wheel Sadness

This a petty, First World Problems, grumbling kind of post. I’ve been looking at new SUVs and vans on the internet, fantasizing about the day when we might be able to afford to replace our 2003 Honda Element, and what I’m seeing with new steering wheel designs makes me very sad.

Last year I had occasion to drive a Hyundai Accent rental car, and that is when I first noticed The Problem. You see, I like to rest one of my hands at 6 o’clock on the steering wheel, but the Accent wouldn’t let me…it put some plastic in my hand’s way. Not only is it hard to break a 16 year driving habit, but I have shoulder problems and my shoulder hates me if I have to put my hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the wheel, which is what new designs appear to be trying to get us to do.

This may actually be a dealbreaker for me. So far I can pretty much disqualify all new models from Ford, Subaru, Kia, Mazda and Toyota:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.34.15 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.34.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.38.07 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.39.00 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.39.54 AM


There are two brands that I am holding out hope for: Honda and Dodge. I can’t tell 100% from the photos, but it looks like there may possibly be enough space for my hand at 6 o’clock. Will have to see them in person.

Do you know of any cars that meet my steering wheel design preferences?

Ants help clean my floor

For years, spring means the start of ant season. In the old days I used to kill them. But since becoming a Buddhist, I just think of them as pets. Sure I occasionally scoop them up with a bug vac and take them outside when things get bad, but in the meantime, I have collected a number of media examples of ant industry. There’s something really satisfying about seeing the ants reduce a piece of popcorn to a skeleton or shlep a big piece of something across the floor. If you agree, I hope you find this collection inspiring.

Ants converge on a piece of Pirate Booty

Ants converge on a piece of Pirate Booty

I may add more videos as I get them, so bookmark this page and visit again some time, ant lovers.🙂