In any new or daring task, it’s not a bad idea to charge ahead as fast as possible. Leonardo da Vinci believed that it was essential for artists to work quickly to capture the “first flash of inspiration.” Ralph Waldo Emerson concurred, saying, “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.”

It is also the advice of the Japanese master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who described the “sekka no atari” — or “lightning strike” — as charging in with strong legs, strong body, and strong arms combined for maximum speed. As he plunged into battle, Musashi had no time for worry, fear, doubt, or regret. He relied on having mushin, or “empty mind,” to detach from whether he’d emerge victorious or chopped in half. Foreseeing the possible outcomes could serve no practical purpose. The truth would be revealed through action. So stop foreseeing and just go, go, go!

NOTE: This secret stands in complete opposition to statements elsewhere on this site. Further proving that contradiction is not feared, but embraced, by the true SuperOptimist who savors a complex universe.

Humans have long taken pride in their ability to “push forward” and “tackle the challenge ahead.”  Yet even if you’re dead-set on getting somewhere in life, there’s much to be gained from spending part of your day moving in the opposite direction. Here are some simple activities that underscore the benefits of going in reverse, both mentally and physically.

Walk backward: Native American folklore suggests that 100 steps backward are as good as 1,000 steps forward. According to present-day health experts, that’s not just a spiritual maxim. Incorporating 10 minutes of backward walking or jogging a few times a week provides you with increased body coordination, improved sleep cycles, increased strength in leg muscles, sharpened thinking skills, and improved balance. Who couldn’t use more of those?

A Texas man tried to make it around the world this way.

Heal backward: Modern medicine continues to turn back the clock in favor of treating the whole person and not just the outward symptoms of disease.  Even general practitioners have begun prescribing the same tinctures and plants the Chinese were using 2,000 years ago. Acupuncture, fasting, reiki… and NYU School of Medicine is researching the benefits of microdosing psychedelics on PTSD, anxiety and depression. The hippies were ahead of their time.

It’s best to nourish Yin in the fall and winter, Yang in the spring and summer.

Record backward: Backmasking is a recording technique in which a sound or message is recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward. Backmasking was popularised by the Beatles, who used backward instrumentation on their 1966 album Revolver, particularly the guitar solo on “Tomorrow Never Knows.” (Note: the later chant of “Paul is dead” when playing “Revolution Number 9” backwards was a concoction of an overzealous fan in Michigan and not an example of backmasking.)

It was 54 years ago today, give or take a few months.

Think backward:  Da Vinci often wrote backwards, his notes only decipherable when held up to a mirror. Ginger Rogers is praised for having done everything Fred Astaire did—but backwards. Philip K. Dick wrote an interesting novel about people experiencing life in reverse, starting with death.

“Your appointment will be yesterday.”

Work backward:  Rather than starting with an idea and trying to persuade customers to embrace it, here one starts with the customer and works backward to figure out what they want. At Amazon, the process begins with a manager writing an internal press release announcing the debut of a new product, with information about how current solutions are failing and why the new product will solve this problem. Only then is a decision is made whether to actually develop it.

Echo frames let you talk to Alexa and make phones calls…no, really.

Age backward: Is this really possible?  Well, it can’t hurt to try.

It’s basically about stretching and moving instead of sitting on your keister all day.

Keep going backward: Obviously, this backward business is also invaluable when considering our individual response to climate change, turning back clocks for daylight savings time, and watching movies shot before you were born.

It’s never too early for this one.

A reminder that January 31st is “National Backward Day”. Start now and by the time the day rolls around, you’ll be an expert at reverse logic.

*It’s interesting to note that the ability to recite the alphabet backwards is used both as an indicator of giftedness in children, and as a measure of sobriety in adults.

 

 

It’s only human to want to amass a fortune, and the quicker the better. Anyone that says they’d prefer to scratch out a living and barely make ends meet is what Italians call “un bugiardo.”

Investing in the stock market is one way to attempt the speedy accumulation of wealth, although as with casinos, it seems the house always wins. We are repeatedly humbled by forces beyond our control, and timing the market only works for government officials, corporate insiders and that neighbor who smugly claims they got out “just before the crash,” even though they’re still driving a 2003 Impala.

Playing the lottery can also provide a windfall — though the odds of winning are smaller than a neutrino.*  Granted it does promote daydreaming as you imagine the possibility of a better life. But you have no control over those little numbered balls vacuumed from the basket; your two bucks are better spent at the racetrack, where at least you can tear up your ticket while seeing the beauty of horses in full gallop.

Which brings us to an activity that is affordable, offers you exercise and plenty of fresh air, and gives you the opportunity to add to your net worth.  And that’s the search for buried treasure. Finding old coins, jewelry and relics from past generations is a heck of lot healthier than sitting around staring at a stock ticker. Why, a 1936 Buffalo nickel is worth more than 100 times it’s value today, and is sure to keep going skyward.*

All you need is a sense of adventure and the visual acuity to spot the precious items in your path. Of course, you’ll have a lot more success if you deploy your own metal detector!We recommend a lightweight model that’s easy on the back, with enough features to make your search a fortunate one. Having done the research, we prefer the Garrett AT Pro. It’s an all-terrain detector that has 40 different settings to help you uncover various types of ferrous metals. And like the more expensive CTX 3030, the AT Pro is fully submersible up to 10 feet.

Venturing outdoors with your metal detector is a reward in itself, leading to aerobic fitness, healthier heart, improved circulation and flexibility, and increased vitamin D levels. Even if you find nothing, you’ve found nature — and she’s the greatest teacher of all.

So take a couple bucks from the clutches of Wall Street and invest in a metal detector. You’ll be glad you did.

*Neutrinos are the smallest massive particles currently measured and catalogued. The average characteristic size is r2 = n × 10−33 cm2 (n × 1 nanobarn), where n = 3.2 for electron neutrino, n = 1.7 for muon neutrino and n = 1.0 for tau neutrino.

**Remember to consult with a numismatic expert before polishing your treasures to a gleaming shine.  The value of the old coins you uncover can be destroyed with too much scrubbing and scratching. 

 

 

 

 

If you can only muster one mind-body activity today, make it a genuine gut-busting, milk-out-the-nose-spraying, wake-up-the-neighbors braying spell of laughter. It’s not just a temporary reprieve from the madness that we call “reality.” A blasting, snorting, teeth-baring laugh has definitive health benefits.  Among them are the following:

Reduce anxiety. You don’t need a clinical psychologist to tell you that laughter instantly relieves your body’s stress response.  If you’re laughing, you relax. But it is funny that people have felt the need to research this point.

Sort of like a scientific study on the benefits of brushing your teeth. Guess what?  If you don’t brush them, you will get cavities, gingivitis, bacterial infections, and die! And speaking of dentists, here’s little joke:

A pregnant woman learns from her dentist that she needs a root canal. She says to the dentist, “darn … I’d just as soon give birth as have a root canal”. The dentist replies, “well, make up your mind so I know what position to put the chair in”.

Burn calories —a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, researchers found the physical act of intense laughing gives your body a mini-workout similar to aerobic exercise. This being America, some enterprising souls have combined the two.

Positive jolt to your immune system — According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people who laugh increase the number of activated T cells and natural killer cells.

In the right hands, even hideous, ungodly trauma can be funny. (Or not. This all depends on how elastic your sense of humor is.) Take Robert Schimmel, a professional funnyman whose 11-year-old son died of leukemia. While he was devasted as a dad, as a comedian, his job was to find something to balance the gloom. This is what he came up with:

“My son’s last request when Make-A-Wish came was to see his father get oral sex from Dolly Parton. To this day, his wish remains unfulfilled.”*

So fight back against the complete and utter ridiculousness of our political system, our PC culture, our information-age antics, our attempts at garnering accolades for mindless jobs well done, and our grasping and clawing for more of whatever it is that we want more of.  The best way to react to the trauma, the indignities, and the current crop of presidential contenders is by laughing like a hyena with Pseudobulbar Effect.

*By the way, at the end of his career Bob Schimmel needed a liver transplant, was being sued for divorce from his much younger wife, and had moved back in with his parents when he got too sick to make a living — at which point he was killed in a car accident.  Schimmel mined each of these experiences to make people laugh. Except for the car accident, that is.

While we’re all familiar with government-mandated holidays, thanks to corporate interests, every day of the year now constitutes a celebration of sorts.

Surely you’re aware of National Corn Chip Day, National Personal Trainer Awareness Day, and National Static Electricity Day? All can be found in our current month.*  But we can think of no day we enjoy more than January 15th—National Hat Day!

Perhaps it’s because we tend towards the pragmatic, but wearing a hat on a January morning seems to make a lot of sense (especially in the Northeast). But we also like how this holiday jars us from our usual knit cap approach to reach in the closet for something special.

While there are many choices, from Stetsons to pith helmets to feathered French chapeaus, today we highlight the fez for your consideration. A felt headdress in the shape of a short cylinder, it is named after the city Fez, the kingdom of Morocco until 1927. Because of its impractical nature (as a headdress for soldiers, it made the head a target for enemy fire, and provided little protection from the sun), the fez was relegated over the years to ceremonial wear and was taken up by various fraternal organizations, among them the Shriners, whom we admire for their ability to fit into tiny automobiles.

While we will proudly sport our fez today, rest assured it will be indoors. We have no intention of chasing a blowing hat down 8th Avenue in the frigid winter wind.

So here’s to National Hat Day! We doff our caps to you.

*By some counts, there are over 1,500 national days of commemoration in the calendar. As for SuperOptimist Day? We’re in continual celebratory mode 24/7/365.

Happy holidays! Here at SuperOptimist headquarters, we favor meditation as a way of detaching from the madness of the material world and connecting with the universal truths that transcend trade wars, social media, and the quandary over wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” vs. a “Happy Holiday.”

To that end, in the U.S. a person interested in “mindfulness” is often told to begin their practice by meditating 20 minutes a day. They’re also encouraged to download a Headspace app, buy a special cushion and mat, purchase a statue of the Buddha, and sign up for a weekend retreat in the Catskills.

In India, it’s a bit different. There, a teacher would tell a beginner to start by  meditating 6 hours a day — no questions asked.

So how do you go from 0 to 6 hours all at once? Teachers encourage the practice of “Japa;” repeating a mantra or a divine name over and over again so it takes root in the mind.  Whether you choose “om,” “1-2-3-4,” “hare krishna,” or “cocoa butter” filling the mind with a simple word or sound will lead the practitioner away from the grasping, clinging and suffering generated by material world thinking and move you towards a higher realm of existence.

Sure, 6 hours of meditation a day may seem excessive. But if you want to rid yourself of anger, fear, sadness, and petty grievances (and gain the benefits of pure consciousness), why not give it a whirl?

The truth is, whatever practice you undertake can ultimately grow to 24 hours a day. It goes beyond sitting on a custom made zafu waiting for the chimes on your iPhone to go off.  Every waking moment you can actually be awake!

If you find this hard to do, we recommend you join a like-minded sangha, or spiritual group, so you may gain energy from others on the same path. Here’s one in the northeast where you’re always welcome.

In the meantime, may we all give a cheer for Jesus of Nazareth.  Whether or not he was the son of God, he was surely a bodhissattva with his message of love and tolerance.  No doubt he’d appreciate us putting aside our supposed differences to remember we’re all just flesh and blood. (And teeth that we can flash, if we’re so fortunate.)

*Notice the pictures of the monk and Jesus laughing. Our petty concerns would certainly elicit a chortle from both.  True, you often see them depicted as serious and dour.  But the monks we know have a great sense of humor.  We’re taking the leap and assuming Jesus did as well, since he was human like the rest of us.  Considering that every night Jesus would sit around a camp fire with twelve guys after a long day of speechifying and miracle work, it stands to reason there would be plenty of room for a few guffaws.

There’s an ancient proverb that states: “If your own house is not in order, how can you possible help another to tidy up theirs?”

So before offering a hearty handshake to a friend, colleague, or local law enforcement officer, we suggest you start with yourself first.

Clasp your hands together. Doing so is a great way to get in touch with yourself, get centered, and remember “I am here now.” There’s a reason your own two hands clasped together is the inter-cultural symbol of prayer and spiritual growth.

Try to pay attention to what your hands feel like. Grab a knuckle and study your wonderful opposable thumb, the keystone of humanity’s progress. Those hands are loaded with more nerve endings and wired with greater familiarity to your brain than any other part of your body.

When you explore what your own hands feel like you can learn things about your own body, your temperament, your personality. Are they hard and tense — or soft and supple? Warm or cold? Damp or dry? If they’re dry, you might enjoy reaching for one of the 5,000 commercial hand moisturizing products and see how that feels.*

Saluting yourself, adoring yourself and sparking the divine in yourself is a great way to start the day. So slap ‘em together, give your own hands a good shake and say “hello, adorable friend.”

*While we are not endorsing any particular hand cream, lotion or balm, we do recommend choosing one that’s unscented.

According to the market research group Nielsen, American adults now spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media. 11 hours!  That leaves just 3 hours for meals,  2 hours for naps, and 8 hours for a decent night’s sleep.

The best way to combat and reverse this trend?  Put down the iPhone, lap top and tablet and go for a stroll outside! Not only will it help your visual system relax, it’s good for the rest of your body too.

As for missing your screen time, there’s an amazing show worthy of an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and whatever award they give to blog sites right outside your door.  Whether you live in the city, the suburbs, a rural area, or on a flotilla somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland, the best entertainment is that which nature has provided.  (And by nature, we mean anything other than being connected to a  gadget at the expense of missing out on life itself.)

As if getting some fresh air and sunshine wasn’t reward enough, we’re happy to report the time outdoors will also reduce your risk of becoming nearsighted. A recent article published in the “Optometry Times” proves the more time individuals spend looking at their electronic devices, the harder their focusing system works, causing accommodative spasms and stress on their visual system. As a result, people are suffering from head aches, dry eye, and becoming myopic at earlier ages.

So head for the great outdoors! And while you’re out there, here’s a wonderful uplifting song that can instantly raise your serotonin levels to a brimming cupful should you sing it out loud in the company of strangers:

Zip a dee doo dah, Zip a dee ay,

My, on my, what a wonderful day!

Plenty of sunshine, headin’ my way,

Zip a dee doo dah, Zip a dee ay,

Mister bluebird on my shoulder,

It’s the truth, it’s natural

Everything is satisfactull,

Zip a dee doo dah, Zip a dee ay,

Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!*

Granted, this ditty comes from the Disney film “Song of the South”, a movie that has been labeled “racist” and “backwards leaning” by those offended by its depiction of Uncle Remus as a slave on the plantation.  Disney defends “Song of the South” by saying Uncle Remus could leave the plantation freely, any time he wanted. The same as any of us can leave our jobs in the corporate slave trade, if we are willing to forgo a weekly check and not mind the stigma of having “time on our hands” instead of constantly checking our iPhones for important missives from corporate communications. So here’s hoping you have a bluebird on your shoulder, instead of a Galaxy Note 9 in your pocket.

If ever there was a day to consider your quirks, ticks, neuroses, body dysmorphia and secret thoughts to be your most valuable assets, it’s Friday.  So let us help you disengage from the race of the rats for a few moments and celebrate all that is freaky, beginning with the first true oddballs who paved the way for the iconoclasts we rally around today.

While today it can refer to anyone who chooses to take the road least traveled in search of new experiences, ideas or behaviors, the term “freak” originally referred to those with physically deformities or strange diseases. Superstition lead the masses to label these creatures as bad omens up until the 16th Century, when they were brought out of the closet  during the reign of England’s Elizabeth I. Public curiosity led to the development of the “sideshow,” with many of the genetically-challenged agreeing to be publicly displayed in return for a cut of the profits.

Over the centuries, people with physical abnormalities grew into a highly profitable market, specifically in England and the United States, with P.T. Barnum and the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. popularizing the circus sideshow to the delight of ticket-buyers.  In turn, performers of all stripes took this as a cue to develop more outlandish acts in order to shock and titillate audiences who had “seen everything.”

So where do we acquire our current understanding of what “getting your freak on” means? During the early 1960s, former marathon dancing champion Vito Paulekas and his wife Szou established an art studio and boutique in Hollywood that become the epicenter of a new movement combining semi-communal living with free-form dancing. Along with their friends and fellow artists, they called themselves “freaks” or “freakers” and became well known in the area for their unconventional behavior.  Among the musicians and performers of the day who congregated at Paulekas’ place were Frank Zappa, David Crosby, Don Van Vliet, and The GTOs.

It was Zappa, leader of the seminal ‘60s group The Mothers of Invention, who attempted to distance the freaks from being narrowly defined, preferring to champion an aesthetic that eschewed fashion or political leanings in favor of independent thought. He described their behavior like so: “Freaking out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricted standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his environment and the social structure as a whole.”  It’s no surprise that Zappa’s first album with the Mothers was entitled “Freak Out.”  Also noteworthy is that it was the first double album debut in history, which was a freaky thing to do.

At the Mothers’ first concerts, audience members were invited to express themselves however they wished, whether shouting, dancing, playing kazoo, or letting a band member spray them with a foreign substance.  Unlike the hippies with their emphasis on drug-taking and socialized protests, a freak could behave in whatever way they deemed creatively satisfying.

Naturally, being freaky and letting one’s freak flag fly was taken up by popular culture to mean any sort of fun, mischief or invention that could be had at the expense of normality. One way Zappa defied even the normality of being a freak was to make friends with the television avatars of pop music, The Monkees.  According to ’60s historian Barry Miles, Zappa was a fan of The Monkees, and actually invited Micky Dolenz to join his band.*  While that didn’t happen, The Monkees got Zappa to appear on their TV show and in their subsequent feature film,  “Head.”  Co-written by Jack Nicholson, Zappa plays “The Critic,” who commandeers a talking bull on a leash.  In his scene, Zappa tells Davy Jones he needs to work on his music because the youth of America is depending on him.

Today, letting your freak flag fly is something anyone can do, even if you spend most of your time behind a computer, inputting code for a social network.  We invite you to get up from your desk, walk into the hallway, and express yourself however you please.  Just make sure no one from Human Resources is nearby; they don’t let their freak flags fly until no one is around.  Then you should see what they’re up to!

*Shown above: Frank Zappa and Mickey Dolenz, both freaks of nature.

 

 

 

It’s difficult to be gloomy when you’re surrounded by a brass and drum corps playing Sousa at the volume of a jet turbine.  Even a single snare being smacked in 4/4 time can take you out of your black mood and get you high-stepping to the rhythm.

Which leads us to wonder: Why should the joy of a marching band be relegated to high school pep rallies, college halftime shows and July 4th parades?

Depending on your affinity for music, we suggest you acquire a second-hand bass drum, then ask a few neighbors to take their trombones and tubas out of mothballs and join you as you launch into “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Among the many benefits you’ll accrue from taking up this practice:

Positive spirit and  esprit de corps among band.

Meeting the challenge of marching at one tempo while playing at another, positively enhancing your neuronal connections and increasing your ability to multi-task in a variety of situations.

Heightened body awareness from marching backwards and sideways while facing straight ahead, ensuring you have a good sense of where you are in space, aiding your proprioception.