I love counselling. I love it because it brings purpose. I come from a line of carers and this is part of who I am. I love it because it allows me to use my gifts, including empathy, insight and compassion. I love it because it makes a difference for others.
Sadly, I get distracted by other things. Some of the things are interests, but most help to pay the bills. Counselling is undervalued. Mental health is undervalued. People suffer in silence, mostly. Governments do not prioritise mental health. What this means is that those who are drawn to this area of helping receive very little support - financial, educational or otherwise. You have to really want to be involved in mental health to stay in it, because it can be tough to get by.
A Friend Suffering
Today, I realised that a friend from back in high school suffered from mental health issues within the last two years. I had images of him as that laughing, sensitive kid and today I saw him struggling with a great deal online. He and I are not social media contacts, so I didn't follow what was happening with him at the time, but today I saw posts over months which went from the (seemingly) happy family, to depression, divorce, jail and homelessness within months. There are no further posts visible since late 2018 and I can only guess what might have happened since.
Thinking About the Future
There is so much suffering in the world - both for those we know and love and so, so many others. Life is too short not to reach out. I am spending today in one of those moods where I feel I am at a crossroads.
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are value (money) saved in electronic form on computers globally. They can be exchanged (bought and sold) with other cryptocurrencies and with fiat currencies (traditional currencies, such as the USD or NZD). Some merchants also accept them as payment for goods and services. There is no “paper” version, with value being transferred from one address (where amounts are stored) to another.
Bitcoin started it all in the cryptocurrency space. Yes, there were earlier attempts, but none of them were able to resolve the outstanding issues - such as the "double spend" problem. This problem was basically that a person could "spend" online money (cryptocurrency) and then quickly try to "spend" this same amount again. Bitcoin solved this problem by creating a consensus network, where a group of computers had to all agree on transactions. This innovation allowed Bitcoin to become the first viable cryptocurrency and all other subsequent virtual currencies are referred to as "alt-coins" (alternate coins, because they are not Bitcoin).
Computers around the world have copies of the Bitcoin ledger. This is a copy of all Bitcoin transactions to date, including the mining rewards (every ten minutes a computer running Bitcoin is given a reward for running the software, with the reward going to the computer that first solves a mathematical calculation). When a new transaction is presented, computers around the world add the transaction, with a group of transactions taking place in ten minutes and then these agreed transactions are added to the ledger. If computers in the network end up with different transactions for that ten minutes, the network looks for consensus (agreement) and accepts the group of transactions (called a “block”) that are agreed to by the majority of computers running the Bitcoin software (these computers are referred to as "nodes").
So, multiple computers running the Bitcoin software, looking for transactions and agreement on transaction history within ten minutes, all while trying to solve a mathematical puzzle first in order to get the block reward of Bitcoins. It can get more complex than this, but this is a view from 30,000 feet.
History of Bitcoin
Books have been written about the history of Bitcoin, so it will be kept brief here. A whitepaper for a new cryptocurrency was released in October 2008 by a mysterious (and still unknown) Satoshi Nakamoto. This paper outlined how Bitcoin would work. In January of 2009, Satoshi mined the first block of the Bitcoin blockchain, referred to as the "genesis block". Uptake was slow at first, but over time individuals, businesses and governments got involved. Bitcoin is now a global medium of exchange that has spawned hundreds (if not thousands) of other cryptocurrencies. Again, a view from 30,0000 feet of a fascinating and complex topic - something we will explore much more on this site.
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System
The original whitepaper by Satoshi is provided:
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System
Where to Find Bitcoin Software
If you want to run the full Bitcoin software, this can be found at https://bitcoincore.org. You will download the entire history of transactions and your computer will be confirming transactions, so be ready to share processing power and connectivity to keep the network going and strong.
If you just want to buy and sell a bit to see how you go, you can purchase from exchanges (not all as reputable as others) or you can download a Bitcoin wallet to exchange cryptocurrencies directly with others.
Where to Find Bitcoin Exchanges
One list of exchanges found at bitcoin.org is here.
Bitcoin Current Value
Data Science R Programming Language
I have been involved in data science for a few years (when you include website analytics, since 2004), but I haven't focused on the R Programming Language until recently. While I have preferred Python for data science, I decided to take this online course offered by Harvard University (HarvardX).
Data Science Certificate
I was discussing meditation by phone with a friend in Aotearoa New Zealand. He was talking about one of the most popular meditation apps and I listened attentively. After he had finished, I said something to the effect of, "Yes, guided meditation apps have widened experience of meditation generally in the West, but they are not the 'goal' of meditation." This lead us into a discussion that lasted some time and he suggested that I share this online, so here I am.
Guided Meditation Historically
Guided meditation was something that people new to meditation or who were somehow struggling were taken through. The purpose has been to introduce to meditation, not to replace meditative practice. The whole point of meditation is to learn to focus - to learn to be "alone" with one's mind.
Guided Meditation As A Hinderance To Practice
What does it matter, you might wonder? If you start to imagine that meditation is something that is "meant" to last 10 - 20 minutes and that you should have someone talk you through it, you will never learn what meditation is really like.
What is it like? It can be wondrous. It can be peaceful. It can bring insight that has always been just out of your grasp, because your mind is not still enough. You will never get to these levels when someone is talking to you. You will never get to these levels when you limit your time to what you get from an app.
Guided meditation is like riding your bicycle with the trainers on - you can never go fast with these tiny wheels dragging you back, you can never take corners gracefully with these trainers dragging the ground, you will never learn to balance yourself and truly experience the joys of bicycling while limiting yourself to training wheels.
Prepare to Grow Beyond Guided Meditation
There is nothing wrong with learning from or with another, but in time you need to grow. Meditation is something we have to do for ourselves. That is why it is called a "practice". By all means try guided meditation practice, but know that this is only a very humble beginning for something that you can spend a lifetime exploring - your own mind.
May you find peace.
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Focusing on Compassion
When I began meditating in 2003 while waiting for my son to enter the world, I read everything I could find online and offline on meditation. There was not much I could find online. Most centred around texts translated from other languages to English, which seemed to have lost their context in translation. I also found a few books - I was in Christchurch and Book Depository was not yet a thing. Most books were by the Dalai Lama and were introductions to Buddhism. It took a lot of patience to explore meditation on my own in this scenario. I stuck with it, though, and by 2005 I was finding more texts (we had moved to Australia) and I was in a local meditation group.
During my initial study, I noted that there were multiple types of meditation. I won't go through all of them here, but insight (vipassanā) meditation and compassion meditation stood out. Insight meditation was what I had assumed meditation to be and I quickly took to this. The benefits began to come and I was convinced of the value of vipassanā meditation. What about this compassion meditation, though?
My initial reaction was not positive. How can you teach compassion? Don't we just have this or not? Isn't it "artificial" to teach compassion this way? I had many doubts and chose not to focus on compassion meditation, sadly.
In early 2019, I was doing further research into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. I had bought yet another book online and was eagerly making my way through the first pages. Compassion-Focused Therapy was mentioned. What was this? I put aside that book (I have yet to pick it up again - I have hundreds of books) and I ordered two books on Compassion-Focused Therapy. I decided to have an open mind about this topic. In addition to the books, I found the ABC Australia podcast linked to below in a tweet of mine from that time.
We all have the potential to be compassionate. Paul Gilbert (see podcast above or google his name and Compassion-Focused Therapy) believes that this is part of how our brains are wired. When I look at how other mammals are able to care for their young tenderly, I tend to agree with Paul. Compassion and kindness help us survive. None of us would exist without it. Because it is something we cannot see and quantify, we tend to want to dismiss it. Fortunately, more modern approaches to psychotherapy, including Compassion-Focused Therapy and the emerging fields of Positive Psychology focus on these parts of ourselves which, while hard to quantify, make our lives worth living.
Changing Ourselves Through Our Thoughts
When we change our thoughts, we not only improve our relationships with others, we can also improve our own bodies. Positive, nurturing thoughts - not just for others, but also for ourselves - change our heart rate, improve digestion, lower stress chemicals in our bodies, in effect allowing us to live happier and longer lives.
Beginning Compassion Meditation
There are many ways to begin compassion meditation. You can buy one of Paul Gilbert's books which will take you through some beginning steps. These are not heavy on the meditative side, but might increase your interest in the topic and overall happiness. Another approach is to try compassion meditation for yourself. I have included a very brief example audio link below.
Practicing Outside of Meditation
Efforts to practice compassion throughout your life will help and will also come from your meditation on compassion. These will build upon each other. One thing not to forget is that compassion is not just for others, it is also for yourself! I spend some minutes before drifting off to sleep feeling compassion for others and myself. It is an incredibly powerful time where I am receptive to these thoughts. It also brings more restful sleep. I hope you are able to find compassion growing in yourself. It is one of our greatest gifts and powers.
May you find peace.
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns