Not Going Gentle into That Good Night

October 1, 2014

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

 

I was talking with a friend who is a few years older than I and we were comparing our physical exercise regimes. Our goal is to die healthy.

Seems that we both take care to keep our bodies healthy and strong. Besides daily exercise we both eat well, and neither of us drinks or smokes. I do have to admit though that my friend is much better at keeping his weight down than I am.

But though our bodies are doing okay my friend had questions about how to keep his mind functioning at a healthy level once we have passed that three-score-years-and-ten that have been allotted us.

It is well known that as with our bodies and exercise, the more we keep our minds active the better we will be at keeping that “Good Night” away from our door. So that got me to thinking about just what I do to keep the old computer in my head running at optimum.

The hard drive in my head is far from being full but the RAM (random access memory) is slowing a bit. Although I can still recall all the words to Danny and Juniors “Let’s Go to the Hop” from 1958, I have trouble remembering a new Thai word 2 minutes after I “learned” it.

Since rebooting is not an option, the best we can do is to keep our machine well oiled and maintained. I have asked a number of retirees here to help by letting me know what they do for brain maintenance. I have compiled some of the mental exercises we do regularly so that “Gentle” is definitely not the way we intend to approach the “Good Night”.

Changing hands using the mouse: One friend, to get some of the unused synapses in his brain working, changes his computer mouse from the right hand to the left. At first the mind was confused. Later he could do stuff, but very slowly. Now he can “mouse” almost as well with each hand.

Writing: Reading is good but it is usually a passive activity and for me it is more of an entertainment activity instead of a mental exercise. I mean, the latest Jack Reacher book or my rereading Game of Thrones for the 3rd time really don’t count as mental exercises. But reading textbooks, or heavy philosophy, or James Joyce, or poetry is another matter altogether.

Writing is active. I write blogs, Facebook blurbs, and I try to make my emails comprehensible and at least grammatically correct.  This all gives my brain a pretty good work out. You could try writing poetry but I am pretty sure it would crash my computer if I did.

But another friend has a pretty good exercise that he does. He writes limericks. Not the dirty kind, although he loves reading about that “girl from Nantucket”. He will include an original limerick when he sends a greeting card for birthdays and holidays. (Do people still do that?).

Want to know the limerick form? Here is an example from Wikipedia that you can base yours on.

Writing a Limerick’s absurd,

Line one and line five rhyme in word,

And just as you’ve reckoned

They rhyme with the second;

The fourth line must rhyme with the third.

 

I made a stab at it, There was an old fart from Chiang Mai, and then my computer crashed. But maybe your computer is more stable than mine.

Doing Puzzles: I have a habit of listening to National Public Radio on my computer each morning. Been doing that every morning for more than 40 years, first the radio, now living abroad I use the Internet. On Sunday mornings there is a segment called “The Puzzle” where the crossword editor of the New York Times, Will Shortz, teases our brains with word and logic puzzles. I am usually still half asleep but I don’t do too badly.

There are lots of puzzles you can do and the bookstores are full of puzzle books. Some of the most popular are the “Sudoku” puzzles. You can go online at get lots of free ones.

I suck at scrabble, and crosswords, and anagrams, and Sudoku. Not great at chess either. So you are on your own with this one. But I was happy to hear that a study has been done that tells us that practicing and getting good at Sudoku has one and only one positive application.  You’ll be really good at doing Sudoku puzzles.

But it still exercises your brain, which is what this posting is all about.

Learning to play a musical instrument:  I was watching a video of Nora Jones the singer and jazz pianist on YouTube one day and lost my breath, got lightheaded and weak in the knees. She is so beautiful, sings like an angel, and plays piano to die for.  So I went out that day and bought a cheap electronic keyboard and ordered Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course (Books 1-6) from Amazon and set out to emulate my hero Nora.

I went through a couple of keyboards and just last month I graduated to a real electronic piano. I am not that much closer to playing and singing like Nora but I work hard at it every day, made a “fake book” of rock & roll and pop favorites, and I have loads of fun. And an off shoot of all this is that I get a pretty good brain workout too.

Music is logical, singing is great lung control, and playing an instrument is a physical exercise in its own right. Now if I could only find a sound-proof room in my house everybody, including the neighbors, would be happy.

Studying a language: If you are living abroad, no matter how old you are, you can put time into studying the language the people around you are speaking. Besides all the benefits of being able to communicate you’ll also get that all-important brain workout.

Even if you don’t live abroad you can study a language. I have a friend who, on a whim, decided to study Latin. Talk about brain workouts. He got a volume of Wheelock’s Latin and worked at it every day. I thought, maybe I could do that. So I downloaded Wheelock’s and took a try. Sorry to say that after a few hours of trying I found that Latin is all Greek to me. But luckily I still have my studies of Thai to fall back on.

Doing math (on paper first then in your head): Finally, the toughest brain workout I find is anything to do with math. So start out slowly.

Step 1: Simple addition. One friend, being a bit obsessive compulsive, has a notebook where he writes down all his daily outflows of cash. At the end of the day he checks his notebook and totals up all his expenses, in his head. He easily could use a calculator, or even a pen and paper, but for an exercise he does the addition with his own “personal” calculator in his brain.

As an exercise I sometimes will add up random numbers I encounter. Start with a list of single digits. When that becomes easy go to double digit numbers and even 3 digit numbers. After that you may want to check that none of your body parts have fallen off and make sure than none of your brain matter is oozing out of your ears since this will be putting a bit of a strain on you.

Step 2: Simple multiplication. Start with the multiplication table. Quickly, what is 7 x 6? Then graduate from 1 digit x 2 digits. Then 1 digit x 3 digits. Then 2 digits x 2 digits. Do this until you notice grey matter coming out of your ears. Then back off a bit.

Here’s a trick. Break the problem down. Say you are doing 8 x 24.

First do 8 x 20 = 160.

Then do 8 x 4 = 32.

Then use Step 1 and add

160 + 32 = 192.

So 8 x 24 = 192. (I just used my calculator and that’s right.)

Now try some on your own using your calculator to check your answers.

Step 3: Conversions (All of the calculations below can be done with paper and pencil and then you can graduate to doing them in your head. Try to avoid an electronic calculator except to check your answers as that doesn’t really give you a mental workout.)

Kilograms to Pounds. I have a digital scale which I, with sad results, use every morning. Since I am a Neanderthal when it comes to weight, I’m an American and still use pounds, I set the scale to kilograms. Then when I weigh myself I have to convert the kilos to pounds each time.

Here is how to do it. One kilo equals 2.2 pounds. So the math is easy.

Let’s say you weigh 70 kilos (that was a long time ago for me).

Just take 2 x 70 = 140. Easy. Now the second part is more fun.

Since 2 x 70 = 140 then .2 x 70 = 14.0. Just move the decimal point.

Then use the tricks you learned from Step 1 and add 140 + 14 and you get 154.

So 70 kilos = 154 lbs.

Now calculate your own weight.

If you are not from America then you have to set your digital scale to pounds and to convert you will have to divide by 2.2 which is a bit trickier. Lucky I am a Neanderthal where weight is concerned so I get it easy.

And of course you can go on from there.

Meters to feet: Approximately 3.28 feet to one meter.  Four meters = 3.28 x 4 = 13.12 Feet

Kilometers and miles: .6 miles to a km or 1.6 kms to a mile. Four miles = 4 x 1.6 = 6.4 kilometers.  Eleven kilometers = 11 x .6 = 6.6 miles.

Dollars to Baht: Changes by day. Today it is 31.96 baht to the dollar. 1,000,000 baht = 1,000,000 / 31.96 (if body parts are getting loose then use a calculator for this one) = $31,289 rounded off.

Celsius to Fahrenheit. 1.8 x degrees Celsius + 32.

A temperature of 30C = 1.8 x 30 = 54 + 32 = 86F degrees

Fahrenheit to Celsius. Degrees Fahrenheit – 32 / 1.8.

A temperature of 86F degrees =  86 – 32 = 54 / 1.8 = 30C degrees. (Used pen and paper for this one.)

I tried doing that last one in my head and I wound up stuffing grey matter back into my ears.

As with exercise of any kind, don’t overdo it. But before we go why not calculate our weight in British stone?

I was 81.4 kilos this morning. One stone = 14 lbs.

So 81.4 x 2.2 = 162.8 + 16.28 = 179 lbs (rounding off)

179 lbs = 179 / 14 = 12.78 stone (Needed pen and paper for that one too.)

**********

If any dear reader has a mental exercise you would like to share with us please leave a comment. I am sure we all could use a good workout.

I think I am going to go open Alfred’s piano lessons for a while, sing a John Denver song or two, and then I think I’ll maybe go and take a nap.

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11 Responses to “Not Going Gentle into That Good Night”

  1. Robb said

    Haikus are great too.
    and they are easy to do, so
    write one now, mind grows

  2. Lani said

    Hugh, you are such an inspiration! 🙂

  3. John said

    Greetings Hugh,

    I think the best way to maintain one’s memory as well as increase it is through meditation. Buddhist meditation on the breath (Anapanasati ) which is widely practiced in Thailand and other Theravada countries is well suited for this. There is an increasing body of evidence on the benefits of meditation and memory. By keeping the breath in mind one essentially strengthens their focus, clears their mind, and can build more brain cells.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/study-meditation-improves-memory-attention/275564/

    Moreover, it is also important to detox the body from heavy metals (we all have them) and that can be done with near infrared sauna as well as other modalities, very well.

    http://drlwilson.com/Articles/dementia.htm

    http://drlwilson.com/articles/sauna_therapy.htm

    As for breathing meditation techniques I will share with you a free book from my favorite Theravada American born / Thailand trained monk, Ajaan Thanissaro

    http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/EachAndEveryBreath_v130123.pdf

    I feel this book maybe among the very best sources of learning the authentic way how to meditate according to the very old methods taught by the Buddha as found in the Pali Canon.

    Hope the above strategies may help in maintaining your memory and brain function for many years to come.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and life experiences through this blog.

    Regards,

    john.

    • John,

      Thanks for the info on meditation. I practiced meditation for more than 20 years studying both Theravada mindfulness meditation and Zen techniques. Now I don’t “sit” anymore. I “sweep”. Every morning I sweep the patio and small bridge we have here of leaves and branches that have fallen throughout the night. Takes me about 20 minutes, about the same time as I used to “sit”. While I sweep I blank my mind and think only of sweeping. Turns out there is a monk here in Thailand who has also developed sweeping as a form of meditation – sort of a parallel evolution.

      But I see meditation as more of a rest for the mind and not a real strenuous exercise. I have no doubt though that meditation is a huge benefit to our mental and physical well being. It has been for me.

      I once heard this definition of meditation. Prayer is when we talk to god. Meditation is when we calm our minds and open it up to allow god to talk to us.

  4. Sabrina said

    I so enjoy your blog. Thankyou. I have taken to learning to juggle 3 balls. If you search google for info, it is one of the best exercise for the brain.

  5. Sabrina said

    You are welcome. It’s fun too 🙂

  6. Bruce M said

    Yay! A new month. A new post? Always look forward to your posts, Hugh.

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