Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wagon and Habit

Dear Bloggy Confessional Public Journal: still struggling with my repulsion/attraction to tv and booze. My no-tv rule has been pretty well busted lately ("oh I can just watch a little, besides, all the fun premieres are happening and I neeeeeed to see what is happening!" - this doesn't work. A little tv always turns into four hours), and I had a little too much to drink yesterday for no reason. There was no AC/DC show to have 35 beers with yesterday, just nothingness.

So back to the hard/fast rule idea - I think I shouldn't let myself watch tv in general of course (not that I am so great at that), but also just not watch tv or have wine when I'm alone. But the two things go together so nicely, and particularly when I'm alone! Boooo. But the reason they go together so nicely is because it's impossible to do anything remotely useful after having had a drink, so tv is pretty much it. Well, or a walk I guess. Some people have a glass of wine and read a book, what?! Not so much for me, no way. Anyway, the role that tv and alcohol play in my life is primarily a balm for my solitude. I actually get kind of psyched when no one is around, because I look forward to sliding into my bubble bath of vacuous sloth with no one there to witness my shame. Gross. I judge and hate myself for it but I just want to do it.

Why? Habit? That reminds me of a useful thing from Buddhism, which is confronting our relationship with the things that we don't want to do but do anyway. I completely forget most of the smart things the Buddha center guy said about it, but I remember some stuff I've heard before about stopping your own upsetting behavior. I'm supposed to think about the feeling that precedes engaging in the behavior that I don't like (just like any binge-er). I'm definitely using tv and wine to stop having to feel a certain way - and I think that it's usually that my mind is tired, or can't think of anything to do, or feels bored or lonely. But I must have other activities that fill in the hole where tv watching tends to sit - I mean, here's something I haven't done in over a week: read one page of one book. What the hell? I have books, a bunch of them, all right near me or near the bed that I completely want to read, why aren't I reading them? I don't know. Clearly I don't "want" to read them or I would be. But that's a little crazy, right, since I do want to read them, don't I? I think it's more like I do want to read them, but my state of mind is too agitated for me to enter into the mental state of Reading a Book. There's a transition to be made into a zone. I think what happens when I disregard enjoyable, positive, activities in favor of crappy ones is that I have pushed myself out of that particular zone and lost touch with how it feels to enjoy it, and then I just forget about it as a positive option for myself. And then the habit of tv and a glass of wine just floats into my head and I give myself "exception" permission for "just today" to indulge my unhappiness-provoking habits. I have gotten so used to using certain negative coping mechanisms that I forget about good ones.

I'm definitely trying to inject positive habits into my life, and for sure, for the most part it's been going great. Sort of a two forward, one back situation. I hate the back sliding though, it's discouraging. Makes me feel weak and pathetic. But I can't let self-loathing operate as my main motivator for change, no no no. That's horrible. It's like creating conditional love for yourself. I think it's better to love oneself unconditionally. Sounds better for the soul. I just have to stay clear-headed in the face of temptation and agitation and make deliberate choices in favor of my happiness. Why oh why is that so hard? Why? A little guidepost rule, like no tv/booze alone, is helpful for me - I'll be alone again in the evening very soon of course, and attending to this tiny rule, as opposed to attending to the huge and unmanageable and highly conceptual goal of My Happiness, helps make it manageable. Bleh, bootstraps be pulled. Resolve be hardened. Engage love of self. Throttle resolve.

Monday, September 27, 2010

First Class Weekend

And it was both first-class and the first class in the yoga teacher training undertaking. AS WELL AS the weekend of my AC/DC cover band's big show, so man oh man, talk about trying to be a fun-lovin' social-times haver as well as a student of physical and spiritual discipline!

So teacher training was great. I had a bunch of hesitations about how this was going to go, based on my usual eye-roller type of approach to corny stuff. I mean, when I think of who would be doing the training, I definitely picture corny people with herbs and bells and hugs and stuff. But I am doing it, and I like herbs and bells and hugs and I don't really think of myself as corny, so the first order of business to was confront my judgment against Corniness. The teacher asked us to set an intention for the experience to return to in our minds throughout the next six months, and I decided that mine is to think to myself that I am open to this experience. See, that sounds corny, but I am totally open to that. And it wasn't that corny and neither were the people, really, so there's that. I think I actually am much Cornier than I think I am, and I am totally open to that too. Boom.

The other hesitations were related to the curriculum and the books - there aren't a ton of books in this experience, and just one anatomy book, and the classes this weekend didn't have a touchstone text associated with the learning. I like a reference text to study, and maybe that's coming but maybe not. So I was running into my expectations about what is a credible experience, and I think because I went to law school my opinion about what is legitimate learning is probably way cranked up, like if it's not basically impossible to keep up with what's happening even if you study 24/7, then you're not really doing anything. It's such a puritanical boot-camp kind of mentality. But so far this is a completely different kind of learning, since I really did learn a lot, and again, yes, totally open to that. I actually thought of that when I felt myself feeling disappointed that I probably wouldn't have to memorize the skeletal system and point out bones on a dummy in order to pass the class. I am good at memorizing and this disappointment is probably vanity-related. And I can absolutely do that myself if it increases my own sense of credibility anyway.

What we did do was some ice-breaker stuff, which was nice - 10 women and 1 man I think! Yoga is frequently a chick sport. And then we spent the first day dissecting and critiquing everyone's expressions of two poses. We had to talk each other into the poses and learn some gentle assists to demonstrate alignment for each other, and man is that harder than it sounds. The articulating of how to move one's body is really difficult, and the impulse to over-talk is overwhelming. I just wanted to keep talking, saying things like, "okay, now move your foot - the right foot - wait, I mean front foot - more over to the left, and then think of lifting up - up in the legs, but more over with the torso, but also over, I mean up" - blah blah blah so yeah it's hard to be brief and clear and helpful when speaking, so I will be practicing that on any friends who will let me.

And the learning about the alignment of the poses was good too, and I'm sort of excited to work like crazy on the handful of poses we did this weekend with my new, teacherly insights. Can't wait for the next teacher weekend! Go Team Corny!

So on to the AC/DC show. Yes, Saturday night, after much anticipation, my law school dude buddies and I rocked the be-dickens out of a tiny night club in Albany, NY. I love being in the AC/DC cover band, and I think it's because even though I think of rock and roll and beers and hanging out as being the activities of my "other self," I actually have to really tap into my most disciplined and attentive self to make it work. Because the thing is, I am not actually super great at playing the guitar, and I have to practice and practice and practice and straight up memorize the things that I see other musicians just intuitively understanding (which may be a function of their having practiced like hell to be good, but it always seems like magic to me). This is because even though I have been playing guitar a long time, I never really liked to practice playing guitar that much. I always just strummed and hummed and figured it out without thinking too hard about what was happening, and that was always fine. But to truly rock super hard and super loud and super fun is pretty difficult - and it's because the payoff of rocking out is so exciting in my mind that I can be pretty dedicated to practicing my AC/DC songs. Also I don't want to let down my band mate friends, that would be horrible. Anyway the release available in the moment of the show is most rewarding when I've practiced to the point that I don't have to worry about my hands doing the right thing, I can just go for it, and everyone plays together and can listen to each other without having to worry about getting it right, but just letting it happen. Good stuff.

Time and again in my life I find that discipline is always the gateway to freedom. Learning the dance moves so you can flail with abandon. Getting in shape so you can hike to the more beautiful view. Learning the chords so you can just play and have fun. I think I know this somewhere inside me about yoga and the spiritual stuff, too - I know that somewhere on the other side of the breathing and the poses and the meditation is unlimited abandon and freedom (corny meter off the charts with that). It just takes a lot of practice and focus to experience that abandon, and I know the kernel of desire for that payoff is in me, I just need to embrace the Corniness and all that stuff and let that kernel grow as big as my desire to rock out.

Hoorah, continuity! Totally just threaded yoga and AC/DC together for myself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The opposite of salty is . . . potato. I know the opposite of salty is supposed to be sweet, but opposite is such a slippery idea. Potatoes are the anti-salt, you put a potato in your soup if it's too salty and it'll soak it up. Sweet is the opposing sensation to salty, and actually I really like things that are both salty and sweet, so I think their opposition is nicely complementary. Hm, just like salt complements potatoes.

Well whatever, that's going nowhere - anyway, the point here is about time-wasting. I don't like to feel like I'm wasting my time - I would like to do the opposite of waste my time - and the first term that comes to mind is to be productive. Productivity is the first opposite of time-wasting.

Feeling productive makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like I am using my time on the planet responsibly. Lots of people have lots of little auxiliary responsibilities that they can always be plugging away at, like the garden, or their house, or pets, or whatever. I think it's about having some kind of forum for directed effort in the down time so that the days don't go to waste. Lately I am enjoying practicing the guitar in my otherwise unoccupied time. My long term goal is to become Angus Young. This definitely makes me feel I am not wasting my life.

So what does productivity mean? When I think of something productive, I think of something with measurable gain attached to it. Like fewer weeds in the garden, a walked and fed pet, an at-last-finished kitchen sideboard. And on the other side would be things that are clearly not productive, like tv watching, pacing the house while avoiding doing the dishes, sitting in gridlock for two hours. Usually no measurable gain comes out of time spent this way.

But I can feel extremely productive without having anything to show for it, too, so I'm not sure measurable gain is what I mean by productivity. Yesterday I went for a big old hike up Ashokan High Point near Boiceville. The weather was great, and it was very pretty, and the views at the top of the hike were super duper. The hike was more than I bargained for physically, so at the top of the hike I rested in the sun, ate my snack, did my meditation for the day, and let my sweaty clothes dry out before heading back down the trail. Eventually a German tourist couple came along and we chit-chatted ("The area is very lonely with companies, yes? What is the economy here, where are you have a job? Do you use the Google for your travels?") and scouted out other views together, and it was all very nice. I have no feeling that this was wasted time, nor do I have anything really to show for it progress-wise (except maybe exerting myself helps get me into shape and is good for my health etc, oh, well maybe reaching the top of the hike could be the productivity, but whatever). So I think what I mean by "productive" is actually "rewarding," in that I want to spend my time doing things that are rewarding, and these things are inherently productive (ie the opposite of wasteful). It's just that what is usually rewarding to us is something with a measurable gain. But seeing the scenery was rewarding, and so was reaching the top of the hike, sitting in solitude in the sunshine, and meeting nice people.

I was thinking about this as I got back in the car and realized my hike had taken up over 7 and a half hours of the day. 50 minutes there, 50 minutes back, and I spent a total of 6 hours hiking and hanging out. I didn't even realize the time was gone by except that I was getting really hungry. And then I started to wonder if I would get enough "done" with the rest of the day and be sufficiently productive. The short answer is no, I didn't get what I usually consider to be "enough" done once I got back and had some dinner and assessed how tired I was. But I didn't feel terrible about losing or wasting time, or failing to make progress on other things. The day had been rewarding enough not to have to be productive in the usual sense.

Yes, rewarding is the new standard term for responsible time-spending, not productivity. Rewarding is the second, and I think better, opposite of wasteful.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Regimen Lapse and Brain Prison

So I'm into week three, I believe, of Operation Self 2010: Yoga. I missed two more days of yoga-doing, which would be yesterday (Monday) and the Friday before. This is fine. I don't view this as failure yet, mostly because on Friday and Monday I was super duper sleepy or had friends over and I am okay making room for "imperfection" in my mission.

Here's some justification from my head: Besides, in my happiness criteria, sleep is an element of health, and relationships are their own criteria, so if I had to somehow stratify my requirements for happiness, then sleep and friends would at least be par with doing yoga, if not above. But I have not stratified my requirements for happiness, because each aspect is part of the delicate soupy broth that sometimes just needs more seasoning than other times. Really, to get everything perfect everyday, fitting in spirituality, the just-right physical feeling of health, putting effort into my relationships, and accomplishing meaningful work, would be impossible. I just can't do everything right everyday.

So this is the teetering atop the axis of my selves: on one side (side A), the disciplined, focused gal who mindfully eschews temptations, forgoing immediate, darker pleasures for the sake of her own future wellness; on the other side (side B), a reckless imbiber yelling gossip over the band and sleeping off a hangover in front of the tv. I am both these things, feeling at once both entitled to be reckless and yet sure that discipline is the only way to save my soul. Somewhere between side A and side B I think I should be able to pursue discipline and indulge recklessness. And, I am truly, truly, sorry to get all eat-pray-barf about it, but what is the expression of this balance?

For example, this weekend was all about side B. Saw bands, hung out with friends, drank a bunch, had a big dumb tv hangover, ate nothing but toast with butter all day. And I am not giving myself too hard a time about it, since I feel like having fun and partying it up is part of integrating myself in my community and permits departure from the Operation and actually helps fulfill the relationships thing, which is important to me, so whatever. Can't just stay home being "happy" all the time. And then Monday was all about recovery, and seeing some more friends, and getting back on the sleep train and getting all ready to get back on track. So then to get all the way back on track, today I am up fairly early, and have a hike planned, and found a yoga class to go to, and totally plan to practice my guitar playing, so I feel like this will "balance" out my bloated, imperfect weekend efforts. Fine.

But here's the problem for me at the moment - with this effort to recover from the weekend, am I being attendant to my delicate happiness soup? Or have I, with my regimen vision, only devised a new compulsion to stress myself out with? I mean, I'm happy that I am okay with the "imperfection" in the Operation. I think this is healthy. But being permissive with myself in this way feels like such a slippery slope, and sometimes I slide all the way down that slope, no problem. And I mean, there is no doubt that if I let today slide over to side B, I would feel bad. Not just bad as in physically sluggish and tired etc, but guilty. Guilty about failing to maximize my day, like a failure for losing the chance to take whatever invisible step forward with myself that only I can understand. As my friend recently pointed out to me so brilliantly, some people can make a prison out of anything. Even free time and finding happiness.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Too Vain for Meditation Books

Holy moley so I've started to read a Buddhist meditation book since, you know, knowing something about what you interested in is usually a good idea. I have minor beef with the title, though, which is "Transform Your Life." Too corny! Too self-help! I want a book titled "Serious Ideas for Truly Credible Thinkers." That's something I could take on the subway, or run into an old friend while carrying. (Even though, yes, I am reading it to help myself. Still, come on.)

But on to the real fun. In keeping with the Buddhism = life sucks model, the first hundred pages of this book are a non-stop description of the sadness in the world. The most upsetting so far is the discussion of old people and their physical deterioration and mental isolation, dying alone and wishing for company that never comes. Yeesh.

But the best so far is the story of human biological creation and how much we suffer just being conceived and carried around! Enjoy:

"Our home for nine months is this small, tightly compressed space full of unclean substances. It is like being squashed inside a small water tank full of filthy liquid with the lid tightly shut so that no air or light can come through. [para] While we are in our mother's womb . . . [w]e are extremely sensitive to everything our mother does. When she walks quickly, it feels as if we are falling from a high mountain and we are terrified. If she has sexual intercourse, it feels as if we are being crushed and suffocated between two huge weights and we panic. . . . [para] When we are emerging from our mother's womb, it feels as if we are being forced through a narrow crevice between two hard rocks, and when we are newly born our body is so delicate that any kind of contact is painful."

Okay, so there are a few things about this that bother me. I mean, babies definitely have anguish and stuff, no doubt - but I am convinced, first of all, that the womb is probably great. I think it must be a warm, suspended, peaceful, magical place that we are all really sad to have left. Everyone curls up fetal sometimes because it's the most comforting thing to do with ourselves, and that's what we like. Second, I am not sure anyone, even a Buddhist master, can remember this experience, and I would like to decline the invitation to put such a horrible spin on something I have no memory of. Wow, that's going to be one of my new General Policies. Note to self: no making up upsetting memories.

I get that the whole set up here in this book, that life is miserable, is meant to emphasize that meditation/nirvana is the only way to eliminate our suffering, but this seems a little much. We'll see what happens in the rest of the book.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Practice Makes Payoff

Well I failed in the regimen this weekend, in that I did no yoga on Saturday. But I am letting it slide in my mind since I was camping in the Catskills. Nature stuff enjoyment is definitely an activity that increases my happiness. Walking and biking for sure, and ever since my big brother took me camping in the insane majesty of someplace, Colorado, waking up outside is a little mini-goal I keep in my brain's to-do files. I am pretty sure I actually enjoy this as opposed to just believing that I should enjoy it since it sounds so wholesome and my neat-o brother thinks it's cool.

But anyway actual enjoyment is the point I'm getting to - I went to a festival thing when I was camping, with bunches of people and jam bands and corny tie-dye vendors and bad burritos. And I enjoyed myself. This is remarkable. I am historically a huge pill about these things. Bleh, the people and porta-johns, the fitful sleeping-bag sleep interfered with by endless drum-circling, and noodle jam music that goes nowhere and evokes nothing and that I definitely don't care about, and scene-sters who elevate the whole thing to the point where you have to have a phd in the history of lame-os hanging out to even know what they're talking about.

But I loved it! I didn't care! The music wasn't even that compelling but I really liked it! And I ate only beans and cheese all day and that was fine! I barely slept in my tent but that was okay too! We sort of got lost trying to find the place but I felt no anxiety about it! On and on about all the usual irritations that did not affect me negatively! And I made friends and danced like a nerd and didn't change my clothes for two days! Exclamation point!

Anyway I am citing this experience as evidence that my practicing being happy with yoga and meditation is going to be really effective. Not that enjoying something I don't usually enjoy means that I'm cured of my general misery or anything after only a short time of working on it, that would be impossible (since I love and clutch and tend to my misery like a cherished, ratty, snuggly thing), but I am hugely heartened by this experience. I gave it the old "what the hell I should use this tent my brother gave me so whatever and it'll be hilarious" - and from the general sense that any outdoor stuff and especially camping is something I want to see if I can actually enjoy myself with - and it turned out to be really affirming. I can absolutely learn to turn my mindset to happiness and be psyched for life all the time. I am excited to practice more.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Enemies of Happiness

Besides stress, two major distractions from happiness for me are:

1) tv/internet
2) alcohol

Holy crissmass how I loathe tv, and yet how I love love love love love it. I love the funny things and the pretty people and the numb bland feeling of nothingness that replaces my baseline agitation/loneliness/despair etc. Man it is such a needle in the vein - and time just slips by in a floating, flavorless paper ship to nowhere. And then it's bedtime. Ah relief. Ah escape.

So that's the upside, which is pretty dark. The downside: self-loathing for laziness and lack of productivity, a general sense of how everything and everyone that is not famous has somehow become irrelevant, a crumby feeling of how much more pretty and rich the rest of the world must be, not that I even believe that stuff, but it's got to be sinking in on some level. So yeah, downside sucks too.

So why watch tv? My conclusion is that I shouldn't. I didn't have a tv for a long time, like 5 years, and that was great. At least then when I watched tv it had to be out of the house, and probably social, and it could end easily because I had to go home. But then stupid hulu and netflix came along to ruin my brain - and my computer, the word-processing email checker, became a tv as well. And I don't self-regulate well with tv, I just want to see everything that's happening and really don't want to turn it off for any reason at all. I have a friend who completely embraces tv watching as a permissible, decadent, occasional sloth-fest, which I can really get behind in theory, but her method of moderation is a little more highly evolved than mine. Even the occasional sloth-fest can tip my resolve over into a week-long binge. Moderation is for people with legitimate self-control, and I don't think that's me. My modicum of self-control is the result of insistent, habitual, obsessive discipline, otherwise it all unravels and I find myself comatose in front of the tv for 5 hours a day.

Same with the booze. So yummy, so calming, such a splash of forgetting as the mind is too hampered to worry for a while. But it also sucks time, and productivity, and is a bar to physical comfort if you over do it (especially the next day), and interferes with sleep, and distances you from your mind, and then the disappointment you feel with yourself afterwards, yuck.

So what to do? Total abstemiousness with alcohol in a way is, I understand, just as obsessive and distracting as its abuse. But I think a hard-and-fast method of regulating consumption is good for me. Some rule besides "don't over do it" is necessary for me, because my feet happily kick sand over that line and blur it to nothingness pretty fast. Usually when I'm having a glass of wine, tra la.

So anyway these are two easily identifiable, external enemies to my happiness that I can actively contemplate my relation to in a way that hopefully aids my sense of well-being and increases my happiness.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Buh, Spirituality or Whatever

Probably should have included a spiritual element in the happiness criteria.

4) spirituality

a) relationship to physical world
b) relationship to one's perception of physical world

I think I'm phrasing it this way because Buddhism appeals to me, and the itty bitty tiny bit that I've learned about seems to have to do with this, and it makes sense to me. I went to the Buddhist center in Brooklyn in Prospect Heights a handful of times, and I have to say it really makes a ton of sense to me intuitively. The way the main teacher there presents it, it contains very little abstract jargony stuff; instead it's extremely practical and accessible. And it's not too upsetting either in the way of scary god stuff or one's soul. The basic premise is pretty cynical, and seems to be that the human experience in the world is one of suffering, but if you practice in your head, you can get rid of suffering and live in a state of love and bliss. I agree that this suffering is my experience, too (re: criteria 1, the psychological part, element d, "stress"), and I am impressed by the potential for love/bliss via meditation. Sounds awesome. Also meditation is a huge part of yoga, and the physical part of yoga is really just supposed to be a warm up for the sitting and meditating part. So that's how I'm trying to explore this criteria (and its constituent elements) for happiness, with meditation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Criteria for Happiness

In as much as the yoga thing is something I think would make me happy, I've decided to define for myself some criteria for happiness.

So far, these are what I consider a good base line of well-being:

1) physical and psychological health
2) loving relationships
3) meaningful work

Pretty broad. So, how to achieve these criteria for happiness? Let's see.

1) physical and psychological health

a) adequate sleep
b) good nutrition
c) exercise
d) stress reduction

I think I can do all four of these. The most slippery one, however, being stress reduction, which is largely mental - and a stressful state of being is really what I think of when I think of the "psychological" part of this criterion. But the other three elements (sleep nutrition exercise) really help a lot with the fourth. We'll see.

2) loving relationships

a) logistical effort
b) patience
c) forgiveness
d) generosity maybe?

Man, that gets foggy fast. I love my friends and family etc., but it takes a lot of work to maintain connectedness, so that's the logistical effort - phone calls and dinner plans and driving all the hell around. And then to have not just the connectedness, but also real, rewarding intimacy, you need extra patience when people make you crazy, same with forgiveness if you perceive some kind of trespass, generosity when you need to combat feeling judgmental and dismissive or jealous or something . . . maintaining a mindset of love for your close relationships, not just on the outside, but truly in your mind, takes a lot of effort. That's kind of a grim view of friendship! Oh well.

3) meaningful work

a) challenge
b) substance
c) enjoyment
d) community

I feel that I am still seeking my meaningful work. I have lots of things that I like to do, like read, play music with friends, do some yoga, and cook and talk about food, but nothing that I yet consider my main work in this world. This could be a problem of perception (I'm already engaged in my meaningful work) or of finding it (need to try more stuff). I'm a little skeptical that I need to try more stuff. I think my search for meaningful work is a problem of directed effort, and that I have pursuits that can be channeled into challenging, substantive, enjoyable, community-connected work for myself. I think it's a matter of connecting the dots.

Hoorah, happiness bound!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Regimen: Self-Imposed Requirements

I aspire to do yoga every day for the next six months. September 6th to March 6th. Habit and regimen. Day 1: yoga done? Check.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bloggin' About Yoga

Signed myself up for a yoga teacher training course this weekend. The course runs from September 25th, 2010 until March 6th, 2011. I'm going to try blogging about it and see how it goes.