Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is a Personality Trait?

So of course I like the promises of Buddhism and Yoga that happiness comes to the diligent practitioner. But the way this happiness is explained is sometimes confusing to me - it sounds like everything that I think of as making me who I am would disappear if I were to achieve this happiness, and that makes me nervous. I think the point is supposed to be that actually my inner essence would be illuminated as I distill and focus my mind, shedding delusions and revealing my Self to me and connecting to the universe etc., but it sound kind of scary. For example, here's something written by Sri Swami Satchidananda from the preface to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

"[Yoga's] goal is nothing less that the total transformation of a seemingly limited physical, mental and emotional person into a fully illumined, thoroughly harmonized and perfected being . . . "

okay sounds rad so far, but then this is the rest of the sentence:

" . . . from an individual with likes and dislikes, pains and pleasures, successes and failures, to a sage of permanent peace, joy, and selfless dedication to the entire creation."

So who would I be if I came to have no likes/dislikes, no pain/pleasure, and no success/failure? These are among the things that I identify as constituting who I "am" - sort of in the way that people might describe me to someone I know: "she likes music and cooking, quit her job and moved out of NYC this year, blah blah blah." Even if you take this kind of description one layer deeper, it still relates to likes/dislikes - "she respects discipline, and thinks that finding things funny makes everything better." Or something like that. That's actually kind of hard - to describe what I think might be me accurately. Probably because it's all delusion and my true self is hidden to me under layers of distraction, and when I do find my true self, there will be no words for it.

But I mean I'm pretty well mired down in the idea that I "am" what I "do" or "think" or "feel." (I know, I know, "You are not the body, you are not the mind" - but I don't totally feel it at this point since I'm a beginner) How would I make decisions if I had no likes or dislikes? What would my compass be? We guide ourselves through inclinations, which are informed by past feelings of pain/pleasure and success/failure - so how would I guide myself if my inclinations were neutralized by my own boundless joy? For sure, I want to be supremely happy, but I don't want to be a blank vessel of joy. Seriously, how boring. What do enlightened people talk about besides being enlightened? Would we have music, and art, and fiction? Well, yes, since monasteries are full of that stuff. How about roads? Well sure, necessity would still be addressed by communities of enlightened beings if they needed a good road to get to the water supply or whatever.

I did ask the Buddha man about this once a while ago, asking if Buddhism has room for me to want to learn Portuguese, to bake bread, or whatever, and he said sure, go for it - and that the real fantasy at the core of learning Portuguese and how to bake bread isn't those things themselves, but of inner peace. Like I don't picture myself baking bread all pissed off, I picture my happiness. It's attached to the bread making in my head, but it's still really about inner peace. Uh, writing that out makes me realize that I don't really understand what he meant.

And Iyengar also brings this up in Light on Life - he mentions that he had at least one opportunity to withdraw into monastic-type of life, but he declined. He opted for the life of a "householder" and all the attendant anxieties of survival and family, saying that it was just more suited for him, and practicing Yoga and finding happiness in the realm of a person with regular problems is actually kind of more satisfying and a greater accomplishment than being a dedicated monk-type. So maybe I can merge with the Universal Consciousness and still prefer almond croissants to chocolate ones, and want to buy new clothes, and think some bands are dumb and some aren't.

Anyway, I don't know, in some ways the promise of happiness sounds like whitewashing my whole brain. Maybe that's true, and maybe that's the whole point, but I'm a little scared of the idea of giving over to that completely. But then there's the "householder" thing that makes it seem like that's not necessary. Well if I did achieve some kind of enlightened state, I'm pretty sure I would be even more "who I am" but I guess I'm in the material world enough not to really know what that means.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sensitivity and Alcohol

I think yoga may be making me more sensitive. That's supposed to be one of the things that happens, anyway. It's been about two months now that I've been pretty well engaged with frequent yoga practice and meditation and I think I am noticing a change in my level of tuned-in-ness. Of course, I am at leisure at the moment to pay attention to my feelings and all that stuff because I don't have a job. But I'm going to ignore that factor for a minute here.

I'm saying that I think I am more sensitive lately because I am feeling very much inclined to be more gentle with myself in a lot of ways. Like chewing more slowly. And I haven't over-done it with feeling full in a while, which is something I definitely tend to do (more numbing behavior). I've also abandoned the idea of ever being a jogger. It's too hard on me. I'd rather walk for an hour and a half and enjoy the fatigue that way, and clear my mind and breathe the air. It's just gentler. And this gentleness is in my yoga, too - I'm much more inclined to use props and blankets and bolsters than I used to be. I don't need to be hard-core or over-extend myself to have a credible experience in yoga - I used to really insist on a more intense experience for myself, with lots of push ups and handstands and back bends, but I'm only doing what feels good, and letting myself inch towards more advanced postures. It's more subtle than just getting exercise. And more rewarding, too.

But most noticeably, my jones for booze has been waning for a week or so lately. I spent a week in Brooklyn last week and had too much to drink one night and felt like hell. Every time I have done this I have sworn off booze to myself. But it never lasts and I'm not sure why. I really don't get anything good out of alcohol except for the feeling of escape. And that relief is so empty and meaningless, and impairs my physical self to the point that my mental well being is compromised. I think one expression of my sensitivity is that I get massive hangovers, like super horrible bad bad bad hangovers. Like way beyond what anyone else who drank the same as I did. (This is just how I am, though - my digestion is sensitive, mosquito bites turn into huge welts for me and one swelled my eye shut last year, I have to go to the hospital when I have poison ivy, I need to get 7-8 hours of sleep or things are bad, one cup too much of coffee can give me a full blown migraine.)

Anyway Iyengar in Light on Life says that when our bodies are impaired, we cannot move beyond the realm of the body; when the body is well, we can use our physical selves as the gateway to our more subtle bodies and selves. When I drink I am trying to escape my inner self by impairing my physical self. But what I really want is to access and master and engage my inner self. Alcohol does nothing to advance this for me. I would love never to drink again. I don't know if that is in the cards for me, but we'll see.

Here's the relationship I wish I could have with alcohol:
1) participation in general conviviality with friends
2) meal flavor accompaniment
3) a little warm buzz in my chest and tummy

Here's the relationship I actually have with alcohol:
1) fear and dread
2) passionate delight in the taste and feeling
3) a loosening of caution and sense of moderation
4) feeling of pressure to drink with friends
5) slipping into a sad hole of uselessness for an evening and premature fatigue
6) bad sleep, possible unanticipated barfing and shivering and headaches
7) resentment toward the expense
8) depleted serotonin and mystery blues

Here's the experience I have WITHOUT alcohol:
1) good sleep
2) higher productivity
3) happier digestion
4) steadiness of emotion and sense of wellness
5) highly conflicted feelings of social isolation for not participating in drinking
6) waves of anxiety in the evening filling in the hole where the alcohol would usually glaze over my agitation

Yeah so basically it's no contest. The gentleness I feel like offering myself lately doesn't have room for alcohol. It's not gentle. It's violent, and jarring, and incapacitating, and poisonous. It's an expensive, damaging poison. To me, not to everyone of course. The things that I use alcohol for I would rather use yoga for. Yoga is a calming, centering, rewarding, productive recipient of my energy. Not alcohol. This is how I want to be gentle with myself.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Am I a Sucker? Is Buddha Playin' Me?

Unhappiness is an incredibly vulnerable state of being. It makes people do all kinds of things they don't want to do. Desperation is a kind of unhappiness - I'm thinking of our special brand of capitalist desperation that makes people do horrible things in order to subsist. And loneliness is another kind of unhappiness, leading us to endure bad treatment to salve it, or to just experience loss, jealousy, self-doubt, neediness, and all kinds of other difficult things that accompany loneliness. And to get rid of those feelings we are willing to do difficult, or unhealthy, or expensive things. We are motivated by our unhappiness to do all kinds of things that aren't good for us.

Knowing that unhappiness is an important motivator, and that unhappiness is prayed upon by manipulators for gain, makes me hesitant when I think about spiritual paths. I mean, the enormous human suffering of basic existence and the promise to eliminate it is the basis of religion, right? God will take care of you. Give over to god. I mean, you know how you know if you're in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn? The number of churches goes way up. I always thought the title "the audacity of hope" was so stupid for this reason - hello, the function of hope is to keep the downtrodden moving. When things are good nobody needs hope. Hope exists primarily and fundamentally where people are suffering. It's not audacious, it's obvious.

It just hadn't occurred to me yet that the persuasiveness I feel from the Buddha guy is based on this, and that my seeking out of yoga and Buddhism advertises me as a vulnerable person. I guess it does. And when the Buddha man speaks he really does describe my exact suffering, straight out of the unwritten dairy of my whole cell-scape. And this understanding is what makes me so open to meditation - it's like this: "see how well I know how you suffer? Guess what else I know. I know what you should do about it." Anyone can pick up the "I feel your pain" thread and then promise that there is a solution at the end of their particular sales pitch.

The embarrassment I feel of the capitalist end of the search for happiness is crushing sometimes. Like weight loss commercials. Yeesh, depressing. I can't help imagining someone at home alone, watching their tv, suffering in their feelings about their body, feeling spoken to, and calling the 800 number. We're just so vulnerable. Really our unhappiness is a given, and the promise to solve it is everywhere. I try not to buy into these promises, or even to see them if I can help it, because of course it is reciprocal - if someone promises to solve your beauty problems, it might occur to you that you have beauty problems to solve. Ain't need no more stuff to fret about, thankyouverymuch. My friend got an email about a course on self-love and it was so transparently massaging the typical contemporary expressions of unhappiness ("can't get enough done? feel unproductive? stressed out? I have the answer!") that it made me embarrassed. How stupid and desperate does everyone with something to sell think we are? Well, we're extremely desperate, and it makes us very stupid.

Bleh anyway I hope I am using my unhappiness as a motivator for good things. I mean, it's definitely made me buy stuff - the yoga teacher training course, books about yoga and meditation, and the Buddha classes ain't free. I'm purchasing my access to a path away from my unhappiness (sucka!). At least church is free (at first, then we take your tithe, bitches!). It's tough because I don't want to feel like a vulnerable sucker, but I definitely don't believe that I should drop my deliberate engagement with my search for happiness - doing it alone hasn't been the answer either. Whatever, I feel pretty good about yoga and Buddha as healthy, positive recipients of my energy, but I do want to make sure I am mindful of the extent to which my own desire for happiness make me vulnerable to believing or buying anything.

Yo yo yo Yoga Training Weekend

It's a yoga training weekend this weekend! We're doing some forward bending, and it's pretty great. It's supposed to be great on ye olde organs and digestion etc, and I have to say I enjoyed some profound digestive functioning after three hours of all that organ massaging. Good stuff. I also had a vegan burrito (not in the "hey dude I had this rad vegan burrito" kind of way) that was pretty fibrous but whatever.

The magic in yoga for me is in things like that, like the digestion assistance of a pose - I love yoga for the exercise, but I'm frequently impressed by how emotional and cellular certain positions are. And of course the more consistently I do it the more tuned in I am to the feelings that come up (pardon my corniness). Like yesterday we rested on bolsters in child's pose and I just felt so cozy and happy in a way that the usual positions of daily life (chair, bed, car, table, couch, etc) don't prompt us to feel. It's magical.

Anyway I have been doing lots of yoga and meditating but I haven't really been hitting the books too hard, so that's on the horizon. I get to blame it a little bit on my transience lately. Haven't really had a settled home base in which to nestle myself with my trappings of comfort and focus. But come on, I can read a book anywhere.

But the studying part definitely isn't the hard part here, I am reminded again as another training weekend comes around. It's the talking! Talking people into poses is super hard! And I love to talk, talk talk talk that's my whole thing. Talkity talkity, on and on, about whatever. So I thought I would just flow right into it, especially since I've been hearing yoga classes for so long, but it's really difficult. The teacher said it's just a new language, which to me means it's learnable, but it seems so natural when teachers are really good, I'm afraid I'll never really be great at it. Anyway I've been trying to subject friends to my practice teaching and it hasn't really picked up yet. This will also get better once I'm better settled.

Anyway. I'm still hell of digging yoga's approach to life. What little I've read in the books has been mostly about yoga philosophy so far, and I love it. It makes even more sense than Buddhism. There's the eight limbs of yoga, describing the aspects of life that you need to get a grip on in order to merge with the Universal Consciousness, which are pretty cool, and then there are five bodies to a person, from outside to inside, from physical to spiritual, each layer of which needs to be integrated for us to reach the yoga state of being or something. As someone who really enjoys the physical world and experiencing athleticism I love that yoga asks your physical self to be an integral part of your spiritual self.

Well that short version of yoga philosophy is straight out of my subscription to Half-Assed Yoga Student Weekly. I'll get smarter about it eventually and then sound super boring all the time! Hooray!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Buddha Man Layin' Down Some Sick Wisdom

I went to the Buddha place in Prospect Heights that I like (it's the only one I've ever been to) last night and man oh man is that guy smooth. He has really learned to articulate the human experience in a way that shoots right into my guts. I wish I could just repeat the whole class right now, but re-stating his special understanding is pretty tough. Straight up wisdom, yo.

Last night was a lot about bodhichitta, the spontaneous wish to realize enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I don't think I have this wish sincerely inside me yet, or know if it will appear, but I don't think it matters. Bohichitta seems like a technical term, but the talk was about how we have a grain of Buddha inside of us already. We want to help others, like the people we love, remove their suffering - so we can build on that part of our nature to have love and compassion for all people. And how everyone we see is just like us, trying to be happy, but we all have delusions getting in the way of our happiness. And all the crazy things we do and fantasize about to try to find some peace for ourselves and how fruitless it always is, every time, but we keep doing them. Clicking on stuff on line, buying better furniture, constantly experiencing our dissatisfaction in life as a temporary state, after which some thing or purchase or new job or boyfriend will make us finally happy. And it just never happens. We never arrive into our happiness. We get glimpses of it, but it's not sustained. This and all the rest all makes such total sense to me that for the most part I believe Buddha knows exactly the prescription for my ills and I'm ready to follow orders.

With a small exception! So I read most of a book by the founder of this particular branch of Buddhism and wasn't really feelin' it regarding: karma, six levels of reincarnation, and this horrible description of being the womb that really disappointed me. So I asked the guy after class about all this - basically saying that my skeptical impulses with some of the more specific beliefs was distracting me, that I really dig the meditation and love and bliss stuff, but what can I do if I can't get into this other specific stuff? Buddha man of course said the perfect thing. Basically he said don't worry about it. Take what you want and let the rest sit on the back burner. Keep your doubt, it's fine. Treat karma metaphorically if you want. Six levels of suffering in samsara? You don't have to sign on to that - besides, there might be 30, it's just a framework. You don't have to believe everything, Buddha doesn't care.

Man was I relieved to hear this! I was more relieved than I even realized I wanted to be - I can still enjoy Buddhism without treating any particular thing as gospel. My friend asked me afterwards why I needed to hear that my doubt was okay from the Buddha guy, and it's a good question. I am always free to take what I like and leave the rest, in every aspect of life, so why the need to consult? I think it's because I like Buddhism, and knowing I'm welcome in it even if I am not ready to believe some stuff makes me like it more. Knowing that the teacher there himself sympathizes with my hesitancy and doesn't see it as a bar to my enjoying and benefiting from Buddhism is really reaffirming. It's so sensible, that finding happiness and extending love to others is the priority, and that if I'm on board for that aspect of it, then that's great. I love that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teachers are Good: Is Spirituality a Substitute for Actual Personality Traits?

I'm thinking about two of my happiness criteria: Meaningful Work and Spirituality. There is some overlap there. I tend to think of meaningful work as a spiritual pursuit - this is all about the discipline = freedom thing (by focusing and working hard we liberate ourselves to a higher place etc). I always thought the most meaningful way to do this was to find your "calling" and then work like the dickens at it, and that my own focus/drive/regimen would lead me where I need to go to find my true self through whatever vehicle I had chosen. For a long time I thought that vehicle was music. So I would sit with myself and play the guitar without guidance and sort of just figured that I would take myself where I needed to go - you know, the teacher within and all that. But I think I need teachers. I haven't had a guitar teacher in about 17 years. That seems remarkably stupid to me all of a sudden. Why? Why create a version of integrity for myself that refuses guidance? It feels so misguided now. I would love a music teacher. I don't know what the hell books to get or exercises to do to bring myself to a new stage in my relationship with music. I don't know anything! And the most fun I have had with music lately has been learning all those AC/DC songs and learning a bunch of pop country music hits off of youtube. I like the channeling of myself into other things. I find it rewarding - I can't just be alone with a pursuit, it's stifling to be without guidance when you hit a wall. I think I have been hitting the same wall for 10 years. I'd like a teacher.

Maybe I'm thinking about this because I get a lot out of my yoga teachers. I do yoga by myself these days when I can't make it to a class, but really it's all about being with teachers and learning from others. I can't imagine trying to yoga it up totally all alone. It's nice to let myself off the hook for self-sufficiency. I can look outside myself for direction and inspiration, and I should.

But back to the overlap of Meaningful Work and Spirituality - sometimes I feel a little dismissive of people who are all about a spiritual thing, because it seems like that's their whole bag. Nothing they do isn't about Jesus, or Buddha, or Yoga, or whatever. Sometimes it seems like a good way to spend a lot of time getting nothing done except talking about the inner self and its control, destiny, design, or sense of peace. Boring! Can anyone be a serious spiritual practitioner AND do something else meaningful? I am starting to see how following a spiritual path can turn into an all-encompassing diversion away from other purposeful activities. I feel pretty susceptible to this, too, being sucked all the way into yoga such that I can only think in terms of yoga - and I feel susceptible because really I don't have any direction in life. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, and following the Divine down some road would be a really nice thing to do. And maybe this is fine. Or maybe it's another way to keep myself from my personal process of becoming who I am - following a prescribed path instead of my own. Is this vanity - the belief that the only legitimate expression of self has to be of my own invention, without following anyone else? Wouldn't this mean I don't want a guitar teacher? Or is it just short-sighted, and I can follow a prescribed path and still be who I am - that every path belongs to the individual just because it is the individual's path?

I worry that being all about yoga would absorb my personality I guess, because I'm digging it so much right now that I can see how being all yoga-spirity could take over my head. Just as I once worried that learning too much of others' music would diminish the strength and vision of my own inner musical gestures. But this hasn't been the case - learning AC/DC has been a really exciting broadening experience, not a narrowing one. ALL learning functions as a broadening, not a narrowing. Being alone with my pursuits hasn't created a clarity or singularity of purpose at all; it's looking outside myself that has provided the most invigorating and inspiring fodder for my inner self. Really the risk isn't that I will become a super-yogi type of person, because I'm so super resistant to submitting to that kind of mentality. But I think with this kind of resistance that I am confusing integrity with isolationism. Anyway I want to be able to submit to the yoga learning without losing myself, but I hope that I don't protect my sense of self so fiercely that I don't get to really experience whatever it is I'm trying to get out of this.

I Am a Baby About Stress

I used to have what most people would acknowledge as an objectively stressful job: corporate litigation associate ("CLA"). When a CLA says s/he is sooooo stressed out, people pretty much credit that as legitimate. But stress is so subjective. I had incredible stress and anxiety about going to school when I was 11. School was horrible, and trying to manage it all in my head was exhausting. I remember once being yelled at for complaining about stress because I, a child, couldn't possibly understand what stress is really about. I was so offended by this dismissal that I've tried to keep a little bit of compassion in me for people's expressed level of stress no matter how silly it sounds. It's sort of like this:

Anyway I was recently helping some friends with a festival they were organizing, and oh lordy did it stress me out. There were emails to answer and things to coordinate and follow up emails and meetings and phone calls and all that crap, and I just was not handling it great. At one point I drove myself to a grocery store parking lot and took a nap in the car until someone called me wondering where I was because they needed help with the stuff I was supposed to be helping with! Pitiful!

Why was this so stressful? I just left an objectively stressful job, and have nothing to do but nurture myself for a living, and I should be relaxed enough that I can manage my own subjective level of stress just fine - but I just wasn't fully up to the task of being on the ball for this festival. I'm going to have to figure out some kind of way to be a productive, obligation-having (and money-earning) person on the planet without it making me get fetal all the time. How?

In yoga class sometimes when we're doing a pose we're given super precise instructions on how to do it just perfectly, and it's super difficult. And this might mean that you can only lift your leg an inch or something. Then the teacher will present the looser, less precise version of the pose, and holy moley you can lift your leg three feet! So then comes the next instruction: keep your leg in the position of the loose pose, but bring yourself back into the difficult, more precise pose. Through this kind of exercise you begin to ask your leg to imagine having both the freedom and ease of the loose pose AS WELL AS adhering to the precise, more difficult expression of the pose. So this is my analogy for life: life is pretty manageable when I have no obligations, and I feel pretty happy over all. But I'm going to have to acquire some kind of stressful obligation in the future in order to comfortably subsist. So from the loose position of low-stress life, can I bring myself into the more difficult, high-obligation expression of life and yet hold on to the happiness I am trying to cultivate? (Buddha says yes, btw) I think so but it'll take a lot of work, I am still "learning" to be happy in spite of various stressors in life. It's tricky.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sharpening Pencils

So when I do that thing where I spend a ton of time getting ready to do the thing that I'm supposed to do, I call this "sharpening my pencils." I get this expression from procrastinating studying - it's when I have to do the dishes, clean this place up, figure out what's happening for dinner, and check my email thirty times before I can POSSIBLY get around to what I am supposed to be doing (which was usually studying). Or any other obstacle - privacy, wrong equipment, too tired, whatever. A lot of time goes into not doing things that I want to do, and then when other people get home I can't possibly do anything after that, either, so I can basically make sure I never do anything at all, ever.

I think for the most part I do actually want to do the thing I am avoiding doing, but it's hard to maintain the thread of a pursuit in your mind sometimes. Once you drop the thread, it's very difficult to pick it back up. Like writing songs - it's really fun to play guitar when I've got something brewing, but when I have lost my train of thought it's just easier sometimes to avoid playing guitar for a month (setting aside all the other issues of lack of inspiration and finding oneself tedious and fear of failure etc etc etc). But then I don't play guitar for a month, and I really like to do that! What the hell? This is closely tied into habit. Habits are not procrastinated, at least not as much as other activities. Anyway I think of this preparation-based procrastination as a form of laziness; maybe in the Buddha sense this would qualify as the "laziness of distraction," which is when we put off the work of following our spiritual path by diverting energy to other, less substantive things. But I think this laziness can be overcome - it's a problem of momentum, and usually it doesn't go any deeper than that.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I make myself so very busy NOT actually doing something because, in fact, I don't want to do it - that maybe it's not that I'm lazy, or tired, or whatever, but really that I am living a total lie trying to do something or be someone that I just clearly am not, and I am too foggy of brain to understand. Too caught up in what I think I "should" be doing and not close enough to what I really aspire to.

I'll use the example of wanting to be a rock star, which I completely cop to having wanted at one time - and come one, everyone should "want" to be a rock star, right? But clearly not everyone wants to be a rock star, because not everyone is trying to be a rock star, and that's great. So then what if you believe that you want to be a rock star, but you still don't try to do it? Misery! Everyone on earth does this - maybe you want a blender super bad but never take any steps to getting it, or want to exercise and never take any steps toward doing that, or even more painful, procrastinate exercising by shopping for sneakers or choosing the right gym. My friend refers to this as the "have been" desire - this is when you just want to have been a rock star, or have already become a super exercisey person. It would be neat to be sitting in the future looking back on all the shows and fame and money and coolness, but the truth is you don't want to do any of the things involved in becoming a rock star. I can sometimes figure out if I really want something, or if I just want to have already done something, by imagining this kind of pretend future. Do I want to play guitar, make records, play shows, court fans, and tour in a van to be rock star? Hell no. Absolutely not. Would it be awesome for my sense of identity and accomplishment and vanity to have been a rock star with all those experiences behind me? Yes, absolutely yes. So now I can separate the vanity/dream stuff about being a rock star (totally existent) from my actual aspiration to be a rock star (non-existent).

It's hard to shed these ideas of ourselves, these "I should want this" and "have been" kind of ambitions, especially when they seem like such worthy aspirations. Who can argue that wanting your music to reach millions and getting to play guitar all day would be awesome? It's not debatable. It's unequivocally rad. When you hold on to an ambition in spite of the reality that you actually like just sort of tinkering on the guitar, and mostly just like to walk the dog and make dinner, and you just plain old don't try to be a rock star in anyway, then you are in the horrible position of failing yourself.

Failure! You are supposed to want this thing! Why aren't you trying? Bleh. It's hard to know when you have stopped trying because you can at last admit that you don't want to do something anymore - or if you have just stopped trying because you are lazy, insecure, and depressed. And hell, it's embarrassing to abandon dreams, too, because then your friends and family might say "what happened to that," or maybe you think people will be rolling their eyes in an "I knew she could never do it" kind of way. So there's ego involved in shedding our supposed dreams and genuine aspirations - and maybe procrastination is a way of holding on to our supposed dreams while not having to work towards them; it may even provide a little bit of an out for yourself to be thwarted in your efforts all time by the insurmountable obstacles you throw in your own way. Then it's not failure, it's fate, and you can be blameless. Convenient!

Long story short sometimes I avoid doing things I want to do because I am lazy and lame, and sometimes I avoid doing this I want to do because I don't actually want to do them. And frequently it's hard to know which thing I am experiencing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Revisit: Christian Radio

This is a revised and updated version of a post I made and then deleted.

Sometimes I listen to the Xtian radio stations, and not in a totally ironic way. There is a combined sociological, historical, and educational aspect that I sort of enjoy. Not just the Bible stories and stuff, which is neat to learn about, but also culturally, to know the substance of what so many people are apparently almost wholly influenced and guided by these days. The music blows, like fer shur, but the conversation pieces are sort of interesting. And I like batting around this stuff a lot - I love advice columns. Carolyn Hax and Dan Savage are my favorite since they are really entertaining and well-reasoned. But I also like Dr. Laura and Dave Ramsey. I like the full circumference of points of view; there is something to be gained from all of them. The benefit can be in either in challenging your biases, or finding commonality where you thought there might be none, or reaffirming your own positions in your mind in spite of contrary points of view.

Okay so that faux-intellectual meta-analysis of pop culture talking heads was a disclaimer made entirely for the benefit of my vanity because I know it's totally square to listen to Christian radio, but I do it anyway, so there's that.

Anyway last week I was listening to some Xtian radio in the car, and the pastor (minister? reverend? chaplain?) guy was describing some confessions of sins of teen lust, and how they go something like this: "I dunno pastor, we were down a dark and private lane at 2 in the morning and gosh, it just . . . it just happened." And of course the point of this is that the lapse into sinful behavior took place waaaaaaay before it supposedly "just happened," and, really, lots and lots of decision lead up to a person's giving into temptation.

So the pastor recommended giving your weaknesses wide berth. Avoid situations that give rise to opportunities to make bad choices. At first I thought this was a little silly - it's a bad idea to hide from temptation as your means of dealing with life. Um, hello, virtue untested isn't virtue at all, it's like a totally famous quote. But the observation he made that really appealed to me was this question: why do we rub up so close against our weaknesses and then ask ourselves to resist? Why do we walk the edge, thinking we can have just one bite of a sundae, or one sip of wine, or anything else like that? It's a lie of our own desires. We want to do the thing we are trying not to do. According to the pastor the feeling of want is the devil trying to get us to cave in, and that's where I fall off the train, but I'm still on board with the idea that the state of mind that makes bad decisions unfolds long before the undesired behavior takes place. You know in your heart, way ahead of time, even though you may say the opposite to yourself, that you are going to create permission for yourself to do something you claim not to want to do. Anyway I like this because when I am thinking about my own bad habits, I like the idea that I can exercise my resistance or disciplined state of mind long before the moment of temptation. I can give my weaknesses wide berth in my mind, and without having to literally stay home to avoid temptation, I can stay "home" in my head. And even when temptation is right in front of you, turning away and waiting for ten minutes, or distracting yourself from it can be effective for letting a wave of weakness pass over you. Like deciding not to have candy - if you just keep walking, ten minutes later the impulse is usually gone.

Ah, all this is just to say that yoga was so awesome this morning. I went to class taught by one of the teacher trainers and it was so great. The whole time I just kept thinking to myself, "yes, this is how I feel best, and most myself, I want this feeling, I want to hold this state in my heart all day, every day." And I can have this state of being all I want - but I have to work at it, keeping all my triggers for weakness at a distance, fomenting the state of being I really want to be anchored to. I imagine that in this positive state of self, former temptations will lose their luster anyway, and I will have to deal less with waiting out waves of weakness.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Forgetfulness and Anxiety

A lot of the busy-ness of my mind has to do with fear of forgetting something. I use "fear" here pretty broadly, since I don't wish to forget to get milk on the way home, for example. I'm not really "scared" of forgetting the milk, since this is a pretty low-consequence obligation, at most resulting in a little disappointment or chagrin when I make coffee or tea in the morning and it won't be just exactly how I like it - but I still find the worry over whether I will remember to get the milk to be a "fearful" sensation.

But other obligations are of course more consequential. Fulfilling these obligations can implicate the security of one's livelihood, or mean disappointing one's friends, or really hold up the progress of something you have committed to and create more work for other people. The economic, reputational, and practical consequences of forgetfulness can be pretty inconvenient or unpleasant.

For me the anxiety I experience in anticipation of these potential consequences means I try hard not to forget what it is I have obliged myself to do - and this means I have a running checklist in my mind that is compulsively being checked off throughout the day. A little paranoid secretary in my head says "don't forget to get milk" over and over until I get the milk. But sometimes I forget to get the milk anyway, and then all day I've crowded my head with repetitive worry for nothing. Oh chagrin - worse chagrin than the consequence of forgetting the milk, actually.

This worry habit of mine really gets in the way of meditation. I fear forgetting. One goal of meditation is supposed to be gaining a sense of existence separate from "I" - and separate from all the things we attach to that "I" including, I assume, its obligations. Along with all the other near-impossibilities of meditation, I find it really hard to submit to the experience without "don't forget the milk" or "remember to call Susie" popping into my head over and over. I'm afraid successful meditation will make me so happy I don't remember to do anything, or who I am, or that I am supposed to call someone later. That's unlikely to happen, and I've never heard of that being one of the "dangers" of meditation, but it makes it impossible for me to live in the moment.

So how can I remember what I'm supposed to do and still give myself over to experiences of concentration that push out the weight and repetition of all my obligations? Write it down? No, then I just think "did I remember to write milk down?" Some kind of email prompting system? Again this kind of reminder is only as good as the data one inputs, which means there is still the worry of whether I've put in the right data. I want to be confident in giving myself permission to forget that I want to get milk, knowing that I will remember to get it once I have "returned" from a forgetting episode like yoga or meditation. It would be nice to just take care of things the second they arise in my head, but that would a weird, inefficient, and equally distracting way to live. Imagine getting up from a movie theater to go pick up milk. It doesn't make sense.

What to do? I don't know.