Friday, February 25, 2011

Well, Everything is Obvious Already

The next book on my contextual-woman discovery is, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D. This is a large tomb on many a contemporary lady’s shelf. I think it mostly functions as a reference guide, since it has all the lady functions and their magic and dangers in it.

So long story short I’ve read the first 24 pages and Northrup pretty much calmly explains the reality of women’s struggles in their bodies and minds and emotions as though she were summarizing my entire brain and handing it to me in a few paragraphs, since that is what my brain basically boils down to.

First let’s start with some terminology. Northrup cites Anne Wilson Schaef as stating that “anything can be used addictively, whether it be a substance (like alcohol) or a process (like work). This is because the purpose or function of an addiction is to put a buffer between ourselves and our awareness of our feelings. An addiction serves to numb us so that we are out of touch with what we know and what we feel.”

This is a handy way of viewing behavior; it’s a new take on “addiction” to me, and it makes sense. Okay so now here’s this:

“The patriarchal organization of our society demands that women, its second-class citizens, ignore or turn away from their hopes and dreams in deference to men and the demands of their families. This systematic stuffing or denying of our needs for self-expression and self-actualization causes us enormous emotional pain. To stay out of touch with our pain, women have commonly used addictive substances and developed addictive behaviors that have resulted in an endless cycle of abuse that we ourselves help perpetuate.”

I feel my own experience expressed in this idea, and I also feel that the sensitizing of yoga is helping me identify and face the forces of limitation outside of me, and the limitations to which I capitulate or hide behind in order to avoid myself. Northrup is definitely talking about the micro/macro thing I was trying to figure out yesterday, which is that we have to be more finely attuned to our actual experiences of our feelings to positively affect our external realities. But Northrup knows this, too. How did she get so awesome? Here it is, smarter and more succinctly stated:

“Remaining unconscious about our acculturated habits takes an enormous emotional and physical toll on our bodies and spirits. These habits keep us from being connected with our inner guidance and our emotions. This disconnection, in turn, keeps us in a state of pain that increases the longer we deny it. It takes a lot of energy to stay out of touch with this pain, and we often turn to acculturated habits, such as addictive substances, to keep us from confronting that unhappiness and pain.”

Also she quotes Germaine Greer, so, automatic awesome score.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Micro and Macro Happiness

The disciplines I've been checking out, Buddhism and yoga, focus a lot on inner happiness, and disciplining oneself to regulate the fluctuations of the mind so that we aren't all slaves to our fidgeting brains and insecurities and egos. This stuff is pretty great, and I really like it, but let's think about external reality for a minute.

I once chided my friend for moving across the country to make a change in her life, telling her, essentially, wherever you go, there you are. In general, I believe this - why run when the sickness is inside you? When she moved, my friend identified for me many many tangible external realities that affected her inner world, demonstrating that her location did have meaningful impact on her "self." And I also believe this is true. For example, I know that access to nature noticeably improves my sense of well-being. I feel great that I have a nutty, loving spouse. I absolutely must have A Room of My Own in order to sustain my happiness. Stressful and sedentary work makes me suicidal - I don't care how hard I work at my mental equanimity and inner peace, I can't have an office job.

But isn't the purpose of disciplining our minds to protect our happiness from the endless unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances of life? I might not be able to live somewhere with easy, daily access to nature. My spouse could decide to leave at any second. I might need to take an office job to survive. I might not be able to afford a room of my own or it might have to be sacrificed to other life exigencies. Shouldn't I be able to maintain a happy state of mind no matter what? Isn't that the point of what I'm working on?

I don't think so. Feminist reading has been pretty provocative for me these days. I'm pretty sympathetic to counter-cultural approaches to existence - in a full-blooded American way, too - the Declaration of Independence after all is premised on the idea that when a way of life no longer works for people, their natural human right is to change it from the top down and just start over. But there are so many forces that we are mired in that we may not realize are congesting our human potential for happiness and self-realization. I wrote recently (a few post ago) about feeling oppressed by the feeling of being the "dinner-maker" in my feminine, nuclear familial role, and how I do it to myself, and how ingrained the dinner-maker role and identity are within me, and yet how limiting and stressful it is, too.

Changing these ingrained parts of myself is a multi-step process. Here are some ideas I have about identifying and changing basic things about life, off the top of my head:

1) realize that something about it is making me unhappy. This is easier said than done. I don't think we're very in tune with what is actually affecting our moods and health. There are a lot of veils in the way that don't point us to things that are right in front of us. Hey-o, yoga and meditation are great for tuning in on these issues and sensitizing yourself to the impact of your daily reality on your Self.

2) figure out what is making me unhappy about it. What is it? The amount of time? The expectation? Lack of reciprocation? The lighting, the smell? What is making me unhappy about a particular activity? Do not underestimate the power of just stopping the activity. Don't automatically blame yourself or your "attitude" for your discontent, a la, "I just have to adjust my expectations/approach/outlook."

3) imagine a version of the activity that brings more happiness. What has changed? Is it in my head, the atmosphere, or outside of myself?

4) imagine not doing this activity anymore. How does it affect life FOR ME, not for anyone else (ie, disappointing or angering someone is NOT a good reason to keep doing something that is not contributing to your well-being)? This helps me figure out if I am doing something out of obligation, or role-assumption, or a sense of being beholden to some situation or person. (Germaine Greer observes that all too frequently, "Women are self-sacrificing in direct proportion to their incapacity to offer anything but this sacrifice." Ladies, keep an eye on your own martyrdom as a way of substituting identity and meaningful work - I definitely do this.)

5) be completely okay with a version of life that unfolds without trying to keep the old activity as part of it.

Okay so that's just thinking about it right now, any additional ideas about perspective and analysis are extra-welcome.

At the moment I am most troubled by the prospect of a future life built around the structure of the nuclear family. It sucks. It is isolated and inefficient: no one should be alone with the same five people most of the time, all up in their business, and there is no reason each tiny family bungalow needs its own lawn mower and washing machine - nuclear isolation is good for corporations, by the way, but that's another rant for later (yes, Greer is all about this, too). And the limited universe of the nuclear family doesn't help social progress, either, but that's good for the moneyed classes, too. Greer says it thusly: "[T]he function of the patriarchal family unit in capitalist society" is that it "immobilizes the worker, keeps him vulnerable, so that he can be tantalized with the vision of security. It gives him a controllable pattern of consumption to which he is thoroughly committed. His commitment is to his small family and his employer not to his community."

My role as a woman in the nuclear scenario is not okay with me. I don't want to be a dinner-maker, not just on principle, but because the reality of it is soul-sucking. So this is one of those assumed role things that I'm trying to picture for myself - I want inner happiness no matter what, yes, but creating my own mental reality is just the micro version of manifesting a truly sincere, macro, outer reality of happiness.

I have to be careful about this stuff, though - can't just run around rejecting responsibilities out of liberated self-realization.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Fantasy: The Job I Interviewed For; Also What's Up With Unwelcoming Spiritual Stuff?

Lordy but it is hard to want things you cannot actively get. It's out of my hands now whether or not I get the job I interviewed for, but I kind of really liked my volunteer day, and the people, and the whole thing, and I think I could do this job and be good at it and stay there for a long time. Wow, it's like dating! "I like you, do you like me, trust me we should definitely date, even if you aren't sure I am completely sure so let's do it." Sort of an insecure place to be, though. There's another person in the running who, by reliable accounts, the Big Boss prefers, so it's kind of a long shot at the moment.

But the best thing about this is that I feel like either outcome - getting the job or not getting the job - is completely fine. The versions of life that unfold in my head when I picture either outcome are both totally fine with me, and that's a nice thing to notice. Whatever happens is fine. I think this is a sign of maturity, maybe? Or is it immature to think that you are mature?

Anyway - tonight me and a yoga friend are going to the Yoga Sutras discussion group in Rhinebeck together and I am super pumped about it! I really like the discussion group and I am excited to have a playmate come with me. One of the things that I felt bummed about initially with the yoga training is that I was sort of isolated, having my own little experience, with no one to bounce my thoughts off of or hear about their experience. But now I get a full car ride there, a discussion group, and a car ride back to talk about yoga with another yoga person, and I'm pretty excited about it.

This reminds me of something I was talking about several posts ago, how everybody always seems to have their own little extra credit spiritual thing going on, and how it's kind of annoying sometimes. Well I think maybe it's because I feel excluded, first of all - probably no mystery there. I've noticed that no one wants to invite you to their spiritual events (except Xtians and the Buddha people, which is kind of nice). For instance, when I went to a singing event that entailed chanting to a guru considered to be a living deity a few weeks ago, we were chatting afterwards and someone asked if I was a "follower" and I said "nope," and someone else said "you're a free agent" and I laughed and said "or a lost sheep" and that got some laughs. But no one said anything even approaching something like "there are more things to learn about this, want a pamphlet?" I certainly get that people try not to be pushy or cultish about these things, but declining to extend a hand or branch or whatever, even when I'm sitting in the middle of an event about which I was clearly both interested and ignorant, just reeks of smugness.

We talked about this in yoga training last weekend with reference to students' needs, how they can tend toward guru-ification of their yoga teachers and put you in a role you don't want to be in or which at least takes more of you energy than you feel you can give. It makes sense to me to be cautious of boundaries, especially in a setting where you are representing yourself as an authority with respect to body-mind experience, for sure. People are in a lot of pain in their lives. Yoga might be the only place they hear the words "good job," or get touched in a nice way, or get to think about their peace of mind - as the yoga teacher you are facilitating this experience, and it can feel extremely intimate. I know this from my own feelings about some yoga teachers, and I can empathize with the idea that you don't want to end up being a guide for other people if you are working on your own path and that's enough for you. But I do remember the feeling of being really let down when I realized that the sacredness I felt in my relationship with one of my favorite yoga teachers only went one way, from me to her. Not that I didn't matter, but that certainly the feeling of connectedness was stronger on my end, which makes sense as the receiver of the experiences she created for her classes. Ha, this is also like insecure dating! "You don't even know how best of friends we will be when you let me latch on to your life, I totally get what you are saying all the time and we should really talk about everything together, you GET me!"

Maybe contentment is just a lonely path.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Yoga Weekend Left

Well this past weekend was the second to last yoga teacher training weekend. Someone asked me today what I'm going to do next, asking, "are you going to do another training?" I thought this was a joke, but it was not. Not that I'm averse to continuing education, it is my favorite way of pulling a large blanket over my head to hide from the world, but I want to let this thing settle in a little bit. Plus, you know how much further yoga information costs? Approximately a million dollars, give or take. Everything is so expensive. Observing how expensive everything is, is a terrible habit, and can lead only to depression.

In other news, my feminism reading is leading me down a different type of observation about myself, besides the usual toxic merry-go-round of my head, I am now enjoying new awareness of my insanities as they pertain to my internalized lady role. First on the docket: dinner.

Dinner time is kind of oppressive. I love to cook, by the way, so that's not really the problem. It's the timing of the whole thing, this family socialization gesture that requires wrangling people into the same room at the same time to appreciate your cooking while practicing their manners. I find that the logistics of being the dinner-maker, as the women in my life have all been, means that I have to proactively worry about who is going to be where and when so that I can executive produce a dining experience that is delightful. This process creates a series of expectations revolving around my terrific dinner-making "altruism" (Germaine Greer's term) that actually converts my gesture into a transaction of sorts: I am the dinner maker, you therefore owe me some kind of reciprocity; if you just say "thanks" and continue on with your life, well then, where is MY I-made-this-for-you in this situation? Altruism is sneaky here; it isn't pure. Plus, contractually this does not stand - I cannot ask for something in return for my dinner-making, which is really a gift. But it doesn't feel completely like a gift, it feels like I am doing "my part," and that I will get something in return. Yes I love cooking, and sharing time with family, and eating delicious dinner, but there is a role-fulfillment that takes up too much of my identity. There is so much ancillary mental effort put into it - preparation, scheduling, cooking, the dining, and then the clean-up - and then what happens afterwards? Does the family go back to what they were doing in their own lives, with their actual preoccupations or work, and I merely continue to be the dinner-maker with no dinner to make until tomorrow?

It's hard to separate oneself from the society of the family space - the feeling of never being along is inimical to self. Once the family society has converged, leaving it requires a shutting of door, a deliberate space of aloneness which now has a seed of exclusion in it which is harder to initiate or feel at ease in than merely being alone. Dinner time always sets the scene for this dissolving of self for me - it's hard to excuse myself from the interacting, and thusly it is the end of day's productivity and self-inquiry, and if that's the case, then I may as well be drunk, too. But I don't like that version of things, it depresses the hell out of me - but I don't necessarily like a version of life wherein everyone in the household makes dinner for him or herself and retreats to their respective incubation spaces in order not to have to interrupt their own projects. Maybe just "dinner-dinner" once a week or something, a la Sunday dinner. Regularly scheduled dinner is so leaden and binding.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sorry Germaine

I think I sounded a little dismissive of Germaine Greer a few posts ago, and I have to completely take it back. The Female Eunuch is just as rad as The Feminine Mystique, and is definitely killing me softly with its insight. It was published in 1971, seven years before I was born, and it's not like the second this thing was published the whole world changed, so its relevancy reverberates, for sure. I think what she is talking about in terms of the cultural pathologizing of women's bodies, sexual repression, conflicting messages of school and culture (you can do anything! be pretty above all else! you can do whatever you want! we have no guidance for you on that except that you should fear you own autonomy!), all still very much applies to my upbringing - especially since my upbringing wasn't exactly orchestrated by progressive radicals.

Here's something from Ms. Greer that, the second I read it, occurred to me as obvious and true even though I'd never thought of like this before - even though I traffic with the "energy" and "feeling" folk in my yoga world:

"It's not too hard to point out to the averagely perceptive human being that women have plenty of the destructive kind of energy, but far fewer people can see that women's destructiveness is creativity turned in upon itself by constant frustration."

Yes. This is true. So what is our constant frustration? Expectation. Prescriptions of feminine identity. How about self-loathing, Germaine? Why, yes, Martha, that too:

"Women cannot love because, owing to a defect in narcissism, they do not rejoice in seeing their own kind. . . . . Those women who boast most fulsomely of their love for their own sex . . . usually have curious relations with it, intimate to the most extraordinary degree but disloyal, unreliable and tension-ridden, however close and longstanding they may be."

So I think women can, generally speaking, love just fine, but gazing back through time at the human wreckage of my own series of failed female friendships, I can see how my own self-loathing played a large part in their destruction. A less defective kind of narcissism, which I am equating with self-assurance, would have really helped. My female friendships didn't start to stay manageable until I was about 23; I was still learning (I am still learning). I think a lot of adult women have had to work pretty hard not to feel lessened by other women who seem more professional, more fit, happier, whatever - nowadays anybody with a perfect life just looks like a real kool-aid drinker to me, and I'm finally starting to feel at ease enough with myself not to have to hate people with "cooler" lives.

So anyway this stuff is really inspiring me to unleash a little bit. When I recognize myself in The Female Eunuch, and I am being described as the sum total of my having successfully adapted to the fear and and violence of my oppressors, it certainly spurs a little rebellion in me. In some ways I am, in my feminine identity, not fully expressed in my human identity. So I am thinking especially of my musical/lyrical self, which I tend to comb and preen a little bit to sound more neutral than it needs to be, more universal sounding that it needs to be; this could get much more sincere to my inner gestures, less edited, than I permit it to be.

In sum: I love Germaine Greer.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Buried Longing

I think I described my doing this yoga training as my attending to a buried longing. This is true, I’ve wanted to do it for a while, or at least I felt that I had started something with yoga that I never finished, and doing this training class puts a finishing coat on top of the little back yard deck I was building. And now that I'm almost fully equipped for yoga grilling on the deck, as it were, it feels pretty nice.

And this week at Yoga Sutras discussion group in Rhinebeck, we talked about the 11th sutra, which is translated from the Sanskrit in my edition as follows: “when a mental modification of an object previously experienced and not forgotten comes back to consciousness, that is memory.” “Memory” is one of the five mental functions that the Yoga Sutras identifies – the others being sleep/stupor, misconception, verbal delusion, and right knowledge. Seems sort of like there’s only one good one out of those, but whatever. So, one of the scholarly expositions of the “memory” sutra explained that our mind returns again and again to past events when they are in some way incomplete experiences in our mind. That made sense to me; I definitely think more about things that don’t feel completed, or over yet (and thinking about them again and again of course makes them continue to feel “not over”). Either because my ego was injured, or I felt misunderstood, or I had some expectation of how things should have gone (but they didn’t go that way), or it was upsetting in a way that left a lingering sense of vulnerability that leaves a feeling of exposure within me, (which is a kind of incompleteness of my own comfort), I certainly spend some time revisiting memories.

Where does finishing what one started fit into this feeling? I think that I have go-to-South-America fantasies mostly out of a sense that my Spanish-speaking is only okay, and I know how much better it could be, but I haven’t managed to find the space in my life yet to finish that project. It’s not complete for me. I mean I’ll be fine if I never work on my Spanish again, really – even though it’s excellent to be taking care of the yoga stuff, the feeling of “completeness” isn’t some magical filler making that part of me feel done. But it’s good. So having started something and have it not be wrapped up in the way I imagined has created this sort of memory-repetition for me; it would be good to finish what I started so it can feel complete.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Buh, Job, Meh, Bluh; also The BaB Project

Job job job. I have to get a job. Sort of. The new fuel powering my personal clown car is: Buy a Building ("BaB")! The BaB Project requires, as you might imagine, participating in all the above-ground operations of Satan himself, including relationships formed with banks, realtors, and local government, as well as considerations of school districts, zoning limitations, code enforcement, and property taxes. I want to get on a plane just thinking about it.

On the other hand, the vision of The BaB Project imagines a space that would support personal autonomy with respect to incubation space - you know, shut the door, play music loudly, have friends over, use the space for yoga classes or fixing gear or a recording studio, you know, the usual. Yes indeed that is the fantasy - a work/live space designed to support my and my darlin's things that we do. Which, for me, is basically that I like to stare into space and let my thoughts connect. Also do some yoga. And generally read whatever seems interesting that day and then maybe blog it out.

So anyway, JOB. I had a job interview this week at a job that I could really really like - second interview next week! Some hints: it is not a job at which I would get fat in my chair with the phone against my head. Another hint: not very much money! Can you guess? You'll never guess, and I'll never tell. Unless I get the job and then I will tell each of my readers individually over coffee.

So anyway I really like not having a job, and I could get by for a while yet without getting a job, but I am excited about having a life-plan-dream to work towards, and about helping make it come true. Yay to purpose, booo to responsibilities and possible work stress. Oh conundrum, oh The BaB Project, how you require present sacrifice for future gain.

And let's touch briefly upon the first part of The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer. Wow. This book is awesome, but not in a Betty Friedan blow-the-lid-off-this-society kind of way, it's way more subversive (and therefore less susceptible to mass adaptation/awakening). So this is in the early 70's, I think about eight years after Friedan - and Greer throws around the f-word a lot, and gives a brief critique of the heterosexual sex act, which is fascinating, and tears down the quality of feminine aesthetics (dipilation is crude, curves are social constructs, Twiggy is a socio-economic phenomenon!). It's pretty awesome. She appears to want to dismantle society as the only way to be truly free as humans (well, more than appears, she clearly wants to do that), and says the refusal to be more radical was where the suffragettes "failed," ha ha, yeah, they failed. I can dig on the next class revolution, for sure - I love feminism.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bein' a Lady, Buddha's Aaight Reprieve, More Preposterous Life Fantasies

I just heard Hilary Clinton’s Women’s Rights are Human Rights speech from September 4, 1995 at the 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session in Beijing, China. Something is going on with me and the woman stuff – I am pretty interested in it lately. I finished The Feminine Mystique, of course, and currently on the docket is The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer; I also just wrapped up Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore. It feels a little bit cosmic to have heard Clinton’s speech replayed on the radio today, and about a month ago I also heard a show about Eleanor Roosevelt and her life – which, to be brief, was basically kick-ass. I feel like a little spark of time/place is settling over me, a neat dimension to my identity that isn’t just who, but when, I am (yay corniness!).

So let’s consider the Bluebird book for a minute – this book definitely is in favor of an Action Girl approach to female happiness. (Action Girl is also, by the way, an excellent comic book that all should enjoy.) She is in favor of confronting what it is you truly want to do, and trying to do it, even when it isn’t what you are “supposed” to be doing. This kind of tough-self-love appears frequently to revolve around relationship-ending narratives, a la “screw this house-dog-car-job scene, I’m going to chart the seasonal fecal change of snowbirds” or whatever. I get this – I think a lot of people spend their youths trying to feel safe and secure by finding love and purpose to attach to, and then once they are fully adult and feel actually safe and secure, they realize they are being held back by the love and purpose that they were once so desperate to tether themselves to for fear of floating away. It seems like a natural life progression, actually – like a second childhood cycle. As babies and kids we need need need direction and instruction and safety, and then as teenagers we resist and rebel and deny all direction and instruction so we can become a different, independent self. Then we do it all again, probably dozens of times in our adult life: attach, rebel; attach, rebel.

Anyway Gore is in favor of bold and radical happiness action, and I think that is great, and I completely agree – it has that seed of Friedan’s call to arms to resist “adjusting” to your expected role that I really love. She also examines the problem of fearfulness – the opposite of happiness is anxiety, she says, and one of the cures for anxiety? – why, meditation, of course. I was thinking that while I don’t feel like I’m a Buddhist exactly, and that I think it’s a bad idea to try to find yourself by finding something religious to hold on to, I have to give a little bit of credit to the path of self-via-spirituality – I do think that investigating my spiritual side a little did give me access to ways of viewing my life that have functioned as little launch pads for further self-discovery . . . like balancing (or reconciling) the feelings that, one the one hand, I am exactly where I need to be at any given moment on any given day, and on the other hand, I should strive for change and growth and the feeling of using and expanding my capacities. Every reasonable point of view is a paradox, isn’t it? Including that one! Ha ha, both reasonable and paradoxical, nice.

But anyway willingness to take radical action and intellectualized balanced approaches notwithstanding, this still leaves most of us with the question of What Am I Supposed to be Doing? The feeling of infinite choice and the problem of choosing one thing to the exclusion of several others – as well as the influence of circumstance, inclination, funding, time, and everything else over what even feels possible or practical among the infinite - it can all be so very paralyzing. I am still distilling myself – I keep having fantasies lately of going to South America again, only this time, going for longer and taking a language class and having the “experience” I had always wanted – I mean, it’s been so wonderful to take care of this one buried longing – yoga certification – that I think I’d really feel relieved in a check-list sort of way if I did that. But it would really interrupt everything else that is unfolding right now – my guitar lessons start this week, and yoga is going really well, and my reading is really engaging, and my husband and I are thinking it’s time to buckle down and buy a piece of real estate to set up all our wacky projects in. Well, anyway, you can see how going to South America for six months would postpone all these things that are in progress - and even though I appreciate Gore's happiness prescription, making oneself happy isn't permission to follow whim or totally cave into one's panic about life and aging, to me. So could I do it in a few years? What if there’re babies in my life? Then what? It makes me a little sad to think about shelving the South America dream, but really, one thing at a time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Week in the Life

I'm visiting Brooklyn again, this time with some friends from overseas who are on vacation. I am the mini-chaperone! Well, not really, actually, since they have been running around Manhattan by themselves for two days while I sit around a little bit. It's been freezing cold and tourism is all about walking all the hell around. I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge with them yesterday and called it a day. All I care about on vacation is the food and they ate at Sbarro's and the Hard Rock Cafe, so I was thinking I would try to arrange delicious lunch for them on their last day and that will be my contribution to international warm fuzzies.

So in terms of Operation: Self, there's been a little bit of a back-slide with the t.v. - I've seen a lot of t.v. in the last two weeks. I guess I feel fine about it, but that's almost the worrisome part. I should be disappointed, and feel gross, and depressed, but I feel pretty okay. I'd still be more pleased with myself if I had been working on one of my Serious Purposes instead of watching shows, but I'm not feeling like a failure about it. Wait a minute, that might be great news. I do tend to think that I need my anger with myself to change my ways, but lately I feel fine about regimen lapse. I can't get too far away from everything, though - I'll start to lose the thread - but I don't feel like berating myself, and yes, I officially think that's great.

The biggest, simplest, and most important change I've made to my life in the last six months remains my alcohol consumption. Not drinking is the best thing I've done for myself since I started drinking regularly. I had a sip of wine that my overseas friends brought as a gift just to taste, and that was plenty. I had no desire to feel drunk at all - I had a little desire to have delicious wine with my salmon, but at long last I feel connected enough with the cause and effect of alcohol's impact on my body/life/heart/mind to know that I want nothing to do with the feeling that alcohol produces in me. And I feel more interesting to myself without hours of each evening lost to the soft pink sugary blurring and hazing of my head and limbs. I sleep better, which improves pretty much everything in life. I read so much more, which has been a return to myself that I am grateful for. Even if I don't really find myself or write a book or end up with a great job or anything else "important" after this little hiatus from adulthood is over (or at least changes dramatically), wrestling booze into a place where it is no longer a source of fear was well worth it. I wasn't going to be able to do it at the old job. I needed the room and silence and solitude to really practice at the abstinence. So anyway, yes, pleased with myself there.

I think I'm going to do a basic Pilates certification after th yoga stuff is done. My friend who has a Pilates studio upstate does weekend trainings, and there is one happening the weekend after yoga is over. I want to do it since I know that Pilates is good for my particular body issues, and also because I feel more and more convinced that yoga asana should be treated as a series of suggestions. Forget the hocus-pocus about each pose ringing a special note in your cosmic cells, don't do things that hurt - this is something that comes up with things like headstand. The benefits are oversold to the point that it can feel like you're really living half a life if you don't do headstand, and it's just nonsense. Our anatomy teacher said she doesn't even do them; based on the shape of the vertebrae in the neck, bearing the weight of the body on the head just wasn't something she was interested in doing. Humans around the globe carry water jugs on their heads all the time so it's not like it's an impossible and dangerous thing, and I happen to like headstand, but there are safer and more fun ways to get upside down if you are doing it for body/mind health and awareness. And besides, I try to put about 85% of the weight into my forearms and touch my head only very slightly to the ground. Anyway long story short Yogilates is definitely already taken, but I agree that Pilates offers a lot of inroads to the body that are complementary to what most yoga class sequences I've experienced don't really focus on. Hip strength and stability is the main one. Flexibility without strength is not good. So I guess it might not be "real yoga" that I end up feeling best about.

That actually reminds me of a question I asked our teacher about this issue of "what's yoga" - I asked the teacher about whether making things up (like poses) is okay, and the answer was basically that it's fine, as long as I actually do the thing that I'm talking about and don't just throw things out there on whims. Yoga started with something like 30 postures, and now there's thousands, so I think the evolution of yoga allows for the incorporation of different disciplines (although yoga "fusion" gets eye-rolled about, for sure) and can still be called "real yoga." Whatever that means. This is another one of those "how strictly do I have to adhere to be sincere" kinds of questions that I guess I'll be letting take shape for myself.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I'm Not a Buddhist

I really like meditation. I really, really like it. I don't do it every day lately, but it's pretty great when I do it. I think I like it because it's kind of trippy and it's like being on completely optional drugs that stop working when you want them to. And I like all the little Buddha-man tricks of perspective that help me feel more relaxed about the irritations of life. These are all pretty handy. But it's just not enough to be a primary source of pursuit and study for me.

I was wondering a while ago whether spirituality is a substitute for personality traits and I am feeling these days like the answer is yes. Having a big hole in your chest, I think, is much more likely to mean that you are not using your human capacities in a way that makes you feel fully connected to society. Joining a church can certainly provide that in the sense that there are books to study and people to discuss things with and weekly obligations to attend and volunteer opportunities - all these things can create a sense of purpose and accountability, but it's not really about finding a spiritual center. It's about using your regular, secular, reality-based abilities in a useful way.

In general, I think it's a mistake to go looking for god if you're looking for yourself. I mean, did I mention that the guy who leads the Buddha discussions in the deli is a master carpenter, accomplished musician, as well as a husband and father? And he isn't just a practicing Buddhist, he's a group-discussion leader, highly social community member, and is sometimes employed by the temple to build specialized pieces of woodwork. It makes sense to me that he would be a happy guy with probably minimal identity problems; he's using his capacities pretty fully to contribute to a social direction.

When I wonder about a cure for emptiness, I connect most with Betty Friedan's research on identity and happiness:

"The identity crisis . . . seems to occur for lack of, and be cured by finding, the work, or cause, or purpose that evokes his own creativity." And Friedan cites the failure to find this work/cause/purpose, this emptiness, the "problem that has no name," (or The Feminine Mystique) as a problem of, well - laziness and confusion. This rings the most true to me. This is what I accuse myself of in my own search for myself, so I'm predisposed to agree with it, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Friedan continues:

"[E]ven if a woman does not have to work to eat, she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society . . . . [But f]or fear of commitment, hundreds of able, educated suburban housewives today fool themselves about the writer or actress they might have been, or dabble at art or music in the dilettante's limbo of 'self-enrichment,' or apply for jobs as receptionists or saleswomen, jobs well below their actual abilities. These are also ways of evading growth."

Sounds familiar. I remember when I started this blog I wrote out some criteria for happiness, and "meaningful work" was number three. And as an afterthought, I added spirituality. I think this is still the true order of things. Meaningful work is spirituality. Why is it so hard to find one's meaningful work? I think I may be getting a little bit closer to it. I think in the next ten years I'll have figured out one or two things, or be a little farther along on my feeling of long-term commitment to something. I love body stuff. I really look forward to practicing my yoga teaching on my friends on Sundays, so I think I'm on to something here, at least. And I'm glad for the insights that looking into Buddha stuff has given me, and the things it has made me think about, but it still strikes me as utterly secondary to the true questions of work and self and purpose and place in community. For me, investigating spirituality is an excellent vehicle for connecting with other people who want to talk about finding life purpose - its function is community, and opportunity for connection to community, more than anything. But sense of self is more centered in commitment to exploring your own abilities in a long-term, non-dilettante way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

New Fantasy: Holistic Physical Therapist

So one new future version of my big non-existent life direction is to become a physical therapist after the yoga stuff, and then use yoga and, you know, science, to make people feel good in their bodies. One of the things I already like about practicing the yoga classes on my friends is trying to attend to their particular quirks. It takes some serious actual knowledge (which I don't yet have) to really "prescribe" yoga to someone in a way that helps them heal. I know that for my back problem, I have been incredibly reluctant to give up or adjust certain yoga postures that were not helping me. In particular, I love getting into wheel pose (big ol' back bend), and doing pigeon pose (really big hip stretch). Especially with respect to the hip stretches - which I thought must be really good for me since I have hip problems - I need to cut way back. With my hips and back, extending my hip flexibility is the opposite of what I should do; I need to stabilize and strengthen my hips. Again, it has taken me about ten years, two orthopedists, three chiropractors, at least one physical therapist, an acupuncturist, and an extra astute yoga teacher to convince me that this is the right thing for me. That is ridiculous. My intuition with respect to my hips was just wrong - stretching is always good, right!? Do all the poses the yoga teacher says to do! DO THEM ALL OR YOUR EXPERIENCE IS SUB-PAR.

That's the weirdest thing to think about - physical yoga is really supposed to be about tailoring movement to your body, not just trying to do things regardless of how they react with you. But it takes so long to be able to tell what is happening and what is helping and what is hurting. I still can't totally "feel" the hip/back stuff in a way that leads me to the same conclusion as all the other people who told me the useful hip/back information, but I am getting better, so the dots are starting to connect (ah direct experience is frequently the precursor to crediting authoritative advice or knowledge - but what happens when your direct experience is a misconception? well, in my case, you keep doing pigeon and wheel even though it is a bad idea). And then there's the feeling that by attending a class, you are submitting yourself to an experience that it would, at the very least, be rude to disregard in favor of just doing your own thing for some of the poses. And the trust and respect I think I should be expressing for the yoga teacher and the class structure s/he has designed makes me hesitant to skip things that I shouldn't do. And I might think that I'm shortchanging myself in a cosmic full-body yoga kind of way if I skip stuff because all the poses have magical yogic hocus-pocus that I need to experience or something.

So anyway yoga anatomy weekend is this weekend and I sent the guest speaker a bunch of questions and she wrote me back some interesting and illuminating anatomical responses, and it made me day dream about being someone who really knows the functions of the body and who can use yoga to really help people move in a way that is healing and helpful and challenging, and empower people to tailor their yoga practices to their own bodies. And of course the way that I thought I could do this in a highly credible and career-oriented way was to become a licensed physical therapist with a happy/spiritual holistic yoga-physical-therapy practice.

And here's the real point of this post! School is expensive!! I looked at the program closest to me in Troy, NY, and it was listed as a three year program for a doctor of physical therapy degree (no info about just a masters so far), and it was $790 per credit hour, and a 120 credit program. That's over $94,000 dollars. That's absurd, right? It should definitely not cost that much money. I am really bummed out by that information. I feel like the strangle-hold on information and education is pretty evil. Yeah I know I have a library card and everything, but really, people need a syllabus, and opportunity for discussion and to ask questions, and clarification and help and all that stuff. Feels unfair to put such a high price tag on access to these things. It's classist, too, which bothers me. You have to be able to afford to know and learn and grow. And then the government gets involved and needs to touch your education with a magic wand for you to be able to legally use and make a living off of your knowledge (yes there is an up and a downside to this). So there goes that little fantasy, at least in that form.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Know it All

Went to yoga this morning in Brooklyn with a teacher I liked a lot when I was living closer by. She talked about some inner-self stuff today, like letting go of the desire to control our lives or wish they could be different and just be open to how things really are and trust that when we are open and alert we will identify things we are truly drawn to. Something like that, I'm paraphrasing.

And she also gave us a little advice in the form of recommending that we try not to give people advice all the time; or maybe more like tell people how they should think and feel and act or even think to ourselves how we think they should be thinking and feeling and acting. I thought this was pretty good advice - I loooove to give my friends advice and I should probably just listen and sympathize more, so I decided to give it a try today. This has already not worked out. In fact, it took me about 5 minutes to go off track, and when I saw my friend this morning after yoga class, and we were chatting about how's-it-going, I proceeded to tell her what she should have said to her mom on the phone an hour ago, how should view her relationship with her boss, and what kind of business to open and in what location. Boy oh boy I sure do know a lot of things about a lot of things.

I guess I'm just noticing this tendency. Yoga teacher lady this morning said something like well What If we all directed our advice-giving energy back at ourselves and our own stuff instead of displacing or distracting ourselves by focusing on other people's lives and problems, wouldn't that be nice/change the world? Probably. I always slippery-slope these kinds of observations though - sure we should think about our own stuff and not tell other people what to do, but we also shouldn't just be self-absorbed and let people who need perspective or help or, yes, advice, just sort of flounder around. Is the difference just waiting to be asked? Nah, that's not it exactly. Anyway every piece of wisdom is flawed if I slippery-slope it to death - like the "control" thing the yoga teacher said this morning. Sure I could stop trying to wrestle my life into the shape I want it to be and let it all unfold organically, but that sounds like a great way to stay unemployed and unfocused, too.

It's all a balancing act blah blah blah.