Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vacation mit Parentzen

So I'm here in Germany on a vacation with my parents, which is a total throwback to days gone by on Cape Cod, chafing against the sand in my bathing suit, eating potato chips, and reading "just for fun" books.

My "just for fun" book for vacation is one of the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, dozens of which have been kicking around the house since I was as little as I recall - at least from my most early literate era (I brought The Brothers Karamazov with me, but I keep re-realizing that I am not much of a High Thinker, so I've put it down 20 pages in in favor of sci-fi-fantasy-humor). Terry Pratchett writes magical fantasy books with a comic twist, featuring lovable and fallible wizards-in-training, very well organized assassins' guilds, and, my personal favorite, death's apprentice named, of course, "Mort." So then, yes. I'm reading yet another of his delightful books, this time about sexism in the magical education system, and it's terrific, of course. And this got me to thinking about magic books and how much I liked them when I was little.

I liked magic books probably mostly because I hoped that my magical powers would be shortly revealed to me by a kindly witch/grandmother who'd been watching and waiting for the right moment to reveal me to myself, and then I would at last be ripped from my longing for specialness into a state of actual specialness. By ten or eleven I thought I had been doing a heroic amount of waiting and figured it was going to happen basically any day now. Oh how long it takes to shed dreams of our own significance.

I read other books, too, with other versions of magical children in them (no Harry Potter for me, though - I feel too old for those, somehow). There's always some version of using one's powers wisely, and that things go poorly for people who abuse their powers. Sort of along the lines of pointing a finger at someone means there's three pointing back at you blah blah blah. The full import of this magical approach to the golden rule didn't really gel for me until well into adulthood. I remember it coming up with road rage - I remember wishing I had the power to pop someone's tire from my car and inconvenience them, or that I could control their speedometer or otherwise use some magic to thwart them. I can't remember if I've blogged about this yet, but one day it occurred to me that if I really were a witch, and I popped someone's tires, then at least three of my tires would pop or some other equally inconvenient thing would happen right back to me, and I don't want that at all. But I would like to affect the meanness in the world . . . . So then, how to exact my revenge without incurring any negative effects? Why, a wise witch will use her power for good, yes? But if "punishing" the "evil" isn't clearly "good," then that changes things - maybe it's less for "good" (which requires a judgment call) and more "in a good way." So instead of wishing for people's tires to pop, I wish in my head that they feel more patient and less stressed out. That way it will hopefully come back to me times three that I feel patient and calm, and that would be very nice. This is a good game to play in all corners of life. It's hard to practice, though.

But anyway, I was reading this Pratchett book and it's about magic of course and one phrase in it was very nice: "Magic's easy, you just find the place where everything is balanced and push. Anyone could do it. There's nothing magical about it." Nice, yes? But I like this because I disagree (yoga stuff coming). In my Jivamukti book the authors say that it's much harder to put something together than take it apart - this makes sense to me - I could certainly unscrew a radio without thinking about it, but put it back together? Yeah, harder, right? And yoga is all about integrating and balancing oneself with oneself - that's the magic that yoga is getting at. It's taking things that are out of balance and pushing them into place. The study of it, the real academic part about it, is learning to identify imbalance, or to see where balance should be underneath all the veils and smoke and fog of life and of the mind. Because it's not easy to tell "what's wrong" and then make it right. Figuring out where things are imbalanced takes a lot of time, and it's easy to get sidetracked or obsessed with correcting one particular thing and then that ends up tipping the scales a different direction, and you need to be shaken sometimes to see that all your effort towards balance is taking you further away - it's a way of mistaking an attempt for balance with what is actually egotism and a desire for specialness.

So the good news that I'm getting from this is that I do have a chance to develop my magical powers, after all. And when I see imbalance at work in the world and how far away from center out efforts can take us, my fantasies about increasing my own specialness have been replaces by my gratitude for my ordinariness. Therefore, yoga is great, and sci-fi-fantasy-humor is great, and Germany is great. You can order beer bigger than your head anywhere you go, and drink it at 10 in the morning and nobody judges.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I get a lot of headaches. This feels particularly unfair when I get to thinking about how comparatively well-behaved I am with my vices. I'm a whole-grainer with a solid yoga habit who BARELY drinks anymore, and I try to get plenty of sleep, usually 9 hours. I should feel awesome every single freaking day. But I do not. I get a lot of headaches, like, at least one a week, and not infrequently two.

I guess I don't mind it that much, it's not so bad, but I could do without it. I throw 1,000 mg of ibuprofen at pretty much everything in my life, and it helps a little, but not always. Yesterday I had a particularly bad one, and 1,600 mg didn't help. So that's interesting. I get migraines, too, and that's a whole different ball of wax, and I have the most supremely excellent migraine medication that is sort of delightful to take - take one, get into bed, try to sleep, and in an hour wake up feeling all soft and light and comfy all over, and then try not to look forward to the next migraine. Well, it's not that good, but it's not bad, either.

Headaches just shut everything down. My mood, my energy, my strength; and there's usually some nausea and blurriness as a bonus prize. So lame.

Here's something else sort of annoying - you know what helped my headache a little bit yesterday? A donut. Someone brought them into work and I had one and I got a little chemical rush from the sugar dose and I really think it sped along the process. It sort of makes me nervous - what's that about? Sugar addiction? Something else chemical? Do I need to "detox" or have someone touch my vibrations and tell me to realign my planetary noodles or something?

Whatever. So I'm going to Germany today!! My parents got a cottage and invited us (me and the Huzband) to come stay with them, and we are going to do that. Maybe I'll have some feelings to blog out from abroad. That'll be fun. I am looking forward to turning 14 again as I sit in the back seat of the rental car while my parents navigate us around a foreign place, and then give up and pull over at the first luncheonette we see for lunch and beer. Thus ended many a school-shopping trip in my youth: "Forget it, this sucks, let's get lunch and go home." Ahh youth.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oh Man Stress AGAIN

I’ve had this feeling lately of a sliding downhill. At first I thought it was connected to the drinking. I thought I’d been having some moderate success with having *a* drink from time to time, like two drinks a week, but it seemed that I was noticing it in a physical/emotional way. So I stopped that, and got back to my real hangover problem: stress. Now that I am settled more into my job, actual stress and responsibilities are also settling in, and I’m spending a little more time in my head worrying about stuff or hoping to remember to do things. So it’s getting harder lately to maintain the equanimity that I spent 7 months working on. Yep, it’s much simpler to stay calm when you have no stressful data coming in.

I went home from work on Thursday this week at about 10:30am. I felt horrible; I hadn’t felt 100% this week anyway – I had a teeny tiny cold and took some cold meds for two nights. But Thursday was a little special - I had woken up at about 5:40 in the morning with that familiar pounding feeling in my head, and a cold shiver, and nausea – zero alcohol involved, mind you. But I did my tried and true hangover prayer anyway, which is to sit under the hot water in the shower for as long as the hot water lasts, and beg the sky that the vascular constriction or whatever would cure me or at least make me comfortable enough to go back to sleep. Neither of these happened, as they never have, and I ended up waiting it out over a pot of tea and probably some ibuprofen, I can’t really remember. I was still pretty shaky by the time I got to work, and feeling like an emotional time-bomb, and the moment I started lifting boxes all my veins started throbbing blood up to my eyes and temples. It felt like my pulse was trying to knock me out. I tried a short cup of coffee, since caffeine can provide some relief for this feeling by dilating, you know, everything, but it just made me jumpy. And then the nausea came back. So I lined up my ducks at work and said see you later, came straight home in the car somehow (barely remember that either), took off my grubby work stuff and fell asleep until about 1pm. I think I probably had a tiny fever – the chills and nausea and fatigue were pretty in line with that feeling. But anyway this go-home-and-skip-a-day was sort of unusual for me. I think of myself as a pretty tough work-horse. I love the all-over fatigue of physical work. I would do it all the time (and I do, now). So I felt a little defeated by having to go home.

My friend SoapyKittens diagnosed me over the phone with allergies. I sort of thought this was off, since I haven’t been sneezy, and I felt feverish, and my eyes aren’t itchy or anything. But the pollen has been flying around quite a bit and it surely clogs the sinuses and screws up one’s head and sleep in ways besides sneezing and itchiness. I thought about the apples at work, of which I eat many a discarded and bruised reject, and since my cootie-meter has totally lowered its standards I only wash about half my fruit these days – so I’m thinking some kind of pesticide or bacteria thing lodged itself in me and that’s what I get for feeling invincible.

So while there is certainly a lesson to be learned in my bruised-apple-laxity, I don’t think that was it, either. I think it was stress. I think I am really kind of a baby about stress, and that I reached a little bit of a maxed-out point, and had to go home and sleep and lay in the bed for a day.

So now that I have a somewhat manageable life, and don’t work 80 million hours a week, I have a little bit of room to contemplate how to cope with stress. I already do a bunch of yoga, and I think I do enough focused breathing to be getting some stress relief out of it, but maybe not enough? I could stand to meditate more than I do, for sure, that would probably help. I really practiced a bunch of stress-relieving habits on my 7 month vacation from life, like rubbing my feet and sleeping 9 hours a night, so I could draw upon that to up my self-care regimen a bit. And I think I should absolutely knock it off with the caffeine, which will also help (except today, since I already drank a pot of tea, which was delicious and wonderful). And as always, contemplate diet changes. Goddammit I get sick of contemplating diet changes. Life is always better with brown rice and green tea, blah blah blah, but seriously, how insanely do I have to tweak my environmental input to feel physically steady? Feels unfair. It’s like 80 year olds who can only handle plain toast and a gently poached banana because everything else is too upsetting. Is this my new super-sensitive-bunny reality? Sigh. But when I do add a little extra mindfulness to stuff it’s always much simpler than I think, and more rewarding than I anticipate. Bleh. Anyway stress is, like, really serious you guys. So I’m gonna eat some brown rice about it, basically.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Inoculation vs. Antibiotics

This weekend I had to work for a few hours at a big, popular, flower event that the city has every year, usually the same weekend as Mother’s Day. It’s right near the law school I went to, and I realized that professors and people I know from that time might swing through and see me, and I’d end up having some conversations about what I’m doing with myself these days etc. And that’s fine, I’m completely happy with my life choices and don’t feel accountable to anyone for any of my decisions anyway (I’m a grown-up, yes? Yes.). But it did get me thinking about what I usually say about what I'm doing and why, and it made me think about "where" I like to put myself in the stream of human experience. I have concluded that I prefer to be more on the inoculation side of things and less on the antibiotics end of things.

So I think I’ve mentioned before the pro bono thing, providing free legal services to people who can’t afford them. And that I hated it and found it ridiculously stressful and horrible. And yet, the tug at myself to “help” people and use my supposed powers for good created a lot of conflict in me. It’s like forcing yourself to eat something really bitter because it’s good for you. There are really other ways to keep yourself positively occupied or full of nutrients than by doing things that you hate.

Anyway. When providing legal services to anyone, you’re usually on the We’re F***ed end of an event. There’s certainly very little opportunity for working in a preventive roll for an attorney unless you have an ongoing relationship with a client who consults you as they move through their personal decisions. Nope, for most people, calling a lawyer is like getting antibiotics - you're f*****, but we can through some expert-seeming crap on it, and you'll be fine. And I think I prefer working on the inoculation end of life, in that it involves the point in time before everything goes to hell, when everyone can do some yoga and go for a walk and eat some vegetables. That’s what I can handle; that’s what I like.

I used to feel really mystified by people who spent their lives seemingly dedicated to “how” one lives their life. Seemed really boring to me. Diet gurus, exercise lifestyle people, whatever – it seemed like such a limited life to consume oneself with these kinds of things and want to talk to people about how to act all day. Weird. I think it seemed to me that we all sort of figure out how to act anyway, and we should be aiming for higher things like art and music or whatever; that our personal potential is primary, and that the tiny facts of sustenance and connectedness and fitness and peace were secondary pursuits that should be balanced in accordance to their ability to support or detract from one’s primary purpose. But I feel a little more interested in versions of life that have a lot to do with how to live life, as opposed to leaving that as an afterthought or as the natural consequence of one’s other choices/primary pursuits. It’s endlessly fascinating, this examination-breakdown of our tiny choices, and the measuring of our feelings and reactions against these choices, and the adjusting of ourselves depending on the impact we sense. Finding satisfaction in this requires some letting go, perhaps. You might have to let go of ideas of importance or fame or success or whatever else you might think is “more important” than the tiny decisions that come up every day about how to live. Really it all kind of felt small to me, but now I’m starting to feel like it’s everything. Nowadays we have a lot of forces pressing on us that do make small (mostly consumption-based) decisions really big – oil consumption, free range animals, whatever, but even without all the social/ethical baggage that we assign to our decisions, attentiveness to the mundane is pretty much where it’s at. There is a dark side to this attentiveness, which is that stuff like going to a coffee shop can become an event of emotional impact completely disproportionate to its import, i.e., “did the barista hate me with that snarling snarkiness,” “this table is too sticky,” “those people are talking too loud,” “is someone looking at my laptop information,” “I have to pee but I don’t want to leave my stuff here but I also don’t want to lose my seat.”

The roller-coaster of our everyday experience can be pretty intense if you absorb yourself too fully in its minutiae. Maybe I’m trying to say something else about being happy just trying to live. That the range of interactions and emotions we have going to a coffee shop are the higher purpose in life? Something like that?

BUT ANYWAY. Suffice it to say that I empathize with people who are a bit obsessed with the hard work of making their daily decisions have a positive impact on themselves, because it doesn’t seem small-minded or less lofty to me, it seems real and powerful. And I am much happier trying to part of the prospective, as opposed to responsive, aspect of sentient happiness here on the planet, which is to say that I prefer inoculations (or the lifestyle equivalent) to antibiotics. Prevention is way less toxic a game than cure, and I am okay with a life that has less to do with accomplishing “important” things and more to do with living well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Positive Job Anxiety! Negative Coping Mechanisms

Another nutty week of existence. Have I mentioned that I love my job? I really do. I wish that I could love my job for about 30 hours a week instead of 40-45, but still, it’s really fun. I love riding around in a big truck with other people who also love riding around in the big truck, and bullsh*tting with the customers, and learning about produce prices and markets, and saying I won’t take the collard greens because they aren’t up to snuff today, look at ‘em, they’re slimey!

So on the list of “personal growth” items this week was: having to confront an employee about behavior, which was pretty intense for me. I lost a little sleep, and it was really interesting to observe my mind in this situation. I couldn’t stop my mind from turning the problem around and around in my head, but I did feel pretty effective about watching the thinker, if you know what I mean (which you do), and I felt pretty yoga-tastic about it, even though I wasn’t successful at keeping the anxiety at bay. And I did have a chance to have the conversation with this person that I needed to have, and it went awesomely, and I feel great about it, even though I had some rough time in my head about it.

So clearly, even though I am pretty happy, I still have anxiety about job performance, for sure – there are a lot of important things that have to get done for our jobs to exist, mainly being: buy produce, put it on the truck, drive the truck to places people will be expecting the truck to be full of produce, and be extremely cheery and rad to people to create a feeling of fun and ease around eating healthy. I will say that in terms of potential work consequences, i.e., how far down you have to fall and how hard you hit, this job feels both more important to do right and less terrifying if I blunder as compared to my legal (CLA) job. More important because I think I am starting to care that the truck be great, not just pressured that people view me as a billable resource like the CLA job; and less terrifying for blunders because every single day is another opportunity to make the truck great, and the cumulative impact of my personal screw ups washes out in the bigger pool of the job. At the CLA job, it felt a little more severe – although screw ups happened and at the CLA job people were really understanding about that stuff, the head trip about making something screw up was pretty rough, way rougher than this job (and might have created expensive consequences). But I feel like the anxiety and challenges at my job are enjoyable; I feel ready for them and like I can handle them and like everyone is a teacher and it’s going to help me grow as a person and eventually as a parent. I finally feel like I’m in the right place at the right time in so far as challenges I need to meet goes. Was I just so freaking over-my-head at the CLA job that I shouldn’t even have been there? Probably. I can’t believe people adapt to that stress.

So on to the next fun bit of information – we got in a car accident on the highway in the truck! Good god if you’ve ever felt an 8 ton vehicle rock from side to side and fishtail on the highway, well, I have too (I was not driving). And it’s pretty scary. We could have tipped over – well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I felt for a split second the possibility of that. A convertible, driven by a 19 year old male (if you can see where I’m going with this), came up super fast behind us and clipped our back end trying to pass us. The convertible spun out and stopped across two lanes. No one was hurt, but key-rice-st it was scary. I called 911 which is a weird thing to do, if you’ve ever had to that, well, I also had to do that, too. The other car needed a tow, but our big truck drove away with a mutilated back bumper thing but fine otherwise.

Again, we were fine and all that, but the emotional impact was surprising. It’s like when you get into a fight with someone and you spend the rest of the day pacing and anxious and reeling in your head. Except after the car accident I wasn’t thinking up good things to say to anyone that would have really zinged them, so it’s actually kind of better than that. To decompress a little, I took the crew out for burgers and beer, on me. And I had half a xanax, so that smoothed things out like you wouldn’t believe (if you've heard my "the day I quit my CLA job" story this might ring a bell, but don't worry about me, it's fine). And after making an appointment with our vehicle service people and trying to go to the DMV to get the accident report, I rode my bike home on the bike trail with no cars around, had some spaghetti (more comfort medication), two more beers, watched Brigitte Bardot movies (which are horrible/excellent), and fell asleep at 9:30pm.

So for coping with this experience – the tingling and boiling in the stomach, the out-of-body feeling, the bowel-loosening - I went straight for the old stress standbys – drinks, tv, and starch. This might have been an amazing opportunity to roll with it yoga-style, but I did not do that. I had beer instead. Man, what an amazing shortcut to mental relief that is. The spinning just stops as your mind gets so deflated. But I am absolutely letting myself off the hook for that. It was An Occasion. I’d be less inclined to treat my best friend’s wedding as a reason to drink than a car accident – after the car accident, I wanted to feel shutdown and tired and wake up the next day with everything over. Happy occasions and everyday life, not so much. I had one good stress-coping event at work (had to talk to employee) and one pretty rough stress-coping event (car accident). So that’s a note about my progress on vice and coping mechanisms.

That’s what happened at work this week, and that’s how I’m doing with stress and life. Forward, back, you know how it is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Finding a Locus for a More Hocus-Pocus Yoga Focus

So last week I went to yoga on Monday night at a local place that definitely appears to be the main center of happ-nin yoga around here, and took a Jivamukti class. Jivamukti is a type of yoga that two Manhattanite folks started in the ‘80s that focuses a lot on ahimsa, or nonviolence (very much in the form of vegan living), and has a pretty vigorous post-Ashtanga vinyasa-flow approach. Anyway. From what I understand, in order to call oneself a Jivamukti teacher, as opposed to someone who teaches yoga and was trained and certified by Jivamukti teachers, one must adhere to a certain kind of class structure and style. And I get this in one sense – Jivamukti needs to protect its brand, and it can’t have way off-base teachings with its name attached to it happening all over the place. So, sure. It was in the back of my head, though, at this class, that this teacher couldn’t fully be himself within the parameters of this method. It’s probably not true – there’s certainly lee-way available – but that was one distraction about the class for me. It felt so very by-the-book in terms of the little snippets of yoga wisdom that came out that I wondered if the teacher really felt it. Well, it’s also that he rambled a bit – like he knew what he should be offering up but didn’t really know how to say what he was trying to say. His chattiness ran a little long, which to me indicated a level of searching as he was talking, which meant his vision wasn’t concrete to him yet.

This is something I want to keep in mind for my own teaching. Sincerity is important. Lack of sincerity is extremely obvious, no matter how well you can “say” the words. And I’ve noticed this in the classes that I’ve been teaching – part of me feels like I need to hand out some kind of peace/love guidance thing to give to the class, and it’s pretty tough to articulate peace/love feelings genuinely. First of all, it’s hard to articulate them at all. “You know, peace and stuff.” Second, communicating one’s feelings genuinely and succinctly enough in a class context requires serious choice of words and clarity of thought, so you have to know and mean what you say. Third, hell to muffins I am no beacon of successful peace/love for someone to model and I don’t want to suggest that any yoga information I have to offer represents my confidence or achievement of something great.

Which leads to me to the fourth, which is that peace/love isn’t the primary thing for me in yoga right now. The teacher last week, in spite of my feelings about his convictions and his teaching, said something that really rang in my mind – he said that if you are doing yoga postures in a checklist kind of way to feel accomplishment then you are missing the point of yoga. And this is something I do. I am pretty caught up in the athleticism of yoga. I love feeling myself progress in postures that have been eluding me because they require more strength than I have, and I feel pretty pleased with myself when I notice I have gained the strength to do something. I am mostly motivated to do yoga by my desire to exert my energy and expand my vocabulary of movements so that I can really get sweaty. The sheer exertion feels like a huge relief, and I can purge some anxiety and shed the day away, but this mostly happens because of the physical fatigue, not because I connect with the Universal like a champ. Well, actually, I have usually considered my exertion to BE my connection with the Universal, but there is definitely an element of the inner world that is lacking right now, something I’m just not going for. I can feel transcendent etc. when I am doing my postures, and I do my final relaxation on the floor, and I sit still and try to focus on my breathing, but I’m not as gung-ho about it as I am the pure work-out part of it. So I’d like to up the ante a little bit on my spiritual hocus-pocus, so that maybe I’ll have something more genuine to offer to future classes about the inner-world aspect of yoga practice.