Friday, September 19, 2014

When I'll Be Happy

You know:
When I graduate.
     When I get a better job.
When I find true love (or true sex).
When this move is over.

Of course, none of these joys last very long.  Actually, I did bask in happiness for about ten days after we moved to this house.  What a horrific move it was, 10,000 pounds from two stories and a basement, and Tom couldn't help with any of it, partly because he couldn't do stairs, partly because he's a man.  But we got moved in, staged the old house, sold it, and then - his polio doctor told him he was never going back to work.  Post-polio syndrome advancing.

There went that.  Now I had a man around the house   all   day   long.  And a morbidly depressed one at that.

But that was ten years ago and we adjusted to that and found other Big Problems to ruin our lives.

Today though, the weather is beautiful and I wasn't noticing myself brooding on a Big Huge Overwhelming Problem.  Instead I noticed myself criticizing myself in pretty much my father's tone, "Shut your mouth, you'll let the flies in." Something like that.  So maybe I had allergies as a kid, too.  Today the pollen was getting to me and my slender aristocratic nose was having a hard time streaming air, I guess.  I kept finding myself semi-mouth breathing. Ah jeez.

But that was only the beginning.  Then there was how fat I've gotten (30 lbs. over my high-school weight), and how lazy too, really not active enough in everybody else's opinion, and how I forgot what I came here for, and oh, the mess in the front closet and the kitchen floor and . . . I began to ask myself, When will I be happy with myself?

Actually, on a good day I am basically happy with my privileged first-world life and myself, though little things like that intrude.  Go back under the bed, monster.  On a bad day (which today was not) the self-criticism really flows.  I'm more aware of it now than ever, as I've been working with a book that had me look harder at how I do that.  This is much like Zen - dark enlightenment, it's sometimes called.  This is the part about spiritual practice and personal growth that nobody tells you about, and nobody likes.

So bringing this out into the light, I thought, I'll be happy with myself - that is, I'll be perfect - when I meditate twice every day, clean out the frig, hang up all my clothes, oh, the kitchen floor, get my manuscripts out and published, iron that scarf....

In short, I had a to-do list headed by
Lose 10 lbs.!  Maybe 20!
With at least 100 other things on it.
And that's how women are.

I haven't even touched on the faults other people probably think I have, which I am blithely unaware of.*  So that at least is something to like about myself, that little streak of ignorant bliss.
* The old prescriptive grammar said, "Never use a preposition to end a sentence with"** but I have a PhD in English, and a rebellious streak, AND I'm not paid for this, so I write what I want.
** I know - I'm joking.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bad words

Did you ever feel like you will scream if you see that word one more time?  Vibrant, vibrant, 
Jesus, what adjectives did we use before that came along?  Everything vibrates now with life, everything is vivid, vital, everything pops. Vibrantly.  As if until now everything was dead, it was a zombie world until the word came to life and the word was -
People actually strive to be vibrant.  Why?  In my opinion, and I'm not alone in this, vibrant people are tiring to have around.  The more they accomplish, the more one hates them.

Please people.  Settle down.  Toss this striving for vibrancy.  Let's be ordinary and sit still.

While you're at it, toss awesome, too.  All that reverence wasted on praising the latest new this and new that.  What are you going to say when you visit Chartres if you've used up your awesome allotment for life?

But wait, there's worse.   As the Awesome Meter shows, we now have in common parlance the really tiresome word, meh, which means something a bit worse than "it bores me."  There's a condescension in it, as if to say This [thing, idea, entertainment option] does not move me at all.  It is dead to me, what is wrong with you, why did you drag it in here?  It implies that something is - not vibrant.

Well, this is what happens when you wander too long on the internet.  So I think I'll just go read a book.  You know, one of those things with a whole lot of pieces of paper . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Spirit of Silence

Reading this excerpt from Thich Nhat Hahn's The Miracle of Mindfulness, I found myself calmed by it.  So I thought I would post a link to it for you.  The words below came forward to me.
For those who are just beginning to practice, it is best to maintain a spirit of silence throughout the day. That doesn't mean that on the day of mindfulness, you shouldn't speak at all. You can talk, you can even go ahead and sing, but if you talk or sing, do it in complete mindfulness of what you are saying or singing, and keep talking and singing to a minimum. Naturally, it is possible to sing and practice mindfulness at the same time, just as long as one is conscious of the fact that one is singing and aware of what one is singing. 
On my first retreats I realized forcefully that keeping silence was a great relief to me.  That was connected to my sense of responsibility to others rather than myself, and to my anxiety.  Those insights were important, but the teaching was in the sense of laying down a heavy burden.

You can call it awareness or "a day of mindfulness" or "keeping the Sabbath holy."  What it is, is a gift to yourself.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is Wrong With Everyone

In my experience - and I am just one little case study - American medicine has it all wrong, much like American Zen.  In both cases, they're really good at some things but miss the big picture.  In the case of Western medicine, it's been preoccupied with fixing people and only now starting to think about how to be healthy.

For big-picture medicine, turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda or, I suspect, many other native healing systems.  It is the gift of what we call primitive people that they don't think in terms of the laboratory or the gold-standard study* as Western science does.
*The gold-standard study in medicine can be defined as a study that follows specific protocol,  indicates correlations and possibilities, and concludes by saying more study is needed.
What is that big picture? Context. We are not isolated individuals. We live in environments.

You sometimes saw contextual medicine in action in the TV series House.  Dr. House was a radical misfit who valued his intuition and often sent his team out to search someone's house for toxins and secrets.  He watched family interactions and quizzed family for information. All that stuff was more interesting to him, and the viewing audience, than lab results.

Our context right here now is Weather. It is actually everyone's context, no matter how much time you spend indoors.  Here in mid-America it is high summer - mid-August - and this brings about different problems than mid-winter, which is happening right now in Australia where my sister lives.  (In mid-winter in Australia you actually have to use your space heater!) And there sure is a lot of weather, drought here, flooding there, as if some climate change is happening.

Weather affects people differently depending on their constitutions.  Both TCM and Ayurveda see human beings as made of elements. And so the elements affect them.

In Ayurveda I clock in as a Vata-Pitta, or air-fire person.  The fire in my temperament is easily disturbed.  And oh, August, season of too much ripeness, as you know if you grow tomatoes or zucchini.  August is Too Much. It's not just the heat or humidity, it's the light.  Lately here we've been getting a little relief with small batches of autumn days down from the North Pole or Canada.

Canadian air is nice.  It is fresh and coolish and breezy. But uh-oh, wind is really not good for Vatas, who are made mostly of air. In Chinese medicine there is actually a disorder called "wind devil."  I relate to that.  To prevent it, we are advised to cover the head and neck, that is, wear what my mother called a babushka. This makes you look like an old lady even if you're only 12, not that I care, as I am 71 11/12 years old.  If I did care I could get a special hat.  They even come in Desert Sunrise. It's a thought.

I notice a lot of fire people looking haggard these days, running around in the heat and the noonday sun. So this post is a sort of public service announcement.  If you don't know whether you're air, fire, or earth, Banyan Botanicals has a little test you can take that may indicate more study is needed. They will also sell you various oils and things, which are helpful to me me (I am not paid for this).

They will also advise you on your diet, since you are composed, in part, of what you eat and drink.  Bear in mind that alcohol is sometimes called firewater.  Yes, it is a heating food.  My own diet at the moment includes nothing hot and spicy, no raw onion or garlic, more cucumber and peppermint tea. I have tested this empirically. It is interesting to me that these ancient folk traditions see mood disorders as an imbalance of fire.  Worth investigating, since Western medicine is notoriously poor at managing them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lapcat Meditation

Like so many people, I have felt a current of sadness braiding through my day about the death of Robin Williams, which may have been suicide.  We've probably all known someone who committed suicide. The true saying is, It's a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Despair does lift eventually, if you stick around.
Scott [Robinson] Columbus 
Tonight my mind went to a friend who did not kill himself, but died of a massive heart attack at age 49 at a moment when he was in love and loving life.  Just like that.

Scott was in meditation groups with me about ten or twelve years ago.  Like many people with difficult moodswings, he searched for a spiritual practice.  He called me once to talk about his difficulty with sitting meditation. Sitting meditation can be the wrong thing for someone with major depression.  Today I would suggest listening to, becoming, and making music, letting it move your body, being music, but I didn't know that then.  Scott loved his cat, Bartholowmeow.  So I suggested lapcat meditation.  He knew immediately what I meant.

I found myself doing it tonight with Tashi.  I don't hold her on my lap as much as I'd like to because I'm dreadfully allergic to her.  But once in a while she requests it by tentatively coming up on the table or my lap and putting a paw on my shoulder.  She is always polite, looks to see what I think.  I usually let her come up, and then get her down from shoulder to lap.  Later I will take off the clothes she touched and put them in the dryer on air for half an hour, or just wash them.  Also wash face and hands, and do a nasal rinse.  Love is complicated.

We had a very pleasant sit tonight, her on my lap with one hand supporting her underneath and the other stroking her.  The kitchen was getting dim in the twilight, no TV or radio on, the windows closed, only the sound of a train at the Cooke Road crossing.  After a bit I realized I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing in my hands. When I paid closer attention I detected the pulse of her heart as it took the oxygen from her lungs and infused it into her blood, then sent that blood out to the body.

Once during our thirteen years with Sherlock he happened to lie against me in such a way that I felt vividly the entire action of his little heart, all that fast, muscular pumping. It had the effect of filling me with awe at the intricacy of this living thing. So did his death, years later, also on my lap. Rest in peace, loved ones.