Mental Malware

I spent a lot of time yesterday planning. I love to plan. I take out the calendar, set goals and deadlines, write them down, and usually don’t execute.

This time though, I am going to execute. I have to break this long streak of not finishing.

I found myself talking to myself in the kitchen yesterday.  I was thinking about this fear and risk averse problem of mine and wondering how this became such a meme in my life?

I KNOW where it all started. I know that my misguided and messed-up mother did a lot of damage. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when the virus was implanted in my system.

Knowing that this malware is messing up my program doesn’t stop it from doing so, though.  I wish it did. But it doesn’t.

What would stop it? It needs to be quarantined. But how do I do that? I need a psy-ops team to go into the deep recesses of my psychological system and cordon off this area to keep it from flooding my nervous system with cortisol every time I think of doing something that is going to make me vulnerable to criticism.

How to do that? If I could figure that out, I could get rich. That’s because everyone has bugs in their systems. Toni Packer used to tell me, “As soon as a thing is SEEN, it no longer has to operate.”

In other words, as soon as I realize, and allow myself to feel that sickening feeling right in the moment, that’s the moment the monster is de-fanged.

Just like shining a light under the bed when you think there are monsters under there. Nope. No monsters. Go back to sleep.

But it is really scary to look under the bed when you BELIEVE there could be deadly monsters there.

Darren Hardy talked about “Lack and Attack.” He said that the brain wasn’t designed to make us happy. The brain was designed for survival. So the brain is always scanning for lack: Are we going to run out of food? Is anyone threatening our land?  We are also always scanning for attack: Who is out to get me? Where am I vulnerable?

My childhood was a “lack and attack” playbook. There was always the fear of lack (financially and emotionally) and the fear of attack from a mother who was always angry and frequently violent, first to us, and then when we became older and harder to beat, she would self-destruct in order to control through psychological manipulation.

So how come if I know what’s messing me up, and I know that it’s all safe now, and I no longer believe in  monsters under the bed, why does this stupid virus still freeze my program?

It’s exasperating.

Every morning I go to the studio, and after my posture practice I sit for awhile and “scan for viruses” in my mind. I think this might be a good strategy for vanquishing fear because I am coming to realize that none of it is real: not the really messed up parts of my personality , nor the really good parts either  It’s all just “thoughts,” and as such, just mental activity, brainwaves, inner theater.

It doesn’t become real until I begin acting “as if” it is real.

So I just have to stop acting in that drama, acting afraid.

That’s all.

IMG_1675

Why am I blogging?

When I started this blog I had a clear intention for it. I was going to report on all the things that inspired me in a day.

Inspiration Location.

It didn’t take me long to run dry, and then I had to scrounge around for inspiring things. But even that wasn’t too bad, because I had to look past the obvious; I had to get creative.

Then I hit a bad patch when the fracking started and I was not happy at all. I started writing basically, “What I had for lunch” type posts to avoid writing about how depressed I was.

It was pretty dismal.

The blog and I started to feel inauthentic. So I stopped it.

I tried starting a new blog, one that didn’t have the pressure of being inspiring, but that one didn’t have a focus either, so it languished, then died.

I have just joined Blogging 101 in the hopes that I can refocus this blog. I want to add value to people’s lives through what I write here. I want to hit a nerve, get a kindred response, articulate something about being human that helps someone else feel not so alone.

I want to start a conversation, and join a conversation. I want to talk about yoga, and writing, and meditating, and eating, and developing personal projects.

I want to “show my work” as Austin Kleon says.

Part of my problem is that the title of this blog doesn’t fit it anymore. Or, it might fit if I clarified it, or spun the word “inspiration” so that it meant just the act of breathing in, rather than some pre-cooked meal I was prepared to offer.

This is the challenge in the coming days. I need to figure this out.

Building an amplified community

Today I spent a lot of time on the phone with a yoga teacher, trying to hash out an accurate description of the class she will teach on Wednesdays in March at MSY.

It was an exciting creative process that I was even aware of as it was happening and I actually pulled out of the convo for a moment to comment on how cool it was that we were having this incredible discussion about Tantra, and prana, and introspection and transcendence. It made me want to meet with her more often just to “talk shop.”

It occurred to me that I am really lucky in the people I know, but also know that I make my own luck much of the time.

If there is one thing that is undeniably true about me it is that I need people around me who share my interests and passions.  So my strategy is to try to rope them into my corral.

“Did you ever consider being a yoga teacher?”

“Have you read this book?”

“Do you know about this podcast, this TED talk, this  food, this meditation technique?”

I do this because I need playmates.  I need people around me who are ENGAGED IN SOMETHING. I need the people around me to be living lives that they are passionately stoked about.

The yoga teacher and I hammered out the conceptual framework for her class for March, then I wrote and sent my newsletter, and then I dashed to my meeting with my test group for the book I am writing, and there again I noticed how much I love the people who are attracted to, and love to talk about the same thingsI love to talk about:

What do you love?

What do you not love?

What are you doing?

What do you stand for?

What is amping your vibe at the moment?

These things really MATTER to me. And incredibly, these things matter to these people, too.

Tonight I had this crazy thought: What if I could revolutionize this town? What if I could be the force that starts to dispel the pervasive toxic cloud of apathy and laziness that hangs over this place?

What if I could enliven a critical mass of people, amplify their vibe, until  there would be a felt energy shift in this ‘hood?

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Grappling

Today did not go AT ALL the way I thought it would.

I walked into the gym expecting an hour of sit-ups, pull-ups, squats and other torture at the hands of my handsome and wise trainer, but instead found myself in deep dialogue. Today we worked out together. Today’s workout was to understand and articulate. Today’s workout was to hoist aloft fear and disappointment and failure and look at it. Today we both attempted to  deadlift our body’s weight in vulnerability and empathy.

He challenged, I answered. I challenged, he answered. On and on, over and over, set after set, first high reps and low weight, then high weights and low reps. He daring me to to pick up heavier and heavier things: pain, suffering, happiness, disappointment, despair. Me daring him to watch and deal.

At the end, we were both crouched on the black gym floor, eye to eye, and I held his head in my hands, and offered everything. And took everything.

We had spent an hour and a half grappling the only thing worth grappling: life and its endless conundrums. There was no winner. Winning was never the point. Artistry was. And friendship., And deep abiding respect.

As I left, the cruel, cold February sun flooded the space..

He sat happily spooning gobs of pumpkin pie into his mouth. I floated out humming Boddhisatva by Steely Dan.

A Whimsical Vacation

I woke up in my own bed this morning after a week at the beach, wondering: What is a vacation, really?

Is it breaking the habitual patterns, and living pattern-less for a while?

(I almost wrote: Living a more “natural” pattern.)

Maybe. Let me just explore it here for a bit.

I consider myself very lucky because I get to determine my life’s pattern to an extraordinary degree.

By that I mean that everything I do is something that I like to do, and choose to do. I don’t have distasteful things thrust on me as a result of the vicarious whim of some other being (like a boss or a superior) who may, (misguidedly) think that I ought to do something other than what I like or choose to do. But even the things I like and choose sometimes feel like they OWN me.

I love to teach yoga, for instance, and I have made a deep commitment to teaching yoga in the form of a lease agreement, a website, and ongoing classes.  It’s what I DO and I love it, but it shapes my day in a very particular way.  (I am thinking of this “shaping” the way a jello-mold shapes jello.)

I have made a yoga-shaped dent in this mold and into this dent I pour my time and energy.  There are other things that “dent my mold,” too, things I have made commitments to such as meditation, a writing practice, dog-ownership, house ownership, and a particular geographical location.

All these things shape my days.  For instance, I have to make sure I get to bed at a particular hour every night because I teach an early morning yoga class.  I have to walk my dog, because I have chosen to share my life with a pet.  I have a deep need to shape the floating contents of my brain once a day (at least) so I have a writing practice.  I need a certain period of quiet and introspection each day to insure balance and happiness.  I live in a particular geographical locale that demands adjustments from season to season: snow shoveling and leaf raking and plant watering–to name a few.  So this is the “mold” I have made.  I made it, but it also makes me.

For instance, today I will go to the studio and mop it, and clean mats, and vacuum, not because I necessarily want to do those things, but because I want to practice in a clean, dust-free space in the morning.

For most weeks and months of my year, I operate within this pattern. It makes me and I make it.  But when I go on vacation, I do not have this mold, this pattern.  I float free and fluid.

On vacation, I don’t have a business, or a dog, or students. I don’t have a lawn to mow or plants to water or even reliable food “staples” in the fridge with which to cobble together a dinner, or even a breakfast.  There is no mold, so I am free in a most peculiar and exciting and wondrous way.  “Wondrous” because I am constantly asking: I wonder what I will do today? The whole day is entirely up to me.  I can be completely whimsical.

I love the word “whimsy.”  It’s often used to condemn irresponsible, thoughtless behavior, and adults who are described as “whimsical” are often thought to be childish or wishy-washy, or un-count-on-able.

But that is precisely how I want to feel on vacation.  If I feel like reading all day?  I read all day. If I feel like taking a nap? I take a nap. If I feel like eating ice cream, drinking beer, going for a walk, riding a bike, taking a photograph, dancing to loud music, pounding a half-dozen crabs with a wooden mallet, taking a yoga class, sipping some Perrier, watching people walk the boardwalk, I do it.  There is no pre-set mold I have to conform to.  I have no commitments. I do what I feel like doing in the moment.  I am totally and unabashedly, whimsical.

I learn a lot about myself whenever I take a vacation. (And my vacations are not all of the purely whimsical variety.)

Last year I spent a vacation climbing mountains in Yosemite.  There was very little “whimsy” in that vacation.  There was a lot of planning, and thinking and strategizing.  There was a beginning, a middle, and an end to each hike, (as well as mile-markers), and these hikes required determination, and persistence and sometimes even “gutting-it-out” moments.  And that too, felt like breaking the mold, freeing myself from some pre-determined formula of living.  Each hike had a very definite shape (geographically as well as psychologically) that demanded a commitment.  But it still felt like a true vacation because it smashed to smithereens the usual jello-mold that shapes the majority of my days, weeks and months.

This morning I woke up in my own bed for the first time in a week.  “Yes.  Here is my life,” I thought.  “The cat needs her flea meds today, there is a lot of laundry to do, I need to get to the studio and check on things.”

Today I am starting to pour myself back into my mold, but I can still feel that whimsy in my bones.  My skin is browner and warmer than it was a week ago The range of my eyes have still not adjusted back to the near distances, but are still set to the focal distance of a horizon line where the sea and sky meet.

At the beach, I got everywhere I wanted to go on a pink bicycle.  As I pedaled to yoga class, the juice bar, the beach, I found myself thinking, “I really LIKE who I am at the beach. I LIKE living whimsically.  I like this me who gets up before dawn, who sips coffee watching for the reluctant sun to peek its red head out of the sea, who allows herself to drown for days in a long novel, who dances with complete abandon to throbbing, primal beats in a loud crowded bar all night, then staggers home, wet and dizzy with happiness.

I returned home last night from this vacation wondering if there was any possible way I could keep even a little bit of this whimsy in me as my usual life resumes.

I am wondering if there some way I can protect a little part of me from completely jelling into duty and schedule and responsibility.  I am wondering how to keep some of my “jello” liquid and sloppy and drippy, and not have it harden into the mold of the calendar, the season, and the to-do list.

Body Modification

Last Saturday, which was during 4th of July weekend, G and I went up to Ithaca to have our navels pierced.

Yeah. I know.  It seems weird, and unprovoked, but what the hay. . We had been talking about it for awhile, and were feeling all 4th of July-y and badass, so we decided what better way to celebrate America’s birthday than to submit to voluntary pain.

And let me just say, for the record, we are not”body modification” people.  We don’t have, or want tattoos, though we can appreciate them on others.

For me, just the thought of a tongue piercing gives me the heebs, and I often find myself staring at people with eyebrow, lip, and other facial piercings and not even seeing THEM because I am so transfixed by their “body art.” What??  What did you just say??  Sorry, I was lost in thought wondering how much that must have hurt, and why you would even DO that to yourself.

And because I have to go through regular periodontal work involving lots of shots into the roof of my mouth, sadly, needles have totally lost their allure.

I think the reason we wanted our navels pierced though, is that we thought it would make us look hot as we sat under our beach umbrellas, reading our Kindles, on our upcoming beach vacation.

And also maybe because we felt compelled to do our part to keep up, at least symbolically, with the body modification culture.

I dunno.

But it any case, we figured it would be certainly be a lark, and, for me, make for good blog content, if nothing else.

I once accompanied my friend Zee to a place in Ithaca called the Modification Station when she wanted to have her ears re-pierced and I remembered it as  nice and clean and classy as these places go, so that was our destination.

But when we got there it was closed.   We had girded our loins, (or whatever gets girded for a navel piercing) and were all: Yeah! Let’s do this! Let’s get modified! and then…dark, “Sorry we are closed for the holiday weekend.”

Blah.

We hit up the Farmer’s Market and Macro Mamas for lunch and then decided to stop at the mall and cheer ourselves up with a pedicure.

The mall was dead, so we just sat right down, plopped our feet in hot water while a massage chair kneaded our backs, and submitted to “pampering.”

Pedicure feet

Except this doofus pedicure guy had his head turned 180 degrees and stared at a TV for the first 10 minutes as he acetoned off my old polish. At one point he was dabbing my toe and not even my nail and I had to stop him and say, “Excuse me, but that’s my TOE, not my NAIL you’re rubbing.”

And here is where I go into my mental rant about the need for Linchpins in every sector of society.  I want to give this kid Seth Godin’s, Linchpin, so he will know that THE GAME HAS CHANGED! I want to gently school this kid because he clearly doesn’t get it.

Eventually I start to talk to him, in an effort to wean his attention away from whatever nonsense on TV has him transfixed, and ask him questions about his life, engage him, bring his attention back to me, and my toes, and the job at hand, and off the goddamn TV.

I tell him that I am a yoga teacher, that I work in bare feet. I tell him that people look at my feet all day and if he does a good job, I will tell people where I got my toes done and maybe they will come here, too.

He nods.  But he doesn’t hear, or get ,what I am saying.  I am saying, “Kid, be charming.  You’re cute. If you were charming instead of hating and resenting your life because you are doing mani-pedis at the mall, ladies would be flocking to you, tipping you, recommending you.  You could maybe own this place someday, make it into an mini-empire and then sell it to do something else.  But all this not paying attention is going to chain you to this toe job FOREVER.

But I didn’t school him, of course.  He painted my toes, and even did this flower on my big toes and I tipped him and G and I left the mall, a little bit modifed.

Toe Art

But that kid? He went on to the next pair of feet, totally unchanged.

Doofus Pedicure Guy

You’re the One

So. I would like to start today’s post by noting that I feel awake and alert even though I am not fully rested.  Because even though I got to bed at a reasonable hour (9:15) I wound up reading until almost 10.  That meant that this morning’s 4:30 Zen Birds were not a welcome sound, and even the cat ,meowing and pawing me for breakfast did not wake me.  I just rolled over, turned off the birds (but left the light on) and let the sharp stab of, “Ohmygod, Have I overslept?? rocket me out of bed.

I was better after coffee, of course, and my class always jacks me up, and then when I got home I changed immediately into workout clothes because the other day I read in On Fitness magazine that slow endurance cardio just ain’t gonna cut it if you want to burn fat (which I do.) Turns out you MUST do intervals.

And not only intervals, Killer Intervals.

Intervals that leave you gasping.

On Fitness featured this 40-minute Treadmill Interval Workout that intrigued me.  So, before I sat down and let my tiredness overtake me, I decided to change into workout clothes, drink my juice, and head to the gym and give it a whirl.

I got 3 intervals (out of 12) into it when my engine sputtered, cut out, and died.

Really.  Not a chance.

I am still coughing because I was sucking air so deeply into my lungs so as not to blat, I think I found a new level of alveoli, and they’re still all jumpy and stimulated and going “Whoah!  What was that?  Was that oxygen?  Oxygen has never come WAY DOWN HERE before.  *cough, cough*

So even though I abandoned this killer interval workout from hell, I did persist in a more Disney version that I invented myself: going out at warp speed (8.5) to the edge of death, then ramping back to wimp speed (3.9) to rejoin the living (and some chic on Bravo with a shoe closet the size of my living room. You ever see the stuff on Bravo TV in the morning?  Wo.  Who knew? )

Did that for about 20 minutes, then hit up the rowing machine to regain feeling in my shoulders.

Left the gym soaked, and glowing, and feeling positively TRANSCENDENT.

Why don’t I do this everyday?

This is what people often say as they leave yoga class: Why the hell don’t I get myself on my mat more regularly?  What is wrong with me?

Yeah, seriously. What is wrong with us?  Why don’t we do the things we know will make us feel better/great/fantastic:  Eat right. Sleep more.  Exercise. Meditate. Stretch. Take time for lots of mini-vacations?   Why?

(ooh! ooh! I know! I know! Pick me!)

The answer?  We are obsessed with accumulating the zeros.  Yep.  The zeros.

Let me explain.  (I read this last night in Waysun Liao’s Tao: The Way of God and I’m going to paraphrase wildly here, so stay with.)

The author said to imagine you are worth $1,000,000.  Now, take away the 1.

What are you worth now?  Zip, right?  Yeah.

Here’s what happens. In our zeal to add meaning and purpose to our lives, we tend to ignore the needs of the 1, (the “I”) and focus all our time and energy on accumulating the zeros.  We feel (and are told outright by society and our parents and teachers, etc.) that the 1 is a “given.”  So we taken it for granted.  All that matters is how many zeros we can amass behind that 1: money, college degrees, promotions, cars, houses, trophies, successful business ventures, accomplishments of every stripe.

Somehow we have gotten the message that it is more important to keep busy stacking zeros than it is to nurture and protect the 1.  But if the 1 is gone, what do all the zeros add up to?

Exaaactly.

The author was talking about meditation in this context and his point was that people say they don’t have time to meditate, or take time to be idle, or go on little retreats, or to give themselves nurturing practices like yoga or a good workout, or time off for good behavior because they are so obsessed with cranking out the zeros.  And it’s totally ass-backwards.

But when you are on the brink of death (or just feel you are) like when you come down with the flu or something, and are FORCED to self-care, it’s THEN that you clearly “get it” about the unimportance of the zeros. The zeros don’t mean a thing if there’s no 1 to drag them around.

BUT, if you have a robustly centered and enlightened “ONE” in the front of your parade, you can start amassing those juicy zeros with impunity.

From now on this is how I will justify what I sometimes think of as a very self-indulgent lifestyle: meditating, writing, the doing and teaching of yoga and spending quiet time just staring at trees or sipping a smoothie on the deck.

Yeah. It’s not self-indulgent; it’s just taking care of the 1.

Strawberry Mango Smoothie with potted Lantana