2010 in Review


I started to make a bulleted list of everything that happened this year and realized that was way too much information.  What was important wasn’t the events, it was what happened because of them and where they took me.  I feel like a lot has happened to me this year and it may actually be a while before I realize how it has all impacted me, but for now, here are the ways I’m different today than I was 365 days ago.

1. This year I learned some of the most powerful words in the English language: that’s not my problem. I was still a bit of a doormat last year.  Certainly far less of one than I had been in previous years: it’s been a long, slow process that has actually taken about three or four years, I think.  This year, I’m very much NOT a doormat.  I blame, if that’s the right word, karate.  I’ve been taking karate for just over a year now and I directly attribute what I’ve learned there, both for my body as well as my mind, to my increased inner strength.  I just don’t take shit from people anymore, no matter who they are.  I try to reject other people’s shit as politely as possible, and whenever possible try to find a way to work through that shit, but if that’s not possible, oh well.

2. I learned another powerful word this year, which is somewhat related to the ones in #1.  NO. Really, it’s okay to say no.  Do so as nicely as possible, but don’t be afraid to do it.  If it helps, say it like HAL in 2001: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”  This words for a whole lot of situations and people.  This year I said “no” to the media.  It was making me really, really angry to be exposed on a daily basis to the rampant asshattery that goes on every day, not to mention the outright shortsightedness and ignorance of the vast majority of our culture.  It’s hard enough to deal with people’s dumbness just driving from my house to the dojo, I don’t need to add more by reading things that piss me off and I can’t do anything about.

It’s also what enabled me to walk away from henna and housecleaning.  I lost a relatively decent source of extra cash when I ditched the cleaning, but I was happier.  The extra money wasn’t worth feeling resentful and bad about myself because I was cleaning houses instead of doing research like I thought I would be when I was 19.  I realized that at the end of the day, and certainly the end of my life, I would be answerable to absolutely NO ONE but myself.  That set off a mental chain reaction that is still yielding good things for me.

3. Like not caring quite so much what other people may or may not think of me.  I believe it was William Burroughs who basically said that it’s none of your damn business what other people think of you.  And since I don’t think much of people who like to pass that kind of judgment on others anyway, why should I care what those kinds of people think of me?  Again, the inner strength imparted to me by my karate teachings helped a great deal in this endeavor.  The only important question was, “What do YOU think?”

4. Which made me realize, “I think I suck, and that’s a problem.”  I began addressing my life-long self-esteem issues this year.  Issues I didn’t really realize I had until I started examining my behaviors through the lens of love and compassion.  I found myself asking questions like, “Would you treat another person this way?  Why do you treat others better than you treat yourself?  Why do you think so little of yourself?”  I still do not have all of the answers to those questions, but at the very least, I was cultivating awareness of the fact that on many days, I feel like a complete piece of shit.  I know that’s not true, which tells me I have a severe disconnect between my rational self and my emotional self.  Reconciling those two aspects of myself is going to be crucial if I really want to continue to grow as a person and accomplish some of the goals that I have.

5. One of those goals is making sense of my family’s past.  I received what I call the Box of History this year: a box full of more than sixty years of letters between my late grandmother and her best friend.  With very few gaps, I have a nearly complete history of my grandmother’s life from 1940 until her death in 2008.  Which means I have at least some of the answers to very long-standing questions about what happened between various family members and why there was so much estrangement.  I also wrote down my memoirs up until about 2003, when my daughter was born.  It was an amazing thing to plow through my memories the way that I did.  I was in the midst of NaNoWriMo, and after some encouragement from a friend, I started at the beginning, and I did not stop for three days. At the end of that marathon, I had nearly 72,000 words chronicling a good 90-95% of my life from 1971 to 2003.  I was forced to finally admit to myself, “Yes, it really was all that horrible,” after years of my brain’s efforts to play down some of the events of my life and in some sick and twisted way make it all a flaw of my own perceptions.  See #4.

Another family-related catalyizing event was the death of my Wicked Stepfather.  Technically he was my adoptive father, but I refused to acknowledge that intimate of a connection given that he was a drunk, a wife-beater, and a pedophile.  His death, despite our having not talked in some 14-odd years, released a flood of strange and conflicting feelings, as did the fact that he left me a small amount of money, which blew me away.  Only enough to take care of a few things, but enough to make me question the nature of wickedness in people.  I began to think a great deal about the nature of compassion and understanding, and it is during this time that I consider myself to become a “real” Buddhist.  That is, the first time that I really begin to apply its concepts to my life in a practical and useful way, not just in an ethereal, more meditative way.

6. In that course of various family realizations, I began writing again.  Really, really writing.  Writing has been a constant in my life since I learned how to type at the age of 10.  I’ve done so seriously from time to time but never to any kind of fruition or completion.  I’ve kept everything I wrote, though, and all of that combined with what I wrote this year finally comes together into something cohesive and understandable.  All of that writing is ripe and fecund and just waiting to be turned into something else that I have a deep feeling will not only benefit myself but also others.  Hence the birth of this blog.

Many doors closed this year, and just as many opened.  I found myself questioning many things in my life and why they were there, and much in the way that an ancient Greek god could be controlled by merely acknowledging it and uttering its true name, I found many demons dissolving into mist just by being called out by me.  “You there lurking in the shadows, let me see you.”  One by one they stepped forward, and either disappeared or transformed into something positive.  Which is not to say my corners are completely lit and my secret closets empty, but they are much lighter and less crowded than they were.

I’m still processing a lot of what happened this year, and I will be writing about and sharing the Box of History as well as the fruits of NaNoWriMo in bits and pieces, but I feel as though, finally, things are coming together.  I have enough to complete a puzzle I have been working on for many, many years.  Or if not complete it, at least form a picture complete enough to read the story.

The Death of a Passion


I’ve been going through a lot of changes this year, many of which I’m quite sure I’m not even aware of yet and won’t be until I can look back on 2010 with some context and perspective.  Astrologically speaking, this was the end of my Pluto Square, which is one of the top three major life-changing transits that people go through in their lives and correlates to what we refer to as the Midlife Crisis (TM).  I’ve spent a great deal of time for the last two years feeling like I have utterly wasted the first thirty-odd years of my life, mostly because where I am now has absolutely NOT met the expectations that I and others set up for me when I was growing up.  Looking back I realize I was shoehorned into the unenviable position of being that first family member who’s supposed to go to college and make something of themselves and redeem the rest of the family.

*great guffaws of laughter ensue*

Firstly, that’s a cruel thing to do to your children.  Secondly, given the people I grew up around, there’s no way I would ever do anything to make them look better than they were, either purposefully or unconsciously.  So I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to extricate myself from those expectations, and believe me, it was the self-imposed ones that gave me the most trouble.  They had their hooks in good.

During that process, I went through a lot of ruminating about what it is that makes me happy, what it is that I feel is supposed to make me happy, the difference between the two, and how to go about setting my path up properly so that I actually AM happy.  Or at the very least, content.  I often wonder if true happiness isn’t a pipe dream and that the most any of us can hope for is contentment.  But that’s another post.

Oddly, I wound up ditching one of the things that had made me extremely happy for several years: mehndi, the art of applying henna paste to the skin in decorative patterns.  I learned how to do mehndi back in 2000 when a friend of mine had a workshop in which she prepared a massive bowl of henna and then gave everyone little plastic cups, paintbrushes, and toothpicks to draw on themselves with.  I sat down with my cup and my brush and drew a spiral on my left palm.  I carefully left the paste to dry for a few hours, then flaked it off and stared with utter wonder at the entrancing orange stain the green mud had left upon my hand.  That was only the beginning.

Through the magic of chemistry, the dye molecule in henna, lawsone, oxidizes with the air, slowly turning darker and changing color from orange to red to brown over the next 48-72 hours.  Indeed, a mehndi pattern is a living piece of art, for it is different from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.  I spent those two to three days utterly entranced by my hand.  I would find myself just staring at it, marveling at the color and the small details of the palm of my hand that I had heretofore never seen.  Mehndi drew my attention to details of my own body and as such was extremely grounding.  Something I have always needed.

The next Monday after the campout we were all attending, I went to an Indian grocery store as soon as it was open and bought my first box of henna.  Reshma brand, $1.99 for an 8 oz. box.  Possibly some of the crappiest henna available, though I didn’t know it yet.  I also went to BookPeople, Austin’s finest bookstore, to look for books.  I found a copy of Loretta Roome’s “Mehndi”, which to this day is one of the most beautiful books about henna ever published, and is regrettably now out of print.  With that box of powder and that book, a passionate obsession was born.  I spent the next two years deeply engaged in exploring this strange form of body art that almost no one in the West understood beyond knowing that Madonna had some on her hands in her “Frozen” video.

I took a break from mehndi when I got pregnant with my daughter.  The last piece I did before she was born was in honor of her impending arrival.

Obviously since my hands were constantly busy for the next two to three years after Zoe was born, there was zero opportunity to do mehndi.  I doubt I would have wanted to even if I had the time, for I was utterly exhausted and depressed for those first years.  As she got older, though, I slowly had the opportunity to rekindle my art.

In 2006, I found an online community of mehndi artists at The Henna Page, a website run by a woman who probably knows more about henna and mehndi than any other living soul on the planet.  In fact, she has a PhD in henna and its history, which extends back for many thousands of years and predates virtually any other form of body adornment.  Through that community I was exposed to more patterns and techniques, not to mention finally having a group of people with whom I could talk about my art.

The following year, I had the opportunity to attend the Sin City Henna Conference in Las Vegas, which will remain a singularly beautiful week in my memory for as long as I live.  For the first time, I got to watch other people do mehndi.  Up to that point, it had just been me for the previous seven years.  I had been learning and practicing in a vacuum, the bell jar to which was lifted and thrown away when I went to Vegas.  I did very little art that week, but I watched, and it sunk in.  I returned home to find that my abilities as an artist had easily tripled.

I finally felt worthy to do what my friends had been encouraging me to do since I had started seven years before: start a business.

Enter Laksmi Skin Art, later to be Bodhi Body Art.  Laksmi is the Hindu goddess of prosperity, fertility, and abundance.  She is said to live within the designs themselves, which is why Hindu brides and grooms are always decorated with mehndi, so that the blessings of Laksmi will be bestowed upon the newly married couple.  The tradition of wedding mehndi is deep and rich.  Some traditions call for the husband’s name to be hidden in the bride’s designs for him to find on their first night together: he can do nothing more with her until he finds his name (that sounds so fun! and can you get more romantic?).  Mehndi had always been a meditative practice for me as well as an artistic one.  I felt it would be rude to attempt to turn something so sacred into a business without properly honoring Laksmi.

Regrettably, my business never did very well.  I live in a city where mehndi is fairly accepted and there were already several well-entrenched artists here with whom I had to compete.  I also soon discovered that competition is fierce and unfriendly, with a couple of exceptions.  I suffered through being outright ignored by other artists as well as having my art stolen from my website by yet another, who didn’t seem to understand that just because she found it on Google image search didn’t mean it was free for her to take.

Not to mention that I was increasingly battling the growing trend of “black henna”, which isn’t henna at all: it’s concentrated black hair dye (paraphenyldiethylamine, PPD) made into a paste and drawn on the skin in the same sorts of patterns.  It stains almost instantly, lasts for weeks, and happens to be a potent toxin that renders many people highly allergic to just about anything made of certain kinds of plastic.  It also leaves scars in the shape of the original design.  And the unknowing public LOVES it, because it’s fast, easy, cheap, and long-lasting.  Reactions to it happen sometimes weeks after the initial application, and may also happen after using it for a long time without incident.

I also had another mark against me: I’m not Indian.  Now, before someone gets all upset and accuses me of being racist, please understand that’s not where I’m coming from.  The tradition of mehndi as associated with weddings is deeply entrenched in family as well as religion, and I cannot say that if I were an Indian that I would not also want another Indian, preferably a family member, to do mine or my daughter’s wedding mehndi.  That is their sacred tradition, and I am not disparaging that.  I was simply not what that demographic in my city wanted, and the other areas of business were fairly monopolized by the other artists.

Nevertheless, it was a contributor in a whole melange of factors that eventually led to my abandoning my business this year.  The sacred thread that I tried to keep within it was constantly violated by the general selfishness of American capitalism.  People didn’t care one whit about the energy and time that I had put into my art, nor that it was something sacred to me.  They wanted their art done, they wanted it done their way, and they wanted it done cheaply and quickly.  After being repeatedly disrespected, not to mention stolen from on more than one occasion (who steals a Buddha? talk about bad karma!), I abandoned my venture.  The passion had been sucked right out of my art.  I simply did not care about it anymore.  It was too difficult to compete for business, which was increasingly scarce due to the tanking economy, and too difficult to maintain the positivity necessary to keep my chin up.  I was also sick of doing business alongside and competing with the “black henna” artists along with hacks who had no business putting art on people and charging money for it in the first place.

I was glad not to have to worry about the business things anymore.  It was a serious pain in the ass, and I was getting so little return in exchange for what I was putting into it.  Regrettably, I should have killed my business much sooner, because it killed my passion for my art.  And I miss it.  I miss the exciting pull of a bag of freshly made henna cones, just waiting to freshly stain skin with something beautiful.  Part of the problem was (is) that I completely lost perspective of my own art.  Everyone around me oohed and aahed over my designs, positively gushing over how beautiful they were, but I couldn’t see it anymore.  Everything I did looked like ass to my eyes, no matter how much people praised it.  And perhaps most importantly for that reason, I stopped doing mehndi this year.  I was no longer compelled to sit for hours as I once had, just lost in the trancelike mindset I would achieve bent over a hand or a foot.

Ironically, getting really fucking good at my art is part of what changed that dynamic.  When I wasn’t very good, I had to spend hours doing it, and because I wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations except my own, I was able to enjoy the discipline for what it was without judging the outcome.  By telling myself that I needed to be better and faster in order to run a business, I took that away from myself, and if I had realized at the time that’s what I was doing, I never would have started a business.

I haven’t done any mehndi on myself in months.  The last time I did, I was utterly UNcaptivated by my own skin as I had been in the past.  The process of applying the mehndi did not fill me with peace as it once had.  Rather than lovingly caring for the designs as they slowly faded from my skin, I found myself wishing they would hurry up and fade so I wouldn’t have to look at them anymore.

I still wish I knew precisely what happened, and whether or not the passion for my art will ever return.  I do miss it, though I think I miss the state of mind more than anything else.  I didn’t just lose a passion, I lost something sacred.  And I am still looking for it.

Insomnia


I hate insomnia.  It’s one of those perks I get as a woman with bad PMS which is probably bad enough to qualify as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoria disorder: not just irritable at “that time of the month”, downright psychotic on occasion).  Hence the fairly dour tone of my post.  Move along if you’re not in the mood.  I know I’m not.

Actually, I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a child.  I remember asking my mother when I was about six who I needed to write to to add more hours to the day.  Too bad it’s not that easy.  Now, if I could figure out who to write to to just move the Sun about 8 hours, that would be fabulous.  Because I also have delayed sleep phase disorder.  Which is Western medicine‘s fancy term for a night owl who really can’t help it.  Really, I function best on a schedule that lets me go to sleep around 2-3am and get up around 10-11am.  It doesn’t matter if I get those same 8 hours of sleep at another time of day or night, I don’t feel as rested or feel like I have as much useful time during the day.  Such is my life.

Unfortunately, our world doesn’t work on this schedule, and is fairly harsh to anyone who can’t adopt the standard 8-5 routine that our culture and society demands of us.  When I had a child in 2003, it became painfully evident how out of sync I am with the rest of the world.  If you have a baby, every activity you can take the tot to happens at 9am, almost without fail.  Certainly not after lunchtime, when you should be putting your baby down for a nap like a good mama.  I’m sorry, did I drip some sarcasm on your shoes there?  My apologies, let me clean that up.

Buddhism has helped me somewhat in the acceptance department.  I can either bellyache continually about being off sync with the society I was born into, or I can try to accept it and do as much as I can about it myself.  I’d rather not take sleeping pills continually, mostly because, well, I like them too damn much.  I’m also just as likely to wander around my house finding ridiculous projects to work on in an OCD haze under the influence of things like Ambien as I am to do what I’m supposed to do, which is lay down and try to calm myself.  A love of mind-altering chemicals is one of those things I regrettably inherited from my parents and I learned long ago, and blessedly without becoming addicted to anything other than cigarettes, that I should just stay away from certain things.

Besides, long-term, they don’t work.  Not for me anyway.  Not just sleeping pills, but any kind of psychiatric medication.  I suffered from fairly severe postpartum depression after my daughter was born, for about three years.  The last year and a half of that I spent heavily medicated, largely as a result of trying to counteract the various side effects I had from the various drugs.  First it was Zoloft, which did indeed lend some “loft” to my mood and helped me lose some weight, but kept me from sleeping.  It also did nothing to address my anxiety.  Enter Buspar, which is marketed as a “safe” tranquilizer/sedative but which fucked me up far more than any benzodiazepine I had ever taken.  It took me two years to realize that it was the Buspar that prevented me from driving for a year and a half, not the other suspect: Seroquel.

Now, Seroquel is for psychotic manic depressives and schizophrenics/schizotypals.  Why on Earth my idiotic GP decided that was a good antidote to what was bothering me with the Zoloft, I will never know, though I suspect it had a lot to do with Seroquel being a new drug that its maker really wanted the doctors to ferret out to their patients (don’t get me going on the evils of our disease care system, I’ll set your ears on fire).  Seroquel turned me into a zombified eating machine.  Sure, I could sleep, but I was utterly compelled to eat in the evenings.  I literally could not stop myself from going into the kitchen and engaging in the worst kind of munchies possible, switching between sweet and salty until I finally passed out for the evening.  I put on 40 pounds in a month on that horrible stuff.  I’d probably kill myself before taking that drug again.

The worst part?  I lost a year and a half of my life while I was taking Zoloft, Buspar, Seroquel, Ambien, and Valium (the last two tacked on to address lingering anxiety and sleep issues).  A year and a half of my baby’s life.  It’s all a blur that makes me incredibly sad when I think about it too much and I’m really grateful that I was at least taking pictures of that time of her life.  Otherwise, I might not remember a goddamned thing about her from the time she was 18 months old to the time she was 3.  Yay for Western medicine!  *eyeroll*

So, yeah, homegirl’s not too hip on the Western brain meds anymore, not between my own experiences and watching doctors try to treat my mother’s mental illness to no avail.  Hence my deep and abiding interest in Buddhism, Buddhist psychology, mindfulness, meditation, and the other things I’ve taken up in the last three or four years to counteract my lifelong headmeat troubles, which thankfully pale in comparison to those of my parents’.  I still believe that awareness is the most powerful tool available to anyone suffering from mental difficulties (though I certainly don’t condone going off one’s meds without some deep introspection and guidance from a qualified health practitioner, nor do I believe that meds are unnecessary for everyone).  I’ve also come to appreciate the places that my brain will take me when it’s insomniac and too tired for its own good.  It’s almost trancelike in its quality, and if I just follow the meandering path that it’s on, I’ll usually learn something very interesting.

For the other bad spots my life hits from time to time, I’ve learned the value of a good cry and just being with my feelings.

Hey there, anger, how’s it going?  Not well, I can see.  What pissed you off?  Can you fix it?  Work on that tomorrow.  Or just accept that you can’t.  Let’s just sit here and feel how much this sucks for a little while.  And remember, this moment sucks, NOT you.

And when I do that, it doesn’t last nearly as long as it does when I try to put on my bravest face and just pluck through life the way we’re taught we’re supposed to.

See?  Insomnia takes me strange places.  Now it is 3am and I should really go and sit on a pillow and stare at a candle or something until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  Mother Nature will turn my cycle soon enough and I’ll be able to slumber normally.  And think normally.  Mostly.  🙂

My Other Wish List


Yes, it’s that time of year.  Time to go over last year’s list of wishes and desires and goals and see which ones I managed to accomplish and which I didn’t.  Which means it’s also time to make next year’s list of wishes, desires, and goals.  So to somewhat counteract my very material wish list, here’s my list of things I wish for that are much more intangible, but by and large are far more beneficial to me.

1. More positivity. A temper and a tendency towards negativity are probably the most damaging artifacts that I have left from my family and are probably the two things about my personality that I wish I could change the most.  I have a chronic tendency to wear “shit-colored glasses”.  I could be looking at the Taj Mahal and would be able to find fault with it wearing those glasses.  I’m much better at taking them off than I used to be (in fact, I have become able to take them off, thank the gods), but it would be nice to wake up one day to find that not only have I not put them on in some time, I wouldn’t know where to find them if I wanted to.

2. More compassion. This is somewhat related to #1.  If I had more compassion and less rigidity, I wouldn’t find myself angry or irritated so often.  Anger and irritation are the direct result of having my particular expectations violated about the world at that moment.  If I were not so controlling, if I were more accepting of life as it flows, and more compassionate regarding the people and situations that I find anger me, I would be more positive and compassionate automatically.

3. Less judgment. This is definitely related to #1 and 2.  While my judgment is a valuable tool and is what has kept me out of many bad situations, I allow it to define my life sometimes.  It was born of a very well-meaning effort to establish positive goals and negative behavior boundaries I should not cross, so that I would not become an adult like the people who raised me.  Part of creating those goals and boundaries began as simply creating my rules of judgment in opposition to what I knew, which was bad.  Unfortunately, that also meant that I set the bar extremely high, almost impossibly so in some instances.  Which resulted in the exact opposite in me of what I wanted.  I became highly critical of myself, unyieldingly so, and under the subconscious mask of self-hatred, began behaving in precisely the ways I had sought to avoid.  Because one cannot behave lovingly if one hates oneself.  Love and hate are incompatible.  See #4.

4. More loving self-discipline. So many of us, including myself, go about their lives telling ourselves, “We should do this thing,” and sternly set about making ourselves do whatever it is.  And then we wonder why we fail.  It’s because we didn’t put love into the equation.  Why should you make yourself do something?  Beyond all of the “it’s good for you” and related reasons lies the most important reason: because you love yourself and feel that you’re worthy of spending that time and energy to do that thing.  I am terrible at this! Those shit-colored glasses are worn most often when looking at myself in the proverbial mirror.  I am surprised when people tell me how much they like me, or how important I am to them, or when I am told that I was missed.  This is the other part of my personality that I would change in a heartbeat.  I know that I do not view myself in a realistic light, or if I do, it’s in a cold, distant, calculated way.  As though I were a harsh schoolteacher reluctantly acknowledging a student’s good work because they had no other choice.  What the hell?  It is this aspect of myself that baffles me the most, and if I were to cull this list down to just one thing, it would be this one.

5. More meditation. This is very related to #1 and 4.  If I meditated more often, I would have greater insight into the things that help keep negative habits in my life.  Part of me doesn’t want that insight though, doesn’t want to look long and hard into the mirror to see those last few icky bits that I need to get rid of.  That part of me has gotten so hung up on being better than my parents that it’s sometimes unable to face the truth because all it knows how to do with things it doesn’t like is hate itself.  Hate me.  It has become very black-and-white, and that’s just not the way the world works.  I know that meditation is the path to ending that black-and-white viewpoint as well as to viewing my flaws much more objectively, and more importantly, with more love.

I have to make myself do it, though.  And if I were more positive and more loving, I would not have to struggle with myself to make myself to something as simple as sitting still for fifteen minutes.  No wonder I can’t get my own child to be still, I can’t make myself sit still!  I’ve become painfully aware how much children mirror their parents, or more specifically, how my own daughter mirrors my behavior.  And I MUST remember to do this for both the good and the bad.  My daughter is amazing.  I cannot forget that she would not be that way if she did not have good parents.  She is the walking proof that I need to work through #4.  It’s all related.  Nothing is inconsequential, everything is connected.  Likewise, if I want her to grow up without my own fetters, I’m going to have to work on them.

6. More yoga. I feel so good when I do a really good yoga workout.  It’s not about how much physical work I did, it’s about the kind of physical work I did and how well I was able to align myself while I was doing it.  If I did it well, I feel so peaceful, balanced, centered, and calm after 60-75 minutes of yoga, and it stays with me for quite a while.  The more yoga I do, the longer it stays.  And that good feeling helps to stave off most, if not all, of my negative habits.  The anger, the judgment, the irritability, etc.  Why I don’t make myself do more yoga is very definitely related to some of the points above.  Sometimes it’s just because of the vagaries of everyday life.  American life in 2010-11 is very hectic and chaotic.  So much so that I question our culture’s ability to maintain this kind of frenetic pace, but that’s another post.  More often than not, though, I have the time, money, and opportunity, and still I do not go.  I can only presume it’s because I don’t think I’m worth the time (see #4).

7. More karate. I started taking karate about 13 months ago, and goddamn do I love it.  It is the yang to yoga’s yin, for me anyway.  They are completely and totally related insofar as my relationship with my inner body and balance goes.  Karate shows me my strength in a way that yoga absolutely cannot, and it is perhaps the most powerful weapon in my arsenal and war against personal negativity.  Both yoga and karate leave me with a sensation of wow, did I just do THAT? but only karate leaves me with the sensation of goddamn, I just did something really cool.  I did not know how strong I was until someone put a target in front of my fist and said, “Hit it as hard as you can.”  In karate class, I feel like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. And perhaps I need that feeling more than anything else, as a way to drive the other goals, because it is the thing that I do that makes me feel like I can do anything.  I guess this should be #1!  🙂

Empowerment: it’s what’s for breakfast.  Have some for lunch, dinner, and snacks, too.

8. More time with friends.  Like so many, a great deal of my personal interaction occurs via keyboard and monitor.  I would like more face time with my friends.  There’s been more the last year than in previous years, and I would really like to continue that trend.  We all need more sangha, community, and I know some of the best people in the world for creating sangha.

9. More writing. This past year I participated in NaNoWriMo and also started using the website 750 Words.  In the month of November, I wrote about 80,000 words.  @_@  Totally shocked the shit out of myself with that, lemme tellya.  All of it fresh, all of it memories from childhood.  I started at the beginning, and told my whole story up to about the year my daughter was born.  So much has happened both internally and externally since that amazing event that even nearly eight years later, I lack the perspective to objectively write about those years.  That’s all right, I’ll have something to do when I’m an “empty nester”, heh.  In the meantime, at the age of nearly 40, and feeling as though I am on the brink of something big that finally, at long last, ties together the various threads that I have been weaving and dragging around for so many years, I have not just what I wrote this year, but another 120,000 words in the form of memoirs and travelogues with which I can almost certainly wrangle something really beautiful that I would like to share with others.  If I can find the bravery to do so.  This blog is part of finding that.  This is the testing pool.  So far so good.

None of these things addresses why I feel so negatively towards myself sometimes and therefore have not done things things more often, and that will have to be something I contemplate deeply and meditate upon a lot as I progress along my path.

“The problem is choice.” – Neo, Matrix: Reloaded

At some point I made the choice to view myself badly, or the choice was made for me by virtue of the fact that no one around me ever loved themselves, and so therefore that was a lesson that I could not possibly learn.  Not until much, much later, and much, much more slowly.  The adult brain is so much less malleable than a child’s, which is why it’s so goddamned important for us to be raised with love.  But someday I will have to understand that choice, however and by whomever it was made.

And perhaps that is the greater wish that underlies the nine above: to understand the choices that I have made in my life, for better or for worse, whether I made them or they were made for me.

“None of us can see past a choice we do not understand.” – The Oracle, Matrix: Revolutions

A Difficult Morning


I was asleep surprisingly early last night.  Usually I’m up until at least midnight or after, but I was asleep by 11:15.  I drifted off happy with the knowledge I’d get nearly seven hours of sleep.

Mother Nature had other things in mind around 4:30, of course, as did my daughter, who came padding into the bedroom not long after I laid back down.  She’s been having some bad dreams lately, so she comes to get in bed with us.  Unfortunately she’s still extremely wiggly, as are many child sleepers.  So that means one or both of us don’t rest very well after she gets in bed.  Today that was me.  It wasn’t entirely her fault.  I’ve always had a bad case of hamster wheel brain, and it likes to get going as soon as I wake up some days, despite my best efforts.

Dude, you’re awake!  Sweet!  So what was I saying when you so rudely started watching Doctor Who last night?  How many times can you watch that show?  Anyway, there’s a bunch of stuff bothering me I want to talk to you about, and there’s so much to do, and FUCK it’s almost Christmas! And…..

Dude.  We should go back to sleep now.  There’s lots more snoozing time.  We can deal with this shit in a few hours.

But, I’m busy thinking about everything I didn’t think about yesterday and everything I’m supposed to think about today and how can you sleep when there’s so much to be worried about anyway?!

I can’t deal with that crap until I get enough sleep.  Shutup and go to sleep.  Pretty please.  With a fucking cherry on top.

But…but….and don’t you really want a cigarette now?  It’s morning!  You’re supposed to get up and make coffee and smoke now!

*sigh*  We don’t DO that anymore.  We’ve had this discussion.  We’ll keep having it until you get it.  We.do.not.smoke.any.more.

On and on ad nauseum, until I finally got up in frustration, as well as hunger, since my stomach had also woken up and was chiming in by that point.

Dude, you’re up!  Awesome.  Let’s eat!

I’m going to kill both of you.  Wait, that’s me.  Gah!  *tries not to break things*

Welcome to my brain.  This is how I start many days.  Especially since I stopped smoking.  My resilience against irritation is extremely low at the moment, which itself annoys me.  So I’m always annoyed right now.  I bet it’s lots of fun for my family.  Not.  Today, though, I did try to just be accepting of the circumstance, be here now dude, don’t be attached.  My inner Buddhist tries hard to console me in the morning when I am undoubtedly at my worst.  Get up, make tea, begin reading email, Facebook, and so on as I wait for everyone else to wake up.  I probably should have gone to sit on a pillow and stare at a candle instead of a flatscreen monitor, and I’ll try to remember the lesson from the rest of the morning and do that next time I’m up early.  I didn’t, though.

I thought I was in a fine mood until I actually started interacting with my family, when I became incredibly irritated and angry about very small, silly things almost without warning.  Just, BAM!  Then everyone felt bad and I felt stupid and just wanted to smoke even more.  I hate having to apologize to people before 7am, it’s just a bad setup for the rest of the day (though it’s better than just not apologizing at all).  Of course, then I had to figure out why and how the morning took a wrong turn, because I hate starting the day that way and would like to avoid it whenever possible (understanding that everyone has a shitty morning every now and then).

I never classified the addiction of smoking the same way I classified other addictions, like alcoholism.  That is, I never viewed smoking as the kind of “covering up other things” addiction the way drinking or other drug abuse often indicates.  I was quite incorrect.  I’ve discovered a myriad of ways that I was using cigarettes to cope with, avoid, or outright ignore a variety of annoying aspects of my life.  Including not thinking about things that bother me, and not coming up with better ways of dealing with those things.  It also means discovering precisely what annoys me, because every time something annoys me, I want a cigarette.  Sometimes I don’t know I’m annoyed until I discover I’m having a craving.

Fuck, I really want to smoke.  Why?  Because I’m really annoyed.  What’s annoying me?  That doesn’t usually annoy me.

Yes it does. You just usually go smoke instead of dealing with it.

*opens mouth to retort and then shuts it*

This has been an extremely humbling experience, needless to say.  I’m having to STFU an awful lot as I discover new things about myself that somehow got wrapped up in my smoking habit.  I suppose it’s much the same way when any ingrained habit is discarded, whether it’s shopping, smoking, or playing too many video games.  They’re all avoidance techniques to cope with life’s stressors.  Which makes me sound like a fucking rehab manual, I know, but I see that now.  It is what it is.

In this morning’s case, I was having a bad time coping with a chronic lack of sleep, blood sugar that probably hadn’t yet recovered despite eating breakfast, some underlying stress regarding the holidays, money, and family, and only being on day ten of not smoking after having been so on and off for the last 25 years or so.  I should really treat everyone, particularly myself, with a lot more kindness and patience.  That’s a lot to deal with and I forget that because of how I grew up.  I’m used to chronically having too much to deal with all at once and am conditioned to do so without realizing it until I’m cracking at the edges.  Like this morning.

This post probably makes a lot of sense to some people, and absolutely none to others.  However, I’m really tired after only five hours of sleep instead of closer to seven.  I just know I’m really determined to figure out all of my feelings that relate to smoking so that I don’t go back to doing it, so I pretty much just follow my brain around and document what it’s doing.  This was the path it took this morning.  I think it needs more rest, so I think I’ll do that for it.  Then it’s time to plan for Christmas cookies.  🙂

Incongruous


The incongruity is not lost on me that my first public blog post, in a blog at least partly about Buddhism and Buddhist-type things, was a wish list of material things.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of forum discussions on the internet about how Westerners seem to gloss over the teachings regarding non-attachment in their zeal to be enlightened.  The whole point is to discover that you don’t need the thneeds* of our society in order to find enlightenment.  It’s all between your ears waiting to be discovered.  I get that.  I also get that I’m on a path, not a single point.  I’m relatively distant from my destination yet, and I’m willing to bet shedding the less desirable trappings of my Western life is going to take some time as I proceed upon my path.  Small steps.  Getting rid of old habits, bad behaviors, and negative patterns takes time, and I know personally that it can be potentially damaging to do so too quickly.

I recently quit smoking about a week and a half ago.  Long enough for the nicotine to have been finally processed out by my body, but not long enough for my brain receptors to return to normal.  That may take weeks.  This time quitting, I know that, and expect it.  The last time I tried to quit about a year and a half ago, I didn’t expect that, and I tried to change too many habits all at once in a very well-meaning effort to manifest some very broad change in my life.  It was a little bit like learning how to drive and doing really well at low speeds, then suddenly deciding I could drive 80, with predictable results.  I wasn’t just going to quit smoking, I was going to do it in the middle of a fairly intense dietary shift that involved not drinking coffee anymore (a really huge thing all by itself, as any Javacrucian will tell you) not to mention restricting a number of other areas of my diet that had been important to me.  If I could go back, I would point and laugh at my hubris.

The day I tried to quit was devastatingly unpleasant to the point that my husband pointed out that this was far from the goal I had in mind and that trying to do that for much longer would be way more detrimental than getting a pack of smokes and re-evaluating what was turning out to be a disastrous plan.  That’s the polite way to say it.  Really, there was something of a look of desperation on his face as he plaintively asked if I might not want him to go get me some cigarettes since this didn’t seem to be turning out very well.  At all.  By any stretch of the imagination.  Anyone who specializes in helping people quit smoking or any other addictive behavior will tell you that a positive setup is everything.  Without it, you’re doomed.  As I was.

Now, I’m certainly not equating the severity of nicotine withdrawal with trying to be less materialistic, but they can conjure the same feelings, because they’re both addictions.  Addictions have claws.  They like to dig in.  If you want to get free of them, you have to treat them like freaked out cats and slowly pry their claws out of you to minimize damage, preferably with the help of a gloved friend.  At least I needed help anyway.  Not to mention time and patience, and if you can chill out the cat in the process, that’s even better.  Willful dislodging of the offending addiction is so much better than ripping it out.  I don’t know about you, but I’m just whiny and resentful when I’m in pain and am not very likely to get the gist of whatever lesson it is I’m supposed to learn.  More specifically, I would never have been able to quit if I hadn’t engaged in a lot of inner and outer preparation so that when the time came, the lesson would not be lost in the roar of withdrawal.  I didn’t do enough of that the first time, so when I tried to rip the angry cat off me, it really fucking hurt and it didn’t take long for me to give up.

I’m sure the same thing would happen if I suddenly tried to be a teetotaler with Stuff.  Whatever lesson I would be trying to learn would be lost in my feelings of discomfort.  Which tells me I’ll probably never be one of those people who goes off to northern India with nothing but my toothbrush in search of samadhi.  It will take time, patience, and a lot of preparation, and I’m never going to be completely devoid of Stuff.  Even the owner of my favorite yoga studio, which is based in Tibetan Buddhism, has a house.

So I’m trying to do with myself and my Stuff what I did with the cigarettes, which has been largely successful so far.  That starts with a lot of introspection and radical honesty with myself.  Why do I like my Stuff?  Does it serve some purpose?  What are those purposes?  Do I have needs or do I have thneeds?  See, I think a lot of more enlightened folk get upset when Westerners relegate that which is very important to them to the level of being a thneed.  A statue of Buddha purchased so that he will complete the decor of a room is a thneed; a Buddha purchased so that his face helps instill peace inside you is not.  A meditation pillow purchased because it was the most beautiful and the most expensive is a thneed; a plain one that assists you in being more comfortable and therefore more able to reach a heightened state of mind is not.

Maybe someday I’ll be the sort of person who needs nothing more than my yoga mat for doing yoga, meditating, karate, and napping in the Sun at the park.  At the moment, though, I like having Stuff around that helps jolt me out of my usual zombiefied state of complete non-awareness.  A teapot that reminds me to stop for fifteen minutes and enjoy the quiet stillness of preparing, steeping, and drinking a cup of tea.  A pillow that sits in a prominent place that reminds me to sit down and meditate, if only for a few minutes.  Sure, there are probably a couple of thneeds on my list, but they’re the sort of thneeds that give me that jolt, even the pen holder (slow down, write, don’t type).  I’m a fan of anything that helps me remember what I’m supposed to be focusing on, even if it seems incongruous at the moment.

*A ‘thneed’ is a “thing-need”, a Dr. Seuss-ism from his story The Lorax, an almost frightening foreshadowing of our decreasingly vegetal and increasingly concrete, material world.

My Wish List, Let Me Show You It


I haven’t made a holiday wish list in a while, partially because I had become a self-flagellating martyr like so many other mothers.  “Oh no, don’t worry about me!  I’ll simply slave away while everyone else enjoys themselves!”  At some point I realized that was really damaging and said, “Well fuck that noise!” and decided I could and indeed should still be part of the madness that is the American holidays.  On my own terms, of course.  Malls are for desperate sheep who don’t know any better.  Christmas is for having FUN, and if that’s not on my agenda anymore, well then I need to get the hell out of the way.  Presents are part of that fun for me, and I have just as much fun, if not more, opening clumsily handmade gifts that glow with love from my friends as I do opening perfectly wrapped store-bought gifts.  Perhaps more importantly, I have even more fun every year making presents for the people in my life, but that’s another post.  Anyway, in the spirit of reclaiming part of what was fun at the holidays for me, I present my wish list.

1. A zafu/zabuton natural fiber meditation pillow set.  Like this one from the Zafu Store, via Amazon. I have no idea why there is such a wide price discrepancy in what seems to be a very simple set of items, but I’ve seen them from $50 to $120.  O_o  I have many things to sit on at home but nothing that quite affords the same support and comfort as a proper meditation pillow.  Not in my butt’s experience, anyway.  Some even come filled with buckwheat hulls, which is comfortable, but a bit noisier.

2. A combination glasses/smartphone case.  So far I have only found one that fits the bill, from the deliciously evil folks over at Levenger.  At the age of 39, I’m afraid I really must keep my glasses with me at all times as well as my phone.  I’m also perennially clumsy, so only something this stout will likely do unless I want to wind up replacing one or both.

3. A desk holder for my nice pens. This is a sheer luxury item, although it would have the benefit of keeping them where I can see them so I’ll, you know, use them.  I’ve been collecting nice-ish pens for about fifteen years now: I think I have six.

4. A pair of inline skates and appropriate protective gear.  Except for a helmet: I have one of those.  I forgot how much fun roller skating was until I got invited to a kids’ party recently.  Living in a city with a custom-built veloway just for bicycles and skaters makes me want to go out and build high speed.

5. A guitar and lessons.  I’m on the fence over acoustic vs. electric.  I hear the latter is easier than the former, but I’ve never been about doing things the easy way.  What fun is that?  🙂  I enjoy guitar music of both styles, so I figure if I get one and like it, I’ll wind up getting the other eventually.  But if you put a gun to my head and said, “Acoustic or electric, bitch!” I’d probably say acoustic.

6. A small cast iron teapot.  In fact, this one will do nicely.  

7. Japanese incense and incense burners.  Nippon Kodo and Shoyeido are undoubtedly the big daddies in that world.  I’m actually an aficionado of all incense, regardless of origin, but my daughter’s sensitive nose only likes the highly refined aromas of Japan so we try to stick to that.  Or other low-smoke incenses that are joss sticks (i.e. free of the bamboo stick).  No floral scents: for some reason humankind’s attempts to put floral scents into smoke give me headaches.  Woody, spicy and earthy smells, on the other hand, I could breathe all day, such as Shoyeido’s Daily Incense line.  Fruit smells belong on fruit.  If you give me Escential Essences or AIRS, I will beat you with the package.  All of my former bookstore coworkers are dying of laughter right now.

8. Books by Pema Chodron.  In particular, I need Taking The Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears.  I just quit smoking, and have been on the path of Buddhism for a couple of years now.  I know I will need this wisdom if I am to stay on that path and remain smoke-free.  My family medical history makes this non-negotiable.  I would also like a copy of Comfortable With Uncertainty.  Since I am so much the opposite.

9. Almost anything by Shambhala Publications (the new 40th anniversary reprint of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind would be nice).  Their books ooze enlightenment.  I feel happier just looking at them.

10. A Yixing clay teapot. This one, specifically:

It only shows one side, but it’s a classic dragon/phoenix Chinese motif.  Yixing clay comes from a very small and specific area of China which is famous for its purple clay that has been made into these little teapots for centuries.  They are unglazed on the inside and are traditionally only used for a single kind of tea, or even a single variety, and age over time, improving the flavor of the tea.

11. Since everything in my life goes to 11, I’ll end with a list of my favorite places where gift certificates would rock:

World Market
Tao of Tea
Amazon
Dharma Trading Company
Target

And yes of course, if you just happen to be picking up stacks of 36″ flatscreen televisions and feel like dropping one off at my house, feel free.  We certainly won’t refuse.

A hopeful hermit on her journey to enlightenment.

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