20 January 2009

Hippy dippy woo-woo crap

So, I've been doing yoga for a few years now and all yoga practices incorporate meditation in some way. It's my understanding that yoga evolved as a way to get the kinks out of your body so you could meditate without being disturbed by a leg cramp or something. I don't know how true that is ... but for me, anyway, I started doing yoga as a way to get more fit physically. Eventually I started to notice some mental benefits - exercise is always a de-stresser, of course, but yoga in particular puts focus on mental and physical discipline and awareness and integration of the mental/spiritual with physical.

My therapist has been suggesting for a while now that I incorporate regular meditation into my routine as an anxiety management technique. I have an anxiety disorder that I take meds for every day, and I have tranquilizers available for urgent situations, but I'm not content to leave everything to the pharma-psychology to manage itself. Plus I really believe that meds work much better in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. Meditation is one example of a CBT technique that I use but I have many.

Anyway, at my therapist's urging, I gave meditation a shot but was never quite able to work it into my routine - given the choice between sleeping an extra ten minutes and getting up to meditate, sleep always wins. Then recently I was talking with a friend about my mental health stuff (my friend has some similar issues) and my friend mentioned that she meditates on the train in the mornings. And I was immediately like, oh, BINGO! because otherwise the time on the train is wasted - well, I read, but I can't really do anything productive - it's not a long enough journey to get the laptop out and it's too jerky and crowded to be able to physically write anything. The train is sort of the perfect place, because cell phones don't work, there's no internet, no point in getting the laptop out to work, and even though you're in the midst of a crowd literally pressing in on you physically, emotionally you are completely isolated.

So I just shut my eyes and meditate through a couple of stops (or all the way in), and it doesn't matter if I've got a seat or have to stand, and I'm not chanting and I just look like all the other tired commuters. The only time it's really hard is if people are having a conversation nearby that's loud enough for me to hear distinctly - I almost always end up listening to it rather than meditating, but I try to treat those incidents as a challenge and a way to improve my focus rather than just get ANGRY SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU STUPID ASS I DON'T GIVE A FLYING FUCK ABOUT YOUR STUPID LIFE SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP BEFORE I STAB YOU IN THE FACE. Although trying to improve my focus rather than get angry doesn't always work. heh.

I generally focus on the breath - I cannot just clear my mind and blank out, especially on the way to work in the morning, I have to focus on something neutral or else I'll just start making mental to-do lists for the day ahead. Zen koans don't really work for me either. I am not perfect at it by any means - most of the time, thanks to yoga practice, I can sink right into a meditative state, but I'll almost immediately realize that I'm thinking again, at which point I refocus on the breath. I try to just take note of the thoughts as they pass through, just to kind of check in, awareness-wise, but I let them keep on swimming by without picking up a train of thought and riding it to the end. I've worked out a couple of visualizations, too, but I tend to be super-visual no matter what I'm doing.

It's been very helpful for me in a number of ways. For one thing, even though I am trying not to think about anything, I often do end up solving little problems that have been nagging at the back of my mind for a while. For another, I don't have to be afraid of my brain any more. I used to read all the time when physically possible - book on the T, book on ipod for the walk to and from the T, book on ipod for housework and at actual work whenever the level of work was low enough to permit a book on tape. If I was stuck anywhere I couldn't distract myself with a book or TV, I was miserable and started to worry immediately. You know those middle of the night hamster wheel thoughts? I had those all the time, and I just blocked them out as much as possible. I don't know if I'm describing the situation well, but it was pretty uncomfortable.

Somehow with meditating, the worries are no longer what bubble immediately to the forefront of my mind, and it's surprisingly peaceful to be able to sit quietly rather than working myself up into a panic attack within 15 minutes (not quite that bad, but definitely going in that direction.) I enjoy it now, enough that I try to remember to meditate on weekends, too (especially useful if Dave is wearing his cranky pants).

Sorry that was so long. If you don't have a train ride, it might be a little harder to set aside time and space. On weekends I shut myself in one of the bedrooms. If one or more cats is in there with me, that cat will probably want attention, so I try to use that distraction as a way to improve my ability to focus and shut out any disturbances. (Don't really have face-stabbing inclinations with the cats, fortunately.) Sometimes if I'm really wound up while at home I'll light incense and turn on a little water fountain and focus on the scented smoke and the burbling water. I think the key anyway is not to expect too much from yourself and to incorporate it into your daily routine.

Unrelated: fishtank update. So another fish "disappeared", this one immediately after I'd cleaned the tank. Dammit! I think I have been accidentally killing the algae eaters when I vacuum the gravel - they like to hide and I guess I am just vacuuming too enthusiastically or something. I think I may also have found where one of the bodies is lying. Ugh.

12 January 2009

WTF of the day

What is the deal with chamomile tea? Every time I try it I just end up thinking it tastes like hot water which has recently had straw in it. And we have this super-posh chamomile at work too. The CEO is a tea snob and brings in all kinds of loose leaf teas, which is an awesome perk, but even chamomile that's been like lovingly harvested by sixteen year old greek virgins using only the tips of their fingers to gently coax the head of the flower from the stem. It still doesn't taste any better than the powder in the twinings bags.

Anyway. Seppaku tossed me this link. How did I miss this meme until now? I played it over and over until Dave lost his temper, which made me laugh harder.

Annnd now I'm tired. I'm listening to this version of Anne of Green Gables, by one of my favorite Librivox readers. I really like listening to books on my ipod, it makes doing housework almost pleasant. And if the reader is good, it's a slower and richer experience to listen to a book than it is to read.

I read the book many times as a child, and it's quite a bit funnier than I remember. Very sly. On the other hand, there's a lot of honest-to-god treacle in there too. But it's interesting to watch as Montgomery creates characters and sets scenes and to see how the humor works.

11 January 2009

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish

So I keep tropical fish, and it's not something I write about that often because really, how much is there to say? They swim around, sometimes Pip makes a grab for sushi, whatever. Also I am not very good at taking care of them - I'm kind of slack about water changes and definitely not good about changing the carbon filter regularly and the tank gets a lot of sunlight from our windows where it's situated so usually the water is a little cloudy and maybe a little greenish. Just like tornado weather!

And also I do dumb shit like putting fish together which then eat each other. I've got some serpae tetras and they eat the fins of the little neons that are also in there. Every time I tell someone who knows about fish what's going on, they say, "serpaes aren't supposed to nip neons!" No shit, that's why I thought it would be okay to put the two together, but apparently not. The neons are practically finless by this point. Poor guys just roll all over the tank without their stabilizing fins. I should really flush them and but them out of their misery, but I'm not even a good enough fish owner to do that.

And I realize the above makes me sound like a pretty bad pet owner, but I have actually improved. When I first got the fishtank, I was obsessed with the water and everything being sparkling clean, so I would do 100% water changes regularly and would boil the rocks to get the algae and germs off of them. Mysteriously, the fish kept dying, no matter how clean I kept the tank. then I realized that part of the problem was that I was uncontrolled when I added water back to the tank - I used to just dump a bucket's worth in and it would create a little tsunami in the tank and the fish would be dashed against the glass sides of the tank and die of their injuries. Doh. Also a fish-keeping friend came over and was like, whooooaaaa, you have the cleanest tank I've ever seen, I don't think it's healthy for the fish, I think they need more algae and stuff to be able to maintain bacterial life which will in turn keep the pH balance in check.

So now the tank is kind of dirty and I clean it less often. It's grosser to look at but the fish do seem to be lasting longer.

Which brings me to my current topic. If you weren't already disgusted by my tales from the piscine crypt, here comes some more. In order to combat the algae problem, I bought some little algae eaters. I know I brought three of them home but a couple of weeks ago I looked and looked and could only find two. They hide so I kept looking over the next couple of days but could only ever find two. So today I changed the water and even changed the carbon filter, expecting to find a fish skeleton somewhere, but no. I don't know where the hell that third guy went. I guess the tank ate him. Maybe he's under the gravel somewhere and of his bones are coral made. Who the hell knows?

And now that I have metaphorically aired my dirty laundry, it's time to get the clean load out of the dryer and get on with the next load.

10 January 2009


Happy New Year. Uh, ten days in, that is. I'm a teensy bit behind. I like to think of it as being fashionably late.

So I kind of think New Year's Resolutions are bullshit, because they don't seem to work for me. But this year I accidentally seem to have acquired some. Nothing that ambitious - to write more fiction, to meditate more regularly, and to be better about dealing with my mail pile (I totally let it stack up and then end up spending three hours dealing with month's worth of crap.)

so far, so good: I'm meditating on the train on the way into work in the morning, I've been on top of the mail this week and I'm trying to use the time on the way home from work to think about my writing. The ride home from work is harder, though - I get pretty wound up sometimes and just want to relax with a book instead of trying to be creative. It's rewarding when I do manage it, though. Plus I have a couple of writer friends to email with about the writing stuff, so that helps keep me enthusiastic.

We spent Christmas in Santa Fe, visiting my parents, and I took - no shit - about three hundred pictures. Which of course is why I haven't posted any, since the thought of digging through 300 pictures seems like it will be an involved project. Also work has been crazy busy since everyone got back into the office this week.

Not much downtime this weekend, either - Dave and I went out with friends from my work for drinks and dinner last night (if work is dismayingly busy, the upside is really liking the people I work with). We spent this morning doing housework (the cleaner hasn't been since before Christmas and the place is filthy). This afternoon we're going to a rally against Prop 8. I think it will be challenging, since it's outside and it's about 20F here in Boston. Supposed to get another 8 inches or so tonight, which should sit nicely on top of the layer of ice leftover from the last storm last weekend. Remind me why I chose to move back to this climate? Boston would be a much better city if it was at the latitude of, say, LA. Then we're getting takeout and hanging out with friends tonight. Tomorrow morning would normally be yoga but I've got a brunch date with some old friends from high school. Tomorrow afternoon and evening are still free, I think, so I'll probably end up doing really scintillating stuff like laundry and cleaning the fishtank and cooking for the week. And I'd like to work in some yoga at home, too. And then the weekend will be gone and it'll be back to work!