Protecting an Open Heart

People in my past have tried to characterize me as “too sensitive”. Hmm. What is the alternative here? Insensitive. Obtuse. Unaware. In a fog. Or, horror of horrors, thick-skinned. Life is too precious to be covered in callouses. 

In this spirit, please enjoy this lovely story I came across in Yoga Journal:

Protecting an Open Heart.

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Because I have to..

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes I do!”

“No…”

“But if I don’t…”

Then what? Really? This little interchange takes place at least once a week upon waking up – between yours truly and the observant, caring man in my life with a keen ability to pick up on patterns I frequently fail to detect.  In this case, it’s a gnawing itch to get out of bed and MOVE. SWEAT. HUFF. PUFF.  I’ve adhered to this ritual since my teens, thanks in large part to the fabulous Ms. Fonda (what girl wasn’t inspired by the high-cut belted leotard and spiffy legwarmers can-can kicking in an airy Soho-inspired studio?). These were the 80s, after all, when aerobics reigned supreme and carbs were king. Time and wisdom have since led me to joint-friendly yoga and a ‘protein is your friend’ diet since my all or nothing days, but I’m still struggling to let go of this daily workout fix/obsession.

In spite of aching calves (from a recent run in the dark with a feeble flashlight), a full-orchestra symphony performing in my belly (tortilla chips and chocolate for dinner will do that to you), and sea of pillows killing me with comfort, I still felt like launching out of bed (head rush be damned) and going full tilt into yet another workout.  But, thankfully, I paused long enough to pay attention to this very moment, listen to my partner, and really try to answer his question: “what will happen if you don’t work out today? Really?”

1. Slackerdom feelings will creep in (I am an X-genner, after all), but will dissipate within 24 hours (in time for the next workout)

2. Body will relax and rejuvenate, and perform better tomorrow

3. BF will appreciate the calmer, gentler version of me

4. I’ll have saved enough class fee cash for a pair of fuzzy retro legwarmers

>greater than, <less than

Rankings. Top ten. Who wore it better. The best of…

Constant comparison has had a toxic effect on me over the years, and, I suppose, on others as well – especially women. A key component in my path toward taming the monkey mind and finding joy in the moment is recognizing the urge to compare every time it arises, and stopping it in its tracks.

It’s hard though. Scan a magazine rack and half the covers have a ‘top ten’ or ‘best of’ headline. Look between the pages and you find celebrities laid bare trying to look their best with commentary comparing them to another rising star, or worse, to themselves in their ‘better, younger, days’. Flip on the TV and lovelorn hopefuls after the Bachelor’s heart are sharing with the world why they’re prettier, smarter, sexier, than their fellow goldilocked brethren.   Right now as I write, I’m half-watching three tattoo artists being judged for their needle-savvy.  Even my job requires digging for and posting rankings that put the fine state of New Jersey in a glowing light.

Daily reminders in yoga class to “look inward”, and “not compare your practice to others in the room” help a bit, but I confess. One lovely young woman in my morning class at Gratitude Yoga who effortlessly springs from downward dog into handstand with no sign of teetering can sometimes leave all efforts to look within spew outward. But here’s the thing – lately I’ve started paying attention to moments like this when I start to compare, and take a different approach.  Now, I simply admire and appreciate her beautiful practice, her commitment to this way of life, and my own progress in both yoga and understanding myself.  And then I smile the next time my feet slam against the wall with next handstand drill. One day. Just not today 🙂

Thoughts on Joe and Vino

Man I love a bold, bitter mug of fine Joe (Pete’s or Starbucks Italian roast, please) upon waking up. So much, I want it brewed and ready before my head leaves the pillow. And deliver it with a dash of almond milk please.

Come 7 or 8pm, after 8+ hours of hard cube time, a good swirl, swig and swallow from a stemglass of pinot feels about right.

Lately, though, I’ve cut out both pleasures most days (with an occasional slip). Why the abstinence? I mean, most of the ‘expert’ advice I come across tells me that Joe and Vino are both fine in moderation. All just fine, until I try to define moderation. If I compare myself to others (another major trigger sending the monkey mind into overdrive, but more on that in another post), I suppose I’d be considered a moderate Joe and Vino consumer. But in the quest to savor the moment I’m in, I wonder – is there such thing as moderation? Here’s what I’m noticing, and why I’m questioning it:

Breaking up with Joe. First time I tried it, I turned into a human Sleestack (for those of you my age and older, take a brief trip down afterschool TV Land of the Lost memory lane) with a massive headache and high risk of concussion caused by forehead crashing to keyboard. After a few days on ‘Revive’ herbal tea with a slice of lemon, however, I got in the moment. Big time. Actually slept a full 7 hours every night. Focused on one project at a time and managed to keep the number of pages and documents open on my computer screen to fewer than 10. Listened. Really listened to everything everyone said to me without rehearsing my response in my head before they were finished. Yoga felt truer – I wasn’t three asanas ahead. Alas, my relationship with Joe isn’t over. I had a cup this morning, and the monkey mind came roaring back. But that’s ok. I’ll just sum it up to ‘moderation’ and reach for the ‘Revive’ tomorrow instead.

The French love it. And I love France. Everything about it. Especially the carafe of beaujolais on every table with every meal. Beer left my palate after the crazy college kegger days, and my brief experiments with liquor always ended poorly. But wine. J’adore. I’ve enjoyed a glass (or two) a few times a week for the past few decades of life. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a dullness that creeps in after just one glass. I used to love this effect (and I love France!), mistaking it for relaxation, but now I’m not so sure. Whereas coffee sends too many thoughts racing through my head at once, wine takes whatever thoughts are in there and fogs them up.

For now, I’ll just continue observing the effects of both, and cutting back or cutting out altogether when it feels appropriate. Salut!

6 tips for living in the moment

Moving across the country six months ago hasn’t been an easy transition, particularly with an entire network of family and friends still firmly planted in Seattle. Much as I’ve always loved exploring new places (crouching under a tarped food market in the Tonkinese Alps as 5 ft. tall Blue Hmong tribes people hawked live pigs and sturdy plows), every travail ended back at home base – Seattle. So settling in Princeton with no foreseeable return to my beloved moss pad (yes it rains – the myth is real) has been rattling to say the least. My natural monkey mind frequently wants to navigate a jungle of memories, and when it does, WHAM, tears spew forth. So being present and living in the moment is not only desirable, it is ESSENTIAL. My contact lenses need the break!  Here are 6 terrific tips working for me, that I’m happy to share with you:

  1. Take notice of the world around you. A little girl at Small World Cafe in a purple polka dot poufy dress, patent leather mary janes, and perfectly combed hair with sparkly headband staring right at me with a finger jammed up her nose. Ah…the freedom at that age! To pick your nose, stare at others, and wait for papa to deliver your frothy mug of hot chocolate. Moments like this don’t happen unless you stop and obserrve.
  2. Focus on whatever you’re doing. I’m hating side angle pose right now (yogis know what I’m talking about; non-yogis: just picture a perfectly-sane adult trying to make a side angle shape with the body by dropping deep and to the side into a hamstring-screaming bend). Focusing on the experience has helped me appreciate that many wonderful people don’t ever get the opportunity to move this way. Letting my mind wander leaves me in a frustrated state (and on my rear end).
  3. Smile when you wake up. Fake it if you have to. Yeah, it feels a little cheesy, but it works. It really does. Go in front of the mirror after you get out of bed, and smile big. It sets the tone for the day.
  4. Commit random, spontaneous acts of kindness. My friend at work saw a woman with heavy grocery bags and two small children walking perilously along  the shoulder of US Rte. 1 in the dark. She and countless other motorists caught this sight in the rearview mirror. Only she stopped. Opened her door. Opened her heart. And drove the woman and children home to safety. What did you do today?
  5. Minimize activities that dull your awareness of the moment. TV. Web-surfing. Flipping through a check-out stand rag mag. Go for a walk instead. Call a friend and see what they’re up to. Talk to the check-out stand employee.
  6. Be thankful for what is. I’m working hard at this. Every time I think about what I want, I try to immediately replace the thought with what I already have. Here’s an example: I want to make a living freelance writing and teaching yoga. I HAVE a job that gives me daily practice writing (speeches, website updates), and two fabulous studios offering daily classes that work around my schedule. That’s something to be thankful for.

About the monkey mind

40-something, 40-hours a week worker, and well over 40 thoughts racing through my monkey mind at any given moment. Something tells me I’m not unique in this regard. In our ‘connected’ world, it’s getting harder to unplug. My first winter in the Northeast even had me seeking in earnest for fingerless gloves. Yes fingerless. Frozen digits not as important as missing an important text!!

Mercifully, there IS hope. Even I, with a hyperactive disposition embedded in my DNA (read 2nd grade report card comment: “she has ants in her pants”) have made progress over the past year with my quest to tame the mind and savor the moment.

I’ll post my thoughts, other thoughts from experts, your thoughts, and a few totally unrelated items on this blog (yep, links to my past published and unpublished articles in hopes to land a freelance gig, or two, or three!)