Friday, May 31, 2013

Caught Up

Tonight at yoga, the instructor said:  "And, if you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, just thank your mind and gently move past."  And she reminded us that this has been a practice, an exercise for a long long time in human history--this process of swirling about in thinking, and trying to quiet our minds.  I most often think of getting "caught up" as the time when I will be able to sit and quiet myself.  However, it's the constant state of being caught up in snake-eating-tail thinking that most often makes me feel as if I'm not fully on top of my world.

I've been laid to waste by my own thinking this past week, and finally had the opportunity to just laugh at myself (and not in a mean way), let go of the need to "figure things out" (in quotes because, honestly, who ever does?).

From The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera:  "There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment.  And yet it eludes us completely.  All the sadness of life lies in that fact."  I'm inclined to agree.  I have few present moments that cause me much sadness at this point.  If I let my mind move backward in time or try to project forward, there is mourning and there is fear (or a desire to cloyingly attempt to control outcomes) and neither of these states have any bearing on who and where I am at this moment.  Forever catching up.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fearing Differently

Lately I've engaged in a whole slew of conversations with women I love.  These conversations have circled back to a concept I've been tossing around for a bit here:  this idea of reconfiguring, re-evaluating where we are and where we want to head.  The patterns that emerged in all of our thinking have been truly striking.   I think we all do this (re-evaluate) all of the time, in big and small ways.  We formatively assess, we monitor and adjust, and repeat.  However, there also seems to be a time in life when this becomes a more and more "monumental" or "momentous" exercise.  Maybe, just maybe, as we grow older, we are more and more intentional about this practice; age incites a desire and a capability to move closer and closer to living as we truly want to be living--there's less time to continue to "make do."  And we cull and shed as necessary.

And I started thinking about what we embrace and what we fear at different points of our lives, and this quote from a book I finished on the plane a couple of weeks ago struck me:
"I used to believe everything my brother told me, because he was older and I figured he knew more about the world.  But, as it turns out, being a grown-up doesn't mean you're fearless.  It just means you fear different things."  --Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf  (and, no, I'm not recommending the book; it was a fun airplane read, though.)

Fear has interesting adaptations as we age.  It seems to manifest as anxiety more than fear of any concrete "thing" any more.  A friend of mine and I used to joke about "general malaise"--an unidentifiable illness, but a clear sense that we weren't "well."  We used to ask each other, "Is it a general or specific malaise?"  The general malaise was always the more disconcerting, frankly, because we couldn't just "treat" it or find a solution.  And I think this is what makes adult fear such a strange beast to conquer.  We can't identify one thing or event that is causing pain or discomfort, but there is a compendium of symptoms that collide and become anxiety-inducing.  I came down with a cold this weekend, and it was so refreshing to simply say, "yes, indeed, these are the symptoms of a cold, and they will pass in a couple of days, in a predictable manner."  I could acknowledge, control, and ride through this.  Easy-peasy.

And so it goes.  I like my list of things I no longer fear at this age I am, and I'm starting to actually embrace the things I do fear (because there isn't really a choice here).  I do have some fear of life being an endless series of events that lack "woohoo!"  But I also acknowledge that I'm in charge of my own well-being.  I sometimes worry that I'm making choices that move me further and further from what I really want.  But I no longer fear that every decision I make is somehow singular and loaded with great import; I am grateful to realize that not everything happens "for a reason" in life (though, there are times, of course, when this salve would have made certain life events more palatable).  As I write this, I'm becoming aware of the fact that "fear" is not a word I enjoy using.  And a lot of this is because the things I fear most have happened in the past.  I'm not very afraid of my future; I'm more afraid that decisions I've made in my past have led me to a future that isn't what it could have been.  How much of a cliche is that?

There are certain decisions that affect things permanently.  And those?  Those you deal with.  And?  If I'm Pollyanna, I realize that those decisions have allowed other things to happen.  No matter who I am? I realize that those decisions have been made.  And that now is now.  And fear?  Fear is mostly a waste of time (unless you're in a life-threatening situation--then, only then, will it come in handy).   Fear will remind you whether you are to climb a tree or curl into a fetal position if you see a black bear.  It will create the impetus to cut loose people whose insecurities will eat you alive, and to look both ways before you cross the street.  Trust you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Core strength

Tonight's yoga class was punctuated by two teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh.  One resonated soundly with me (to be honest, the chatter in my head was so distracting that I didn't hear the first teaching).  The instructor read aloud a passage that explored the idea of the fleeting nature of emotion, and that in order to recognize that emotion would pass, it was important to get out of our heads, to go to our core.  And, as my intention for the class was, "to clear space," this particular teaching resonated.  I realized that I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to clear space in order to get to my core, and that my last series of musings have been an exploration of this.  What she also shared, was the importance of this being a practice when we are feeling solid, when there are no heavy emotions surrounding us, so that we have an ingrained practice when we are hit by waves.

This, riding on the heals of a new workout regimen that has left most muscles in my mid-section quite sore, made me aware that I had a very physical (albeit metaphorical) reminder / awareness of my core that might help me practice stopping all emotion from bowling me over as I let it swirl around in my head.

How do we cultivate core strength?  I think we begin by clearing the debris that hangs us up in the world of ego.  It's possible, that we continue our practice of asking good questions and not expecting "right" answers.  I think, quite possibly, we do it by thinking less and trusting more.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Honing in on True North

I stopped on my way to work today to write down this quote from Ram Dass:  "We're all just here to exchange notes about our own journey."  And I thought, yes, that's what I'm doing...  I'm offering up notes about my journey in the hopes that they are useful, not as blueprints, but in the spirit of transparency.   And because I love exchanging notes about life.  It's this amazing query with no answers, but lots and lots of theoretical memos.

I've had a bit of a battle with dishonesty and artifice lately, and what I've recognized is that I have very unproductive reactions to these components of human nature.  And I've got some work to do on cultivating my own grace and generosity in situations when I am confronted by particularly overt displays.

In conjunction with this work on my ability to be graceful in the present, is a corresponding quest to consider what my "non-negotiables" for my life are.  Because I'm in a rather unique position, in that I have no responsibilities outside of myself, I have time for these types of musings (for better or worse).

A friend of mine said, "Sometimes your skin just doesn't fit in certain places.  You don't need to apologize for that."  My skin doesn't fit when I inhabit some environs.  I feel the need to try them on so that I can be certain, but I have to acknowledge when and where I am most fully me.  I wrote once, "Look up.  The stars will save you.  They always do."  I don't particularly need saving at this moment, but I realized that stars are non-negotiable (Yes, I know that they are always in existence, but I want to be able to see them).  I've been weighing things: creating If/ then comparisons, considering trade-offs.

For example:
Do I need a Trader Joe's?  Nope.  Do I need seven yoga studios in a one mile radius?  Nope.  Would it be nice to have one?  Yes.  Would I trade good restaurants for a yard of my own?  Yes.  Is it possible for me to live for extended amounts of time without a dog?  No.   Do I really care about dating?  No.  (Great quote from Anna Quindlen:  "It would take quite a man to replace no man at all."  :)  Do I need work that is fueled by passion and desire to make the world a better place?  Yes.  Will I succeed at this work?  Probably not, but it's enough to try.
You get the gist.

Each experience I have, each situation I try on, allows me to hone in just a bit more on what is true north for me.  And each experience also allows me to see, just a little more clearly, that the only person who can determine what is best for me is me.  And I want to forgive myself the digressions because they are what help me find clarity.  Someone else's "dream life" does not have to be mine, and vice versa.  And slowly but surely I'm getting to a place where I can internalize this and operate from that stance.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chaos Theories

"Where chaos beings, classical science stops.  For as long as the world has had physicists inquiring into the laws of nature, it has suffered a special ignorance about disorder in the atmosphere, the turbulent sea, in the fluctuations of wildlife populations, in the oscillations of the heart and the brain.  The irregular side of nature, the discontinuous and erratic side--these have been puzzles to science, or worse, monstrosities."
-From "Chaos" by James Gleick (1987)

I've been thinking about the types of problems we consider worthy of attention and the types of questions we ask (individually and collectively).  I have been noticing that different people ask very different questions about the world (and argue for their limitations in being able to answer these questions--or, on the other hand, argue for the limitations of the questions themselves), and through these questions, we learn a lot about how people view the world.  There are those who deny chaos, who want to control it, and then there are those who want to step in and explore it.

I was reading about Oppenheimer's Los Alamos lab today and the "Theoretical Division" which included a group of physicists and mathematicians (working on questions that were directed toward something I'd rather not think about), BUT, I find this idea of a fully funded, truly valued, "Theoretical Division" to be particularly compelling.  I read about Mitchell Feigenbaum, who had published only one article, but was seen as "real smart," despite the fact that he spent his time walking darkened streets (during his experiment with shifting to a 26-hour day), taking airplane flights to view clouds from different views, and noticing, just noticing.  Where did his wanderings lead?  To places I don't understand:  fractals and bifurcation of something or another.  But the thing is, his wanderings led to something that probably couldn't have been arrived at in a more linear way.  Maybe I'm not quite brilliant enough to have my wanderings lead to such monumental discoveries, but what I know is that I'm sick of asking the same questions.  I'm sick of asking questions and then trying to fit the answers into someone's format for "productive contributions to the field."  And, frankly, I'm sick of interpersonal relations and navigating human egos, and I'm sick to death of my own.  I want new questions, and I want some new ways of exploring.

What if we each created, as a space in our lives, a "Theoretical Division" where we gave ourselves space to consider how clouds form, how they move, how light looks at different times of day, and we gave ourselves space to really notice...and to wonder?  And what if we allowed ourselves to note not only the patterns of our daily lives, but the turbulence, fluctuations, and erratic movements that make up this world?  And what if that helped us recognize how worthy the questions and the noticing is?  And what if that allowed us to expand our view of the world?  And to not feel quite so compelled to make everything linear, quantifiable, and wrought with the burden of one right answer?  And what if there was freedom there?  What if these universal characteristics that allow the study of chaos are only the beginning?