Fever Dream

Wake up from this fever dream,
and set the caged bird free.
I thought I had a dream to live—
But it was someone else’s dream!

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Snippets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace in the Afternoon

To sit and watch the world pass quietly by,
to see people, quiet people, swimming through the sunlight in the afternoon,
glinting and glimmering as they turn,
this is peace.

Detach from your desires, which would cause you pain and make you hide yourself,
and you will see, clearly, the character of the world outside your window.

Give it up—give up your striving, your worries, the idea that it is you, yourself, who is responsible for the way that things must go, who has been burdened with his own fate, and you will see that everything begins to lift up off the ground, starts to shine a little more, and that the blinders you’ve had on the whole time are now gone, and everything has a little bit more light. The way that things are is just fine—actually, it is ideal.

The way that plants shake and dance slowly in the soft wind, the way that hair sways, are the same—
and why should we seek to control one, but let the other go as a sign of natural beauty? Both are governed by the same hidden laws.
Peace is to give up your calamities, in every way, in every form.

Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visualization and Imagination

Recently, I’ve done a little bit of philosophical hedge-trimming, and I found one key concept that gives our lives a sense of magic. It imbues life with a creative spark, and its application is the difference between understanding and ignorance. The ability to use your imagination, to envision a possible object or scenario, is the key to increasing your understanding, and helps lead to a life full of vibrancy and fulfillment. First I want to discuss visualization, the visual form the imagination takes, because it is the easiest example to grasp. Have you ever driven somewhere in a trance, and not even realized you took any turns before you arrived at your destination? Or you’re walking down the street with your head in the clouds, and you nearly run into a telephone pole? You were on autopilot; your eyes were still watching, of course, but your conscious brain wasn’t picking up on any data from the outside world. It was just a movie reel that you weren’t paying attention to. On the other hand, if you are visualizing, if your brain and your imagination are at work deciphering the information that your eyes send, then you’re better off; you’re in it. This is the way that artists see: they focus in on something with a blank mind in order to take it in, absorbing it. When they render the image with their hands, the end result depends (largely) on the way they looked.

The ability to visualize, to create a visual model in your mind, is fully removed from what you see in any given moment. It is not dependent on your eyes at all. At work I have to reach down into a sink full of dishes, where I can’t see anything because of all the suds, and pull the stopper out. Along the way my hand will navigate patches of scaldingly hot water, solid walls of pastry trays, and sharp tong-edges. When I’m digging down there, I’m completely in the dark, and yet I can pull the plug out because I’m able to create a mental image based on the data I’ve gathered by touch.

Picture another example: it’s night time; you wake up after your phone rings and falls off the nightstand with a big THUNK. It probably landed somewhere in the ditch between the dresser and the wall. You reach down, feeling the rough paint of the wall, and crawl your hand around down by the carpet. Here’s a quarter, here there seems to be a dirty, forlorn article of clothing, your phone charger… Aha! You brush up against the smooth plastic of the phone’s side and wrap your fingers around it to pick it up. Here, your hand is like a tiny submarine diving into the depths of the ocean; if there was nobody back at mission control on the surface, none of the data would be collected. You couldn’t have grabbed your phone if your brain wasn’t paying attention. It would just be random feelings, your hand banging around aimlessly in the dark.

In both of these examples, even though you actually had no VISUAL input in your investigation, you used your imagination to build a model of the way that these objects might be arranged. Boom, visualization. What’s more, you were actually using the exact same faculties while you were reading just now—you used your imagination to envision a potential scenario. In your mind’s eye you saw an image of a hand writhing its way around in a hot sink and behind a dusty dresser.

Another one of my favorite examples is from videogames. When you play a puzzle game, you must consciously imagine the next step to take in order to solve the puzzle. Visual imagination at its finest. The better your ability to look ahead, the better your score will be. Simple, no?

But there are other, non-visual ways the imagination acts in your life. You use it when you listen to people in everyday conversation—and again, the more you can utilize it, the better your communication will be. I like to imagine that when two people talk, they have a model or a hologram of a huge castle floating right above their head. This is the idea they wish to convey, in all its complexity. Here are the hallways, nooks and crannies, spiral staircases… they want to share it all. Each word that they utter is a blueprint, part of the floorplan. The one who’s talking verbalizes their idea, handing over the blueprints sheet by sheet, word by word, and then the second person takes them in and starts imagining his own version of the castle, which is his own interpretation of the idea. When people talk in phase this way, they are using their imagination—the ability to create a model of an object that isn’t there—to interpret and craft the conversation, coming to a mutual understanding. When you finish another person’s sentences, it’s because your imagination suddenly filled in the gaps in the idea they were trying to convey. I love this phenomenon, because it points to a shared experience greater than the words we use.

When you go through life without looking where you’re going, without using the imagination, that’s when accidents happen. This is when you pull a mug out of the cupboard and bring out two more, shattering them on the ground. You didn’t realize that the path of one was blocked by the other, because either you didn’t look or you weren’t seeing. You’re talking to your mom, or your significant other, and suddenly they snap: “You never listen to me!” It’s because your mind was in another place, thinking about chores you need to do, or what that person meant in that Facebook comment, or that leftover pizza in the refrigerator which sounds really good right now. He who walks through life without heeding the imagination walks blindly, and is lost indeed.

The imagination is your focus, and without it you are remiss. But aligning and actualizing your imagination yields astonishing results. If you live by it, you will reap the rewards.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mountain Eyes

Let the boy go forth, and when he returns you will see the rolling plains and the green hills, the immensity of the mountains, the vast ocean reflected back in his hazel eyes and the wind in his tousled hair. He will glow with the world.

Posted in All posts, Snippets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rain

I love the rain, and I love the cold. I walked home from work late at night last week, after the storm, and I felt at peace. The wind was blowing cold, carrying wet air from the ocean, and the drizzle came down onto the wet streets. But I was warm—I had my jacket on, and my hat. The weather cooled me off and took some of the steam in my head away.

Storms are nature’s way of renewing itself, sometimes violently. When the gentle rains water the plains of grass, things will open up and grow. And when the trees crash down in gale winds, there is destruction, sure—but it opens up space for new life to grow. And the water impregnates the land, and life will flourish then no matter what else has transpired before.

Earlier that day the mood was somber, but real. They changed the music on the radio in my coffee shop, from the typical rigidity of the same few classical songs. My coworker asked me about feeling numb, whether I had ever just wanted to blot it all out, no matter what the cost. I responded as best I could. “Of course I have. . . but that’s not living.”

During one of many faceless transactions—a peculiar veil descends between two people in customer service—a woman told me she had had a crazy day. A little time passed, the obligatory questions, and I asked why. “I found out a friend of mine died today.”

Jesus Christ.

She was a beautiful girl, the woman said. Six feet tall, and the men just fell all over her. She did good work, worked for a politician, helped other people. Her death was a tragedy; she was cut down in the prime of her life.

I gave her as much sympathy as I could, before she left. “What’s your name?”

She looked me straight in the eye. “Diana.”

It makes sense that California is in a drought. I can’t help but think we’ve done this to ourselves, in a way. Once when I was little my family went to Palm Springs, in order to take a little vacation for ourselves. We drove two hours out of LA, and were there. It hardly seemed like a destination. The desert attitude of the city was magnified, put on display. The garish neon colors of the casinos washed away in the shimmering heat, and the sun beat down. “Be sure to drink plenty of water,” said my mom. I could already feel the heat pulling the moisture out of my lips. Here was a place where people pumped in water from other places to enjoy the same weather day after day, the same scorching sun. Old people liked it, my mom said. It’s easy on their joints.

The very next morning, before any of us were awake, we got a call on the hotel phone. My dad, ever the acrobat, had fallen down into a fake river on a golf course and broken his knee. This was a repeat injury, by the way. We spent the rest of our vacation—the first and final day—looking for an emergency room in strip malls and retirement communities. We found some place which slapped a brace on his leg as a temporary measure, and my mom drove the rest of the way home to seek proper medical treatment.

I think people want the desert, for the most part. They want the same perfect weather, eighty-five or ninety degrees, so they can throw on their bathing suits and dip their flabby bodies into shallow swimming pools, sip on margaritas and act out a weirdly ritualized performance of something which once actually made them happy. People want to come into my coffee shop, order the same drink, say the same words of benefaction, and then leave again. We live in a spiritual desert, where it rarely rains, and we try damn hard to keep it that way.

Last week a friend and I drove on the freeway in the pouring rain. She is a babysitter, and remarked impressed that the five-year-old she watches had personified the drought and the rain. He fancied them opposing forces: rain is the hero, drought is the villain. “Rain good, drought bad.”

I don’t know if it’s all that simple, but I was relieved when the rains came. The second rainy day, another coworker shared her crazy day—she had broken up with her boyfriend, for no apparent reason. Her distress was oddly comforting; it was a reassurance to me, he who constantly searches for sunshine in his relationships.

The contrast is what makes you appreciate the sunny times, after all. Too much and you’ll dry out—the effort of maintaining an optimistic face wears on the soul. But the rain will come again, without fail. Maybe when you’re least expecting it: when the sun is shining bright enough in your own world, when you’ve become accustomed to drought. And when it comes again, the wetness is all-encompassing. The winds and moisture of change may soak you to the bone. For me, it feels good to be reminded of the cold. Walking home on that rainy night I was enamored with the wet air seeping into my lungs, and the night air rolling in from the ocean.

And the next day, when the rain stopped, all that I had left were the clouds, those huge billowing spaceships making their way through the blue atmosphere, a strange reminder that the rain had evaporated again.

Posted in All posts, great | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Strength like a Tiger

Be like a tiger in your strength,
with muscles ever rippling in the sun,
ever aware—every movement, every motion strong,
yet graceful and effortless.
Be like a tiger in the effort that you use—
just enough. Be fierce when it is needed,
and easy where it may, yet ruin not
the simple tasks with overkill and stress,
and shy not away from challenge.

For there will be a time to fight,
when you must flex your muscles, pounce and kill.
And this will take your strength to its limit,
or even over. As well it should.

And you will fail, your strength deplete,
and you will falter and be slain.
And just as well; but if there comes a time to die,
then die well knowing that you gave your all.
Leave no regrets upon this earth.

Be like a tiger in your strength,
who lies fierce even in repose.
Lean not upon your bones and sinews,
grinding them to dust and making yourself decrepit.
The oldest cats, though they grow sick and thin,
maintain themselves with dignity and poise.

Awake to the challenge of this world,
and meet it with your strength.
God made you a tiger,
so put on your tiger’s face.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Years

I am often afraid that the years will leave me.

If I stop pursuing, if I take a break, someone will catch up to me, proving me fraud, and all the capacity that’s come to me over the years will slip away, softly away, until it’s like I never had it at all.

And then I go and do that thing I fear again, and I remember why I started in the first place. I remember all the hours I spent engaged. I remember myself existing in this time, the value of these years.

The years don’t leave, a cooing dove who gently seeks another branch. They stay within you, crystallized. The love you had in time is yours; it’s just as real as first it was, and just as pure. It only takes some recollection.

Yet time goes on, for other people too. I don’t fear moving on anymore, feel it some betrayal to acknowledge all these years all in their rightful place—because others move on too, as must we all. The time gone by is territory charted on a map, and we explorers strive on towards new lands.

The years are you, but they are not what you will be. Let them be, I suppose—self-contained in past, real in momentary recollection. Acknowledge them, and let them go. File them away like library books, then close the door.

But keep in mind they’re yours. They’re jewelry you can wear, a mask to don, a branch whose flowers have stopped blooming, but which has thickened into tree trunk. Ever will you carry the imprint of time in your features, in the lines in your smile, in your walk, in your laugh or in the painful way you look away abashed. Be proud that you have lived your life, like no one else ever could, that you erred and it was you, and that you are your triumphs, too: the days where you soared through your surroundings like an eagle in the glittering sun.

Be proud that you have given yourself shape, as the potter spins his wheel; that you are smooth, rough, round, oblique, obtuse, symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Nobody could have done it better, and for that you’ve earned a pat on the back. Your decisions, your practices, your pain and choices and joy, no matter where they led, are a success because they have made you. Perfect, indescribable you. Indefinable you.

And they continue to. So go on, go on your way, and know that all is well. The path you’re on is yours alone; your story is the years’ to tell.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, great | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Compassion

Sometimes I picture my compassion as a small bubble residing in the stomach, a moist expansive thing which is too cloistered most of the time.

Sometimes my breath makes it bigger, filling up inside me like a hot air balloon.

One day it will grow, leaving the swampy stomach and encompassing my whole body in warmth; or outward more, until it touches all, encompasses all, cradles all.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Snippets | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sea Caves

There are caves hidden within each man,
very deep caves, which have been carved into the stone of his soul
as the water carves when it hits the cliff at shore’s edge.

When the waves roll in they crash through these hidden channels, filling them up with rushing motion.

Sometimes two opposing currents meet in such a way that they send gigantic crashing flumes soaring into the air, in a seeming act of violence which nevertheless is very beautiful.

When two great currents collide in your soul, causing turmoil and even great upwellings, be as the man on the shore, reverently watching these explosions.

Breathe compassion into the darkened tunnels of your soul, and watch, watch gently as the flumes arise, for they would not be so beautiful were they not created by something so deep.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DO IT RIGHT NOW

I’ll cut to the chase: you will never get anything done unless you start doing it right now. This very moment.

Immediately.

I’m serious!

Your intentions, your goals, the things you want to do or think about doing all the time—these are worthless. An idea unexpressed is thin air; it is nothing at all. We measure solely in terms of what has actually been done, and rightfully so. A philosopher who writes none of his ideas down, breathes no life into them on a cold spring morning or tells no one while he rambles on by the fireplace is not a philosopher; he is merely idealistic. Maybe complicated, but ultimately forgettable. Gandhi, Beethoven, or Einstein didn’t go down in history for having the most lofty aspirations or purest intentions—they are renowned for having accomplished great things. Let me say that again: for having actually done great things, not for just having thought about them.

An idea is only as good as the amount of change it brings about in the world. It has value only by virtue of being the first step in the chain of events which produces an action.

In practical terms, this means that all the things you tell yourself you’d probably be good at, and all the things you know you should do, are absolutely worthless on their own. You don’t get brownie points for knowing you should cut your lawn, or knowing you should call your family, that you should exercise without ever doing it. Unless you actually make it happen, then you have done nothing. If my tone sounds harsh, then it’s because I need reminding too!

In fact, each time you’re lying in bed looking at Facebook on your phone, and that little voice comes up in the back of your head— “Go make breakfast!”—and you IGNORE it, you have actually set yourself back a step. An opportunity has arisen, and you have turned a blind eye to it, settling for a path of action that does not reflect on the best of you. We become accustomed, over time and accumulated practice, to ignoring our own conscience. Next time that voice comes up, you are even less likely to heed its direction. “Well, all I do is lounge around all day anyways. Why trouble with making a meal?” Bad call! What are you going to eat instead? A bagel or a donut you can grab and take with you? Some crap to mindlessly stuff in your face? Get outta here! When you end up going to the vending machine on your coffee break, just know that the moment you decided making healthy food for yourself was unimportant, you effectively made a worse decision. Because now, at 2pm, looking back on what you ate at 10am and what you could’ve eaten at 8am, you now have a donut in your stomach instead of eggs and vegetables.

But there is a plus side to all this. Just like saying “no” gets easier and easier, so does saying “yes.” We are bombarded by our conscience at all times, and either you feel overwhelmed and defer it— “Oh, I’ll get around to it later”—or you accept that this is the guiding force in your life, and you make a pledge to listen, no matter the cost. And as soon as you get some momentum going, it gets a lot easier to accept this mandate. These things build, because you are really practicing the skill of saying “yes.” The only time you can do that—the only time you can turn a thought into an action—is the instant an idea strikes you, in a “right now” type of moment.

If you’re in a good space, when that little bit of resistance to a healthy idea comes up, you’re more likely to realize that it holds no power over you. “I should get out of bed… but I’m so tired. Maybe I’ll get a cup of coffee.” If you’re in the habit of caving in to your rationalizations, this could be enough to do you in. But if you’ve been good, you know you can just go to bed earlier tonight, and you will think differently. “Well, that’s ok. Even though I’m tired right now, I know I’ll get energized as soon as the day gets underway. Let’s get going!”

It’s really a black-and-white decision making process. All the grey area is purely mental, and it’s absolutely worthless. In the eyes of history, in the world of reality, either you will do something or you won’t. Simple as that.

We search for excuses, too, but they are just more ideas, insubstantial. Personality traits and predispositions really have no sway in your decision-making process (which we could more aptly call your actualizing process); they have no power over you. As a matter of fact, these traits are built from a thousand individual choices, all made in the moment. We all tell ourselves a certain story, a narrative that stretches out along the course of our lives, which we call the identity. I think it’s a human necessity to want to tell this story, so we might as well make it a good one. Go out there and prove yourself right.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Shakedown

In my dreams, everything falls down around me.
I try to hold it all together, but I can’t, I can’t.
I pick these things back up, but only get props for taking the blame,
for knocking over something clean when it was meant to fall.
I am merely decent at controlling the mistakes I’ve made.

Entropy acts on all levels of the universe,
and this is the reason why I want a clean house,
a blank page, neat handwriting,
folded clothes, a grid with entries neatly penciled in.

God grabs the world like a gigantic sauté pan and shakes.

Soon everything will tumble off the shelves, and
all the food will touch the ground and be inedible, and
all the books will get crinkles in their pages when they land face down, and
the sheets will come off the bed and end up on the floor.
And I’ll wind up there too, spine twisted and broken and limbs splayed all around,
and I will sulk and cry, just another part of the mess.

The tumbling, the disorganization, seems at times the only extant law,
and yet we work and toil,  and rush to pick things up
when it is evident they’ll only fall again.

But this is not life! to end up part of someone else’s messy room.
We stick together like muscle fibers, tendons latching on and building, building.
We strive and fight and hurt, and blithely stand against the blowing wind.
We strive for clarity and permanence, the things which make us feel as if we’ve left a mark;
the things that make us feel beautiful and loved.

We crave a kinder word, a softer cheek,
the pleasure of another’s touch,
where in one second we stand alone united, upright, eternal,

against

the

shakedown.

To look at you, and know that this is something real,
when you look back, and then you slowly smile—
when life for me is but a house of falling cards,
a sandcastle with us inside,
where sandy rivers start to trickle from the ceiling,
and outside, all is earthquakes—
This is to know that there are things which last, and rise above the disarray;
these memories that sublimate to heaven
are things that you and I will never lose.

When nothing feels solid, and I don’t know what to do,
I can regain myself and focus,
for I have found a home in you.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Circles

A spinning box of rainbow rosepetals,
swirling behind eyelids black with night—
emotions folding inward, inward,
like tired ghosts joining the collective soul.

Downsize your dramas—mould like clay,
until you are dense, refined and lovely,
perfect in impenetrability.

These are my little beauties: packing, merging, chiseling away.
The things which get left out,
the things which aren’t there,
have presence too. They add.

My methodology is compression.
Damming. Smoothing. Calming.
Torrential rains which would sweep away slow down;
they fall softly; rippling, run; dripping, stop; are still.

We need not ride out the sunbursts of the soul as they loop fiery into space.
Contain, contain—in unity lies peace.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meditations

December is meditation month! Once per day, err day.

I decided to write about each session as well, to give me extra incentive to do it for the full month. The following are my journal entries based around meditation, loose thoughts which appear to come together sometimes. Edited after the fact, a little bit, for the sake of clarity and context.

December 1st

A burning desire within. The Fountainhead plays a huge part in who I am—I think “Oh, I am this way, I am that, and who knows the reason why.” But that’s not true. Through a different perspective, after stepping back, I can see the things which have shaped me, like  traveller who, after traversing bleak canyons full of thorns and gullies, comes to a high plain and looks back on where he has been, tracing his path. The same thing with piano. Austin has helped push me towards classical, where before I thought it was an arbitrary choice. And I have to admit it’s because of a stubbornness, because I have a desire to prove myself as superior, to expose his and other people’s supposed loves and hobbies as mere facades. I am better—here, watch me do it and I will prove it to you.

Are you ready to die for your passion? Are you ready to grind yourself down to the bone, facing hunger and exhaustion and weakness and cold in its pursuit? Howard Roark is. His will is harder than diamonds; it is the least bendable material in the world. I have seen this in myself in the past; I called it self-destructiveness. It can be. I thought this impulse was foolishness, the opposite of Zen—yet now I find myself, while ignoring that impulse, continually compromised. Drinking—coffee, constantly. Alcohol, more often. Sheerly out of convenience, acquiescence. I would not go far out of my way to bring these things into my life, and yet here they are, brought to me by outside forces or Freudian wishes.

On one end of the spectrum is sloth, on the other madness. The end result of both is death. The end result—of everything—is death. Why worry about which route you take to get there?

December 2nd
Before:

Must keep this brief. I’ll probably want to go to bed very soon. Not understanding what people want, because I’m conditioned to give them the most generous thing of mine.

When that homeless guy asked for the refill, and I didn’t know what to do—you can hold your ground! Same thing happened with Paul. People don’t always expect you to bend over backward as the only way to get what they want. They’re prepared to pay for it!! I’ll find better words for this later.

(Still haven’t found them.)

Another interesting thing struck me today, which was that I was reading The Fountainhead and playing the same exact piano pieces—simultaneously—both in 9th grade as I am now.

Have things changed? I like to think that things are more stable now, my understanding more complete. The realizations which come to me are more because of my own doing; my skills are my own instead of the consequence of set and setting. But is this really true? Who knows!

(I definitely have a tendency to do things twice. To revisit what I once have done, complete it, master it. Re-reading books, playing through old videogames until they’re 100%. The book I’m reading and the piece I’m working on [Fantasie Impromptu] are both revisitations—what’s more, doing them both at the same time is a revisiting of a specific period of my life!)

After:

Clarity. Awareness of all parts.

In unity lies peace. (part of a poem finally fell into place)

Very tingly meditation session. All sorts of pins and needles as I recalled coming to my breath in my dreams. Tibetan dream yoga!! Whaaaaaaattt!!!!!!

Focusing on circulation to the feet. Broader thoughts: scanning the body with awareness. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Time to read. Pleasantry, then sleep.

December 3rd

Difficult time gaining my focus. What helped again—contain, contain. My little visualization.

There’s only so much time in the day. Don’t skimp yourself by being careless, engaging in careless practice. Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus is man’s natural state.

(Looking back, this is especially pertinent in playing piano. We want to get the satisfaction of performing things we already know. Learning new parts is frustrating and slow, but it’s essential. Don’t worry about it. Just take it one note at a time.)

I am recognizing more and more instances of when I want to hide in things. Don’t do it. It’s never worth it.

Feeling a little frustrated right now, but I’m not sure why. Possibly expectations about the future—that’s a big one for me. I hate this pen, too. My wrist is sore. Oh well. I know it will pass. All moods are transitory, clouds passing in front of the sun, and they will blow away if you bring your understanding back to the present moment.

Release yourself from expectations. Dwell in the tranquility of the present moment.

December 4th

Before:

The goal is love. Everything else is egotistical—it’s empty of true meaning. “I can do this.” Well congratu-fucking-lations. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

Starting with yourself. First priority when I got home today. Water. Eating. STRETCHING! Take care of yourself. How you treat yourself = how you treat your reality. This includes other people. Thoughts, phrases, words, the image of others when they are far away, and their physicality when they get close to you.

I arrived at this conclusion logically (as opposed to empirically). But I know I’ve been there before. Why not again? What else is there?? Only love.

After:

It just turned into a stretching session. God, I love stretching. I keep coming back to it. Yoga.

I had an interesting thought—I thought of sex, and recalled that I seemed to know what it felt like before I had even had sex personally! Mindblowing!

There are memories coded into us; an eternity of them. The collective unconscious, reaching back through eons of evolution. We have the experience of being a fish crawling out of the water, of being dry in a desert, of hunger, of wanting to hunt for food in the forest. Of being sharp and ready to kill. I fully believe in this idea. The memories are just locked away, and we repress the impulses that would unlock them, replacing them with societal conventions. Altered States shit. (If you haven’t watched it already, then watch it. Phenomenal.)

I am the living embodiment of a divine lineage spanning all creation. This thought gave me the tinglies like nobody’s business!

Speaking of thought… it was very hard (as usual) to attain focus. I may try meditating twice per day.

Bringing love to your pain, especially while STRETCHING. Alleviating. Is love merely the absence of pain? ….Nah, but that’s part of it. And now, I am tired. “It is tired.” . . . .

December 5th

Before: Tired, but I must press on. There’s a choice to be made, right now.

If I had stayed in bed—dehydration, no writing or meditation; I would have broken my streak. Not today. Those are my practices, this the will which leads me towards health, vibrancy and fulfillment. I will not waver, because I already am this person, and I can’t not be.

There are healthy and unhealthy paths splitting off in front of me. It’s a pretty clear distinction. My job is the one thing holding me back. It’s time to “break these cuffs.” Coffee or no coffee. The life of struggle and overworking—because we make an arbitrary choice to—vs. the natural life.

THESE are my passions. This is what I do, what I am. Writing blurbs for Trader Joe’s? Whole foods? I can do that! They can’t write like me! They aren’t as devoted or fiery as I am. Their words aren’t as stunning. (Looking back this seems a little ridiculous. But for real, the writing that gets passed off as “professional” these days is inane.)

Jesus, my body hurts. Headache, dehydration, immune system compromised. But I will not fall. Here I am.

After: Oblivion edging in. Very tired. Meditation in the morning tomorrow.

Yes. I will become that person—the best possible version of myself.
Less thinking of writing while meditating.

(It’s also worth noting that, for whatever reason, I fell really sick after writing that night. Insane body aches! Headache for days, a fever which lasted probably 3 hours or so before it broke in the middle of the night. Surprisingly clear dreams, though. I woke up at 5:30am to eat pie and drink as much milk as possible. That helped. But work the next day felt like shit. My back still aches and my eyes squeeze every time I look upward.)

December 6th

Nice pen. . . .

Thinking of images of people who gave me gratitude and helped me out through an otherwise thoroughly mediocre day. That nurse. . . . ! She’s got to be one of the most genuine people I’ve laid eyes on. My nurse.

Truly horrendous body aches from whatever it is I reacted to. I hate getting sick; can’t help but blame myself. The circumstances are always the same, too: always after exercise, after masturbating, very public places like the pool or yoga studio, exposure to the elements. Except I think caffeine played a part in it this time as well.

Oh well. Even though it’s easy to get mad at myself, you have to move on. Back to sleep. Me-time. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

(People have a weird idea of what it is to get sick. They place blame on bugs or viruses. Every time I’ve gotten sick in the last two years the process has been exactly the same. I don’t think it’s viruses seizing hold of me—there are germs everywhere. We are constantly bombarded by them. It’s your immune system, your body which is the deciding factor. And I know exactly what suppresses my immune system. Exhaustion, spending all my energy, not eating enough, and very public places. This time the cold weather and too much caffeine added. It’s not any one thing you can pinpoint—“a head cold,” “the flu,” “sinus cold”—it’s a cocktail of symptoms, a reaction your body has based off of a bunch of different stressors impacting your health. *shrug* And yet if I know what these triggers are for me, can I really not hold myself accountable? It’s hard….)

December 7th

Missed a day… I tried to do a little bit when I got home, but didn’t commit to it. Then I was like “I’ll focus on my breath as I fall asleep.” Nope…

Even though I skipped a day the benefits still carried. Despite feeling awful I worked through a super busy closing shift. “What can you do? You do the best you can.”

December 8th

Made a point to wake up early and get my ass to a free CrossFit class with my friend Ben. Soooo glad I went through with it. My malaise is gone. Worked it out, I guess.

I’ve started to build again. From the bottom of the stomach, I can feel myself filling back up. I got flashes of the feeling of limitless, scary potential I hadn’t really seen since summer. If I’m mad at myself, it’s for denying the verity of that potential, and discounting the effect of doing the things which you thought yourself incapable of doing.

December 9th

Living from your center.

December 12th

I have been meditating, but not writing. Not meditating as I should. Not with as much focus as I’d like. Hard to please myself. . . but that’s the struggle, after all. Let it go.

I feel like there’s been a key element of my life missing, and if I could recapture it, just a hint—just to catch the scent like a bloodhound—I would be back at it. The question is: am I willing to make sacrifices in order to catch that element again? The answer has got to be yes.

Right now: restlessness. I have a lot of energy, just based on cycles, which I have been replenishing ever since falling ill over the weekend.

Melanie comes back tonight, and she’ll be here for the whole course of winter break. Yay 🙂

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kayak

Paddle through the breaking waves.
All is broken blue;
shattered water, strewn clouds above.

Pierce the final crest; you’re in the clear. You glide.

The pull of the sea, the pull outwards.
Keep paddling—left, right. You’ll make it to the promised land, where the sun lights up the water on the horizon like electricity.

The sound of cars fades away. The shore gets further.
With a shock, you hear the quiet.
The water pulsates undisturbedly, hills of undulating pillows lifted by great swells.

Drifting. The soft dip, dip of the oars. The rhythmic slap of the water against the hull.
Your stomach lurches; here everything is flow, wind and water and sky, and you slide across the top of an immense fishbowl. You are the only thing making noise.

Quiet seabirds gather on a clump of kelp. Investigate.
You could integrate into this system, were you not afraid.
But the birds sense it, and they fly off.

Brief thoughts of monsters beneath. In the looking glass of the sea: the imagination.
You could make it out of land’s sight, make it to the middle; make this isolation absolute, merge.
But you have a paddle, and this will end.

kayak

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wear

The clothes you love are not the newest, the shiny dresses all in vogue.
Your favorite clothes have stood the test of time—they’re worn ragged, they are frayed. They’re no longer here. They get thrown away.

My clothes are mostly old. My shoes are cracked, the soles show through. My backpack has a slowly growing hole. It opened at the corner which bore the brunt of sharp edges—softly, patiently.

My love is wear, a loving, willful atrophy. Even though I don’t remind you every day, I’m there: a presence, a memory, a paternal ghost.

I love you just enough to let you go. Enough to let you move away, to slowly, sweetly lose your mind, and lose your ability to walk, and when you say how nice it would be if I came to visit you before you died, I say of course I will, of course.

I care enough to gloss it over; my distance is a sign of cherishment. I will step back and watch with sorrow as time goes to work on you, frays and wears you out, and makes you soft and smooth and kind.

I will let you be, and soon you will be thrown away.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oblivion and Understanding

In the beginning, we are given an impulse towards life, sent off like spinning tops with an initial velocity and rotation. Like tops, the paths that we carve out through space and time are largely determined by the initial force which sets us in motion. We move along in gyroscopic equilibrium, wobbling here and there, riding out the cyclical disturbances which arise in our life due to imbalances in that first impulse, until our rotational momentum is no longer enough to keep us upright against the forces of friction and decay in the universe and we finally backspin and sputter out, meeting our end.

Our lives are dominated and characterized by motion; we are just along for the ride. Time goes on and our bodies keep respirating. We breathe and digest even if we don’t think about it. By and large, we go on living whether we want to or not. We are shackled to existence, yoked to it like an ox and plow.

Every now and then, this fact becomes overbearing. When the pain of existence seems too great to bear, we strive to shut it out. We seek oblivion.

There is nothing so sweet as the deepest sleep: no dreams, no worries, no disturbances. . . . You just shut your eyes and everything goes away, at least for a little bit. You are just conscious enough to savor your unconsciousness. This is as close as we come to experiencing death in our daily lives. When you crave the void as a respite from the pain of life, when you push out the world at large tingling and buzzing around you, you are seeking erasure. You crave annihilation. Nothingness. Oblivion.

But eventually you wake up again. Shit. Well, if blotting yourself out doesn’t work, you might turn towards certain substances which make time go by a little faster than normal, or otherwise distort your experience. If you can’t erase the world around you, at least you can forget about it for awhile. Have a beer, take a load off. Have another; get blackout drunk if you want to. If you can’t remember last night, then—in a sense—you have succeeded. The only problem is that, unless you die, you will eventually come back to reality. The world starts to slowly bleed back in. And it always will, for you are alive.

You are alive, and you will continue to be alive whether you like it or not. Death is the only alternative, and death is out of the question, since we can’t perceive it. Our life, our existence, is made up of our perceptions and our awareness. Death is the state where there is no awareness, nothing to perceive. Although we crave oblivion, we are in fact chasing a fantasy, for it is diametrically opposed to us. Death is unattainable, the lifestyle leading towards death untenable. How can you experience death, be alive in death? The notion is contradictory.

You are aware, alive, full of light and understanding, and you will continue to be until the very end. You have been imbued with the undeniable spark of life, a top set off spinning in some direction by the hand of God. Like it or not, that’s the way things are. It’s foolish to try to deny the effects that reality and motion have on you, for they are intrinsic to our existence, part and parcel. Any efforts in this vein are temporary at best. You’re only deceiving yourself!

The call to life cannot be denied. It is constant. It comes knocking at your eyelids each morning, the most insistent postman ever. It even sings to you while you sleep: a cool breeze blows through your window, and its faint sensory melody weaves itself into your dreams.

These are my three dichotomies: death and life, oblivion and awareness, ignorance and understanding. They run parallel to each other. The first is a purely physical state: a human being is either alive or dead. Existence on this level is an “atoms-in-the-void” type deal. The lightswitch is either on or off. Oblivion and awareness come into play when we infuse the physical state of life (or death) with a human awareness. This is a human’s subjective perception of reality, which exists inside of the physical state. We want oblivion, the opposite of awareness, but we can’t have it, since to have something we must be aware of it.

The third level couples the state of awareness with a human intent. These are the action items. Confronted with the fact that life is inescapable, one has two choices: ignorance or understanding. The difference lies in consent. Are you willing to accept your place in the world? We may either attempt to understand this role or try to ignore it. When we move toward oblivion (which is a fallacy), ignorance is the resultant state of being. We ignore the verity of ourselves existing in the world, the palpable electricity and excitement continuously pulling on our souls.

Our existence is damning in this way. However, if we embrace the realization that life goes on happening whether we are present or not, then we enter into the realm of the understanding. Opportunities for love appear where there seemed to be none before. Awareness moves outside of the reluctant self, the child who is immersed in a swimming pool but won’t admit that he is wet. And as the awareness encounters new things to chew on and integrate, it grows.

Learning yields an insight that lifts an individual towards godliness. Cherish this process! It is the human understanding in action. This is the answer: to dedicate ourselves towards a life of understanding.

I realized this under the influence of mushrooms earlier in the year. I had no idea what to do with myself as soon as the drugs kicked in. I was tired from working in the morning, and it was like two beasts were fighting a battle for control inside of me. I wanted to lay down and sleep, but I also wanted to shout out and exalt the trees which danced with my soul. I lagged behind the rest of the group as we weaved our way through the forest, then sprinted ahead in a tunnel of warp-speed color and exhilaration.

We came to a clearing and I laid down on my back, closing my eyes for a second. I tried to shut it all out, yet within my breast beat the insistent urge to live, to make sense, and it would not be denied. I struggled with the dirty feeling that my entire life had simply been a product of misdirected energy. I sat up and my eyes opened once again.

I voiced to my friends: “What do you think the purpose of existence is? We’re out here. We’re living this, we’re doing it.” All of my soul-wrenching questions about “the point of it all” coalesced into something more substantial, a ghost shimmering on the edge of tangibility.

It’s hovering around me, I thought. It’s close. I looked at the sun falling lower in the sky, tracing its way down to the ocean. I felt the prickles from the wild grass and weeds I was sitting on. I felt around my body again: tired eyes, quickly beating heart, sore muscles, a stomach which had ridden a roller coaster for the last three hours.

My gaze came to rest on a wildflower, a weed of some kind. I examined it from arm’s length, then plucked it to bring it closer. I noted its structure, the thorns on the stalk, the individual petals and stamens, and I visualized how all the parts would fit together, how it would reproduce and fall apart again. I understood it. That was the key I sought to the charge that I couldn’t deny: fiery, passionate application of the understanding towards all things.

The search for existential meaning is constant. Man looks for some substance to quantify his existence and set it along a linear path, hoping to make it easier. This is inevitable. And this is where our understanding comes in—for if we are to conduct this search for meaning in any seriousness, or handle the damning sentence of existence we’ve been given, we cannot limit our understanding, the process of contemplating and digesting our place in the world. Love lies in the understanding, in the attempt to comprehend—love is the acceptance of this process, the eternal movement away from ignorance and oblivion into the realms of cosmic understanding.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What is lost?

What is lost?
When you are five minutes late, and your friend didn’t mind waiting;
When you rush somewhere and in doing so forget about where you already are;
When the place you were going to ends up not mattering anyway?

Nothing is lost. Nothing really.

When I want to slow myself down, I ask: “What is lost?”
When I bike somewhere with only the destination in mind, and I see a lone man looking out over the harbor on top of the dusty cement underneath the afternoon sun, and I pine for that experience, being him then, I slow down. What is lost? I can find my own vista if I want, savor my own experience. Nothing is lost. I breathe a little deeper, feel and see a little more acutely. Here are my legs and arms moving the bike along, and straight ahead of me the road and the rest of the world continually comes into focus, then passes by kaleidoscopically. This perspective is your own; take a look around. Nothing is lost.

When you bear down, narrowing your focus to a single point, and cultivate obsession, what is lost?
Simple: everything else.
In the effort to hold on, to NOT lose, the world has spun you by.
…Sorry.

And if you’ve come this far, sacrificed so much in the effort to hold on, then you might as well keep it up, right?

Well… what is lost? What happens if you look up right now?
The world teems with potential. Each violet flower shining iridescent in the sun is a morsel of beauty, ready to be gobbled up, and each one is more delicious than the last. The loosely swaying tree boughs dance in the wind for you, if you are patient enough to stay and watch. The leaves shimmer and turn like a school of fish, forming a single softly undulating entity. The stucco walls of the houses you pass by are battlefields where light and darkness clash, microscopic boulderfields.
…You don’t see these things if you are thinking about television. They get lost.

The clouds move. Not as fast as humans, most of the time, but they do. Even the big cumulus clouds perched way up high by the sunset have a slow syrupy movement like nothing else you’ve seen before. Then the fog moves along too, of course, and contrails diffuse and eventually disappear. The world is full of subtle fluctuations; it takes a trained eye to see them all. The stars move, too–they trace time-lapse arcs in the sky over the course of the night. I’ve never laid out that long, though. I’ve never seen them change.

I suppose you could watch bamboo grow if you were patient. Over the span of an entire day the tops could grow out of your reach. You could watch an acorn become a sapling, then a big ole tree–but only if you were very, very patient. Imagine that a monk came to the tree every morning and gladly shouted “My, tree! Look how you’ve grown!!” In time, it would be a giant. After years of watching its growth every day, he would see it in each stage, after so much love, devotion, attention. And then we ask, what is lost?

Or how about what is GAINED? Maybe a friend, a shelter, a reprieve. Imagine his delight finding a baby squirrel born of the family who lives up in the tree’s branches, in watching all the branches spread out and take up their own space, in knowing the birds who nest there by name.

When I ask “What is lost?” I never actually expect to answer it. It seems pointless to fill up your mind with potential things that you could lose, and then despair as you watch them all pass silently away in your imagination. I ask myself what is lost because I find it puts me in the habit of gaining things.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Balance

Balance has been occupying my thoughts recently, both the physical act of balancing and balance as a metaphor.

Balance is stability, awareness, and controlled movement during chaos. We think “Oh, how I should love to live a balanced life.” Eat a balanced diet, find balance in your pursuits. If you had that, all else would fall into place. We seek routine and homeostasis, a life without turbulence.

But balance–that is, equilibrium–in fact exists ONLY because of the forces which act upon you. You will never know balance if you don’t feel the disturbances that they cause. You only perceive balance, your center, as you are falling off balance or coming back into it. Balance is the skill set that you employ when imbalance comes along.

What is more balanced: a lump of inert matter, or a flamingo standing on one leg? A fat man lying down or an acrobat up on a highwire? Of course it is the acrobat. He is more masterful, in control of the impulses which threaten to shake him off at any moment. A rock lying on the ground is a system which has reached kinetic equilibrium, but there is no agency as compared to the tightrope walker. A rock on the ground is not a demonstration of the principle of balance. It is simply the absence of imbalance, a lifeless system where all the potential for change has been shaken out.

They say that emotions exist along a spectrum, that the highest joy is merely the reverse of the most painful sorrow. And if we cultivate awareness and gratitude, we can appreciate it all. A life without emotional peaks and valleys isn’t balanced, it’s just flat. In this respect, everything is truly a blessing, both the good and the bad. Something tips you, and you return to center. Finding equilibrium in the midst of all the emotions and forces which act upon you, push you towards mania or depression, elation, love, anger, hatred, melancholy–that’s balance. Maintain your center, the seat of your appreciation and your love, and be grateful when a disturbance comes your way and acts upon you, because it’s really just a reminder that you have to regain your balance.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Snippets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Travellers

To be human is to be hungry. Our life, just like our metabolism, is a perpetual cycle driven by temporary satisfaction. We are born hungry. We find food, and the body digests it, giving enough energy to continue searching for another meal. Just enough to keep the cycle going. Eat so that you may be hungry.

So we are imbued with this divine life force, this metabolism that keeps us relentlessly living, and the question arises: Why? I have tried to maximize the RPM of this cycle, burning and burning, adding purer fuel to live faster and more efficiently. But it’s still just movement for movement’s sake. Is it not wasted if we don’t move toward anything?

In a sense, the life purpose of a gas tank is to simply get to the next gas station.

You drive your car to work and home again, frequent the same spots and use the same gas stations, probably the ones closest to your house. With a few interesting exceptions, your car’s entire function is to drive you around in a big circle.

You do the same things day in and out, eat the same meals, do the same exercises, see the same friends, work the same job. The driver of your car isn’t very happy with you–just like how you don’t like thinking about the sad existence of your car’s gas tank.

But of course during a long beautiful road trip you’re not living on the inside of your engine, where the spark plugs fire cylinders in endless repetition, slowly burning through the dwindling supply of gasoline. You’re looking out the window at the hills, smelling the ocean air and feeling the wind in your hair, or getting out to hike a trail or climb a mountain while your car sits patiently in the parking lot.

Your body’s the vehicle, after all, and once all these trips are done and gone the memory remains, pristine and fresh in the mind’s eye.

Do these memories brighten up your spirit when you recollect them on the daily commute? Is that all they’re good for–a temporary escape? Do you look on the photos you took with an intense longing and loathe the fact that you’re here, and not there?

I guess it’s a good reminder, in the most positive light, that you are a man who can go on trips, who has the power to plan and execute, and put himself in a foreign setting where he can learn something new.

I feel this way about the high times of the spirit, that consciousness which drives your body. Remember those times where you were in full gratitude of the moment. Recall that love, and go forth so that you may abide again under the soft light of the country stars. Or even visit a new place each time—feel a different kind of love, a new shade of melancholy streaming through grey raindropped windows, a new warmth radiating off the hot rocks under your back, a new scent of satisfaction rolling off the ocean over the waves.

We are all travellers. I think that’s what it boils down to.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged | Leave a comment

Imaginary Distance

Distance isn’t what it used to be.

When I was in grade school, living in Alameda, we went on a field trip. It couldn’t have been more than a half-hour drive. One of the chaperones told us that in the era of horse-drawn carriages people would take vacations up to the Berkeley hills. It would take them a whole day to get there, and they would stay for a WEEK. The journey was too far; travelers wanted to take full advantage of their time.

But this isn’t the case anymore. Commuters spend an hour in the car and they end up fifty miles away, and don’t think twice about it. It’s just the norm. These days, distance is a mental phenomenon, since physical distance has been trumped by bikes, cars, airplanes. With about 36 hours of determination, you can be nearly anywhere else in the world, provided you have the money. Instead, people put distance between themselves mentally. Don’t come over here, I don’t want you here. You can work across the street from somebody, but since you fell out you’ve both altered your routines so as to not see each other, hopefully not even think about each other.

You may even be right next to someone, but they are worlds away.

Posted in Snippets | Leave a comment

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I read some excerpts that resonated with me last night: 

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.”

“Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we’re paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.”

pages 204, 210-211

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

may i

Everything is falling out. Pages in my sketchbook. No more lines or boundaries. But that doesn’t bother me. Eventually I will learn.

The month is May. If I ever want to see how many days my streak has lasted, I’ll just remember “n + 1.” Here, “n” is the date. But this motto, this notation, is useful in other ways. No matter where you’re at, no matter the quantity you’ve amassed, you must move on to the next number in the sequence. REached one hundred? Great. Next comes 101. One billion? You’re not done counting yet; keep going.

How do you find God?

Right now I keep telling myself to bring everything back home. Why such a strong dislike of facebook? Of compulsive thinking? You’re channelling all your energy into something far away, very much removed from your daily life. The best statuses won’t help you in any way, shape or form to improve your present situation and move you forward. They will only augment your facebook reality. None of the energy is being channeled into the real world, the realm of consequence. Instead, you build castles in the sky.

Keep the important things close inside; if you let them out they’ll fly away in the form of intentions and empty promises. Don’t say it, live it. “Don’t talk about it, be about it!” Don’t give them a life of their own by verbalizing them; make them YOUR life.

If I divert all of my energy, emotions, and thoughts into the virtual world, then that’s where I’ll stay. Give it all outlet in the present.

Intent is truly a killer. There’s no faster way to orphan something than by intending to do it. That’s what happened to me at the physical therapist’s office. I intended to do it, make myself a career path that I could be proud telling others about, and that’s exactly what happened. I thought about it happening so much, told people my intentions, facebooked it, bam, done. Check that one off the list. And now, never again.

That’s fine in some ways because I’ll admit I didn’t like it so much. Very stifling atmosphere. Hot and cloistered, full of an artificial cordiality. Lame!! How are you supposed to learn anything there? Giving old people tiny exercises. Catching glimpses of geezers’ balls. Boredom. Even had I continued going, would it have been worth it, to learn how to subtly express myself in spite of a timid atmosphere? I feel like I want something more. (Although to be honest it doesn’t sound so bad putting it that way.)

Intent is worthless. You will uncover the true course of action as it unfolds, and only by acting. Not by pledging allegiance to an imaginary ideal. Live not in imaginary worlds; bring it back home.

Highlining taught me so much, and once again, it taught me by the mechanism of progressive action. Want to walk on this highline? Then walk. Don’t get caught up in how much you WANT to walk it, how much you intend to; just take a step. Then take another step. Then try to take one more. As soon as you commit to starting on the line, you’ll find that it’s no different than being committed later on. In the middle or at the end. Take another step. Add one. Soon you begin to realize that these steps on the line aren’t so different from the steps you took during preparation, tying on your leash and harness. They’re not so different from the steps you took to hike up to the highline location. The time on the line passes the same way as the time you spent rigging. There is no change in mindset from when you’re getting ready to when you’re going. You don’t get more serious—there’s no difference between “Now I’m GOING to do it” and “Now I’m DOING it.” In reality, you were always doing it; you’ve been walking that path to put you on that line for a year now. Bring it back home. This is just another step. You were always doing it.

You are always doing it. Committed, gazing intently at the horizon; striving for balance, taking one more step. Here I am. n + 1.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Skeletons

Sometimes when I get too caught up with the weighty beauty of the physical world, becoming breathless, enamored, enraptured, I envision everyone around me as an animated skeleton. I strip away all their flesh and picture a gangly lattice of bones and cartilage walking around. Here is one skeleton on the climbing wall, spine curved and bunched up like a monkey. Neck arched, teeth slightly ajar. Here is a skeleton bouncing around enthusiastically on a motorcycle, helmet and all. Here is another one eating, expressing itself most vigorously between mouthfuls of Thai food, jabbering away, jaw chattering with quivering speed. These mental images are absolutely hilarious to me. Those comical masks, skulls laid bare in candid detail, always get me. It’s like they just told the punchline to a joke, and are waiting for your reaction.

Only when we pile on little curves of flesh like sculptors do things get serious. Move three pounds of fat from point A to point B and you have completely remade someone. The aesthetics are totally different. The underlying frame takes on blushing beauty when we layer additional shapes on top of it. You’re attracted to someone’s muscles and fat, to their skin and substance. The thicker the better, in this case.

Maybe one day, when the skeletons stop doing the trick, I’ll have to abstract further and envision the central nervous system, an alien brain and wispy nerve endings floating around like a jellyfish, or whipping its tendrils around in spasmodic action. That’s not as funny, though. I prefer to keep it on the human-but-not-too-human level. Give me my skeletons any day.

Posted in All posts, great, Snippets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

smd

Time marches inexorably on, and soon I will die.

What are the most satisfying things you do in a given day? That first stretch when you wake up? Eating? Taking a shit? Going back to sleep again? I’m here to tell you that none of those things are worth a damn, that they’re all merely hormonal responses which you don’t control, designed to perpetuate the morally ambiguous cycle of your existence. What’s more: as soon as some dopamine rolls your way you’re likely to glut yourself, overdosing on that tantalizing thing that brought it around in the first place until it’s dead to you. No satisfaction sticks around… nothing lasts. You make no real progress in the things which are purportedly “important” to you; to match the initial satisfaction you must go higher, further, deeper, faster, with greater expertise and intensity. The things which satiate us begin to consume. They demand our focus and will not be denied.

So what are we to do? Will careful observation and knowledge of our personalities and desires help? Meditation and asceticism seem to promise that the way to reach satisfaction is to deny it. Perhaps, if nothing satisfies, then we may achieve satisfaction by pursuing nothing-ness on its own. Eschewing major sources means we can see beauty in the ugly and mundane. If we form a tight enough seal against overstimulation, will smaller things do the trick? If you board up all the windows in a room, the dim fingers of light reaching through the slats may seem brighter. But will your vision fully adjust? Can you ever expect to see in the dark?

Who knows. It’s a quandary for sure. Let’s look to the other side of the road. We could gobble up every new smartphone with increasing zeal, cultivate an absurdly popular facebook page, buy an expensive house. Get money, fuck bitches. I’ve seen people go off the deep end in either direction. The addicts seem tragic, victims of uncontrollable inner demons that forcibly control the course of their action. The other party just seems like a bunch of tools.

Any other options? Perhaps if you keep it real, stay true to honest expression every second of every day. Maybe travel the world. Maybe you’ll find what you seek overlooking a mountainous landscape, in the crevasses of the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe it’s a giant squid. Maybe it’s more elusive. Maybe you can find it in the eyes of the most interesting girl you’ve ever met, in Germany. (This is Germany—Germany—Germany—Germany—Germany.) If all goes well, you will give off the impression of having found it to everybody you know, then die an early and mysterious death, leaving them all wondering where the hell you went. Maybe if you do enough of the right drugs you will find it. Maybe if you lose your mind.

I am never satisfied. I don’t know if I will ever change. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt it, and more often than not it goes and fucks things up afterwards by the sheer dint of how much better it was than everything else. My school project of original poetry in ninth grade. Hugging my mother, letting all that resistance go. Realizing she “liked me back” at the tender age of twelve (whatever that entailed, anyways). The best win I’ve ever had in a videogame (which, for that matter, was the best win I’ve ever had period.)

But all those things passed away, all those rare sterling moments of bliss, leaving me where I was at before, or worse off. Despite having had those experiences, despite holding onto it like a snowflake for shimmering seconds at a time, I can’t even really say I’m any better for it. Just more experienced. Just a little older. Every time I’ve gone out looking (and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the search, too), I don’t find it. In the best case scenario I’ll uncover a little proof, just like bones at an archaeological site. Yes, this existed. Yes, I was happy once. So why bother looking at all, when searching doesn’t seem correlated to finding?

Yet I can’t stand idly by. I feel like there’s SOME thing I can be doing, at the very least some form of active waiting to make myself more receptive. I refuse to believe it’s a lost cause. So where do I stand? Nearly two years later now, and on the last page of my journal, who am I? For all my efforts, am I changed? They say that the atoms in your body go through a full replacement every seven years. The neurons which comprise your memories are physically altered and destroyed, leaving the only objective truth of past events as some agreed-upon retelling of the proceedings between you and whoever else was there when it happened. Perhaps if I dedicate {Seven Years}, I may change and be born anew, as a radiant Zen-like individual.

Soon I will go to sleep, and some form of these thoughts will churn around in my head; probably unarticulated, in vague feelings of trepidation and loss in my dreams. The sleep won’t be very satisfying—ZOMG best I’ve ever had!!—but it will pass the time. And in the morning I will wake up one day older, one day closer to death.

peppy

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sea at Westcliff

Every day during my senior year of college I would walk along Westcliff Drive. The first thing that struck me was the view—there’s about a mile of exposed cliff face overlooking the Boardwalk, the beach, and the bay between the lighthouse and the Santa Cruz wharf. On a clear day there’s a skyline; the whitewashed buildings of the wharf are the furthest reach of the city, sprawling out into the azure ocean like a fallen spire. They shimmer milky white, steadfast on a backdrop of sound and movement. Behind them, the rides of the Boardwalk shift like optical illusions, weird geometry which sorts itself out as soon as you fix it in focus. The ferris wheel churns along, the Great Dipper clambers up its metal slope, and after a brief second of silence a soft rushing shriek of excitement floats over the empty space. The Boardwalk I had pondered since childhood, when I was enthralled by the jerky roller coasters and cold water, hypnotized by the ambient crowd noise and curious odors. I revisited quite often in college, once on a cold day after the rain, in the off-season when it was deserted, and I saw the rides empty, the automatons laughing and lights flashing at no one. But after my eye had tired of all this stimulation, I started looking into the empty spots.

First I saw the water change at night. When the waves were at a particular choppiness and everything else was dark, the lights left on in the wharf shops hit the water and scattered across it like stained glass, or an impressionist painting. Different weather conditions amplified or dampened this effect, producing many beautiful variations. During the daytime, depending on fluctuations in current and upwelling too subtle for me to understand, the water was sometimes darker than normal, fully saturated with blue. On other days it was murky and brown. On cold windy days the bay was pockmarked with sailboats—they were really accessories more than anything, the ocean wearing several dozen pearl earrings.

The bay took on its own character to me. The greatest star of all was the life below the surface, which I imagined or observed indirectly. I walked out to the edge of the wharf with my best friend and an ice cream cone to watch the sea lions, who not only barked and quarreled like humans, but turned effortlessly in the water like jet planes. Spring came and the bay exploded with life. On my daily walk home from the bus stop the kelp beds were infested with fish; the water boiled as they jumped and snapped at the surface. Birds swarmed around in the sky, squawking and dive-bombing the hotbeds of activity from above. I learned that humpback whales had even stopped by to capitalize on the abundance, taking up huge mouthfuls of sardines with dramatic lunges out of the water. It was on the news.

One magical afternoon the kelp beds to the west of the lighthouse leaned in real close, like they meant to give the land a kiss. People came to the water’s edge and walked along the path on top of the cliff to watch the ocean. The air was warm and everyone was happy. The kelp beds were a woven tapestry of life itself, a sublime interconnected mesh. Pods of dolphins cruised along the far side of the reef, playing in the breaking waves. The shore was a rare point of tangency, where we on land came out to meet with the myriad other beings who dwell in the water. We had been drawn together by something, the rare convergence of a hundred thousand environmental parameters or a more ineffable will. Whatever did it, there we were—humans, dolphins, seals, dogs, gulls, fish and invertebrates, the balmy wind and rolling waves and whipped cream clouds and pumpkin pie sunset all side-by-side, touching like friendly amoebas, harmonious.

Once I saw a lone man swimming from lighthouse point across the bay to the edge of the wharf, or onwards. I admire his conviction, but that’s not something I would do. The idea of the open water terrifies me—me all alone, swimming on the top of some gigantic bowl, a thousand eyes staring up at my pale flesh from the opaque waters. I love the sea, but it is not my domain. I fear the mercurial temper of sea lions, the open maw of casually feeding whales. The crashing of waves against rocks is a physics equation with positively no concern for my well-being.

So naturally, for as long as I lived there (and especially at night), I harbored suicidal fantasies of throwing myself into that cold water, surrendering my comfortable terrestrial identity to the vast faceless forces that govern the universe, lurking beneath. Though I’d never jump in—not in my right mind, not after dark—I continually imagined immersing myself in that totally alien world. Late at night, with lots on my mind and nobody about, I would walk two blocks from my house to the lighthouse, jump over the railing and venture down to the point where the rocks met the water. I got as close as I could while maintaining a sense of personal safety—touching, but not submerged. The outcrop was full of dry birdshit and the hollow barking of sea lions on a far-off rock. The swells were much closer, portentous and intimidating, and the cold wind came in full-force from unseen places far out to sea. I laid down on the rocks and lost myself looking at the stars. The ocean, with all its coldness, was there for me to ponder when I needed it.

And I suppose that’s the big draw of the ocean: gigantic squid, kraken and sperm whales, one-eyed tentacle beasts yet unknown to science. The unknown is terrifying and captivating at the same time, and that’s why we’re obsessed with it. I love being underwater, holding my breath; it’s a different kind of awareness, because mortality is palpable there. My life is on a timer. You don’t BELONG underwater, just like a shark doesn’t belong on dry land. I took a swimming class that year, maybe due to an unconscious desire to master this alien realm, to exist in the stream of unseen forces shaping life beneath the surface.

Much later, the night before my last class and days before I left Santa Cruz, I tried to revisit Westcliff. I hated my roommates for the summer, random party people who I didn’t want to associate with, and hated myself for being the odd one out. I made scarce, coming and going like a ghost that last week. I felt desperate during those days, with undercurrents of hysteria. They threw one final big party, and I evaporated, trying for a few days of cloudy transience. I bought a pair of toe-shoes for my birthday, went to dinner at a friend’s house, and resolved to walk for the night. Maybe on Westcliff I could find one theme or another to fit my experience.

It was midnight when I left my friend’s house. Fog hung in the air, and the dull glow of streetlights illuminated everything, giving equal orangish light to things both ugly and beautiful. I questioned whether or not I was dreaming, recounting the stream of events in my mind. Back at my house, the party was surely raging; wax, booze, molly. I wanted none of it, though. I was the one who abstained. And there I was, sober at a cost, headed towards Westcliff, checking the neon signs of the old hotel twice to see if the text would change. Recalling the memory now, it’s equally as real as the recollections of dreams. Maybe if the words had shifted in front of my eyes I could’ve lucidly recreated the environment around me, visualized some new setting, and taken a little more control. But everything checked out, and there was everything I remembered: the bear statue, whose hands once held a can of PBR in a remarkable practical joke; the Dream Inn—no shit; the telephone pole I had finally mustered up the courage to climb one night; the curb I always balanced on as I walked across, when I was learning how to slackline….

I came to the path that wraps around Westcliff and passed the intersection of my old street. I looked out at the view of the lights scattered across the water, I passed the lighthouse and its rotating searchlight. This was the setting I remembered, but it was barren. There were no stars out, no moon. Just a fog lit by artificial lights. The tide was low and silent, with no waves. I couldn’t believe it. This path is where I used to run. This was where I had existed—this spot was me, and it was empty.

I kept walking, and my feet took quite nicely to the shoes. If they hurt, I put more awareness into my step and they felt better. I came to Ferrell’s Donuts, my destination of sorts. When I first came to Santa Cruz and saw that it was open 24-7, I fantasized about pulling all-nighters to study there. I had one last chance, it seemed, to live out a lonely strange idea of mine while I still could. I ordered a maple twist, a bearclaw, and a large coffee, and spent the next three hours reading in a ghastly haze. I played a game of 1942 on an old arcade cabinet with the guy behind the counter, while he was between cigarette breaks and customer orders. “I have all the high scores on this thing,” he told me.

I walked home at 5 AM, exhausted. I had forgotten my keys, and climbed up the balcony, one last test, to let myself in. Of course there was somebody sleeping in my bed. There were sand and cheeto crumbs everywhere, and people crashed out on the floor. No one heard me enter; I was a ghost. I went into the empty room, where my random things had come to rest along with the leftover possessions of the room’s last occupant. No one ever came in here; this room was mine more than anyone else’s. I laid down on the naked spare mattress and didn’t get to sleep until long after the sun came up.

Meaning is retroactive; experiences pile up like a sand bank until there’s something substantial in front of you. One of my professors told a story about the best moment of his life, when he swam naked in the ocean in San Diego the night his son was born. He felt totally aligned, in love with the world, connected with every other organism on the planet. Maybe one day I’ll do a little bit better, and dive into the water like him, instead of just staring at it. Still, maybe the best we can do sometimes is to touch the edge of this dark world which is pregnant with meaning, the empty void where the currents of truth are laid bare in terms of brutal forces which don’t concern you—you tiny little thing ducking along the surface of the water, you infinitesimal speck of light.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, great | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The stuff that keeps me going when I’m down—that’s faith.

Posted in All posts | Leave a comment

The Mantra

Every minute of every day I will make the choices which are right for me, and I will not fear the consequences, for I know they are a reflection of my truest self.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement, Snippets | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Psychic Powers

I want, above all, to have psychic powers. As a matter of fact, I’m convinced that I do, or that I’m on the verge of having them.

Think about it: mind control, reading people’s thoughts. Psychics, like Jean Grey from the X-Men, are able to see through situations all around them, piercing the veil and uncovering a deeper facet of reality. They are prescient. They’re conscious.

Even the crazier powers are just an extension of innate capacities we already possess, everyday skills and modes of perception exaggerated to cartoon-like extremes. Telekinesis blurs the distinction between subject and object as the psychic merges with the object of his attention. The bent spoon is an extension of his will. The intention is so clear in his mind, so powerful, that it becomes its own entity, efficacious, and leaps through empty space.

Pyrogenesis is biofeedback; it is isolation and awareness of one’s own vitality. Temperature increases. Rage boils over, a fire lights in the eyes, and a gigantic fireball emanates from the subject, consuming his enemies. This is again manifestation of the internal, though in a more emotional way.

Keep in mind, MONKS CAN ACTUALLY DO THIS. Real fuckin’ life.

When I was younger, I used to show off my psychic powers: I would inform any onlookers of my intention, strike a pose and glare at a something across the room, then make noises and wiggle my fingers, beckoning, until my sister got up and brought it to me.

Psychic powers are just mortality squared, things we actually do run through the wringer of exponential growth—nuggets of potentiality compressed & concentrated, like espresso.

When a dream of mine becomes lucid, I usually develop psychic powers. The other night a rowdy gang chased me around my hometown, but when I decided to bring the fight to them, they became afraid. That bought some time, and I fled again. I tried to jump over a river. I fell short, but didn’t fall in—visualizing my feet, I skated across the river, sliding across it like ice. Another time, fighting a doppelganger of mine, I realized I was ontologically superior to him in every possible way, and in a vast explosion of energy I obliterated the warehouse around me.

Psychic powers are real, I swear—I’ve got them, I’m almost there. You would be too if you weren’t so busy convincing yourself you were normal.

Posted in Fiction/Creative, Snippets | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Weightlifting Logs

I’ve decided to start logging my weightlifting sessions. Hopefully this way I can share some of my journey, help out other people as they progress with tips of my own, and pose questions about form and diet that I want answered.

Physical considerations:
I’m really tall, 6 foot 5 inches tall. Currently 205 pounds. I have a fast metabolism, probably an ectomorph (for whatever that term is worth); inactivity means I lose weight, and I have the capacity to eat a lot.

I’m currently taking an online course (through Coursera) on human nutrition, which should work out pretty nicely as far as logging diet and exercise goes. Other than that, I work at a coffee shop, so I drink a fair amount of caffeine. I’ll definitely be probing the effect that caffeine has on performance.

I currently follow the Starting Strength program, which alternates between workouts involving five compound exercises. I usually warm up to the work sets in 10 or 20 pound jumps.

Workout A:
Squats, 3 sets of 5
Overhead Press, 3 sets of 5
Power Cleans, 5 sets of 3

Workout B:
Squats, 3×5
Bench Press, 3×5
Deadlift, 1 set of 5

If I’m good and don’t miss workouts, I switch between one and the other three times a week. Monday/Wednesday/Friday will be A/B/A one week, and then B/A/B the next.

Let’s get to it!

************************

Tuesday, 1/22

Today was the first day back from a 9-day break. The last time I went to the gym I was super tired from work, and missed out on a great dinner at home. I had premonitions to blow it off and not go, but I decided to go through with it and ended up having a really bad time. I struggled on shoulder press, got really frustrated and angry, and left halfway through completing my power cleans for fear of hurting myself and feeling extremely negative. Gotta keep it fun, right?

I warmed up with 5 minutes on the rowing machine, and then a couple of dynamic stretches I usually do (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-inLAok0wA ). I mixed these in between my first two sets of squats, with the empty bar and then with a 25-lb weight on either side. I was feeling nervous and tired, but whatever. My knees felt good warming up and jumping up towards the work weight. I went from 5 warm-up reps to 4 as soon as I hit 55 pounds on each side, then one more set of 4 at 65 pounds. At this point, I decided to jump straight up to 80 lbs on each side (total 205 pounds), and made it the first of my work sets. I lost a bit of strength from the break, but overall it was pretty good.

My second set wasn’t ideal. I didn’t take a long enough rest, and it showed. Usually I’ll press against the bar to psych myself up for the next set, kind of like a runner “loading the spring” as he steps back into the blocks, but I was there for too long, trying to force it. My breathing wasn’t very good, and I hesitated forever as soon as the weight was on my back. Ended up rolling around back and forth out of the hole, and I realized that I hadn’t kept my back tight at all. This is always the first body part to go.

The third (last) set was way better. I made sure to rest up, didn’t try to start my set too early, and make a point to keep my back and shoulders really really tight. Throughout the set I kept my back and shoulders really far up, creating a nice big platform to hold the bar. Since my back was tight there wasn’t as much force transferred to my spine either as I bounced down and back up out of the hole. My balance was better, and there was no forward-falling motion that comes from having a loose back. I drove it back up while keeping the back tight, and took maybe only one or two extra breaths before pushing out my last rep. (A bad habit I have is breathing too many times in between reps, which kills any rhythm/momentum you have, as well as creating hesitation.) Good stuff. Squats are an upper-body exercise, too.

Next up was shoulder press, my biggest enemy. Today I power cleaned the weight up to my shoulders, something I do which helps warm up for power cleans a lot. It also gets me a little more fired up to do the press. Last time, I realized that the more I pushed my shoulders forward the harder the exercise became, since it recruited my traps, forearms, shoulders and lats more. Contrast this with leaning too far back and doing the “standing bench press”—it’s way harder. Part of my frustration (and maybe the difficulty I have in progressing with this exercise) comes from feeling like I can’t nail the form down.

I clean the bar up to my shoulders, catching it in the rack position. It’s pretty easy to press it up from there, even with my wrists bent really far backwards. Shoulders and chest squeezed forward together, it’s all good. As I add more weight though, I realize that there’s just way too much tension going into my wrists to press it up from a STRICT rack position—think where you would start with a clean & jerk, or a front-squat—so I tried to find a middle ground between the wrist-crushing rack position and the shoulders-down position I used to do out of laziness and inexperience. Ended up doing my work sets at 15 pounds on either side (total 75 lbs), 3×5, with the last one being the best compromise between the two positions. I figure that you can use the frontal deltoids (the meaty part of your shoulder in the front) and the top of your chest to form a good platform to press from, provided the lean-back is good enough. This way, my wrists weren’t bent totally backwards, and my forearms were pointed down towards the ground, meaning that the weight was close to the heel of my palm. My shoulders still had a nice internal rotation (rotated IN towards the center of the body) from this position, too. Overhead press is such a bitch.

Next up came POWER CLEANS, which might be my favorite exercise ever. I don’t really know what it is about them that gets me so heated. I started with 25 lbs on each side; since I had cleaned 15 up for the shoulder press this was fine. I worked up to 45 pounds, remembering to adjust my form into a more ideal position each time. Get in position, breathe, one big breath in, squeeze everything, pull the bar up with your lats, touch above the knees, and explode! Then catch it again, rotating your elbows AROUND the bar in mid-air. After doing one work set (out of 5), an older guy I know (Bob) came over to the rack to do squats. He’s really cool, always gives me encouragement. Something about him being there just set me off, and my form was great and I was super explosive until all the sets were done. My breath was on point!

I also did 15 pushups on the way out of the gym.

Overall a strong workout. TL;DR things to remember:
Squats: take enough rest when you have to, TIGHT BACK. Balance the weight so when you DRIVE out of the bottom it doesn’t crumple you.
Press: find a good middle-ground between rack position and “standing bench.” Make a good platform, then move it straight up (this should always be kept in mind, I think).
Power cleans: Squeeze it up from the bottom; start accelerating the bar early, and don’t slack on this. Catch the bar with a tight back; that is, with shoulders forward and lats activated, so the spine doesn’t take the brunt of the force. God damn I love power cleans.

Nutrition for that day:
Kind of a shitty breakfast, a cup of coffee, two donut holes, and two CLIF bars before I went to the gym. Came home and had a protein shake with half heavy cream (!) and half 2% milk, then ate a bunch of cheese (brie?), triscuits, cantaloupe before dinner. Dinner was eggs benedict with salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise, lots of asparagus, and mixed fruit. (bananas, cantaloupe, blackberries.) I had 3 english muffins worth, and a small bite of gourmet dessert cake-like things after. Stuffed.

Wed/Thursday: I didn’t go to the gym today, but I’ve been eating exceptionally well, stretching, and meditating. Had a protein shake before breakfast both days, don’t remember what I ate wed, then had a great dinner of Greek salad–chicken, rice-a-roni, lettuce, lots of cherry tomatoes, olives with the pits still in, onions, feta cheese, and dressing. Another small bite of dessert. Today, a protein shake, tea, then leftover spaghetti sauce (hamburger, onions, garlic, sauce, etc) with leftover rice-a-roni. Not too bad. A spinach empanada at work. Another protein shake when I got home. Then for dinner I made stuffed bell peppers, with chicken, zucchini, onions, more rice-a-roni, brown rice, and pepper-jack and swiss cheese, with vinagarette dressing. Put all the leftover veggies and chicken that wouldn’t fit in the peppers, then added spinach, basil, more dressing, olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Really good! One brownie for dessert. It seems like a really healthy 2 days, balanced carbs/veggies/meat. Maybe a tad high in fats, but I’m not particularly worried about that. Plus I can make omelettes out of the leftovers!!

Gonna go to the gym tomorrow morning (fucking MEAN IT this time, lol), but I do have some concerns about that. Being really tall, I’m worried about circulatory problems. When I don’t rest enough, I get petechiae near my ankles, and sometimes towards my wrists; these are tiny broken blood vessels. Sometimes I’ll feel really lightheaded, and my vision starts to dim/brown out a bit; this happens most notably when I’m doing power cleans. My theory is that it’s all the blood rushing down from my head; the face-down position that I start the exercise from makes it all pool up there, and then it all flows back down once I’ve cleaned the weight up to my shoulders, and I’m standing straight. Solution? I’d like to swim more, or do some other form of cardio; hopefully this will alleviate these symptoms and make me healthy in a more balanced way.

Also, my back and shoulders seem to be the sorest part of my body from doing squats. This is probably the limiting factor; it seems like my legs can take the weight just fine (especially my burly-ass T-rex quads), but keeping the back straight is difficult. Time to start doing SUPERMANS to strengthen the back! Probably a bit before squatting, to warm up and imprint the movement (so my muscle memory is there when I need the arch during the set of heavy squats), maybe after to get those muscles super good. Will update again tomorrow.

****
Saturday, 1-26
So I didn’t go Friday… I’m great about going to the gym on days off, and pretty good about going after work, but there’s nothing there when it comes to going BEFORE! That said, I had a phenomenal workout today.

I did some research today (courtesy of Evans Tang!) and calculated my caloric intake I need to bulk. 3600 is the magic number…. tall people metabolism don’t fuck around!

As per usual I biked to the gym, then did 5 minutes on the rowing machine. Before squatting I did a little more extensive of a warm up than usual; one set of supermans (I held it 5 times for 2-3 seconds each), high kicks, kneels, a little extra static stretching of my back muscles, which tend to be the tightest. Instead of doing a LOT of warm-up sets, stepping it up in 10-lb increments on each side, I did one set to get accustomed to the weight, then 50% of the workload, then 75%, then 90%, then all the way up to 100%. For squats that meant one set with 25 to gauge what needed stretching/warming up, then 45, 65, and 80 lbs, before doing my work sets at 85 lbs each side (215).

I drank a cup of coffee ~45 mins before departing to the gym, which I feel is about ideal timing if you are to drink coffee during a workout day. I’m really used to this schedule. The only thing is remembering to consciously relax during the downtime between sets, as caffeine makes you jittery and you just want to rush through the sets. In my experience, starting the sets prematurely means that you don’t give yourself enough time to recharge, and your power isn’t as high as it needs to be.

Notes on squats: (85 each side)
Stay RIGID through the upper body. The main thing I learned today is that your upper body should maintain a totally fixed position. As soon as you go down and lean forward, bringing your back to the ~40 degree angle to the floor, it needs to STAY that way—all the way down, at the bottom, and all the way back up until you’re standing back up for the next rep. I have a bad habit of reaching the bottom, then sacrificing my balance to try and “bounce” the weight back up. So there’s a little wobble in there; usually my back goes, and I lean forward onto my quads to complete the rep, then come back a tiny bit into position as I finish driving up. Don’t be afraid of slowing down; it’s OK if you don’t sacrifice your position. Plus, your legs are assuredly strong enough to take it; better to have the sticking point near your hips than midway up your back!

For what it’s worth, my shoulders were also really tight and high up during these sets. That felt really, really good. My upper body, mainly the “hinge” of the lower back (and the rest of the back all the way up), is the weakest link in the squat at this point. I think more focus on the upper body during this exercise is in order; my legs already know what to do.

Another important thing: REST. The most success I’ve had during rest periods is when I consciously try to think of nothing. Whenever I meditate I’ll focus on the back of my sinuses, and the air flowing back there. That’s the “nothing” spot. This requires more experimenting with, but I think it helps to be AS LAZY AS POSSIBLE while resting! Don’t try to force anything, especially not your breathing; just let your body recover and do its thang. Then, some deep breaths to prepare for the set. As soon as I grab the bar, I start getting nervous and breathing faster in preparation; do whatever you gotta do to get ready, I suppose. Then a deep breath in, go under the bar tight, and get to work.

Bench: 50 lbs each side
Last time I bench pressed I realized it’s an exercise more about symmetry than anything else. But it’s more than just keeping the bar stable in a left-to-right position; you’re moving the bar and the weights through 3 full dimensions, so keep in mind how far towards your head or towards your feet the bar goes during your reps! I tried to visualize the bit of knurling in the center of the bar as staying directly over my solar plexus each set, and that worked really well. Also, I find that the SLOWER I do bench, the easier it is to be conscious of my form (and thus, the better it gets). Had a great time w/ bench today.

Deadlifts! Worked up to 95 pounds on each side. 2 plate club plus a nickel!
Not much to say about deadlifts today. They were heavy as hell, as always. I think I have pretty good form, too. Warmups: 5 reps at 45, 4 (or 5?) at 70, 4 at 80, 3 at 90. I was debating doing my work sets at 90 or 95; last time I deadlifted, maybe 2 weeks ago, I hit 225 and felt really good about it. 225 was really heavy, but I managed it alright, so decided to cut it short at 3 and do the work set at 235. I might have actually gone too hard on deadlifts today. The first set was great. Second set I was a little lightheaded, and had ringing in my ears. The third set felt CRAZY; my legs got so pumped! And there was a pretty loud ringing in my ears after I was finished.

I’m always wary of overexercising, because I don’t want to hurt myself. I’m pretty curious about the lightheadedness/tinnitus, which happens to me during power cleans and deadlifts; I’m going to start doing more cardio, which should hopefully alleviate it. I think it’s a symptom of being tall. In between reps, I’ll grip the bar folded in half, to stretch out my hamstrings a little bit and not drain energy on my legs (by keeping down in a squat position w/ my shins touching the bar). So when I come up, all the sudden in a burst of energy, the blood (which was previously pooled in my head) comes rushing back down as I lock it out. Definitely gonna do some more research on this. I don’t wanna be passing out during my workouts….

After deadlifts I went and swam in the pool. It felt amazing on my shoulders, which got a chance to exert themselves over a really full range of motion. Did freestyle, backstroke, and some breaststroke. I can still do a flip-turn! Cool stuff. But I still suck at breathing; my problem with swimming has always been panicking too much. I take too big of an in-breath, which makes me want to break the rhythm and breathe in a LOT more oxygen. If I had to think of a bro-science explanation, it would be something about CO2 and oxygen levels in your blood. I think when you take a HUGE breath in, your body just says “fuck this imma breathe,” and it turns on all the oxygen alarms. I got a good amount of water up my nose doing backstroke flip-turns; hopefully the combination of hard exercise and EXPOSURE TO A SHIT TON OF GERMS IN A NASTY ASS POOL doesn’t make me sick. Ugh!

Til next time.

***

1/30 update
Haven’t been to the gym since last time (saturday). I was going to go on Tuesday, which would have put me in the right 3-days-a-week ritual, but I wasn’t feeling it. Above everything else, I’m still worried about “ruining” it for myself by obsessing; “not losing” shouldn’t be the reason to go, my motivation should be the desire to get bigger and express more energy all at once.

Pretty soon my friend (my roommate’s sister’s boyfriend) Paul will be moving into the house, and I’m excited for us to work out together. Bringing another person along makes it easier to commit to going to the gym. Or even just involving another person, like getting a ride there, makes it easier. Motivational issues. Also, I’m wondering whether or not it’s better to incorporate cardio (swimming) on different days, or just hit it three times a week on top of my regular workout. More research I suppose. More doing, more importantly.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Body as Metaphor; Untying Knots

More Thich Nhat Hanh:

There is a term in Buddhist psychology that can be translated as “internal formations,” “fetters,” or “knots.” When we have a sensory input, depending on how we receive it, a knot may be tied in us. When someone speaks unkindly to us, if we understand the reason and do not take his or her words to heart, we will not feel irritated at all, and no knot will be tied. But if we do not understand why we were spoken to that way and we become irritated, a knot will be tied in us. The absence of clear understanding is the basis for every knot.
   If we practice full awareness, we will be able to recognize internal formations as soon as they are formed, and we will find ways to transform them. For example, a wife may hear her husband boasting at a party, and inside herself she feels the formation of a lack of respect. If she discusses this with her husband, they may come to a clear understanding, and the knot in her will be untied easily. Internal formations need our full attention as soon as they manifest, while they are still weak, so that the work of transformation is easy.
   If we do not untie our knots when they form, they will grow tighter and stronger. Our conscious, reasoning mind knows that negative feelings such as anger, fear, and regret are not wholly acceptable to ourselves or society, so it finds ways to repress them, and push them into remote areas of our consciousness in order to forget them. Because we want to avoid suffering, we create defense mechanisms that deny the existence of these negative feelings and give us the impression we have peace within ourselves. But our internal formations are always looking for ways to manifest as destructive images, feelings, thoughts, words, or behavior.
   The way to deal with unconscious internal formations is, first of all, to find ways to become aware of them. By practicing mindful breathing, we may gain access to some of the knots that are tied inside us. When we are aware of our images, feelings, thoughts, words, and behavior, we can ask ourselves questions such as: Why did I feel uncomfortable when I heard him say that? Why did I say that to him? Why do I always think of my mother when I see that woman? . . . . Observing closely like this can gradually bring the internal formations that are buried in us into the realm of the conscious mind.
   During sitting meditation, after we have closed the doors and windows of sensory input, the internal formations buried inside us sometimes reveal themselves as images, feelings, or thoughts. We may notice a feeling of anxiety, fear, or unpleasantness whose cause we cannot understand. So we shine the light of our mindfulness on it, and prepare ourselves to see this image, feeling, or thought, in all its complexity. When it begins to show its face, it may gather strength and become more intense. We may find it so strong that it robs us of our peace, joy, and ease, and we may not want to be in contact with it anymore. We may want to move our attention to another object of meditation or discontinue the meditation altogether; we may feel sleepy or say that we prefer to meditate some other time. In psychology, this is called resistance. We are afraid to bring into our conscious mind the feelings of pain that are buried in us, because they will make us suffer. But if we have been practicing breathing and smiling for some time, we will have developed the capacity to sit still and just observe our fears. As we keep in contact with our breathing and continue to smile, we can say, “Hello, Fear. There you are again.” . . . .
   If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions in the present moment, and we will not let knots form or become tighter in our consciousness. And if we know how to observe our feelings, we can find the roots of long-standing internal formations and transform them, even those that have become quite strong.

The first step in untying your knots is acceptance. You have knots; they are there. When something rubs you the wrong way, and you produce a flurry of negative emotions that seems to come from nowhere, that event has set off your insecurities. Maybe it was something about the way you were raised, or a traumatic experience you’re being forced to re-live. If you feel ashamed, incensed, or paranoid about the way you’ve reacted, that’s a knot. If you don’t treat it gingerly, or make an effort to untie it, you’re only putting more tension on the knot. You’re only tying it tighter.

Remember what happened to my shoulder? Since I didn’t want to acknowledge being injured, since it went against the image I had of myself as an ideal physical being, I made the situation worse. Something about the experience threatened my identity, so I resisted. The result: now there’s scar tissue in my right shoulder.

The main reason why I take such pains to maintain good physical shape is because I think the body is an incredible metaphor for the whole of existence. I know from experience that if your body is in good alignment, your emotions and spirit are more likely to be so. I was amazed when I read this passage; body and soul, the process for healing is identical, down to the very WORD: knots!

So how do we go about untying emotional knots? It’s just the same as untying the physical ones! Bring awareness into yourself. Be compassionate and understanding as you explore yourself. Once you find an uncomfortable spot, something that makes you anxious, that it feels like you can’t deal with, take notice. Try to settle into this spot. During meditation, or in an otherwise safe and comfortable environment, explore the pain you’ve hidden away there. Be open and loving towards it. Breathe; it will be OK. To quote Eckhart Tolle: “The pain body may seem to you like a dangerous monster that you cannot bear to look at, but I assure you that it is an insubstantial phantom that cannot prevail against the power of your presence.”

Explore the causes; try to come to an understanding. Like tension in your body, if you put enough energy into the resolving of this knot, it will burst colorfully. The emotional tidal wave that results can only be described as one of the best things ever.

During high school, I had a crush on this girl. Her voice was amazing, and she was everything I wished I could be. Yet lots of things got away from me in high school; I fell out with a lot of friends, and I let her get away from me, leaving with only a few mellow goodbyes. Last spring, I found out to my astonishment that a mutual friend from high school had died. Though we fell out of contact, and he traveled far away, I had never stopped idolizing him. His death was a shock, an unreal reminder that we have the power to craft our lives according to our choices, and that we also must live with the consequences. Once I was a better man, more adjusted, prouder of myself, I was going to visit him overseas. Now, that opportunity was obliterated, and I could never reconnect with him. I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him, and how important his example was in my life.

Sometime later that week, the girl from high school contacted me again. She realized (before I did) that there are some things you can’t put off, wanted to tell me that I had been important to her. Four years later, after all the regrets that I’d wasted a golden opportunity, that love was something I couldn’t have, I found out she had “liked me back.”

This was the untying of the greatest knot of my life. I can’t begin to describe the wave of emotions which swept me away. After years of self-denial, I realized that love is something attainable, and that I can have it right now, if only I reach out.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

On Discomfort

There was one major experience in my life that helped turn my perception around. In the summer of 2010, my life revolved around Super Smash Bros. I played every day, listening to music for hours on end and clacking away in my room in my grandpa’s house, traveled to my friends’ house to stay there for as long as I could, went to tournaments whenever possible. The in-between time was spent partying, blurry nights with fluorescent screens and swervy vision, chillin. It was interesting to note the differences that weed and alcohol caused in this medium; my number one medium, Smash. I slept on floors, ate Pizza Hut and Chipotle, played my friends for countless hours, slept from 4am to 1pm, then woke up again to repeat the cycle. Whenever I was back in Palos Verdes, I would run around the neighborhood. Every two weeks or so my life was punctuated by a tournament, where my performance was either a grateful recognition of all the work I had put in, or a crushing defeat leading to self-doubt. I had learned to tolerate pain, and this was important; it meant I “got better.”

Later after that summer, when my ties to the SoCal Melee community were the tightest, I went back home for winter break, and attended a tournament/party combo. It was my friend’s birthday, and his goal was to get everyone drunk and have a fun time. To put it colloquially, we chilled. Kicked it. After a stressful tournament, it was cool to go and relax in the atmosphere of the game, putting salty feelings behind us and bonding together in the light of shared interest and competition. This would be the night that things changed, where I recognized my own mortality.

It was about 2AM, and Weston, my new friend who had recently gone from game acquaintance to homie, suggested that we go and take a walk. I said sure, let me just finish this enormous mixed drink. 7 & 7. Ten minutes later, we went out walking around the San Fernando valley. My recollection of events started to get hazy; this was probably the only time in my life I’ve blacked out. The night became a series of vignettes, individual scenes loosely strung together. The intermittent in-between time wasn’t there. I knew exactly where we were, this place being an old smash hangout, and we went down to the corner to get donuts. I was giggly, goofy, laughing, and soon we were there. We sat down at a table, and I remember feeling so ridiculous. I marveled at the difficulties of pronouncing my thoughts; I knew what I wanted to say, but the motor control wasn’t really there. I tried to remark on this difficulty, but the individual words dissolved into a languid stream of laughter. We ordered bear claws, which the baker would have done in ten minutes, and then decided that neither of us really wanted donuts in the first place! We ran out giggling.

My balance was pretty off at this point. I was goofy, as goofy and carefree as I’ve ever been. I tried to run across a street; bad idea. I fell. OOF! I got back up, invigorated. Soon after, I tried to run again, faster this time, a dead sprint—I fell again, HARD. I tripped, ate shit, went down on my right shoulder and rolled. I remember lying face-down on the ground, collecting myself. This was a memory that I hadn’t felt since childhood; the despondency that comes from realizing that you are seriously hurt. Interesting.

It was bad. We were almost home at this point, and Wes helped me back up. Things went south. After being injured, some of my deep feelings came out. What was I doing in this place? Was all the time I spent on the game worth it after all? What the FUCK?! Alcohol is a powerful truth serum, which is something that I like about it. It makes my inhibitions dissolve; self-expression seems easier, because everything inside gets intensified by about ten times. When I’m happy, I’m giddy, jubilant, and energetic, and when I’m angry, I become furious. We were having a deep discussion (though nearly all of it is lost now), and in the cold air, in the middle of the night, I brought up some of those nasty murky feelings.

“Sometimes, Wes, I just get so mad.” My voice was escalating. “I just get so, FUCKING, MAD!” I punched a stop sign as hard as I could. This discontent was the only thing I had to come back to. What kind of life was that? Deep below everything, was this the central tenet of my life? Was this the one thing, this anger?! I was confused, beside myself, hurting. Hormones and neurotransmitters ran amok in my system; my brain was doing crazy things. Wes had to calm me down, touching my shoulder. “We’re almost there. Joe! Come on!” I went inside, curled up on the floor, and passed out.

When I woke up the next morning, my shoulder hurt. I was impressed that I couldn’t move it without excruciating pain. There were physical motions that I was absolutely incapable of performing; I could not put my sweatshirt on without using my left arm to lift my right arm into the sleeve. When I went back to my mom’s house, trembling and hung over, I had to eventually let her know. Alcoholism runs in my family, so this was a red flag. We had a great talk about it though, and I got a chance to (healthily) express some of those feelings that were so deeply ingrained. Two days later, we went to a doctor, who told me it was probably OK. Most likely a rotator cuff injury, since if something was broken I shouldn’t have been able to lift my arm as far as I did.

After winter break ended and I went back to school, my shoulder still hurt. I couldn’t sleep on it the way I had earlier, or I would wake up with cramps and pins and needles. Yet I still tried to force it to perform. Rock climbing was OK, for the most part, but what really hurt was bench press. “Don’t be a baby,” said my friends. I was stupid for believing them over the signals that my own body sent! There was a grinding of joints and tendons in my shoulder. I knew it was damaging me.

Eventually I talked my dad into taking me to a kinesiologist, an old family friend. He laid me down on a massage table and proceeded to violate my back and shoulders, laying into the knots that I had built up from months of improper usage. He used his knuckles and shoulders to drill into the tightest, most painful spots in my whole existence. These were the knots I had ignored for all these months, the bottled up pain I couldn’t acknowledge. Each new stronghold he found burst with exquisite sensation as it was prodded, beaten, and massaged. He gave me exercises to strengthen the back of my shoulder, pulling it back into alignment. He tested my range of motion, which was considerably greater than it had been at the start of the session. On the way back to Santa Cruz, I sat straight up in my dad’s car, amazed at the amount of relief that I felt, both physically and emotionally. I had put this problem off; I knew it hurt, but now it was finally on its way to getting fixed. Thank God.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t go on like I had been, ignoring the uncomfortable aspects of my life; I wasn’t invincible, and these were my limits, presented in hard physical terms. The shoulder injury was something I could not argue with or rationalize away. There were things that I could not do, period. Yet I felt WAY better after acknowledging my pain, instead of tolerating it. Strength is not the ability to bear pain, but rather having the courage to examine and confront its causes. What else could I discover by applying this method to the rest of my existence?

I really feel that body and mind are one; if you have pain in your body, then there is a blind spot in your field of perception you’re ignoring. This incident was the catalyst towards change for me. I did the assigned posture exercises, avoided further injuring myself, and started stretching more. I began exploring my reality, since I now knew the damage that came from ignoring the rough parts.

I think I fractured the furthest end of my scapula, right before the acromion, pushing the rest of my shoulder forward into the chest. As a result the muscles in my back had to work harder to hold the shoulder back; the posterior deltoid and the infraspinatus ended up all knotted. I don’t ever think it will be back to 100%, even though the knots are gone; there’s some scar tissue in my shoulder joint, and it still sits differently than my left shoulder. Fortunately, I think it’s back to about 95%, and will stay there (or slowly improve) forever. Also, I became more ambidextrous as a result of this injury—I learned to trust my left hand more, and my left shoulder picked up some of the slack, becoming stronger and more balanced.

This event was one of the major turning points in my life, and has helped define the way I see the world, with the body as a central analogue for understanding the self in its entirety. I hope it helps you out in some way! By putting energy into the sources of my physical discomfort, I learned about the importance of doing the same thing mentally and emotionally.

Next up: Untying Knots.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Comfort

In Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh describes walking meditation:

“Although we walk all the time, our walking is usually more like running. When we walk like that, we print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. . . .

If you feel happy, peaceful, and joyful while you are walking, you are practicing correctly. Be aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. We have caused a lot of damage to the Earth. Now it is time for us to take care of her.”

When I try walking meditation, I like to put my feet down very carefully. Don’t slam them down on the earth; like Hanh says, try to step gently and with love. But even more importantly, I try not to do damage to myself when I walk. Usually, when we walk, there’s a certain speed we like to maintain. It’s a trade-off between pain in our feet or elsewhere in our bodies and getting to where we want to go as fast as we can. The same trade-off is true elsewhere: if we’re working, eating, or even talking, we sacrifice some part of ourselves in order to get things done more efficiently.

Presumably, you’re sitting down at your computer right now, reading this. Take a second to notice your posture. Why are you sitting the way you are? Are there any uncomfortable spots in your body? I’ll bet there are.

As we grow older, we learn how to handle a certain amount of pain, to suck it up or save it for later. We learn to hold our bladders for a long time, since there’s a lecture at school that needs attending to, or since you need to wait til the next gas station to stop the car. We learn how to get by on less and less sleep, or eat unhealthily, taking shortcuts. We’ve been conditioned to ignore our own pain. Habit has taught us to tolerate a certain level of discomfort for practical purposes. Unfortunately, many of us go through life without realizing this, and thus we never “turn it off.” Even in our downtime, we are likely to neglect our bodies; we must finish this article, read another e-mail, watch the movie through til the end, or get to the end of the chapter in a book. The compulsion is overpowering, and causes us to ignore aches and pains.

Forget about all this for a second, and focus on your body. Try, for just an instant, to be as comfortable as possible. Stretch out, find a stable, pain-free position, and enjoy the feeling of being in your body for a little while.

Nice, isn’t it?

If you’re able to maintain this focus, you will find mindfulness. The next step: move around, but don’t cause yourself any pain. Don’t rush. Don’t worry. Believe it or not, things will still get done if you don’t worry about them. Take a walk, and for a few steps, put your feet down gently, so that you don’t stress the tendons in your arches, calves, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, neck. When you stomp, or even step vigorously, a lot of stress goes into your body. You can feel the force shoot upwards from your feet and rattle all the sore spots.

If you can move forward without causing yourself any more pain, then you are moving in the right direction. It’s possible to enjoy everything, physically, viscerally, on the bodily level, if you take your own comfort into account. Every movement is a potential celebration. Pay attention to the sensations that are going on in your body—pay attention to the pain, the host of discomforts and anxieties we ignore as we try to maximize productivity. Try to alleviate this discomfort. Really!

Return to your body. Sore back? Try to soothe it! Sore muscles? Massage some of the pain out. You will find that the world, the body, is a very wonderful place to dwell in.

Now that you’ve isolated your comfort, you can begin to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone. That’s how you grow. Consider exercise. But I can hear you say: “Exercising isn’t comfortable! It sucks, it hurts!” A little pain is a good thing sometimes; just be aware! It’s OK to be tired or sore, but you don’t want to pull a muscle or get shin splints. Picture a worst-case and a best-case scenario, depending on your initial shape: if you are a wonderful runner, you run a mile, and you obtain an Olympic record. Your performance is a testament to the ideal functioning of the human body. Fantastic! If you are in very bad shape, you may fall down and break an ankle if you’re not careful. Ouch!

Pay attention to your body, like you learned how to do when you found your comfort. Since you’re familiar with your limits, you know the proper distance to push them. You must subject yourself to marginally increasing discomforts, and adapt to the stress. Eventually, you will be comfortable, in your element exercising, when it was not that way before. You might start to crave the release of endorphins and seratonin that comes from a good workout, when previously you dreaded it! Your experience with exercise has become positive, and you have increased the quality of your life in the meantime. You have more energy, sleep better, are less stressed.

To put it in another context, consider a social setting. If you are extremely anxious, and immediately get thrown into a high-pressure social situation, like a speech or music recital, you might crumble and choke, or even have a panic attack. On the other hand, if you are very socially adept, these occasions could be crowning achievements in your life. The same growth process happens; you get out of your room more and more, meet with new people, start to joke with them, and eventually they become good friends, or even lovers. Each step involves the toppling of a wall of discomfort. You didn’t want to introduce yourself to them initially, for fear of shyness; you didn’t want to make that first joke, because you could have seemed like a geek if they didn’t get it. And think of the courage it took to make that first romantic gesture! But because you went through with all these things, there is a new level of emotional fulfillment in your life.

When you apply practice to a particular thing, if you have made a consistent effort to stretch past your boundaries, negative experiences become positive. If you stretch your muscles out, slowly and patiently confronting the pain that ails you continuously, you will be more comfortable in your day-to-day life. When all’s said and done, you’ll have something new to cherish, some new object of love in your life.

You’d be amazed at how many things work the same way. Find your comfort, and try to gradually expand.

Posted in All posts, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Simple Rules for Changing Yourself

Westcliff, Santa Cruz

I can’t say it enough:

Say yes to the right things, so no to the wrong things, and do it as soon as possible.

This one sentence is a moral compass you can use for the rest of your life. Fix an image in your mind—I want to play basketball, I want to be stronger, more social, or do better in school—and you’re off and running. What do you need to say yes to? Pick-up games, working out, sharing yourself with friends, study groups. Say no to sweets, spending time on the computer, hiding away in your room when people are over.

If you decide to abide by these rules, which have made an enormous difference in my own life, you need to do it as soon as possible—that is, right now. Yes, you need to do it right now. Not tomorrow, not next Sunday, but today, as soon as you can. Effecting change only becomes harder when you put it off. You’re not doing yourself a favor by “knowing” you should stop watching Netflix 6 hours a day; you don’t get any brownie points for that. When you shove an obligation away from you, into the future, you have actually failed to act on an impulse which has arisen inside of you. Take it on a moment-to-moment basis: you have considered doing something good for yourself, and you’ve let it slide by. This mental pattern only makes it harder to make the right choice next time. You are conditioning yourself to say “no” when the same situation presents itself in the future. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.

Putting these rules into effect is really hard, though, or else we would all be where we wanted already. For each branch of the rule—saying yes, saying no, and doing it ASAP—there is a corresponding skill you need to develop. Respectively, these are willpower, self-control, and mindfulness.

Willpower

Picture this: you wake up twenty minutes before your alarm goes off on a rainy day. You had planned on going to the gym, but it’s cold outside. Your brain starts to build a case for staying in under the covers and sleeping the day away in blissful oblivion. (If only you could telepathically unplug your alarm clock.) “I don’t want to leave my bed, it will be cold outside. Then I have to shower, eat something nutritious, brave the rain, work out, and then start the rest of my day.” Forget that!

What’s there to stop you from sabotaging yourself? You guessed it—your willpower. To me, willpower is like a zealous rage that builds inside. Ideally, you have relegated all your constructive activities into a routine: wake up, slam your alarm shut, and next thing you know you’re already in the shower, getting ready to kick some ass. That’s great! But in first-time cases, or when you’ve let procrastination get the best of you, it can be quite a bit harder to set yourself in motion. Think inertia—a rolling stone gathers no moss, but it takes a whole lot of effort to push a big-ass boulder off a cliff.

Lying in bed, the more you think about it, the harder it will be to stomach all the cold and the discomfort and the effort you must expend. Since you’ve made the commitment to go the gym, eventually anyways, you know you’re on the right track, right? But think about how likely you are to skip more workouts, having skipped this one. Think about how lame it is that you’re going to let a little bad weather get the best of you, or the fact that those weights are just sitting on the rack, waiting to be deadlifted by someone as committed and tactful as you are. Think of all those juiced-up buffoons grunting with heavy weight, bad form, and huge egos who are building the case that they are better than the average Joe, and most infuriatingly might actually right, because they’re out there doing something instead of merely thinking about it.

Makes you mad, right? Well, a little anger can be useful sometimes. Get fired up, get up off your ass and go to the gym.

Also, the shorter you can cut off the train of procrastinatory thoughts, the better. Ideally, you will be able to catch yourself making excuses early, and realize that this is the time to get to it. You are more likely to succeed in your commitments if you don’t let them psyche you out. Try not to think about the daunting nature of your commitments; make like Nike and JUST DO IT.

There’s a saying that goes: “Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.” Trust that it will be better for yourself in the long run, and know that you are making yourself a better person. You WILL change if you go through with your commitments, whether it’s thinking more positively, getting in shape, or talking to members of the opposite sex. Start small and build upwards; if you feel sore, get up and do some stretches, or do ten pushups, or say something honest that you’re afraid to share with someone around you. It doesn’t have to be big, but alleviating the nervousness that comes from doing something bold will make next time that much easier. This is how you set yourself up for success; start small, and build up. Eventually, you will catch yourself doing something you would have never considered, and giving it nary a second thought—pat yourself on the back, you’ve earned it.

Self-control

Self-control and willpower are really opposite arms of the same see-saw. Have you ever had a hobby you were extremely passionate about? Sometimes a pursuit fulfills you so completely that you find, lo and behold, you haven’t been on your computer for three whole days. And it’s no big loss! An object of a lower priority—a time-waster, compulsion, or addiction—has been phased out by something bigger entering your life.

That’s how it works sometimes, but the art of self-control becomes much harder when there’s nothing compelling you towards action: no deadline, presentation or grade you’re worried about. In college, I was always OK when it came time to write an essay, because I had to get it done (or else I would die), but during the rest of the quarter it was hard to stay motivated. The worst time-waster I’ve ever had was an innocuous game by the name of Pokémon Puzzle League.

Don’t let the friendly colors fool you!

During downtime, I would play this game for hours on end. During one particularly bad spell, it felt like literally all I had to live for. I’d lose track of time, becoming swept up in a swirling haze of colorful blocks, combos, and grating Pokémon sound clips, and next thing I knew it was 4:30 AM. After a half-hour of “one more game”s, I would tear the cartridge out of my N64, fling it across the room in self-disgust, and go to sleep.

At worst, the things you should say “no” to will start to overtake your life (and this is when they become an addiction). Every time, though, they distract you from the important things, those tasks which you know deep down you should be doing, because they will make you happier. If you want to live a vice-free life, then these compulsions are precisely the things you should aim to cut out. If you want to get in shape, but keep eating ice cream every night, you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. Think of how much further you could be if you had taken three steps forward each day, instead of just one!

So how do you go about saying “no”? Interestingly enough, no amount of self-hatred will help you out in this case. Don’t come down hard on yourself. Don’t get mad that you ate ice cream instead of making a salad. The last thing you want to do is think “Wow, I am a bad person for doing this.” Ease up on yourself!

This is a complicated mental trap, and I’ll examine the reasons why I think we delve into distractions to keep ourselves occupied. Being busy, being occupied, means that your attention is taken up. If there’s something wrong, an anxiety or painful realization you don’t want to deal with, you seek to cover it up. Humans will often latch on to the nearest activity to distract themselves. (See my post Burying vs. Immersion for more on this idea.) But this only makes it worse, because now in addition to the original source of discomfort, we add anxiety, tension, and shame. We have failed to confront the source of our fears, and this feels bad. So we end up putting this confrontation off, more and more, pushing it around in an endless cycle of Facebook, videogames, substance abuse, etc.

The key idea: by neglecting the source of our pain, we foster a mental image of ourselves as someone who is fundamentally incapable. We identify with this person, who is a weaker, diminished version of ourselves, and welcoming this false identity into our hearts undercuts self-esteem and confidence. Identifying with your problem means accepting that you are broken. This creates more pain, and thus feeds the nasty thing that we’re hiding from, making it bigger. So, in our weakness, we turn back towards the vices we have conditioned ourselves to accept. The cycle repeats itself.

If you want to break the cycle and to say “no” to that thing that pulls you in like a magnet, you can’t berate yourself at all. That will get you nowhere! The most important thing you can do is: relax. Take a few deep breaths, and understand that whatever you’re doing, you’re coming at it from a place of weakness. Yes, you have ostensibly “wasted your time,” but there is no reason why you must continue to do so. Drop whatever you were doing, look around, and try to feel a little bit better. Observe your internal monologue. Try to go do something productive, but if you feel overwhelmed, then take some time to meditate on the source of your unrest. Once you learn how to say “no” to things which would distract you from your goal, or outright harm you, you have not only freed up more time, but you have also made yourself a stronger individual.

Mindfulness

This leads me into the next skill: mindfulness. In short, mindfulness is the ability to detach yourself from any source of identity, enter into the present moment, and experience peace. If willpower and self-control are either arm of the seesaw, then mindfulness is the fulcrum it sits upon. It’s the WD-40 that keeps it moving smoothly, and perhaps even the laws of physics which allow us to understand its behavior. Mindfulness is nothing less than the key to self-understanding.

If there’s any single thing I can credit for the change I’ve seen in my life, it would be mindfulness. To build it up, you have to meditate. But don’t worry about climbing to the top of a mountain and sitting in lotus position to watch the sunrise—you can pursue meditation more discreetly. At its core, meditation is about watching the thoughts that arise in your mind. Once one crops up, acknowledge it, accept it, and let it float away. With practice, you’ll get better at quieting your thoughts, which makes it easier to be happy. Sometimes, you will have to struggle through very painful thoughts. Don’t be discouraged; this isn’t a negative side-effect of meditation, and is not reason to discontinue the practice. Those feelings were inside you to begin with, and they are merely coming to the surface. If you are able to love yourself through the torrent of these stormy feelings, disassociate yourself from your thoughts and practice non-attachment (or non-identity), then you will unearth great insights of self-understanding. The knot of painful emotion will dissolve, and you will be better for it.

Mindfulness is key to being honest with yourself. Whatever you are feeling at the moment, accept it and love it, because this is really equivalent to loving yourself. You are like a ship, pointed towards some far-off destination, with a delicate and finely-tuned instrument plotting your course. Meditation will help you calibrate this instrument, ensuring that you’re pointed where you really want to go. Sometimes, uncovering your true path entails turning a complete 180 degrees; that’s fine. Just follow your love, and everything will turn out OK.

As far as achieving your goals goes, remember that it is literally impossible to do anything if you do not do it right now. The only time when you can exercise your willpower and make a choice is when you have become conscious. The only time you can be conscious is during the present moment—that is, right now. (Note that this is a different moment, a different “now,” than the bolded one earlier one in this paragraph. For that matter, so is this moment, and this one, and this one….) When a choice arises in the future, it will happen exactly when it does: in another “now.”

There are many authors more qualified than I who have spoken about this subject. If you want a very practical, heartfelt guide to the topic, I’d suggest The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve also read book by Thich Nhat Hanh and Alan Watts: Peace Is Every Step, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and Nature, Man and Woman. I’m only a rank novice at this myself, so I apologize that this section must be brief! There will be more to come in the future.

To recap:

1. Say yes to the right things

2. Say no to the right things

3. Do it as soon as possible

Practice willpower, self-control, and presence of mind. Your growth will be astonishing.

And most importantly of all, thanks for reading this! I really do try to live my life by these rules, so feel free to leave a comment, complaint, or constructive criticism. Your feedback is important to me, since I’m on a journey of my own, after all. If you liked what you read, then spread the word 🙂

Godspeed!

Posted in All posts, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remember this?


Both menial and significant things are worth tackling this way. Chores evaporate, and the big tasks become easier when you don’t give yourself time to worry about them. We all know the logic behind these things: doing things is the only way they’ll ever get done. If you want to improve yourself, then do things to improve yourself. The reasoning is so obvious it’s almost a truism, so why do we still struggle? Why flood ourselves with mental noise and engage ourselves with petty distraction?

There was an episode of Arthur (the aardvark) that I watched when I was a kid. One character (I think it was Buster the rabbit, but don’t quote me) went to see a scary movie, and when they revealed the monster he covered up his eyes in fright. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it. He resolved to see the movie again, and look this time. When they finally showed it, he started laughing! The costume was so shoddy that the zipper poked out of the monster suit. It wasn’t scary at all!

The moral of the episode: we make things out to be worse than they are. The same goes for thinking of our actions ahead of time; we hold ourselves back because we fear what may come of them. Anticipation paralyzes us, and we convince ourselves that the risk just isn’t worth it. It’s much easier to become absorbed in instant gratification, identifying with a facebook status or the latest TV show.

I think we’re afraid to take action because we fear the future. We’re conditioned to avoid taking risks because, whether they succeed or fail, they bring about the uncertainty of change.

We fear failure because we don’t want to think of ourselves as weak. If we try and fall short, we are flawed, powerless, hopeless. Isn’t it better to take a small loss now, and not risk a huge loss later? Shouldn’t we fold our hand sometimes? Not really; life is not a cost-benefit problem. “Failure” is just a label we paste to a certain result, a fabrication created by our expectations. Drop these expectations, and you’re left with a new experience, which you can use to learn and grow. The worst-case scenario: an uncomfortable situation, i.e. “what not to do next time.”

Success is harder to figure. What’s so scary about getting everything that you want? We fear the future, and the unfamiliar person we may become.

Marianne Williamson gave us the famous quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Embracing the knowledge that you are a wildly capable, powerful individual means accepting the burden of responsibility to live up to that potential. If the stars are within reach, and you’re not reaching, then you fucked up. Realizing that you are truly powerful means that you can never be content fooling yourself again, identifying with trivialities, or selling yourself short. There is a problem of incongruous identity. An individual cannot be simultaneously great and small; we cannot embrace our potential and busy ourselves with nonsense. From the present, looking to the future, we wonder: If I become everything I’ve ever wanted to be, will I be able to bear thinking about the shallow person I am now? So we are left with a choice: wake up, or stay asleep. Knowing that we are capable is the greatest motivator, but living up to this knowledge takes a lot of work–work we would rather not do. Too often, our solution is to stay meager. We delude ourselves, becoming complacent in our thoughts. “If I cared enough about it, this is the time when I would ask that girl for her number. There she goes… Eh, I didn’t do it. Must not have been that important to me.” We convince ourselves that our life is already pleasant enough.

We are also afraid of getting exactly what we desire, and then being exposed as frauds, of being secretly “inadequate.” If you seek power, and you achieve it, will you ever be called out as weak? If you get that person’s phone number, will you screw it up in the future? If you desire social grace, and find yourself at an elegant ball, do you need to worry about being exposed as a pauper at heart? I don’t think so. If you know yourself, and if your actions reflect your deepest beliefs, then the identity you build will be consistent. Be yourself from the start, and there’s nothing to hide. That person who you’ll become is 100% you–is genuinely, joyously you.

If something has been occupying your thoughts, then do it! Follow your heart, and there’s nothing to worry about. The worst that can happen, I think, is you see the zipper on the monster suit, and you abruptly realize that your fears were laughable.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Non-Attachment

One of the hardest things to overcome when I write is the belief that it won’t be good enough. I’m afraid that whatever words I choose won’t do the idea in my mind justice, that it’ll be disorganized or not as poignant or succinct as it could be. There are a few things I’ve wanted to write about for awhile, but have put off because they seem hard to capture.

I’m attached to these ideas because I’ve carried them around for a long time. They’re components of my philosophy, and therefore make up some of my identity. To make a long story short, it’s time to write ’em all out! This will be a practice in non-attachment, as well as getting back in the flow of writing.

Prepare yourselves…

Posted in All posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Creating Positivity: the “Yes” Inside

Awhile ago, when I was slacklining in Santa Cruz, the topic of psychedelics came up. A few people I know took acid and went to a nice nature spot to enjoy themselves. One of them, a friend of a friend (whom I haven’t met), ended up sitting down in the bottom of a shallow river, laughing and throwing fistfuls of mud in the air, shouting “I am a human being!!!”

How great that must’ve been! I wondered, what could have made his experience so vivid? What results in such an exultant, incredible state? Basically, I think he just found the tiny little “yes,” deep inside of him, and ran with it. The drug cascaded chemicals into his brain, creating a positive feedback loop that culminated in total reverence and enjoyment of his own existence.

The real question is why not do whatever the fuck you feel like? There are a million “no”s floating around our thoughts, reasons to hold ourselves back. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t swim in the river, there are germs in there; you could catch cold, you could drown, and most of all, you will certainly get dirty.

So what! All those deterrents don’t hold a candle to your original motivation: because you felt like it. “Yes” isn’t a thought, it’s a feeling–joy emanating from your stomach, channeled through the top of your head like lightning, melting down your spine. It’s a luminescence that fills you from the heart to the fingertips with confidence and love.

Do me a favor. Clear all the words from your head, find your breath, and locate the spark inside, that tiny little “yes.” Focus on it, make it grow. Find the thing that makes you happiest at this moment, that you are surest needs to be done, and DO IT right now.

There are really only three rules I try to live by:

1. Say yes to the right things.

2. Say no to the wrong things.

3. Do it as soon as possible.

Try it on for size:
Say yes to the right things, say no to the wrong things, and do it as soon as possible.

Posted in All posts, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Balm

Sometimes it seems like the best things are just a balm, which soothes the ever-burning question: “What now?”

Posted in All posts, Snippets | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Words I Like

God is a silently beaming benefactor.

Posted in All posts, Snippets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Consider:

The things that other people say about you when you’re not around is actually Very Important Knowledge and it would greatly benefit your life, if only you could think about it long & hard enough to figure it out.

Posted in Snippets | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lower Ocean

Our irate neighbor knocked on the door, and I answered. He was furious, coming to complain about the noise we made last night during a weekday party. The kids downstairs from us had slammed the door in his face.

I calmed him down, just by listening. I explained that it sucked. I was trying to sleep through that whole party. My roommates are dicks. “I know it’s lower Ocean street,” he said, “but I’ve been living here ten fucking years! The couple next door has a little baby.” “The car alarm sets off like nothing, bro!” they yelled out from over the fence.

I understand, yeah, sorry. I’ll tell them to keep it down. I apologize.

His anger turned to gratification; I had listened to him. I stood there slumped and he walked away. We were both smiling now, me nonchalant, acquiescent. He turned back. “Hey, you know my motto—fuck all the pussy you can!”

o_O

Posted in Snippets | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

the coziest universe

They make the universe look so comfortable in all the science shows; clouds of dust and gas rumple up like celestial drier sheets while awesome music plays in the background. They present a cosmos that you cannot help but want to wrap around yourself, close your eyes, and fall asleep in.

 

Posted in All posts, great, Snippets | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

209

Everybody will do their best to convince you that they’re not a fucking idiot. But don’t worry. They are.

Posted in Snippets | 1 Comment

The Conductor

I’d love to be a train conductor. All the years of training, working long hours at the station, and collecting ticket stubs would be worth it when, on the first night’s route, I would roll through my hometown and blow the horn however I pleased—long ringing bellows or staccato honks punctuating the night air. “Watch out everyone, there’s a bigass train about to roll through. And guess who’s in charge? That’s right, baby. Me.”

Posted in Snippets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The world truly belongs to God, for his fingerprints are all over it

So over the last few days, I’ve just been writing out all the ideas I’ve had in my head. I figure it’s good practice! You probably noticed I have a bunch of recurring metaphors: inner fire, scale and patterns, big and small, infinity.

Why these motifs? When I was little, in the room I slept in at my grandparents’ house, there was a motivational poster on the wall. It said “The world truly belongs to God, for his fingerprints are all over it.” The picture in the middle was a mountain range, maybe the Himalayas. The idea is that, if you shift your perspective enough, the ridges of your fingerprints might look a lot like mountains. I pictured a gigantic hand coming down and impressing itself on the Earth when it was young and malleable, like leaving your handprint in play-doh. The idea of scale has fascinated me ever since! If I have religion or spirituality, it’s somewhere in here.

One of my friends from college, a geology major, said that he was studying “roughness” for his final project. Interestingly enough, the concept of roughness is entirely dependent on the scale you’re looking at! The roughness of an enormous cliff, if you take the whole cliff face as your frame, can be the same relative to a smooth surface examined up close. I love this idea still, and I wedded it with my favorite hobby of rock climbing to write about it in “Bits and Pieces.”

I tried looking for that poster, but unfortunately only came up with one billion shitty fake-motivational poster memes. If anyone finds it, let me know! I want to link it here. In the meantime, I thought I’d offer a little explanation so my posts wouldn’t come off as too obscure. =]

Posted in All posts | 1 Comment

The Perma-Stoke

As the years have come and gone, imparting me with new knowledge and experiences, my life’s goal has become increasingly clear: to achieve the elusive perma-stoke.

It’s self explanatory. To be perma-stoked is to be stoked as hell, permanently. Take care to distinguish it from the normal “stoke,” a fleeting, excited euphoria. The noun form of “stoke” is in fact its own entity—it is the set-up, the anticipation which builds to bursting point, the supreme satisfaction of being in the stoke itself, and the eventual depleting of this fiery kinetic energy. The casual stoke is a process, a mindset with a discrete beginning and end.

The perma-stoke is more subtle. It is wily, traitorous, and nigh-unattainable. If the normal stoke is a roaring bonfire, which blazes fiercely but dies as it consumes its fuel, then the coals of the perma-stoke are always lit. The pilot light is on, and one may activate the perma-stoke in an act of willful pyrogenesis. Yet it must be maintained; impurities in the fuel of your life, clogged mental chimneys, and the drafty winds of circumstance may taint it, obscure it, or blow it nearly out. It requires constant upkeep.

One who abides by this sublime state of mind is constantly excited and enthusiastic. Everything is an opportunity to be fully appreciated and savored, a blessing to take full advantage of. The practitioner seems to live more fully. He is vigorous, full of irrepressible vitality. His world is staggeringly beautiful; the colors he sees are brighter, the sounds and sensations sweeter. All is music, for he alone truly listens. Everything is a sweet caress. The world is his oyster, and he is the radiant pearl contained within.

During my best days, I have been this practitioner. I have tasted the sweetness of life’s ambrosia, felt the balmy wind beneath my wings and soared. But goodness so refined is scary, even terrifying. It takes only one instance of skepticism, one lapse of faith, before doubt seeps in around the edges. One moment of lucidity can shatter the illusion of even the sweetest dream.

Yet the eternal stoke is alive in the world—I catch glimpses of it in people, in the glints of their eyes, the apex of their laughter, the saintlike demeanor and movement of their bodies when they are swept away. I know it’s still there, deep within all of us.

So don’t forget to sweep your chimneys!

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cross-eyed

My favorite point of the view is the too-close, the cross-eyed, where the frame of your own body alters the thing you’re looking at; the uncommon times when you can see yourself in relation to something else.

Under the covers, on a rainy morning, with an arm folded below your chin and the breathable semidarkness of the sheets above, a slice of the world peeks in, looking into this intimate space. The light is gray and beautiful, the sounds just soft enough to notice through the window. If you care to, in a beautiful moment of relaxation, you can shut it all back out.

When the blades of grass at the park become their own entities, as you fall to the ground in surrender, the camera behind your eyes zooms in. Each blade is serrated, vicious, but this is part of the discomfort you accept when you decide that getting dirty doesn’t matter. Usually we have boundaries: this is my body, and this is the rest of the world. But breaking this prideful distinction is liberating. Forget about it.

Perception is selective. You see your body, sprawled out and twisted in an irreplicable position, one in a trillion. There is the torsion in your spine, and the lumps and irritations flaring up from the grass’s touch on bare skin. Are these sensations objects in and of themselves? Where does the grass end and your arm begin? The boundary is subjective. I love these foregrounded moments, because they offer a chance to pull your awareness, your boundaries, much closer in than normal. Tangled limbs, inner sensations, and the things you’re accustomed to looking past or through, may be “mine” or “other.” The rims of your glasses or the frames of your eyebrows fall into either category. You are suddenly aware of the presence of your nose, a sheering rock face whose image reverses like a reflection depending on which eye you look through. The tether of your spiral column reaches through your neck, connected to the anchors of your shoulder muscles. Your head is suddenly foreign; a telephone pole, a suspension bridge, a radio tower.

We imprison ourselves in our bodies, thinking to exert influence only on the things we come into physical contact with, but really we are as free as we want to be. We choose the scope of our own boundaries, selecting the point where “internal” becomes “external” with a metaphysical slide rule. Our inner eye, our awareness—our mechanism for experiencing the world, all we really have—ranges far beyond the physical limits we impose upon ourselves.

We posit the existence of God, a being whose scale is truly limitless. He can dwell on the level of the stars and galaxies, or dive down to the microscopic and fraternize among the atoms. Instead of experiencing these things with the imagination, as we must do, He is, presumably, actually there. . . but we are a lot closer than we give ourselves credit for.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Secret

In the bathroom of the house I grew up in, there was a peculiar light fixture. Four or five lightbulbs were mounted on a brass backboard, above the sink and mirror where I saw my reflection each morning. Long glass poles hovered around the lightbulbs like window blinds, stretching across them horizontally and scattering the light across the room.

Look closely enough at a familiar object, and you will uncover something entirely new. I must have been fourteen or fifteen when I climbed up onto the granite counter one day and got my first real look at these lights. Three brass discs jutted out perpendicular from the rectangular metal base, slicing up and down on the left, on the right, and in the middle. The lightbulbs rested in between, divided into their separate sections. Each disc—not quite a full circle, but more than a semicircle—had a smattering of holes around the edges, where the glass poles stuck through. Sliding a pole all the way into place, through the matching hole in each disc, would hold it secure. The result was a floating cloud of glass poles, which encased the bulbs in a lengthwise half-cylinder. Looking closer, I saw that the glass poles had a raised circle 1/5th of the way in, close to the edge. The raised rings were too thick to pass through the holes in the vertical brass discs; this provided some stability, preventing them from sliding out against the wall. Perched on top of the black counter, straddling the sink, I carefully pulled one pole out. Balancing the left side over the top of the sliding shower door, I guided it through each hole: one, two, three, and then it was free in my hands. The pole was about three feet long, and because of the location of the bump, I couldn’t help thinking it looked like a sword.

Later that night, I held the pole in front of the mirror in my walk-in closet. I had a two-part room, and the big closet was my private domain. I made a resolution: this is where, late at night, I would practice my swordplay. If anyone was suspicious, I could slide it right back into the light fixture, and they would be none the wiser. Maybe they had noticed the missing pole, the highest one around the back, or maybe the minute observation was just a figment of their imagination. Maybe it wasn’t there to begin with; they had just never looked close enough.

I took my shirt off with a serious look, and gave myself an inspection. I would learn how to fence; I would become strong. It would be just like The Count of Monte Cristo. Grabbing behind the bump, on the “handle” at the base of the sword, I turned the weapon over and felt its weight, gently twisting it through the air. I exhaled, making my first slash at the mirror. As I jerked it back up, preparing for another strike, the weight of the pole promptly caused it to snap clean off at the handle. It clanged against my mirror and fell to the floor. I had been a warrior for all of ten seconds.

Embarrassed (but not too embarrassed), I stooped to pick it up, and stowed it back in the furthest recesses of my closet shelf, behind my berimbau and my old shoeboxes. Nobody noticed the one missing pole, the highest one in the back around the top, and the broken glass rested quietly in my closet until I moved out of the house, years later. As my mom pulled things down from my closet, she saw it, and I laughed and told her the story. It wasn’t even a big deal, but it had been my secret.

Posted in All posts, Fiction/Creative | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlining and Willpower

I went highlining yesterday, at Garrapata State Park, with a group of good friends of mine.

Highlining is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It’s slacklining, but really high. It involves stretching a piece of webbing between two points, and trying to walk across it. You’re secured by the leash, a piece of static rope attached to a ring which slides across the line, and you tie yourself in with a rock climbing harness. You scoot out to a safe spot, sit on the line, and then try to stand up and walk across to the other side.

(that’s me!)

In the best-case scenario, you “send” the line, making it across without falling, and maybe turn back around and walk back before untying. If you fall, you’ll flip through the empty air before the leash catches you. At the bottom, after you’re done swinging around and you’ve gotten your bearings back, you need to pull yourself back up the rope to get back to the line. Sticking a foot high up on the leash for leverage, you pull your body back up to the line with your hands. This is all upper-body strength. From there, it’s a simple matter of hooking the line behind your knees, hanging upside down, and swinging back on top, only to reach the sitting position you started in and try it all over again.

We rigged over the beach, between two wavy sandstone cliffs, looping the anchors around a chossy boulder and a small spire. The rock is awesome; different strengths of sandstone have eroded differently. Some rock juts out in jagged orange outcroppings, and other boulders are pockmarked with small bowls; the wind has eroded away so much it looks almost like they wear a wrinkly skin of softer sandstone. I had high hopes for the day! The weather and the setting were perfect. I went to sleep early, I had been meditating every day, hadn’t done anything bad to my body; I woke up early, ate enough food. I was totally on top of my game… minus slacklining. I tied in and I fell, over and over again.

The biggest benefit of highlining is simply willpower. When you’re just starting, you will fall—a lot. It’s even fun to take your first whipper, because the sheer prospect of walking on a stretchy, swingy, bouncy line 30 or 50 or 100 feet off the ground is terrifying. Your body thinks that, if you fall, you will die. It’s relieving to get over that initial fear; it’s good to know that falling off is OK. The first fall is an accomplishment in and of itself. Up on the line you feel so precarious that any action is a triumph. You’ve conquered fear and paralysis.

The next step is perseverance. You fall, and you get back on. If you don’t want to haul yourself back up the rope all the way from the bottom, you can try to “catch” the line by either grabbing it with your hands or hooking it behind your knee. But the line is hard, pulled taught with hundreds or thousands of pounds of tension, and it will transfer a lot of force to your body very quickly. The line doles out bruises, cuts, abrasions, calluses. “You just fell,” your body says. “Why do you want to go through all that effort to fall again?” After pulling yourself to a stable, comfortable sitting position, trying it all over is the last thing you want to do. It takes a lot of guts to get back to your feet.

But that’s where the good comes in. If you can manage to start walking, if you can cast doubt and pain and everything else aside, then you will find yourself in a magical place. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there. I’ve been highlining three times; the other two were at a backyard highline festival, in Garden Valley, where slacklines were strung through the trees like telephone wires. If there’s a reason why my performance didn’t match up to my expectations (in the SSBM community we call this a “john”), it would be that I was out of practice. At the festival there were slacklines everywhere, and I was all over them, starting, walking, balancing, correcting, turning around. Yesterday I never really got to the point of walking; it was all I could do to stand up and catch my balance.

The second time I got on, later in the afternoon, I was determined. This would be my last chance. Even though Blake had added more tension, making it more to my liking, I fell, again and again. I caught the line and then threw my legs back up vigorously, hanging from my knees and fingertips. My technique was off when I spun back upright—if you do it right it’s more about finesse than force—but I tried with every fiber of my heart to hold on and press myself back up. Slackliners walk a fine line between trying hard and surrendering. You need to be calm enough to notice the sway of the line, exert enough force to correct it (but not make the wobbles worse), and be tenacious enough to keep yourself on. What’s more, your body imposes a physical limit; you can only pull yourself back up a finite amount of times before you need to get off, eat some food, drink water, and recharge. After your last fall, sitting in your harness defeated under the line, you still have to pull back up, haul yourself back to either side, and climb back up onto solid ground before you untie.

So I had to call it quits. Even though I had lots of determination left, lots of fire, I knew that nothing good would come of pushing past my limits. I painstakingly hooked heel after heel and dragged myself back to the starting spire, climbed back up to safety, and untied. I was so mad. I didn’t even walk.

I laid down on a rock to collect myself. What happened? I went through all the mental checks: I was relatively Zen’d out. I had meditated that day, and every day for a week. I was connected with my body. My thoughts weren’t racing, and I had enough willpower to try and to fall a shitload of times. As I calmed down, my anger gave way to confusion. Could I have done anything better? Did anything go necessarily “wrong”? I guess I was just out of practice, and 30 feet above the ground is a hell of a place to remember how to do something. What did I learn from today? What does this mean? Why do I do this to myself?

When I last went home, me and my friends classified each other as either earth, wind, water, or fire element. I was elated to get the “fire” label. I was feeling particularly fiery that week. I was happy to be home, back with my friends. I was lifting weights and radiating heat. Sometimes I picture my will as an inner fire, and when I’m excited it ignites my whole body, spreading energy outwards from my diaphragm. I think this willpower is what Brendan and Steven and Derek saw when they called me a fire type. Later, during a phone call, my friend Adam said he always pictured me as a wind type, riding the wind and soaring when a strong motivator comes my way, or coming to a dead stop when the breeze lets up, and flying off in a different direction the when another impulse compels me. I like them both, to be honest.

So what do I have that doesn’t leave me, at the end of the day? After I’ve pulled myself back up and fallen, over and over and over, and I still can’t walk? I have the ability to choose, to say “Yes, I’m going again”—I have my determination. Lying down on the rock, eyes closed, I realized I still have my fire, my willpower. That will stay with me until the end, whichever way the wind decides to blow it.

Posted in All posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Burying vs Immersion

Whatever I’m doing, I like to immerse myself in it. Sometimes, if I’m in a particular mood, I’ll bury myself. Although they both imply focus, they’re not the same! One is like swimming around underwater, and the other is like sinking into the mud at the bottom of the lake.

Immersion is the good kind—when you’re immersed in something, you’re awestruck, enraptured; you’re learning and growing, and everything seems like wonder before your eyes. Did you know that you can do X, Y, or Z? Did you know it could make you feel so good?

Burying is the bad. I don’t want to talk to anybody. Go away, I’m doing the dishes. Technically you’re engaged in what you’re doing, but the motivation is wrong. You’re caught up in that thing because you’re trying to cover something else up: a concern, a nagging thought, a sense of unease. You’re ignoring something.

Take the following example, culled from my own life. I’m about to cook dinner. I’m chopping onions. Someone comes into the kitchen to talk to me. My responses go like “Yeah,” “OK,” or “Hmm.” My body language is off; my back is usually squarely towards the person, and I tighten up. Whether I realize or not, I’m subconsciously trying to exclude the other person. I might start a particular topic of conversation, but this is a mere cordiality.

“How was the party the other night?”

They respond.

“Oh, nice.” I don’t really care—can’t you see I’m choppin onions here?! I silently plead for them to go away, and excuse my awkwardness by devoting extra care to my stinky bulbs.

Really, the onions will get chopped just the same if I put a little extra soul into my conversation. The main difference is that, in the first scenario, I didn’t really want to talk in the first place. I pretend to be extra-involved in my cooking to cover up the tension I feel between me and a given person.

This goes the same for anything. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and I like to try my best at anything I do. Naturally, this requires a high level of attention. But when I’m buried in whatever I’m doing, there’s no room for anything (or anyone) else.

It’s easy to use action as a defense mechanism. I really like getting approval from other people, but I’m afraid of getting hurt. The solution: hide away in your pursuits. For a long time, I’ve wanted for people to look at me and infer some sense of worth based on the results of my efforts. “Wow, Joe is so cool! Look at the way he rock climbs! He’s so buff!” Or “Just look at how good that essay is!” Or “I can’t believe how fast you picked that up!” Insert any positive quality at the end of those sentences, and you have the rough idea. The core of me is still obscured. There’s just enough poking above the ground to deal with others on the surface level, but all you see is a man, some one, doing some thing.

Have you ever been buried by friends at the beach? You lie down in a ditch and they pile sand on top of you. Eventually you get sick of it. It gets hard to breathe.

If burying is selective attention mixed with shame, then immersion is focus mixed with gratitude. You’re still in whatever you’re doing, but it’s YOU, and it’s ALL you. Instead of stifling self-expression, the immersive activity becomes a means to that end. Recently, this happens when I play music, when I say what’s on my mind, when I joke with people, when I write.

The tricky part is that any one activity can play both roles; it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about how you feel when you’re doing it. Some days are better than others. I’m in a music class right now, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Sometimes, though, I’ll walk away from the piano frustrated, tired, or fed up. It just happens sometimes. *shrug*

Everybody buries themselves to a degree—everybody! So instead of soullessly going about your duties, trudging along with a heavy heart and weary eyes, take a step back. If you don’t feel it then relax, take a few deep breaths, and ask what part of your experience you’re trying to bury. That’s what really needs your attention.

***

I’ve committed to unburying, little by little. I think the key is to go a little bit easier on yourself. The only two things I’m really trying to uphold are meditating every day and NoFap (http://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/faq if you don’t already know). Other than that, I’m on the lookout for doing things with a defensive attitude. If your heart’s not in something extra-curricular, then don’t worry about it! Tonight my body hurts, so I decided against climbing, and I’m tired, so I decided against meeting up with a friend. Not to worry; it’ll happen in good time!

Recently I’ve felt pulled back into writing, so here’s where I’ve landed. The final practice is simply writing more! For me, communication is the center of unburying. Be on the lookout for different limbs of mine erupting from the sand at odd angles. See you all soon.

Posted in All posts, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Uncorking

It feels like I have way too much pent-up energy these days. Emotions are bottled away, and I’ve gotta uncork them.

This blog in particular exists in a weird place in my mind. Everything I’ve written so far has been really formal, keeping with a particular persona. In a way, I hate this, because the high standards I’ve set for myself sometimes actually deter me from writing. These standards are obstacles, because it feels like I can only express myself under the most rigid of conditions. That sucks!

I was really disappointed earlier today, because I realized that I’m out of the practice of writing. Emotional transparency is my goal; writing helps me see what’s important to me. It’s dredging. It’s weird to think that this process, which has been so important to me in the past, is now reserved for a few formalized occasions, each with their own set of pretensions—writing essays (about things I usually don’t care about), new blog posts (which I probably care too much about), and journalling (which falls into the same patterns I’ve developed over the course of, say, ten years). My voice finds outlet only in these things, and the rest of the time it’s just trapped in my head. As a result I’ve been bottled up; it’s hard for me to say what I really mean, and it’s hard to do what I really want to do.

So in the future expect more updates, with a less formal tone, as I do some uncorking.

Posted in All posts | Tagged | Leave a comment