Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting my Hippie On or How I learned to enjoy Yoga without a shit ton of analysis

Exercise! Eat right! Drink more water! Get enough sleep! Take your vitamins!

Wha-wha-wha-what? Is there anything else I can do for you? Oh? There is? Continue please…… Low Carb! More protein! Embrace anti-oxidants! Understand your Omega-3’s! Stop smoking! Drink more wine! Laugh every day! Get a pet!  Take a baby aspirin every day! No wait – don’t take a baby aspirin every day! Go Vegan! Gluten-free? Blah – blah – blah.

It’s exhausting, right? I’ve been around long enough to see a bazillion health & well-being trends come and go. And come. And go. Ask a group of ten friends what they do and you’ll probably come away with then different answers. Ask that same question of those people a year later and be prepared for a shift in their answers.

I’m as guilty of this trend-reflex as the next, so before you go sticking your tongue out at me consider that in my basement you’ll find: an ab-roller – remember that? Plus a box of Tae-Bo videos crammed in with my Sweating to the Oldies collection. There’s also a HUGE crystal sitting in front of me as I write this, flax seed in the cupboard, a neti-pot in the bathroom and a rosemary bush by the garden gate.

And now for some personal reflection .....

Located on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, not far from the ocean sits an amazing place called Self-Realization Fellowship. Founded in the 1950’s by Paramahansa Yogananda, the site is basically an open air shrine dedicated to all religions (for movie buffs I should add that the sight was one of if not the first movie studio in the early 1900’s where silent films were made….no! seriously!! Google it if you think I’m full of shit).

Unfortunately, people see/hear the word ‘religion’ and start backing away which is a shame because this place – open to the public – is a magnificent walking and visual meditation in and of itself. Here you will find the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, which houses a portion of the spiritual leader’s ashes (the only portion of his ashes to be interred outside of India). There are also statues of Jesus Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi, Bhagavan Krishna, Buddha, and the Madonna and Child. Paramahansa wasn’t kidding about ‘all religions’.

I remember one day, not long after being introduced to this beautiful place, taking a walk with a friend around the lake, meeting orange robed monks, yamaka’d Hebrews, Nuns in traditional habits and every manner of folk simply seeking a respite from the everyday hustle and bustle. There were families with children, a priest, and an abundance of what we gleefully refer to as tie dyed hippies, enjoying the atmosphere.

Not much of a ‘joiner’ by nature, the classes and services offered at the SRF were known but not something that called to me….it was simply a physical place that represented a higher ideal. One of peace and well being that I’ve taken with me in my soul as life and circumstance led me elsewhere.

What was the point of that story? Simple. It’s about finding an oasis of calm – even in the midst of daily chaos.

We’re all so frenetic these days. Over-connected. Plugged in. Tuned in. Internet driven through Facebook, email, messaging, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, even Pinterest. We have Kindles and iPads, cell phones and navigation systems. My TV has three hundred plus channels and when that’s not enough there’s Netflix or Hulu or even Amazon Movies to choose from. I have more damn bookmarks ‘in the cloud’ than I have time to visit.

But do we have pockets of silence away from this never-ending barrage of connectivity where we can switch off, back away, listen? Yes and No.

Since I was a teenager, yoga has fascinated me. To this day I have never taken a formal class – not much of a joiner, remember? – but even so have managed to develop a simple, straightforward personal practice that is equal parts meditation, exercise and therapy. I don’t think about it. It’s like brushing teeth. Something that gets done. Picking apart or analyzing WHY we brush our teeth is unnecessary clutter in an already over-saturated reality. As Nike says – we JUST DO IT.

There have been so many changes in my personal world and I’ve found myself walking a completely different path than the one I’d been on just a year ago. New challenges. Old regrets. It’s all the same, yes?

It’s taken me awhile to find my footing – if that’s what you can call it. Life is, after all, a sometimes-slippery slope over which we have little control. But I like to think that through simply trying to be aware, I’ve moved the story along if only just a little.

We’ve had a brutal winter in the east. If you’ve lived through it, you know what I mean. If you’re watching from elsewhere …. the endless news stories have done a good job of depicting what’s gone on. In a word, it’s been exhausting.

So….there I was early this morning – enjoying the quiet before everyone’s energy got things ramped up – making my customary cup o’ tea (side note: ordinarily I would have thrown in the expression de rigueur since it really IS part of my vocabulary ….but recently I’ve seen some eye-rolling and Google searching going on when I talk/write so I simplified, simplified, simplified) and it started to snow. The screaming in my head from the weather is getting so fucking old at this point!

Without planning or thinking it through (that’s what these ramblings are for:) I pulled out the yoga mat, flipped on some “spa” music from one of the hundred music channels available on my cable system, and got down to it. Twenty minutes later, the mental screaming was replaced with quiet laughter…”Weather!  WTF?!!”

Now, I may eat too much meat, don’t drink enough water and roll my eyes at the hard-core Vegans in my life but that twenty minutes keeps me from taking most of this shit so seriously that yet another layer of stress is added.

To be clear, I’m not preaching. If you knew me personally, you’d know why that impression is beyond fucking hilarious. I’m not advocating (shut-up Vegans! Said with tongue-in-cheek love y’all). I’m not hyping. I’m not selling. This isn’t a pyramid scheme for yoga freaks and I went out of my way not to single out the who/what/when/where and how’s of my practice. That’s for every individual to decide on his or her own.

What I’ve been getting at – in a rather round-about way (you can thank years of teaching for this BTW. Showing vs. Telling, y’know?) is that through a bit of time spent on a mat, I’ve found a way to disconnect and in doing so re-charge. Go ahead and make the snarky comment about the spa music on the cable system. It’s cool! You’re right. It’s hardly disconnecting if ya’ wanna’ be a dick about it – but a point made is better than a shit ton of white noise that leads nowhere.

It’s still snowing but I’m not screaming in my head at the weather gods or shaking my first at the sky. Yeah, annoyed and slightly pissed but ………oh well……..rather than oh my fucking god.

I'm taking that as a WIN.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thoughts From Inside Hell's Snowglobe

When I was a kid and it snowed, my parents would hand my brother a snow shovel with instructions to go two houses up the street and shovel out an old woman who lived alone, Mrs. Albertson. Back then, we were expected to treat our elders with respect; to be kind and courteous and to always lend a helping hand if needed.
Every street/neighborhood has a 'character' and for us, Mrs. Albertson was it. I recall  she had a tacky pink flamingo stuck in the ground near her front flowerbed that everyone knew she’d brought back from Florida one year after going south to visit her widowed sister. It was an ugly thing which after years exposed to the elements looked like it had seen better days.
On Halloween the neighborhood kids would dutifully knock on her door to Trick or Treat and play along when she tried to guess who was behind each mask. She smelled like rosewater and Noxzema and always, ALWAYS wore sensible ‘old lady’ shoes that made her thick ankles look like sausages stuffed into a too small space.
It was sometimes a race to see which neighborhood boy would be the first to get her shoveled out and if you were the one who beat everyone else you wore the aching back and tired arms like a medal. If you were lucky, she’d have fresh baked cookies as a reward. I remember my brother coming back from a snow-rescue one time with a brown bag stuffed with some of the best damn chocolate chip cookies we’d ever eaten.
For the entrepreneurial (a term that didn’t even exist back then) a snow storm meant an opportunity to pick up a few bucks through hard work and pure grit. Armies of snow suited boys carrying snow shovels would make their way through the neighborhoods, knocking on doors offering to clear sidewalks and walkways for a few measly dollars.
There wasn’t a set price for the hard work; they’d happily take whatever they were given – and talk about it afterwards in the same way we critiqued who gave the best candy at Halloween. Nobody was passed over for being a cheapskate. That’s not how things were done in those days. I suppose it was more about community and being there for each other than about the wallet.
That’s just how it was in our little corner of suburbia. My, my how things have changed.
This winter season has been nothing short of a long-distance endurance test with one snow or ice event after another. Things really got fun when 700,000 people in our area lost power after a heavy wet snow was followed by an equally heavy ice storm. We were in the dark for two days. No electricity, no heat, no nothing. Leaving the house didn’t help as all the businesses and even most of the ATM’s were also in the dark. Oh yeah – and then there was the Polar Vortex.
Living along what is referred to as the I-95 corridor between D.C. and NYC is a little bit like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride when weather shakes things up. A couple miles on either side of that line generally determines whether you get buried in just snow or DP’d with snow mixed with sleet, mixed with rain. We are tucked in an area that gets more snow than the other. Fun times.
Our current snowfall total has now exceeded 56” and that measurement is a city total – not the higher total we experience in the deep suburbs. Think about what that means. That’s four and a half feet. As I look from my window, white stuff is falling from the sky…AGAIN.  We’ve been told to expect another three to five inches. So that would bring us to five friggin’ feet of snow. According to the news, this has been the third snowiest season in history for our area.
Gone are the days of traveling snow shovel brigades of kids looking to help out and hopefully earn some cash. Now when assistance is needed you look to whoever provides your lawn service or end up trolling Craigslist - the new home of todays’ entrepreneur. And it’s not cheap.
We totally lucked out and hooked up with two brothers who contact us after each snow event to see if we want to get on to their list. After the first shovel out, I was chatting them up and found out that the older of the two was home from college. He fished a beat up business card out of his pocket that made me laugh. Along with his name and contact info he listed his major in college (Business). Smart kid.
Between the multiple times we’ve had to be shoveled out and the ridiculous amount of ice melt purchased; this has been one expensive winter.
I’ve started calling it Hell’s Snowglobe.

It’s hard to whine, although I do my fair share, because being here this winter was a calculated decision. We’ve been straddling both coasts for an entire year as we slowly shift permanently to the southwest. The slow-go approach is predicated on family issues. Something we all have to deal with.

In a sense we are running out the clock. By this time next year we will be in the clear and let me tell you – there is no friggin’ way I’m spending another winter here. This experience has been dreadful and not enjoyable at all.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Blues

This is what a waking nightmare looked like as it gathered on the power lines in our neighborhood earlier this week. One day, 14" of heavy, wet snow followed twenty-fours later by an epic ice storm on TOP of the snow.

Was without power (us and 700,000 of our closest friends!) for way too long.  As day 2 approached, shit was getting weird! Because the crisis was so HUGE and widespread, even if we could have gotten out of the house it wouldn't have made any difference. Everything was closed. Even the local malls. That hot tea I was craving? Unless a Bic lighter could create enough power/heat for a mug of water, I was shit-of-of-luck.

We have gotten so much snow since Christmas - 42" and counting - that it's messing with local school calendars due to the multiple snow closings, late starts and early dismissals.

There's the threat of another storm x2 in the 10 day forecast. Really? 

Here's the funny part .... it was a calculated decision to spend winter on the east coast. At the end of October, we were planted quite happily on the Gulf of Mexico, deciding what to do about the holidays. Spending time with family won the debate so we scurried back to  the northeast and set up camp in the family homestead. 

Achy Breaky Big Mistakey!
It's been one weather related nightmare after another.

In my mind, I rationalized that if the weather turned to crap, I'd have more time to focus on writing. After all, I've got three working manuscripts up on the board so being forced to stay in didn't seem like a problem. Clearly, I underestimated the effects of winter cabin fever!!!