Thanksgiving Weekend: Being thankful for things I don’t like.

Hello! Welcome to today’s post that’s actually yesterday’s real post. (You may have seen my non-post post from nearly midnight last night.)

Maybe it was because yesterday was Thanksgiving Day that I woke up in a weird, meditative state this morning and started thinking about the concept of gratitude. Counterintuitively, I wondered, could I be thankful for things in my life that generally cause angst or distress?

I realized that:

1). I’m thankful for my depression, because it reminds me that I can’t guess a person’s struggles. Every stranger is a mystery, and it doesn’t make sense to judge a mystery. It doesn’t make sense to react to a mystery, either, no matter the rudeness or awfulness of it.

2). I’m thankful for my phobia, because it means that I can feel something. I can think of nothing positive about my paralyzing fear of roaches, but I can appreciate that it evokes a pureness of any emotion.

3). I’m thankful for stressful situations, because they force me to practice patience, self-control, and nonchalance.

4). I’m thankful for awkward situations, because they force me into a place of self-scrutiny.

5). I’m thankful for pain, because it heightens the bliss of not being in pain.

6). I’m thankful for cold, because it heightens the bliss of warmth.

7). I’m thankful for bad days, because they make me eager for the next day. Every day is a new day.

8). I’m thankful for the intensely trying or traumatic experiences in my life, because remembering them gives me perspective.

9). I’m thankful for hard times, because I come through them – I hope – as a more understanding person.

I realize that I can choose to see my struggles as positives; they can help me to become a better human out in the world.

 

“Without darkness, you can’t see the stars”

 

 

 

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”

 

Friday mental health meditation.

It’s been a hard week.

With chronic, clinical depression, you live with a continuous mental health ebb and flow. It’s usually unpredictable. When I feel the ebb, it’s easy to dwell on factors that might be feeding my mental state into the darkness.

Because while the low points usually come from nothing in particular (such are the vagaries of compromised brain chemistry), there are also times of stress responses to factors I can identify.

I recognize the counterproductive nature of dwelling on those factors, but still, it’s hard to avoid gnawing at them sometimes. This is why I constantly enumerate the things for which I’m grateful. When I catch myself going over the negative stuff, I can fall back on my long-standing practice of counting my blessings throughout the day, every day.

When I’m down, I try to dwell even more on the positive.

In other words, actively practicing gratitude amounts to depression damage control. I have other forms of therapy. Working out consistently is therapy, literally: exercise frees the body’s endorphins to help the brain make you feel better. Creative endeavors such as writing are therapy. Loving on (and being loved by) my cat is therapy. Eating well to avoid poisoning my body is therapy. I try to laugh a lot. I try to maintain a lifestyle that can help others, rather than hurt them. Now, minimizing my life is even a form of therapy. I see a shrink and take psych meds, as well, but in the daily course of living, it’s these other actions I choose to take that help the most.

I’m grateful to have the unwavering support of Callaghan and my parents, but I try to manage my mental health without leaning on them too much. I’d never take them for granted, but I don’t want to be needy, either. It’s helpful just knowing that they’re there. I have to take responsibility for myself, because what if they’re not there one day? I can’t allow myself to become dependent on others for my mental well-being. This is a survival instinct more than anything.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a selfie I thought would be amusing to take (the other day):

 

Yet another awkward mirror-selfie attempt, but hey. Hi.

 

There’s always another day, and next week will be a new week.

 

It’s a small world, and I love you all.

Today, I want to say “thank you” for stopping by to read my blog… not just for stopping by right now, when you’re reading this, but for every day that you come here. Thank you to all of you.

Yesterday, I dug deeper into my stats, just out of curiosity: where in the world are you reading from these days?

The list of countries is humbling. (Note: I can only see countries. I don’t have a sophisticated stat counter that breaks it down to regions and provinces and states and cities and what have you.)

My first post appeared in this blog at the end of 2012. By the end of 2014, you, as a group, represented 96 different countries. By the end of 2015, you represented 106 countries. I can’t say how many countries you represented by the end of 2016 because WordPress didn’t produce annual blog summaries for that year (if they did, I didn’t receive one), but I’m guessing the number would’ve been higher yet… because now, mid-way through 2017, my statistic report says that you’ve come here from 150 different countries. And this kind of blows my mind. Some of you visit from countries that didn’t even exist when I was born.

So if you’re reading this… thank you, wherever you may be in the world. Ideally, I’d say “thank you” in all of your languages; instead, I’m sending serious gratitude vibes to you in your specific countries.

I want to give an appreciative shout-out to you in…

(the countries as WordPress arranged them – in the order of most viewers on down):

United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway, Brazil, Singapore, Spain, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Philippines, Austria, China, Ireland, Thailand, Taiwan, Finland, Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong SAR China, Switzerland, European Union, Portugal, South Korea, Belgium, Poland, South Africa, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Romania, Denmark, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Isreal, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Peru, Ukraine, Serbia, Qatar, Bulgaria, Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Slovenia, Lithuania, Jordan, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Estonia, Tanzania, Bermuda, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, Algeria, Kuwait, Iceland, Nigeria, Slovakia, Dominican Republic, Cyprus, Iraq, Latvia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mauritius, Brunei, Kenya, Macedonia, Jamaica, Honduras, Guam, Oman, El Salvador, Bahrain, Georgia, Bahamas, Réunion, Azerbaijan, Laos, Albania, Malta, U.S. Virgin Islands, Myanmar (Burma), Belarus, Ethiopia, Angola, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Guadeloupe, Uganda, Curaçao, Paraguay, Maldives, Mongolia, Åland Islands, Jersey, Syria, Nepal, Moldova, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Fiji, Mozambique, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Isle of Man, Uruguay, Liechtenstein, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Faroe Islands, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Martinique, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Grenada, Aruba, New Caledonia, Cayman Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Guernsey, Siint Maarten, French Polynesia, and Montenegro.

Again, thank you. Your reading here means the world to me.

Here’s a relic from my childhood:

 

The Ginn World Atlas (California State Department of Education, Sacramento, 1967)

 

This atlas was intended for children. It could be called “My First Atlas” – ! It was published the year before I was born, and it was indeed my first atlas. The same atlas for a child today would look different, because our world is different.

When you think about it, our world is small. It’s amazing to me that now, in the digital age, we’re connected in a way that can be quantified (our energetic connection notwithstanding). We can see the extent of our connection, and that’s nothing short of awesome. It reminds us, for one thing, that we’re diverse and the same all at once. That whatever we’re in, we’re in it together.

Gratitude is a universal feeling, and my gratitude is bigger than I can express. It’s bigger than this small and fragile world.

Every morning, when I wake up, I reflect on all that I’m thankful to have, and that includes all of you who take the time to come here.

How I manage my mental illness.

I’ve touched on some of this in various posts in the past, but I’ve been asked to share an actual list of tactics I use to maintain my mental health.

First of all, I accept that PTSD and clinical depression are a part of who I am. Mental illness and the management of it are “my normal,” and this acceptance helps a lot.

It also helps to accept the fact that just as there are great days, there are horrible days, and days ranging between the two. Sometimes, all the meds and talk therapy and things on the list below just aren’t enough. When this happens, I try to recognize that “this, too, shall pass,” keeping it all in perspective. (I know that this is so much easier said than done. I can say it easily now, when I’m not at the bottom of the abyss of hopelessness and despair. All we can do is try.)

That being said, here’s my list… things I do to manage my mental illness:

1). I avoid alcohol (with few exceptions).

Alcohol is a depressant. It also counters or otherwise negatively interacts with medications taken for mental illness. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis is never advisable for the mentally ill.

2). I take medication and talk to my therapist on a regular basis.

Meds and talk therapy are basic, first-line tactics of controlling mental illness. It’s critically important to adhere to such a routine and to have my external resources at hand. I regularly visit my doctor at the V.A. hospital, and I know that I always have access to emergency help at a national veterans’ crisis line.

3). I work out and try to eat well (within reason, making sure to maintain a healthy balance).

Exercise heightens our mood by way of its effect on our brain chemistry. It leads to improved physical fitness, which improves our physical health. (For this reason, more and more companies are including gym membership coverage fees in their employees’ benefits packages.) Improved physical health reduces stress and makes us feel more energetic and better about ourselves, in general. Choosing healthier food options most of the time comprises the other half of this picture.

4). I have routines, and I stick to them.

Routines are underestimated and even sneered upon. We like to say that spontaneity is critical to quality of life, and there is certainly something to that, but the fact is that routine can provide us with mental health benefits, too. Routines are valuable. They can be soothing when everything else is chaos. Routines can give us a sense of control and accomplishment.

5). I eliminate toxic factors in my life (to the best of my ability).

The word “toxic” is overused in our current vocabulary (instigated, I suspect, by self-help gurus, but that’s beside the point) – and yet, it captures this point well. In a nutshell, a toxic factor is that which makes us feel badly about ourselves. It’s a negative and destructive force and presence in our lives.

Toxic factors can include situations, places, and/or people and relationships. It’s not always possible to eliminate such factors; when we can’t, we can seek out ways to lessen their negative impact. I recently liberated myself from an utterly demoralizing situation, and that leap hugely improved my mental health and quality of life.

6). I engage my creative energy to the fullest extent possible.

If you have creative juices, let them flow. If you have hobbies, indulge in them. If you don’t have a hobby, get one. Losing ourselves in the physical act of doing something we enjoy goes beyond mere escapism. It often involves honing talents with which we’ve been blessed. The act of doing something physical that requires the creative part of our brains is beneficial to our mental health. There’s a reason why occupational therapy is a part of an in-patient mental illness patient’s prescribed agenda.

7). I have cats.

Connecting with animals on an emotional level and caring for them has proven to be a powerful stress reducer, improving our mental and physical health. Our relationships with our pets can actually extend our lives, improve the quality of our lives, and even save our lives. I can’t think of anything that can compare to cultivating the love and trust of an animal. (I say “animal,” but this applies to birds and fish, too.)

 

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

Nounours: Please to not underestimate the healing powers of my purrs.

 

8). I actively express my compassion for others in one way or another, however small.

Example: I don’t have time to physically go and volunteer at homeless shelters, so I choose to do my part by providing with water. I make sure to have one or two small bottles of cold water with me when I leave the house, especially in the hot months.

We buy generic water in bulk, keep the bottles in the refrigerator, and give them to the homeless when we see them on the street or at a red light. (Admittedly, I try to identify those homeless who are vets, though I’ll give water to any homeless person, of course.) Every time, without fail, the person takes the bottle of cold water with visible – sometimes overwhelming – gratitude and joy, which they express in such an open and heartfelt manner that I’m instantly put in empathetic touch with their plight. Water is never an unwelcome thing. The person usually opens it and chugs it immediately.

Kindness is invaluable for the human spirit.

Giving water to drink means and accomplishes much more than giving change or a dollar. Giving water with a smile is an act that says, “I recognize that you’re a human being and deserving of this basic, life-saving thing. Someone cares about you and your well-being.” I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how showing compassion to the needy can be anything but beneficial to all involved.

9). I set goals for myself and plan things to anticipate.

I believe I devoted an entire blog post to this. Having agenda items to look forward to is a pleasurable thing. It can also, in the worst of times, give us a reason to keep on keeping on.

10). I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (Still trying. Still mostly failing. But still trying).

This can’t be stressed enough: Adequate sleep and quality sleep are important for optimal physical and mental health and well-being.

11). I count my blessings and nurture my relationships with loved ones.

One word: Gratitude.

Being grateful for what we have – and who we have – is an incredibly powerful reminder that things could always be worse.

 

Keeping it real.

Keeping it real.

 

That sums it up: In addition to acceptance, meds, and professional talk therapy, I manage my mental illness by working on physical health, stress reduction, and gratitude. I try.

Minor lifequake, big result. (and a few March favorites.)

The end of March found me largely uninspired where March Favorites were concerned. Truth be told, there weren’t many “little things” in March that significantly made my days brighter or my life happier. Rather, a few big things made the month notable, including my abrupt, exhilarating flight into another occupational dimension. A confounding series of events and an irreparable set of circumstances helped to catapult me here. I jumped… and I landed on my feet. I won’t write about said events and circumstances because they’re boring, and no one wants to read The Boring. Suffice it to say that my great launch proved to be entirely appropriate, and I am happy. And grateful! Very grateful.

Right. Well… here are a few “little things” that captivated me in March!

 

1). Bates Motel (T.V. series)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BatesMotelSeason1

 

With some amount of skepticism, we thought we’d give this Psycho backstory series a try. By the end of the first episode, we knew we were in for some serious binge-watching. It turns out that there’s much more to this series than 17-year-old Norman Bates and his mother moving into the hotel to assume ownership and a fresh start. This is excellent T.V.

 

2). Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in Sweet Violet.

 

Burt's Bees tinted lip balm in Sweet Violet.

Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in Sweet Violet.

 

My obsession with Burt’s Bees lip products knows no bounds. I picked up this tinted lip balm to use when I want just a suggestion of color on my lips, and lo, it’s even creamier than my beloved B.B. coconut and pear lip balm! The Sweet Violet color is beautiful, and no, it doesn’t taste sweet.

 

3). derma e Firming DMAE Eye Lift.

 

derma e Firming DMAE Eye Lift

derma e Firming DMAE Eye Lift

 

I’d been using an expensive eye cream from Tarte that I loved, but it fell just short of cruelty-free eye cream perfection. This one by derma e comes closer, and it’s half the price of the one by Tarte. Also, bonus! I found it at Target, along with this night cream from the same line:

 

4). derma e Hydrating Night Cream.

 

derma e Hydrating Night Cream

derma e Hydrating Night Cream

 

I’ve never been a fan of flowery scented face creams, but this one, I love. The cream itself is rich without being too thick, hydrating without being watery, and just all around luxurious. Its scent of spring wildflowers only adds to its appeal. I will definitely be re-purchasing this night cream when I’ve used up this jar.

 

5). Overhauled home office.

 

The only cat allowed on my desk is this porcelain one I've had for over 30 years.

The only cat allowed on my desk is this porcelain one I’ve had for over 30 years.

 

I moved my office set-up out of its guest bedroom quarters and re-situated it in the room that’s actually my office, a decision made entirely by Nounours and Nenette, who aren’t allowed in the guest bedroom. That was the point! I wanted to work undisturbed. But I couldn’t stand day after day of sad little kitty faces and pitiful mews and paws under the door, so here I am back in my real office. This is a good thing. The kitties aren’t all over my desk as they usually are – like somehow, they know – and I love my office. It’s huge, for one thing.

The floor to ceiling tapestry on the wall next to my desk is the original one; it inspired the smaller one that I’d had in my outside-the-home office:

 

Sunset and twinkle lights in my office

Sunset and twinkle lights in my office

 

And:

 

A sleeping cat on a futon, because home office.

A sleeping cat on a futon, because home office.

 

I didn’t photograph the wall opposite the tapestry because there’s no need to showcase the Table of Death that took shape as I arranged things in here the other day. Nope. No need.

 

6). Backyard rocks.

 

Rocks masquerading as turquoise mixed throughout the gravel in our backyard

Rocks masquerading as turquoise mixed throughout the gravel in our backyard

 

It happened the other day that I was digging through our expanse of rocks in the backyard (don’t ask), and I found that we have these turquoise-colored stones throughout. I looked them up. It seems that they’re some kind of coppery mineral. I never knew they were there! A glass tumbler filled with a few of the brighter, more deeply colored ones now sits on the Table of Death.

 

**the end**

Hair: My First-World NON-Problem

When you think about it, there’s something uniquely banal about complaining about our hair, and yet we (with hair) can all do it. Even if we don’t complain incessantly about our hair, we still have stories to tell when the subject comes up. This week at work, a few of us stood around one morning sharing our hair-related woes. We probably could have talked about it longer than we did. We took turns trading hair horror stories, and we weren’t running out of material.

Hair.

It’s going to seem like I’m complaining about my hair right now. But I’m not.

Here’s a selfie I took in the car the other morning:

 

No matter how it starts out, this is how my hair always ends up. In my face.

No matter how it starts out, this is how my hair always ends up. In my face.

 

That big chunk of hair hanging down the center sums up the general state of my hair. It’s in my face, or it’s stuck to my lips or eyelashes, or it’s windblown, even when there’s no wind. My hair strands are thin. I don’t just have fly-aways… every hair on my head is a fly-away. The strands fall out easily and copiously. Callaghan is always having to detangle my hair from the vacuum cleaner roller brush thing, and my fallen hairs collect in the corners of the bathroom faster than I can think to gather them up. After I wash my hair, I have to remove a solid mass of clumped hair from the shower drain hair-catcher.

If I don’t pull my hair back before I eat, a loose strand might find its way into my mouth, where it’ll tangle up with food I’m trying to chew, leaving me to attempt an inconspicuous fishing expedition. When I catch the hair, I have to pull it out of my throat, because it’s partially swallowed.

It takes skill to do that without hacking and gagging like a cat with a fur ball on its way out, because that’s what the strand is at that point. It’s a fur ball, and it’s gross. I’ve written about this before; truth be told, it’s probably only happened a few times in my life, but each time was the equivalent of a thousand because of the mortification factor. (Of course, this kind of mishap usually happens in a restaurant, when I’m eating lunch with, say, people from work.) I’m a cat mom, but my own cats never even hack up fur balls!

I’m always pinching at my face in attempts to remove a loose hair that’s bothering me, or I’m reaching under my arm to grab at the bottom of the outside of my t-shirt sleeve to capture the loose hair that I know is hanging there, since I can feel it brushing against my skin. This is my plight… pawing at myself in pursuit of the loose strand of hair that can be felt, but not seen.

Weightless, fine strands of hair. It’s unmanageable no matter what I do.

If there’s one kind of envy I have, it’s hair envy. I’m always admiring the thick and glossy hair on other peoples’ heads. (I have long leg envy, too, but my hair envy surpasses it by far.) I’m fascinated by hairlines that are uniformly dense and beautifully shaped from ear to ear. My own hairline is uneven, a little high, and it’s always been thin on the sides, up by my temples.

Some people have lovely straight hair. Some people have gorgeous curly hair. Mine is wavy, but not in a nice way. The strands go in conflicting directions. It’s wayward and fly-away and runaway and every other kind of a way you can think of. I have cowlicks, too, and those little, fine baby hairs springing out of my hairline in the front.

When it’s humid, forget about it.

Despite numerous articles on the subject, there’s no “best hairstyle” for my hair or face, because my hair defies reason regardless of the cut. Any style I’d want to achieve would involve painstaking effort, and I’ve never been a person who enjoys “doing” her hair. I fail at having super short hair, because it has to be manipulated into looking the way it’s supposed to, and who has the time or the patience for that? (A lot of people do, it seems, but I’ve never been one of them.) Neither can I seem to get myself into the salon regularly to maintain the cut. Every time I attempt short hair, I end up growing it out again, and then I complain about how long it’s taking.

If I did have a “best hairstyle,” it would involve having bangs, I think… but with my fine hair, bangs just look scraggly on me.

There’s no perfect product for my hair, either, though I’ve found a few things that kind of alleviate the frustration. Most “weightless” hair oils and serums do end up weighing my hair down, and they don’t miraculously tame it. I’ve totally accepted that I’ll never have a lush, satiny mane of hair, but I’ll take smooth hair. Every once in a while, I’ll unearth my hair-straightener, which helps with the texture somewhat… but even that consumes more time than I care to spend. It’s been months since the last time I did it.

Having said all of this, I insist that I’m not complaining. My point is that I’m thankful for my hair. When I catch myself staring wistfully at other peoples’ hair, I think of how lucky I am to have any. Since the Gulf War, I’ve said many times that I could never have a bad hair day, and that is absolutely true. I’ve never had a day that was actually ruined by my hair.

Dwelling on my hair and wishing it was different or more like someone else’s always makes me feel guilty.

My hair is my biggest first-world non-problem. It is what it is, and I’m lucky to have it.

I’m lucky to have access to a shower, and shampoo and conditioner and other products.

I’m lucky to have the means to get my hair cut, and I’m lucky to have found a fabulous hair stylist who’s an awesome person, too.

I’m lucky to be in good health now, because when I had active autoimmune diseases back in the 2000’s, my hair told the tale of those struggles. (That was when I shedded the most.)

I’m lucky to be in my late 40’s and still have brownish-black roots that grow in darker than the deep golden brown color I put in.

My hair is a good reminder to be grateful for what I have, and that makes it one of my favorite features.

Gym Idiosyncrasies.

We all know that “humans are creatures of habit,” and we’re often reminded that in many cases, it’d be best if we weren’t. We’re advised to change up our patterns to stay safe. We’re warned that our routines will slowly kill us with stagnation if we don’t interject some spontaneity into our lives here and there. And everyone knows that operating on auto-pilot isn’t the ideal way to live life! Maybe so, but there’s comfort to be found in habits, routines and rituals. I’m quite attached to mine, though I know it’s true what they say… when we get set in our ways, others learn our patterns. Besides getting mired in the dreaded rut, we can become targets, if you’re looking from the dark side, or caricatures, if you’re looking with a sense of humor.

Speaking to that sense of humor side, Les Mills International posted an entry on their blog the other day, and a friend who teaches Les Mills (i.e. Body Combat) and other group fitness classes posted it on her FaceBook page. In the article, they list some of the DIFFERENT TYPES OF LES MILLS GROUP X GO-ERS.

The first type, the Front Row Diva, made me laugh right away. My “spot” in Body Combat is in the front row, and I heard that no one even stood in it when I was out sick, haha!

I would identify with the Front Row Diva if I liked to be directly in front of the instructor, or if I wanted to upstage the instructor, lead the class, or predict her moves. Or if dancing was applicable in the class, and if I could dance… or if my “dancing” was grinding. Okay, so the Front Row Diva isn’t really a good fit, at all.

But the front row part is very true. Since I use my own reflection as my opponent, I have to be able to see it, and the only way to do that is to be in front (any further back and I’d need glasses), and off to the side (so no one is in front of me).

Anyway, I thought the post was funny, and it got me thinking about my various other gym-related patterns and idiosyncrasies.

Here’s the break-down!

Clothing

–I usually don’t know what gym clothes I’m wearing until I change into them… and sometimes not even then. Sometimes, I don’t notice what I’m wearing at all unless someone (like Callaghan the other day) points it out.

Him: *sidling up to me in class* Hello, Ninja!

Me: haha I’m not a ninja.

Him: *points at my shirt*

Me: *looks down at shirt* Oh, yeah, I’m wearing my ninja shirt!

I honestly didn’t know.

This is because my method of packing my gym bag is in a huge hurry, randomly grabbing stuff out of the drawers. In the top drawer, the stack of shirts is on the left and the sports bras are on the right. My shorts are in the drawer beneath that one. I take one thing from each pile and throw it all into my gym bag without thinking about it. Auto-pilot can be a wonderful, time-saving thing, and it helps a lot that I have zero interest in gym attire. As long as my clothes are clean, I don’t care what they look like.

 

After working out last night. Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int'l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?). Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they're SO OLD.

After working out last night.
Random t-shirt: Raleigh/Durham Int’l Airport, North Carolina, 2008 (?).
Shorts: ProSpirit Athletic Gear, no idea where or when I got them, they’re SO OLD.

 

–The only gym clothes I bother examining are my socks. I have black ones and gray ones. If they’re black, I check to make sure they’re the right black ones… I have two similar-but-different types, but I can only wear one kind while working out. The other ones are thinner and looser; I can feel my feet sliding around in my shoes when I wear them, and it’s annoying.

If they’re the gray socks, I check to make sure they’re a matching pair. They’re marked with the brand’s logo in different bright colors, and while I don’t care if my t-shirt and shorts are ancient with holes in them, I do care if my socks don’t match, even if no one can see the logo because it’s on the sole of the foot! (That’s why I’m calling these “idiosyncrasies.”)

Hmm… I just realized that I’m more concerned about my socks than anything else I wear to the gym.

Changing

I change into my gym clothes in the car on the way. Callaghan and I have it down to a science:

–He picks me up from work at 5:00pm. My packed gym bag is already in the car from when I’d tossed it in there that morning.

–I get in. He starts driving. My gym bag is between us, and I’ve got it open and I’ve pulled out my shorts, shoes and socks.

–We’re on Mill Avenue in the middle of downtown Tempe during rush hour and I’m slouched in the passenger seat without a seatbelt (I know, I know!) as I slide off my jeans and pull on my shorts. (If I ever die in a car accident with my pants around my ankles, that’s why. *knocks on wood*)

–Then I put on my shoes and socks.

–By the time my lower body is changed, we’re on Rio Salado either crossing Rural or waiting at the light at Rural. I say, “Okay! Tell me when it’s safe,” and just after we cross Rural, he says, “Go!” (Every time! How does that work? So far, no one has seen me half-naked in the car. *knocks on wood*)

–I quickly lean forward, rip off my top, undo my bra, shake it off, and shimmy into my sports bra. The whole operation takes less than 30 seconds. Down to a science.

–I straighten up and pull on my t-shirt. Then, finally, I put on my seatbelt.

–Work clothes and shoes get stuffed into the gym bag and tossed onto the back seat.

–I make sure the hair band around my wrist has two barrettes attached to it. I’ve taken to pulling my hair back once I’m in class.

–We get to the gym with enough time to run to the restroom before the class starts at 5:30pm.

FUN FACT: If it wasn’t for Callaghan driving us, I’d never make it on time.

Positioning in Class

–In Body Combat, I like to be in the front row and off-center, so I can see in the mirror, and there’s no one in front of me (see above).

–In any other group fitness situation, I like to be in the very back row, and again, off to the side. If you’ve ever been in a Boot Camp, Body Attack or H.I.I.T. class with me, you probably didn’t even see me, because I was hiding in the back corner.

FUN FACT: For some reason, the idea of being in the middle of the class (with people on all sides) makes me feel claustrophobic.

Pre-workout ritual

Come to think of it, I do have a little routine I do before class starts.

–Old habits: I do a few T’ai Chi “essentials” exercises, warming up my joints by rotating them. I go through the sequence of circular motions standing up, starting with my ankles and making my way up to my hips, shoulders and head, reversing the rotation half-way through. Then I put my hand on my head and gently pull it down toward my shoulder, first to one side, then the other. If I have time after that, I might put my hands on my knees and do some knee rotations.

Besides warming up my joints, this ritual also serves as a mini moving meditation… it’s how I center myself, get my energy (chi) flowing and my breathing coordinated with my movements, and transition my mind to training mode.

I finish with some torso twists that cause my arms to swing from side to side so the backs of my hands gently hit my kidneys, boosting the movement by lifting my heels in each direction. This is a qi gong exercise in the tradition of the Shaolin monks. I’ve heard it called “swaying arms,” or “swaying tree.”

This entire little pre-workout ritual takes anywhere from three to five minutes. (In a real T’ai Chi/Qi Gong class, it would be integrated with more exercises, and it would take a full hour.)

Post-workout ritual

–After class, I thank the instructor before I leave, because I’m truly grateful for her time. I know that most of the instructors have day jobs and family lives, and I appreciate those who have the dedication and stamina to get up there to motivate us at the end of the day! (I’m not sure that I could do it!)

–I’m drenched in sweat and totally gross, so in the car going home, I try to avoid leaning back against the seat. (I DO wear my seat belt, though.)

–When we get home, I remove what’s left of my make-up (just eyes, at that point!) if it’s during the week. (On Saturday mornings, I don’t wear make-up.) Then I usually make a protein shake before jumping in the shower.

The End. And now that you know all of my gym-related habits, I “should” change some of them, right?!

Have a great Tuesday, All!

Thanksgiving.

T minus 24 hours to road trip to California!

I was thinking the other day that not having human kids means that I’ll never have to feel like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving when my kid comes home from school brimming over with warm and fuzzy stories about the “history” of “the first Thanksgiving” and I find myself unable to keep from explaining the truth behind the myth. If schools could just limit Thanksgiving holiday festivities to cute finger turkey drawings, then fine, but somehow, I don’t see them omitting the fables of the “Pilgrims and the Indians” being BFFs on “the first Thanksgiving” anytime soon.

That bit of cynicism aside, one thing that’s remained true about Thanksgiving over time is its focus on expressing gratitude for a bountiful harvest, which has broadened to include giving thanks for everything that we have, including our good health and each other. This is the aspect of the holiday that appeals to me the most – its focus on family.

Thanksgiving is this week Thursday, and we’re going to be spending it with my family. When I lived in France, I missed the comfortable proximity to my family more on Thanksgiving than at any other time. You always hear people saying, we should give thanks and express gratitude for our families every day, not just on Thanksgiving, and I agree with this, but still… Thanksgiving.

And I’m feeling so grateful for my family… the family that chose me, the one that I’ve chosen and the one that I inherited just by being alive.

We all have family, even if we think we don’t. If your circumstances are such that your actual family members are absent in the world, if you feel isolated and friendless, as long as there are people in the world, you have family.

In Hawaii, you’ll find this concept expressed openly and naturally by the locals, as the family mentality is a part of the local culture. If you’re walking along the beach and a child is playing in your path, it’s likely that the adult sitting nearby will call to the child, with firm affection, “Come over here, Bobby… let Auntie pass.” And you’ll look over at the parent to find him smiling and nodding at you with respect. Auntie. Think of it! A total stranger will see you coming and say to his child, let Auntie pass. (Yes, this happened to me.)

You are family. We’re all family. Humankind is a human family, and I believe this to be true: When there’s injustice in the world, we have to remember that we’re all brothers and sisters, and we have to allow this to give us strength. Being united gives us strength. Our interconnectedness is an absolute, even in our moments of craving our solitude, even while counting our enemies. To me, Thanksgiving is a time to remember this and to feel our bond and connection with others. Being human also means that we can lose patience and hold grudges, but on Thanksgiving, I want to be mindful of our oneness and feel grateful for what that means. We walk the same earth and breathe the same air. We can help each other and commiserate and make each other laugh and offer comfort and support as easily as we can do harm.

 

Reflecting lights... candle flames on a dark morning.

Reflecting lights… candle flames on a dark morning.

 

Happy Thanksgiving week, All.

Here’s Ten Dollars; Keep the Karma.

Sometime in the nineties, I started noticing tip jars (often just plastic cups) sitting near the cash registers at certain casual restaurants… specifically, tip jars bearing cute little signs to the effect of, “Tip! It’s good for your karma.” I still see them around, and I always think to myself that if someone is going to use a religious concept as a charming way to get people to leave optional tips, why stop at eastern religions? One could just as easily frame it in western religious terms: “Tip! All your sins will be forgiven,” or “Tip! You’ll go to heaven.”

But I know the answer to that. Western religions aren’t hip and trendy in the western world the way eastern religions are, so the lure of “good karma,” it is. Moral causality. Throw money into the jar, and the act will work in your favor.

It’s a much more serious matter to talk about sin and heaven. Whether or not we Americans believe in karma, seeing the word “karma” on a tip jar isn’t going to pack the same psychological punch as the words “sin” and “heaven.” We’re largely a nation of people hard-wired to react strongly to those words in one way or another. The notion of karma just isn’t culturally ingrained in us in the same ways.

Where “karma” on a tip jar is cute, clever and cool, the words “sin” and “heaven” on the same jar would come across as preachy, flippant or even sacrilegious, and the effect would be adverse because of it. No matter how many ribbons and rainbows and flowers and smiley faces you put on it, a jar labeled with holier-than-thou signage isn’t going to work.

So, fine… it’s cool, cute, hip and trendy to decorate your tip jar with the word “karma.” Here are some examples I found online:

 

Karma: the new currency!

Karma: the new currency!

 

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

Instant karma. Just add hot water and stir.

 

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

Remember this guy? I couldn’t resist putting him here, since he was all over the internet at about the same time the “karma jars” were also popping up everywhere.

 

It’s light and fun and people dig it. I get that. I myself use the word “karma” lightly, every time I park somewhere and think, good parking karma! because I scored a prime parking spot. Here’s the thing, though. Here’s why “karma” on a tip jar bugs me. It’s one thing to remark and laugh about “parking karma,” but another thing entirely to use the word in an attempt to influence peoples’ actions.

Moreover, there’s this: I usually see the “karma jars” in trendy eateries where you order and pay for your food at the counter. Tips at these kinds of establishments are optional and gratuitous, since you’re not receiving table service. Tipping gratuitously at a counter in this case is simply giving.

Giving, in eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism – to simplify, let’s just default to Buddhism, since that’s the trendiest of the eastern religions, and that’s the one I know the best – is dana, which is a Pali word that indicates “selfless” giving. I shall be helpful to others. To give selflessly means that you don’t want or expect anything in return. You give without thinking of what you might get back.

I grew up spending Sunday mornings sitting in a Jodo Shinshu church (Jodo Shinshu is a type of Japanese Pureland Buddhism on the Mahayana side) listening to dharma talks (sermons) and going to dharma class (Sunday school), and I’ve heard countless lectures on what it means to be selfless. From what I understand, putting a sign on a tip jar that says, “Tip! It’s good for your karma” is actually anti-Buddhist in nature. Dropping money into a jar thinking of what you’re going to get out of it later isn’t Buddhist. It’s the opposite of Buddhist. It’s selfish, not selfless, because you’re putting money into the jar thinking of yourself.

I just can’t see it as cute or cool or hip or whatever. All I can do when I see these “karma” tip jars is try to be a good Buddhist and have compassion, but it’s hard when I’m inwardly rolling my eyes and biting my tongue. I am not a good Buddhist.  I’m always trying, but I see where I need to tweak my meditation practice in an attempt to improve.

The proliferation of tip jars asking for money with the promise of something good in it for me has always irked me, as the general cultural appropriation of eastern religions by westerners has irked me (please note that I’m differentiating between earnest students and converts to eastern religions and those who just dig certain aspects of the religions to the point of, say, slapping a “karma” sign on a tip jar while not actually knowing what that means, much less studying and practicing said religion). Buddhism seen as a hip and trendy cultural thing just confounds me. I don’t know what to make of it, really.

I’m confounded by those tip jars.

I’m confounded when people think that being Buddhist means that you have to be a vegetarian. (Unless you’re a monk in certain temples, you can eat whatever you want.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks authoritatively of having a soul. (Buddhists don’t believe in the existence of souls.)

I’m confounded when someone claims to be Buddhist, yet speaks of sin. (Buddhists don’t believe in the concept of sin.)

Buddhist philosophy is difficult and complex, and I’m certainly no one to judge when Buddhist-curious people or admirers of Buddhism or actual converts display ignorance. I’ve been working toward the realization of a higher prajna (wisdom) my whole life, and I can tell you, it’s not easy. I have a stack of books, some of which I’ve had as long as I can remember, as they were passed down to me by my Grandmother, filled with my questions scribbled in the margins, post-its with more questions marking pages, hundreds of my questions that haven’t yet been answered. Karma is just one of many challenging concepts in eastern religions, so the sight of those tip jars with their blithe karma signs written by people who (probably) aren’t Buddhist acting like they care about the welfare of my karma so they can get money just annoys me if I see them when my patience levels are low. What do you know about karma? I want to ask on the days I’m cranky when I see the karma tip jars. Please enlighten me, because I was raised Buddhist, I am still Buddhist, I’ve been studying Buddhism/Buddhist philosophy/eastern religious philosophy all of my life, and I still don’t fully grasp the doctrine of karma.

 

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

My Butsudan (altar/shrine) with my 20+ books and pamphlets (some not shown) on the subject of Buddhism, ranging from ancient spiritual texts to college-level textbooks.

 

The truth is, I probably have a decent grasp on eastern religious philosophy, but its complexity is such that some aspects of it seem to elude my understanding the more I study it, and at this point in my life, I just want to enjoy the feeling of serenity and peace I experience when I release my mind during my practice. So I don’t study it as much anymore. I just do my practice and try to live by Buddhist principles as best as I can. I try to “practice intention with detachment from outcome.” I try to practice mindfulness and gratitude, saying “thank you” freely and often, and really feeling it. And I try to be patient, but as you can see from this post, I still need a lot of work in that area. A part of this is that I tend to be impatient by nature (in some contexts).

This tip jar at one of my favorite local restaurants is a welcome breath of fresh air every time I see it:

 

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

Tips! Why? Because WE LIKE THEM. Thanks for keeping it real, Chop Shop Tempe!

 

I’m going to happily continue partaking of their somewhat luxurious fare every once in a while, because the Chop Shop Tempe guys are honest, and honest is what’s cute, cool and clever… plus, their raw vegetable salad with grilled tofu (which I order without cheese) is delicious and vegan and therefore good for my karma! (If you know me well, you know that I’m giggling as I write this.

Carry on.