Free Your Mind Of Doubt and Danger

A lot of people are meditating now. We’re all very stressed and we just don’t know what to do with all this pent up frustration and uncertainty. As a group, we seem to have decided the best way to quiet our minds is to sit silently for a set amount of time and then tell other people how silently we sat. I’m not convinced people even know what meditation actually is. I mean, some people definitely know, and to those people, I say “Ok, already. We get it. You’re better than us.” On the other hand, I don’t believe that all the men in beanies and women in overalls currently sitting crosslegged and humming in a charming Brooklyn studio have got it figured out.

Admittedly, I’m no expert. My entire experience with meditation consists of an app I once downloaded on my phone and a half-hour session with some very kind monks. I know it’s not the best range, but it feels sufficient enough for me to form a strong and unwavering opinion.

First, I downloaded a popular app. It tried to get me to breath in time with its visual aid, but I couldn’t sync up with the system, so it just turned out to be very stressful and I started to hyperventilate after messing up my natural breathing patterns. Then it kept trying to convince me to buy better versions of the app. That’s when I really started to see the truth in this whole business.

Still though, I was willing to give it a second chance. Last month, Dave and I spent the night at a beautiful Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Japan. As part of our stay, the monks offered to teach us how to meditate. I thought, “Well, a monk has to be a better teacher than a tiny robot computer.” So off we went. We sat on little pillows and learned how to hold our hands, cross our legs, and guide our thoughts. He was a pro and very kind about the whole thing, so I felt like I was in good hands.

Our monk told us we had to keep our eyes half-opened and half-closed, both to represent the space between this physical world and the universe and also to keep us from falling asleep. Because, he said, a lot of people fall asleep. Not a great selling point, sir.

Besides that, there were a few key things that really threw a wrench in my success.

Apparently, I was off on the wrong foot from the start. I was talking to Dave after the experience and sharing with him my disappointment in my own performance. He said, “Yeah, it was really difficult to focus on the letter A the whole time.” I said, “What? What about the letter A?” He said, “The monk told us to think of the letter A. It’s the holiest letter to them and their focal point for meditation. He told us all about it.” I replied, “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” So I guess I can add “poor listener” to my list of faults.

I also couldn’t keep my eyes in that half-way state. It gave me a headache and that seemed very counter to the goal of the exercise, so I gave up. (Also probably giving up is counter to the goal of the exercise?) Instead, I stared at the fire in front of us. Not because I was trying to find an otherworldly image on which to focus, but because I was just really cold. I was dreaming of making s’mores, grabbing a flannel blanket, and what I would do if the fire started to spread across the room at a rapid pace. The fire inspired a lot of diverse reactions in me, none of them sanctioned meditative thoughts.

Most importantly, it was impossible for me to quiet my mind. At any given point, I have three to seventy-eight thoughts swirling around my brain. It’s not an easy storm to weather, but it’s mine. This is exactly the thing that drives people to meditate. It’s supposed to cure people like me from the harrowing effects of our spiraling minds. But this seems like nonsense to me. Put me in a quiet room with nothing to do and tell me to think about a sound? Does that seem like a recipe for success for someone with my infliction? It’s not. It is a recipe for disaster.

I was an absolute and complete failure. I know, I know, the whole point of meditating is to eventually get to the point where it works, but at what cost? How long must I suffer in order to get there? And is it really worth it? Who ever said a quiet mind is better than a cluttered mind. You can hide a lot of cool stuff that you or someone you know might need one day inside a cluttered mind.

Here are some of the things I thought about while I was supposed to be focusing on the letter A, counting my breaths, and considering my quiet connection to the universe:

  1. It’s pretty cold in here, right?
  2. Aren’t all these other people cold? How can they not be cold?
  3. They’re probably cold and just pretending like they aren’t. Maybe I look like I’m pretending. Ugh, just another example of us all pushing the facade of perfection on one another.
  4. I wonder what we’re going to have for dinner. I hope there’s soup. Noodle soup would be best, but if it’s just regular soup with rice on the side, that would be fine too. Who invented soup? Probably someone who just accidentally spilled their water glass all in their food but was super embarrassed about it so just pretended like that’s how he wanted to eat it.
  5. These monks are very good inn keepers. Maybe some of them really just wanted to run a B&B, but they didn’t have the start-up capital, so they’re were like, “Well, guess I better go be a monk at one of the monk inns.” That seems like a big sacrifice for your dreams, but you know what they say—nothing comes between a man and his innate need to provide warm and comfortable lodging to strangers.
  6. When are we going to walk through the cemetery? It’s probably haunted. Maybe this whole place is haunted. What would a monk ghost be like? Probably super chill. He’d just sit quietly next to you and listen to you sleep. Wait, that’s creepy. I bet he’d respectfully sit outside your door while you sleep. This is definitely the best place to be if you’re going to get haunted.
  7. Monk would make a terrible monk. He’d be super good at the rituals but super bad at sitting on this pillow forever.
  8. Is Dave really doing this? He hasn’t moved at all.
  9. That fire looks a little precarious. What if it falls and spreads? These mats seem pretty flammable. The people in the back seem like panickers. That doesn’t bode well for us all exiting in an orderly fashion. But maybe I could break the paper walls and escape on my own. Would the monks be mad if I ripped their fancy walls? How could they be? The whole place will be on fire. They’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  10. Is Dave seriously still doing this?
  11. Someone moved. Ha. At least I didn’t move.
  12. Someone else moved. These people are so weak.
  13. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be comparing my meditative state to these other people. Even though I’m obviously better at looking like I’m meditating.
  14. Is Dave actually dead? Can you die sitting up?
  15. If you die sitting up in a room this cold, could you just freeze that way forever? How would they put you in a casket? Who cares. Caskets are really not eco-friendly. Why do people still do that? Who wants to be lined up in the dirt with a whole bunch of strangers. I hate strangers. I don’t even like sitting in a line with these strangers here right now. I am not interested in being stuck next to more strangers for all eternity.
  16. How long do these monks meditate each day? Do they wish they were watching tv instead? Or eating pretzels? Can monks even watch tv? Do they watch Monk?
  17. I wonder if I have any pretzels in the room. I should bring them on our cemetery tour.
  18. Is it disrespectful to bring snacks to a cemetery? It probably is.

And on and on and on. Overall, I would say I failed miserably at meditation. And if I can’t do it at a Buddhist monastery with a master teacher, should I really even keep trying? The monks say, “Yes, you definitely should. You will not master it in one day. That’s why it’s called a practice.” But what do they know.

The Terrible Twos

I have always been strong-willed. Or stubborn. Or unyielding. It depends on who you ask.

My earliest memory of this sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-useful quality is from when I was two years old. We lived in western Michigan in a big* white house with an above-ground pool in the backyard. I had a bedroom on the first floor, and it had a enough floor space to hold all my toys. I know because I tested the theory out once** and determined it was indeed spacious enough for everything I had to my name.

One day, during this experiment, my mom came into my room and told me to put all my toys away. I said no, obviously. She repeated herself, and I said no again. She finally said that if I didn’t put my toys away, she would pack them all up and take them away. I stared at her. She affirmed the threat. I stared back. Like I said, I can be unyielding. I thought maybe I could call her bluff. Even if she was telling the truth, I didn’t like being forced into anything. I stood my ground. My mom left the room.

I knew better than to take her leaving as a guaranteed win, so I waited. She came back with garbage bags. I watched as she put everything I’d left on the floor inside them. She threw all these tiny little toys into these huge black plastic bags, then she carried the bags out of my room—which now had a very clean floor but was definitely less fun. Still though, I looked her straight in the face and didn’t say a word.

At least, this is how I remember it. I could have been crying, but I doubt it. I don’t even remember if I got those toys back. All I remember is standing silently, stoically, stubbornly—watching them disappear into the abyss.

I’m sure this behavior didn’t make me an easy child. It doesn’t always make me an easy adult. But it has it’s benefits. I don’t give in easily to peer pressure, and I’m not often swayed by something’s popularity. That could be because I don’t have peers that want to pressure me into anything and I don’t know what’s cool. Whatev, I’m putting it in the win category anyway.

The biggest benefit though is that I’m so stubborn, I can’t even convince myself of something I’m not 100% behind. When I’ve tried—and believe me, I’ve tried—my unshakeable, rigid self pushes it’s way through, rocking the paper boat I’d built. It’s not pleasant to be shaken back to reality, but I always feel better when that stubborn two-year-old rears her adorable head and does it for me.

*adjective subject to interpretation since I was the size of a large porcupine
**maybe way more often than once

Livin’ the Panda Life

I’ve been watching a lot of baby panda videos. They’re ridiculous and adorable. I’m just ridiculous, but I do think we still have plenty in common. Here’s are just a few ways we’re alike:

1. I make sure to stay a little squishy to prevent serious harm from my many accidents.
2. I tend to walk around without looking where I’m going.
3. I’m annoyingly persistent.
4. I wear a lot of black and white.
5. I eat mostly green things.
6. Sometimes I fall down and it takes me an unusually long amount of time to get back up.
7. I like to sit around all day and look at stuff.

So I’m pretty much a giant panda, and I’m now in the market for a team of caretakers who will throw apples at my face and carry me around. Generous benefit package if you’re into chopping down bamboo and having someone cling to your leg all day.

Subtle Ways to Spit in the Face of the Patriarchy

It’s important to make bold moves in the battle against inequality, but we can’t always run full-speed ahead into the front lines. Wrestling with deeply ingrained ignorance and misogyny can be exhausting. I mean, sometimes just getting out of bed and putting on pants is exhausting. We need to take a moment every once in a while to rest up for the next drive.

Unfortunately, the patriarchy doesn’t take breaks. It’s fed by the confidence of mediocre men, so there’s no shortage of fuel. To stay vigilant, we have to find ways to keep it in check even when we feel drained. As a public service, I’ve started a list of easy acts we can take to fight the man. No battle gear required. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. Keep talking when you get interrupted.
  2. Order the pasta on a first date and actually finish it.
  3. Pull a Hillary and ditch the make-up.
  4. Don’t move out of the way when a man walks into you on the sidewalk.
  5. Politely ask a man to close his legs on the train.
  6. Stop being embarrassed when someone sees your very unshaven legs.
  7. Wear flat shoes to fancy events.
  8. Rename your virtual assistant, so it answers to Alfred instead of Alexa.
  9. Learn the names of five female scientists and tell people about them.
  10. Give a woman you love a compliment that has nothing to do with the way she looks.

No Thanks

I know there are a lot of important things going on in the world and I swear I will eventually write about one of them, but, for now, all I can think about is people hating on Lady Gaga for having a body.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the fact that Gaga obviously has a rockin’ bod. And awesome peel-off face sparkles. And bejeweled shoulder pads I wish I could wear while walking down the street. It’s clear she has a lot going for her and plenty of reasons to stand proud.

What we do need to talk about is the fact that a bunch of people felt the desire to pull down a talented woman, and they decided the best way to do that would be to insult her body. Because it didn’t look exactly the way they imagined it should look. Because talking about someone’s body is an easy way to keep from talking about things that actually matter. Because deflecting your insecurities onto someone else is a great way to avoid resolving them.

The most important part of this body-shaming isn’t the piece that was directed at Lady Gaga though. It’s the portion of that message that was directed at the rest of us. By insulting Gaga’s body, they’re insulting mine. They’re telling us we’re not good enough and saying we need to cover up a bit of ourselves to keep them from feeling uncomfortable. Well, it’s not our job to make sure these people are comfortable.

I say we respond like Gaga did. She did a badass job, and her music sales went up 1,000%. Then she told everyone that she’s happy with herself and she hopes we are too. So, from now on, when we pass a magazine cover created solely to make us feel bad or we turn on the tv and see a commercial for diet pills or we walk through a grocery aisle lined with low-fat, carb-free, sugar-free “snacks,” let’s turn our backs.

Reject that narrative. Other people’s opinions are not your reality. Someone else’s insecurities don’t need to be your own. Just say no.

Ok, that one is about drugs, but I think the message is the same. Turn your back on what’s trying to pull you down. Don’t get distracted by someone else’s self-doubt. We are powerful and we’ve got things to do.

A Month of Success

I have survived so many things in the last month. It’s been tough. I deserve like twelve medals. Here are just a few of the situations I’ve handled like a boss:

  • Cut open four avocados without hurting myself. That’s a lie. I cut open one and then Dave said, “What are you doing? Give me that.”
  • Stood shoulder to shoulder with over 500,000 people. Me. And all those other people. Together. I didn’t get trampled or kidnapped.
  • Safely exited my train station after some crazy guy with a knife was apprehended by the police. That sounds a little more dramatic than my actual experience, which basically involved getting stuck in the metro tunnel. But that poses it’s own dangers, so I think it warrants a mention.
  • Managed to read the news and keep functioning mostly like an adult.
  • Fell down the stairs at work. Ok, one stair. That’s why I survived.
  • Managed an anxiety-induced heart attack. It might not have been an actual heart attack, but don’t tell my body that. It knows the truth.
  • Escaped a sinking Titanic. Yes, it was a professionally staged event. Yes, I paid for the experience. But there were old-timey clothes and a vintage candlestick phone, so I think it’s possible the rising waters were also real.
  • Got my face drilled into by a madman (or my kind, old dentist—depends who you ask).
  • Ate so many jelly beans that it started to feel like my head was detaching from the rest of my body.

There are probably way more things I could include, but I think the list is still pretty commendable. I’m hoping I can meet the challenges of this next month with the same strength and fortitude.

Insect-somnia

For the last week, I’ve been hearing this crackling noise every time I take a deep breath or yawn or move my face. That’s disconcerting on its own, but Dave made it much worse by telling me my worst fear had come true.

When I was young, I saw a clip of this sci-fi movie at my grandparent’s house. I don’t remember much of it, but there was a space queen who got angry at some space visitors. To punish them, she ordered her minions to bring out some earwig-like insects and put them in the offenders’ space helmets. Then the bugs crawled into their ears. Obviously. They’re named earwigs for a reason.

I don’t know what happened after that because I walked away from that nightmare. I was not waiting around to find out how the insect-brain-invasion situation resolved itself. Now, though, I always sleep with my ears covered, because I’m not a fool.

When I told Dave about my crackling ear, he said a bug had probably crawled into it. So now my life is over and I will never sleep again.

Thank You, 2016

It’s 2017. We made it around the sun and we still exist, so that’s something to celebrate. Before we put 2016 to rest though, let’s talk about the gift that was last year.

I know this is an unpopular view. A lot of terrible things happened in 2016. We continued the steady march toward our planet’s destruction. We decided to replace an amazing president with a horrifying one. Celebrities who we all loved died. There were way too many horrendous people doing horrendous things to other people. It’s been hard. On top of that, I know I’m not the only one who struggled this year. I see you all. Despite being gifted with some wonderful moments—new jobs, great trips, opportunities to celebrate love with the people I love, tons of nachos—my brain wasn’t particularly kind to me. Sometimes life is like that. Everyone is happy to step out of this hole of a year and leave it behind, and I am too, but hear me out.

Here’s the gift of 2016: we can move forward as the strong, amazing humans we now know we are. 2016 gave us an opportunity. The year was like a bad horror film, where half the world had just exclaimed, “Well, it can’t possibly get any worse than this.” And then, of course, it did. But as long as no one else utters those words, we can start the painful process of crawling out of the woods away from the monsters. It’s not going to be easy, because it’s still dark and monsters are really great at hiding behind trees, but we can get moving.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting these terrors in a rose light. I don’t believe that even bad things happen for a reason, unless the reason is that people make terrible choices or chance can be cruel. I don’t think 2016 was somehow fated to be terrible, so we’d all be able to grow. But we can decide this floor is a good place to stand up and plant our feet.

I’m holding my ground here, so 2017 better take notice. I’ve informed the less-kind half of my brain that she is no longer allowed to take up so much space. She’ll have something to say about that, I’m sure, but I’m forcing her to move to the basement apartment. My mind has really good tenant laws, so I can’t evict her, but I can make her feel like an unwelcome guest by stomping on the floors and playing my music too loudly.

I don’t want to set myself up for failure, so I’m not making any drastic resolutions this year. I’m just going to slap 2016 in the face and move along. And, you know what, it would feel terrible to slap something great in the face, so thank you, 2016, for being just terrible enough. Thank you for letting us show you just how badass we really are. Thank you for reminding us that we are strong. We took you on, and we’re still spinning. And what are you up to? Literally nothing. Because you’re gone.

Let’s all just be glad we aren’t on Neptune. This year would have lasted nearly 165 times as long as it did on Earth. We’re strong, but I don’t know if we’re that strong. Also, the storms are insane, there’s no oxygen, and the average temperature is always around -350°. So it could be worse.

Farewell, 2016. You weren’t great to me, but you’re going to make a great step stool.

Bit by Bit

My body is literally falling apart. I know I’m getting older, but I didn’t think it would hit so hard, so fast. I’m like a cellphone right at that two year mark—battery dying, power button failing, screen cracked. Someone is going to need to order a replacement soon.

Here are the pieces of me that are currently not functioning properly:

1. My teeth. I had to get a whole bunch of fillings because apparently I hate myself and I wanted someone to drill into my face for a couple hours. PSA: Floss. Just do it.

2. My left wrist and elbow. My wrist and elbow turn out to be a moderately effective tools for breaking a fall, but the move is not without sacrifice.

Dave and I were on a run to try and find this new fancy soccer field near us. We were kicking around the ball, and I tried to steal it from him at an inopportune time—that time being while he was on his phone and we were running on uneven bricks. I fell. I maintain that it was his fault and not the fault of my lack of coordination, inexperience playing any kind of sport with a ball, or the treacherous terrain. He maintains that it was an unfortunate accident. I think we all know who is right.

3. My right wrist and forearm. Same incident, but for this one the fence was the culprit. It had it out for me from the start. Dirty, rotten fence.

4. My left knee and hip. Same incident, obviously. It was the gift that kept on giving. Note to all: If you feel like collapsing on the ground, avoid jagged bricks.

5. My head. It’s been pounding since this morning, either from the drilling into my face earlier or the drilling into the ground in front of my house all day. Or it might be the twelve men yelling outside my door about the gas lines. I don’t know. No one else seems to understand when it’s gloomy outside, it’s quiet time. People just keep on going about their business, like they don’t even care about my plans for the day.

I guess this is just what happens when you’re old and clumsy. I need to start thinking ahead. I better buy one of those informercial wheelchairs that I can ride around the Grand Canyon.