better, happier, more centered

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This was not the only thing going through my head during the retreat, mind you. In fact, it wasn’t even near top billing. Each time I came around to the fact that my attention wasn’t on my breath, but in any of all sorts of places, maybe only 2% of the time on the Zka annoyance. I found myself thinking about clients, about my dream schedule, about how to get more of what I like and less of what I don’t, about which photos to frame should I ever get around to printing them, about if I could make it to the Vietnamese sandwich shop and back before lunch, about if I should frame photos at all if I’m going to move to [somewhere warm], about my broken sofa bed, about how many beach days are left this summer, about my favorite person in the world maybe visiting soon, about the fabulous trip to Vermont, about OH’s incredible generosity, about an old friend I’d treated poorly, realized (shame), apologized, and am glad to have back in my life, about the nice things I might like to do to  for said friend, about how I will ever fit my yoga, sitting mediation, writing, and other centering stuff into my daily schedule every day not just most days, about whether my meditation instructor believed I was really taking an afternoon off to spend with Zka, about if I were going to lie wouldn’t I think up a better one than hanging out with a friend!?, about how I find no honor in getting up at 5am for yoga this week or ever and think that even my usual 5:45am is less than ideal, about my grocery list, about my projections and authority issues and maybe my MI totally did believe me but just thought it was a stupid reason to skip out, about running home for a nap at lunch, about if I can find a good mysore teacher who starts at 7a or 8a, about getting Angela’s package to the post office in time for her to get it before she leaves, about a trip to Paris, about the tremendous power of projection at play in romantic love and how else to harness it, about the possibility of romantic love without projection, about why I have to have a muse to be at all productive, about my best friend from Berkeley, about a trip to Maui, about the amazing retreat I did here about a month ago with a teacher I thought I’d hate but adored. You get the idea. Zka wasn’t dominating center stage, and I won’t thrill you with the knowledge of what (or who) was. It doesn’t matter.

There was space between all of this, understand, and a thousand times dragging attention back to breath. The spaces were sometimes large and sometimes small like claustrophobia. But they were there.

NewYork_2012_CellSnaps-116Thursday, the second of last day of the retreat, I left at lunch to go to the beach with Zka for the last time. I wanted to keep silence, just to see how it’d be, and so I could swim in silence. Swimming is very calming and meditative for me, and I wanted to fit it into my retreat somehow. But Zka didn’t show. She said she didn’t get the text until late that afternoon. It was fine, and maybe for the best. When I realized she wasn’t coming, I thought, “Should I go back to the retreat?” But that felt weird as I’d already asked out. And even more, my centered self said, “Go to the beach anyway.” I’d done enough long meditation retreats to not feel I had to prove to myself or anyone I could do the whole thing. I needed to do what felt best to me, even if it’d be a little sad going alone. So I went. I hadn’t been to the beach alone all summer, and I usually went with Zka. So, being there alone, still in silence after almost two weeks of retreat, was, well, even more meditative than sitting on my ass on W22nd Street for hours at a time.

I got iced tea. I set out my stuff. I swam. I dried in the sun. I read a meditation book. I noticed how I felt. I swam again, and felt my breath. I used my discipline to go farther than I wanted to swim. I kept going. I enjoyed being alone. And I missed Zka. I people watched the nutballs. I thought of the stories I would tell Zka about them. It was my usual afternoon at the beach, but alone. I like being alone. I know this and I noticed it again. But I also very much missed Zka. And I was a little bit annoyed by that. So I went back to enjoying my solitude.

I arrived home at about the same time I would have from the retreat. The next day was a new moon, which meant I didn’t have to get up early (there is no mysore on moon day). That was nice. I relaxed a bit before I walked to Shambhala. That last morning of the retreat, after skipping out the previous afternoon, I really settled. I felt better, happier, more centered than I had in the last two weeks (months, years?).

And then came the tears.

This is part iii of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats:
part i, part ii, part iii, part iv, & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.

 

to cut through the nonsense of mind

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Last time I left with some of the emotional process that has come up for me in meditation, specifically loneliness. This is not why I meditate, exactly, to get in touch with these emotions. In one way it is, because if I ignore them altogether, they fester and cause problems in other ways (just ask my friends). But when I pay attention, my emotions are like anything else. They shift, change, and go away. The title of this post comes from a quote by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana which I posted previously: “Practice [meditation] is an ongoing investigation of reality, a microscopic examination of the very process of perception. Its intention is to pick apart the screen of lies and delusions through which we normally view the world, and thus to reveal the face of ultimate reality.”

Apologies for such a cheeseball example, but in the photo above, from an incredible park in south western Australia (Cape Le Grand National Park), the clouds are pretty daunting. But check out the clear blue sky in the middle left. That clear blue sky is behind the storm clouds, too. This is the mind. Clouds of emotion come over us, and if we identify with them, we are those emotions. We are a bad luck day at the beach. We can get stuck here pretty easily. But if we take the clouds as transient, and understand that the calm is there behind them (awareness), we just see and watch the clouds for what they are in that moment. Clouds. Which serve a purpose like everything else in the ecosystem.

bird-capelegrandI often tell people that crying fits are quite normal on retreats—especially, I’ve noticed, among older men. (Or maybe it’s more memorable coming from older, unemotional men. Though it’s also possible they have more to grieve, if they shoved it away way back when, as society expects of them.) Out of nowhere, patches of long repressed emotions spring up to be faced. I’ve had my share of these over the years, and while I don’t always have a good cry, certainly sadness springs up. When I went upstate for the first retreat, I thought I might have to face hurt and pain from various happenings of late. I had stories around them and I was expecting it, maybe even preparing myself in some way.

Things played out differently. My mind was fairly calm, when it wasn’t agitated. (Haha.) First, it was agitated by a few annoying people around, who didn’t want to leave me alone on my solitary retreat. Worse, it was agitated by events that did not exist in real time. Stories about all sorts of things. One, for example, about a dear friend who was moving back to Europe a week after my retreats ended. She did this. She did that. Well, I would just to do this. And fine, that. Well, I see. Okay, then. You know what? I can just let this friendship go. She’s leaving. I don’t need her. I have plenty of friends.

Push, slam, shove away the pain of impending abandonment. That’s what I did in my mind, over and over again. I knew on some level what I was doing. We’d even discussed it on a different note earlier in the summer. I recall her saying that she and her father fought, always, just before she left home. What is tremendously painful and humbling is that I know what I am doing, and I still do it. And this is where meditation comes in.

sf-brightonWhen I came back home from upstate, I read some of my emails at the start of the second in-city retreat. Zka (all of my friends have nicknames), my about-to-move friend, had emailed announcing that she wouldn’t leave the week after my retreat, but almost the day after. As in, no more time with Zka.

“Well, I see. That’s just fine then. Seems we are done.” Her excuse for early departure was so long and over-explained that it could not be true. And I had a birthday party for another Z the night before she left. “See how little I need a Z? Hmmm? You got that?” I asked her in my head (albeit not quite that directly) over twenty-five times. So it seems we’d barely get to see each other at all. That’s. Just. Fine.

If you are at all aware of the inaccuracy of the stories you tell yourself, or you have ever been left by a dear friend and you have very stubborn defense mechanisms, you can imagine the things that were going though my mind. How I might reply to her email. How I might do this. How I might say that. How I didn’t need her anyway.

On one lunch break I stepped into an Indian gift shop on 23rd Street, looking for a beach blanket like O’s, which ever-delinquent Kapil did not bring me back from Bombay (Zka on the make-do-for-now blanket at left). Instead I saw a pretty silk scarf that said Zka all over it. The heart in me that burned through my defenses while sitting on my ass all week, going back to my breath every time I noticed I was elsewhere (plotting, conniving, defending against imagined insults), marched me over to the register to buy it. My hurt gave way and I temporarily forgot that I’d written her off. I smiled. I had a pretty scarf for Zka. I was happy.

And then I was mad again. I was beginning to fight with myself because I knew what I should do (clear my schedule and spend time with Zka) vs. what I wanted to do (not rearrange my schedule to suit her last minute change). This was a nice back and forth that went on for a few days.

Okay, enough for tonight. God. I have to sit now. I’ll finish the story next time.

This is part ii of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats:
part i
, part ii, part iii, part iv, & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.

 

why meditate?

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I had promised myself I’d do a meditation retreat back in May, when I’d finally have some time. But, May is a festive time for university people and I had a lot of celebrating to do. Then it was June and I am a summer girl. I couldn’t dedicate a week or more to sitting on my ass inside, pining for the sunshine outside. So, I waited. By August it got cool and less sunny and I pretty much had to do it. My psyche was pressing me. There was an in-city retreat at Shambhala, where I’ve sat the most, in my neighborhood, so I could go to yoga in the early morning and be there to sit at 8:30am. Easy.

It’s nice to remind myself why I didn’t sit a retreat in May, because I’d felt a bit delinquent for not. Had I the clarity sitting brings then, I would have handled some stresses of the last few months differently. But I also would have missed my sunshine and swimming (Sveikiname to Rūta Meilutytė. Yeah, you knew I was going to get that in somewhere. My favorite stroke!), and honestly, this was one of the best summers ever. I’m not going to put in a for a change.

I did two retreats back to back. The first upstate, solitary. I read, wrote longhand, sat (meditated), did my yoga (Mysore, before breakfast), swam, and hiked. After, I took the train from there straight to the Shambhala Center for the in-city retreat, without stopping at home. This was with people, some I knew. But it was, for the most part, silent.

lake-yoga-legs“Why do you meditate?” people ask, and it’s not the same people who ask why I do yoga. For whatever reason, I feel that the meditation question is much less loaded than the yoga question. But it’s more difficult to explain. The practices aren’t separate, in my mind. They are, and they aren’t. For me, one isn’t possible or complete without the other, and their histories are bound up in one another as well. Perhaps I’m avoiding the question here.

I meditate because it puts me in touch with me and what matters. Not me in the me me me sense, but me in the soul sense. In the deeply connected sense. In the meaning sense. Life is full of so many distractions that I forget very easily what is important. Sitting puts me back in touch. It brings up things I’ve avoided because they are difficult, hard, or unwanted. I face them, and they dissolve. This does not necessarily happen consciously. Though it can. Hatha (physical) yoga can do this for me, or start to do this, especially if pranayama is involved. But to really get anywhere, I have to sit.

When I went upstate for part one, there was a lot going on in my head. Lots of ideas to process, relationships to figure out. I also just needed to decompress from time in the city. I’d been crashing at a friend’s place for a few days, and relished having my own space again. I liked it up there and felt safely wrapped in the beauty of it. Being silent and alone (albeit with people around) brought back, at times, a feeling of loneliness I associate with traveling alone on long trips in my 20s. I don’t feel this loneliness when I go it alone at home, in my own city and space, even if I take days to myself. Perhaps this is because I rarely go offline for that time, or because of the familiarity of it and the distractions of home. My thoughts and feelings around this are yet to be explored. It’s part of a budding discussion with a friend who says that meditation is the only time, substantially, he doesn’t feel the void of isolation. He’s meditated quite a bit more than I have (as far as long retreats go), and he also experiences isolation and loneliness differently than I do. We’ve yet to see.

It’s heavy and achy, that loneliness, and I don’t like it. I usually try to push it away. When I don’t, I feel something underneath that I haven’t quite gotten to because as soon as I get near, it shifts into something else. Maybe this makes no sense to a non-meditator, and if not, I am sorry. Maybe I need to back up and explain from a non-meditator’s perspective. This is getting long already. So, next time.

This is part i of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats:
part i
, part ii, part iii, part iv, & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.

 

 

 

У тебя все хорошо?

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Улуг написал вчера: “Ты вчера не написала с днем рождения. Ты не могла же забыть что у меня был вчера праздник. У тебя все хорошо?”

Mое сердце нагревается на трудный день. (Я написала, в другой э-почте.) Спасибо, Улуг. И С Днем Рождения!

 

five ways to leave your lover: #4 brighton beach

Last night, Lukas screened Five Ways to Leave Your Lover, shot on 16mm film. It went to the Short Film Corner at Cannes this May, and I finally saw Way #4: Brighton Beach. Watch it.

In less than ten minutes Lukas, a pro-snowboarder turned filmmaker from Vermont, somehow captures the essence of Brighton and Russian relationship dynamics (leave and come back, anyone?). It’s almost amazing. Inna is in the red dress, and her own father plays her father in the short. Watch.

Lukas was my student while he was at Columbia. Last spring he asked me if I knew any Russian actors for one of his shorts. I did, and told Danchik’s Inna about it. The short was meant to be filmed out in the Rockaways, but the location had to be changed to Brighton. Perfectly so.

At some point when filming, Lukas asked Inna how we knew each other and Inna replied, “We share the same boyfriend.”

Lukas was intrigued. I can just picture his expression, head slightly lifted, eyes sparkling, mouth open in “ahHHhh.”

“Uh, not exactly,” I laughed, much later. Definitely meaning was confused in her translation.

Initially Inna did not get why I connected them. I explained that Danchik is now like a little brother to me. I love him but am not in love with him. If Danchik loves you and has for some years now, clearly I love you, too. And why not introduce one amazing artist to another? (I’m not being douchey. They are amazing. Watch it.)

Nevertheless, Danchik and I aren’t really speaking at the moment. He’s annoyed with me for reasons I find mysterious and tiring, and I’m annoyed with him. Danchik can be an asshole. He knows it. He owns it. Unlike most people, he doesn’t pretend to be a good person, nor does he need to rely on such pretense as a mode of seduction. Yet he can be a very, very good person. I admit my acceptance was based on his not being an asshole to me, or in front of me, and recently he was. And I was offended. Whatever. I’m over it.

Seeing Inna fanned my current frustration about people, relationships, and how we view the world. We live in such little boxes of thought and expectation that we do not really perceive or understand the world around us. Inna and I discussed Russian men and American men, the pros and cons of each, and I admit I see her relationship with Danchik as being completely Russian in its patience and execution. My lack of this “womanly” patience (yes, to my American view, doormattery) is inherently why Danchik is annoyed with me. Yet it’s our difference and we won’t talk about it. We will let time heal us or we won’t.

Now, we will size life up as it fits our stories, not ever pulling our projections off the world to see it as it is. It is exhausting and the root of all misery. Danchik probably does not know or care that I am annoyed with him, and I am exhausted by his story around why he is annoyed with me. We are so attached to THE WAY WE SEE, the way we think and understand (not least because it is how we define ourselves), that we don’t give life a chance.

How to stop? Dunno. I think I’ll watch this for the 41st time for clues and comfort.

And this too, more kind of unbelievable student magic in film art & yoga: Purva’s Kumaré opens this week at IFC. How am I so lucky as to have such amazing people in my classroom and life? The list goes on and on. At risk of wanking, I will say I am hugely grateful. I never wanted to teach yoga, but it’s brought me the best of everything.

 

a healthy sense of detachment

NewYork_2012-04_April-5“For [Europeans] work was not an obsession or even, it seemed, a concern. And the notion that a person should subordinate himself to a corporation, especially an American corporation, was, to them, laughable.”

“If you are a self-possessed man with a healthy sense of detachment from your bank account and someone writes you a check for tens of millions of dollars, you probably behave as if you have won a sweepstakes, kicking your feet in the air and laughing yourself to sleep at night at the miracle of your good fortune. But if your sense of self-worth is morbidly wrapped up in your financial success, you probably believe you deserve everything you get. You take it as a reflection of something grand inside you.”

“There was a deep behavioral connection between bond trading and takeovers as well: Both were driven by a new pushy financial entrepreneurship that smelled fishy to many who had made their living on Wall Street in the past. There are those who would have you think that a great deal of thought and wisdom is invested in each takeover. Not so. Wall Street’s takeover salesmen are not so different from Wall Street’s bond salesmen. They spend far more time plotting strategy than they do wondering whether they should do the deals. They basically assume that anything that enables them to get rich must also be good for the world. The embodiment of the takeover market is a high-strung, hyper-ambitious twenty-six-year-old, employed by a large American investment bank, smiling and dialing for companies.

And the process by which a take-over occurs is frighteningly simple in view of its effects on community, workers, shareholders, and management. A paper manufacturer in Oregon appears cheap to the twenty-six-year-old playing with his computer late one night in New York or London. He writes his calculations on a telex, which he send to any party remotely interested in paper, in Oregon , or in buying cheap companies. Like the organizer of a debutante party, the twenty-six-year-old keeps a file on his desk of who is keen on whom. But he isn’t particularly discriminating in issuing invitations. Anyone can buy because anyone can borrow using junk bonds. The papermaker in Oregon is now a target.”

“My father’s generation grew up with certain beliefs. One of those beliefs is that the amount of money one earns is a rough guide to one’s contribution to the welfare and prosperity of society…It took watching his son being paid 225 grand at the age of twenty-seven, after two years on the job, to shake his faith in money. He has only recently recovered from the shock.”

—Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker, 1989
Recommended to us on yoga hike by Miguel
We got a lot of good stuff that day

Steel-welded Sculpture, The Sun God, by J. McKeon

PHPV: the eye, vision, and how I see

[for other posts in the category, click ‘older posts’ at bottom]

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This is part iii of my perfect deformity. It stands alone, but part i and part ii are informative as well.

PHPV (Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous) is a rare, congenital eye disease that begins around the third month in utero. I have it in my left eye (right to you) and have written about it before. In short, the primary vitreous and hyaloid artery of the developing eye do not become clear and recede (they’re persistent), but instead grow even more (hyperplastic), scar, and form a stalk. Sometimes this is in the front of the eye. Sometimes the back. Mine runs from the cornea in the front all the way back to the retina. This, my ophthalmologist calls “classic,” “amazing,” “beautiful,” and “textbook” when describing it to her residents, whom she will pull off lunch break to view because it’s so rare to see such a case. Also rare because the cataracts and calcium deposits that can develop on the cornea often make it impossible to see into the eye. Not so for me. Mine fog up only the right side of my eye, so you can see straight in.

It is oddly comforting to have my deformity so appreciated. And since I’m a huge advocate of real world education, I’m happy to let the apprenticing doctors take a look, painful as it may be.

When I was little, as in the photo above, the deposits gave the eye more of a blue cast, so I appeared to have one brown eye and one blue (no, not like your cat). Now the coloration isn’t as extreme, but the eye is smaller (microphthalmia) and doesn’t track with the right. Other side effects are the retina peeling off a bit and elevated eye pressure (glaucoma). I have both, though both are pretty stable.

adult-phpvPhoto: Far right, adult eye with PHPV doesn’t track with normal eye.

I have yet to meet someone with PHPV. There’s a facebook group called “People with Persistent Hyperplastic Vitreous Unite” but it should be called “Parents of Babies & Toddlers with PHPV Support and Discuss.” I’ve chatted online with someone upstate (we’re FB friends now), and a few people here who have read my other posts, but I have never met another person with this disease. And before the internet (most of my life), the only information I got was from my ophthalmologist. There’s only so much one can absorb in a visit.

That’s why I write this. There’s very little info out there, and nothing about what it’s like to have PHPV.

Even so, I’ve known I see differently since I was young. My pediatric ophthalmologist (he was mean. Parents of Small Children with PHPV, please do not send your child to a mean eye doctor. Traumatown) gave me a slew of tests. One was a fly coming off a board, and I was meant to say if it was 3-D or not. It was the 70s, and this was the “Titmus Fly Stereotest.” Oh, I found a picture. What a horror.

I knew there was a correct answer to the question and I was pretty sure it was not what I saw. So instead of answering as such, I guessed. I don’t remember if I guessed right. I remember the doctor, the scariness, the stress, the tests, and trying to guess what I was supposed to see and say. I was perhaps four or five, and my dad was there in the dark doctor’s office, so I knew it was serious business.

Titmus Fly StereotestI do not have stereopsis, or, what most people take for granted as three-dimensional vision. Stereopsis requires that both eyes track together, so that the brain can use the perfect disparity between the right and left eyes to judge depth. A few inches apart, they see a slightly different image and the visual cortex uses that difference to create the third dimension. It is a trick of the mind. The cells in the visual cortex of the brain that do this develop quite early, and they rely on sight from two properly aligned eyes.

What does this mean to a kid? I sucked at ball games, because judging the distance of a ball moving through the blue sky is pretty much the pinnacle of three-dimensional sight. I loved photography since before I can remember, and got my first camera for Christmas at age ten. I first thought I was trying to freeze and memorize images, just in case I went blind. Later I realized that using one eye to make two-dimensional images is my reality, so of course it comes naturally. Though I do wonder how others see photographs. While your two-dimension vision is no different than mine, it differs from your regular, three-dimensional vision. Mine does not. All the tricks my brain uses to judge depth are pretty much there in a photograph. So perhaps I’m good at relaying the third-dimension in only two. I can’t know.

I also realized in high school that I could play tennis, as long as there were no lobs, because my brain used the lines on the court to judge where the ball was. I liked that. I did not like 3-D movies, because they didn’t work. I saw a lot of lines. I didn’t and don’t like many movies because the brightness hurts my eyes, which are ultra-sensitive to light. Especially in a pitch black room.

These things I had figured out on my own. In the last few years, I’ve noticed even more. Partly due to technology, and perhaps partly due to yoga and meditation, and simply being more aware of my experience. This is getting a bit long, so I’ll save more on how I actually see for the next post.

other posts on phpv:
my perfect deformity
my perfect deformity, part ii