Friday, August 27, 2010

A Walking Meditation

In the comments section of this week’s previous meditation blog post Dayglo Divine mentioned some drawbacks to the type of meditation I mentioned, particularly as it pertains to people with ADD. I responded by suggesting a walking meditation. In the form of walking meditation I’ve been taught you focus on the small movements that incorporate walking and focus on saying (in your head) the action you're performing as you're performing it.

As an introduction to walking meditation, the process of walking will contain 3 distinct steps that you will repeat over and over, and as I just mentioned, as you perform each step you should say it in your mind. With practice (over time), you can increase the number of steps from 3 to 7 or 8, but increasing the number of steps also increases the difficulty of the meditation. For our purposes I’ll illustrate the steps you would take in a 3-step walking meditation. Here’s how it goes:

  1.  Without shoes, and with 10-15 feet of unobstructed linear space (aka, 10-15 feet in a straight line), begin by standing with the area you’ll use in your walking meditation ahead of you. Focus your gaze downward at a spot on the floor about 5 feet in front of you, with your head at a 45-degree angle. The reason for this is that you want a relaxed posture, but you also will need to see where you’re going. Close your eyes, retract your shoulder blades, and take 10 slow, deep breaths. At the end of the 10th breath, open your eyes and fix your gaze.
  2. Step 1: LIFT. As you break down the steps of walking, the initial step is “lift”. As you bend one knee and raise one heel off the ground, say to yourself: “lift”. When performing each step, you want to slow the action down so that you’re moving at a pace that is peaceful for the meditation – this will seem exceedingly slow compared to how you typically walk.
  3. Step 2: MOVE. As the ball of your foot leaves the ground, say to yourself “move”.
  4.  Step 3: PLACE. As your foot returns to the ground, say to yourself “place”. When I first saw someone demonstrate this walking meditation I asked him after the demo if there was a reason he had performed it walking toe-heel instead of heel-toe. He responded that you should place your foot back on the ground however it feels comfortable to do so. My preconceived notion what that I would walk like I walk when I walk: heel-toe, but then as I was performing the walking meditation for the first time I noticed that it did feel most natural to me to place the ball of my foot on the ground prior to my heel, just as the instructor has. I think it has to do with slowing down the movements that makes toe-heel more natural here. Do whatever feels most comfortable to you.
  5. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until you come to the end of your open area. When you approach the end, stand with both feet together and say to yourself 3 times: “stop” (aka, “stop, stop, stop”).
  6. Say to yourself 3 times: “turn” (aka, “turn, turn, turn”).
  7. Facing the direction in which you can continue the walking meditation, ensure your gaze is fixed and one last time say to yourself 3 times: “stop” (aka, “stop, stop, stop”).
  8. Continue with Steps 1 through 3, focusing on saying the steps as you perform them. If any other thoughts enter your mind during the meditation, pause, acknowledge them, and dismiss them.

For this and any other type of meditation it’s a useful idea to set a timer that has an audible alarm before you start. This way you won’t be distracted by wondering how much time has passed or by checking your watch or cell phone. Set a timer and allow yourself to be immersed in the meditation until that alarm goes off. When it does, bring your focus back to your body and the environment around you. Conclude by taking several more deep breaths, and feel the breath enter your nostrils, the back of your throat, your lungs, and your belly, and feel it release from those areas as well. Ta-da! You’ve done a walking meditation. I’m interested to see what you think if you try this, so let me know J

As you progress, the three Steps: lift, move, place, can become four Steps: lift, move, lower, place, and these four Steps can become five Steps: raise (foot), left, move, lower, place, etc.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Feeding the People & Helping Them ID Fruit

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook then you probably heard about an incident I had at the grocery store several weeks ago in which the cashier could not identify ginger, avocado, or cantaloupe. My first reaction was one of frustration (you work at a grocery store and you can’t identify a cantaloupe?!), but after I posted my initial tweet I actually started to feel really bad, because I realized that for many people in America the identification of fruit outside of the can really is too much to ask. Why? Lower-middle and lower-class Americans simply cannot afford to purchase or eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Let me say that again: There’s a HUGE segment of the American population that cannot afford to purchase or eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Wow, that’s a big fucking problem.

On average my grocery bill can easily get well over $100 a handful of times in a month, but it’s not like I come home with bags upon bags of groceries. I usually have 3 to 4 bags, two of which are nothing but fresh produce – fruits and vegetables – that’s the bulk of my bill. Lucky for me I have a good job that affords me the luxury of being able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but if I were to come on hard times I can surmise that this is one area in which I would have to cut back to save money. And I own a house and drive a car and have another income flowing in without any kids. Imagine I’m a single mother who rents and I have no car – there is little to cut back on “first” other than food. It’s no wonder the incidence of obesity continues to rise as well as the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

For a relative outside like me, I hear statistics pertaining to the persistent degenerative public health crisis on evening news programs daily. I know the incidence of preventative illness relating to the American diet is out of control, and I get angered and frustrated when I actually take a moment or two to think about why we’re in this position. We make people choose between clothing themselves or killing themselves because we’ve been trained to value greed and short-term returns instead of communal wellbeing or even foresight into our own futures. We let ourselves off the hook and justify it as “not our problem”, because it ultimately is an individual’s choice as to what he or she eats and how he or she feeds her family. It’s a choice unless buying fresh vegetables means you can’t afford your bus pass, which you need to get to the two jobs that only pay you minimum wage because not only was college not an option but neither was finishing high school because you had to drop out to help pay for your mother’s medication that wasn’t fully covered by Medicaid, but you weren’t learning much anyhow except how to deal drugs out your locker because this country’s public education system is in the middle of a full-blown crisis, and we’d rather fund a war that helps the rich get richer than buy some fucking books for kids who cannot identify fruits or vegetables, but I digress… I’m an outsider. I’ve never been in any of these situations. If I were, I may think shopping in the Plus-size section is just natural, like when I moved out of children’s sizes and into adults, or I may think getting high blood pressure is just like getting your period for the first time or an erection – all these things are natural, right? They’ve happened to everyone around me or will happen to them when they get older.

Deciding, as a society, to let ourselves off the hook for the obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes health crisis is ridiculous, irresponsible, ignorant, and idiotic, but making this decision and then not providing the proper education to help empower lower-income families to make different or marginally better choices makes us all downright responsible for every negative repercussion that comes from the creation of one more obese child or another person who becomes a Type 2 diabetic. And I don’t give a shit what the law says about responsibility here, because enforcement of the law is funded by the guy who padded his wallet by voting against better social services in the first place, and fuck him in his ear. Luckily, despite all the elements that have seemingly conspired against the individuals who will be the next to be told they now have diabetes, there are resources that exist within communities that help educate and empower the people who are at the greatest risk for losing the most because they cannot identify a cantaloupe.

On September 11 I’ll be a celebrity judge in attendance at the Goddess Gala, a fundraiser for Feeding the People, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to develop and implement a research-based model of nutrition-related in-home care for under-served, low-income diabetics in order to reduce the incidence of diabetes and diabetes related illnesses in Maryland.”  Feeding the People, the organization putting on the gala, provides home-delivered meals, nutrition education, and intensive, ongoing support for low-income diabetics in the Baltimore area. This first-annual Goddess Gala is a costume ball in which by attending attendees will be helping to empower low-income diabetics with meals, education, and ongoing support. While ticket proceeds go toward this effort, there will also be a silent auction of goods that have been donated by local Gala sponsors (like acupuncture sessions from About Chi Acupuncture - where I go to get stuck!). Tickets are $55 each, and in what you’d have likely spent on an evening out, you’ll have a wonderful evening out dressed as a god or goddess, sprite, nymph, or fairy, enjoying dancing, “delectable delights”, and you might even win the costume contest that will be judged in part by me!

Yes, this is a plug for you to help support Feeding the People, but it’s also a plug for you to wake up. Look at what’s going on around you. Vote in elections accordingly if things upset you. Start or participate in something unifying and beneficial instead of something divisive and greedy. Compassion is an accessory that makes everyone look better, and as an added benefit it may help you feel better too.

Tickets are available here until 9/10, the day before the Gala. I realize there’s a CCRG bout that night, so feel free to send any donations my way if you cannot make it, or make one online here. I’ll be making an appearance at the CCRG afterparty dressed like the goddess that I am, and if you don’t already have plans to attend the bout, come support a good cause with me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Meditate

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been sick with a fever and unable to attend last Saturday’s bout, but I’ve been dreaming about derby a lot lately. Up until now if you had asked me “Do you miss it?” I would have said “No.” And it’s been true; I don’t miss the attendance requirements, and I don’t miss feeling like a stranger in my own home. I do miss the camaraderie, I do miss having something to push myself for, and I really do fucking miss having an outlet that lets me full-body slam into a bitch in a controlled and acceptable manner.

Since retirement I’ve joined a recreational kickball team (aka, beer league, as far as I can tell). This past weekend we had our first meet-n-greet/practice, and I found myself both overeager and somewhat annoyed. I was annoyed that the “girls” bunting line is like 2/3 closer to home plate than the “dudes” bunting line, and I was annoyed that there’s two first bases, so you don’t accidentally collide with the person trying to get you out. I was overeager to participate, because, well, I don’t know why, but I wound up continually offering to pitch so I would stay active and so I was forced to stay accountable to my team. Since retirement I’ve also joined a nicer gym, going to classes and running, and I’ve been going to yoga outside of that, but still something seems to be missing.

I left derby to focus on writing, but in all honesty I’ve written less since I retired than when I was skating. Instead, I’ve taken up sewing. That is, I’ve bought a shitload of fabric and started 10 million different sewing projects (999,999 of which I haven’t followed through on). I’ve also started compulsively buying Pyrex in an effort to set up a vintage housewares store on Etsy, but you can probably guess where that stands as well ($500 in with no more than a storefront to show for it!).

I’ve been spending a lot of time at my house, which is a stark contrast from where I was this time a year ago. I love my house – I really do – but now it seems it takes an act of congress to get me out of it, which is probably as equally unhealthy as never spending any time in it.

My big accomplishment since retirement has been my garden, which in all honesty has been a booming success. The woman who mows our lawn tells me that it’s the best garden she’s seen all year – that she’s amazed it was my first time vegetable gardening, and my garden could be featured in a garden magazine. Now, however, fall is near, and the vegetable production is slowing and so is my interest in watering and weeding and fertilizing. Le sigh.

Right about now you’re probably thinking that I intended to write about meditation and instead decided to whine about roller derby retirement – that you caught me fucking up. You’re wrong! (Haha!) Hold onto your trousers, folks, and I’ll explain the super long-winded intro…

Since I was 19 and practiced meditation for the first time I knew it was a powerful thing – a beneficial thing and something that would benefit me if I were to do it regularly. That hasn’t stopped me from not doing it, especially during times where I desperately need it – like now. For me, meditation is like a light cutting through the fog – the more regularly I meditate the more able I am to see things for how they really are. Without meditation I get easily confused, and my all-or-nothing personality darts full-speed ahead in many different directions, hoping I’ll hit and land on something that makes me happy, and I’ve been doing a lot of darting lately. Without clarity it’s hard to tell one way or the other what’s right and what’s wrong – what makes me happy and what makes me miserable – so I’ve decided to challenge myself to meditate regularly for one month to bring myself back to a coherent state of mind (a state that’s desperately needed right now).

So, this blog is for Biroller Disorder (my friend Rob), who both nagged me to blog more and asked me to teach his ADD brain to meditate. I couldn’t find anything online that I felt both explained meditation the way I do it and offered some candor about meditation that I’ve learned over the years.

Simply put, meditation is the act of not thinking. We all go around occasionally explaining stupid behavior with the phrase “I wasn’t thinking”, but that’s an incorrect excuse if you ask me, for if you hadn’t been thinking for about 30 minutes on a daily basis leading up to now (aka, meditating), you probably wouldn’t have done that stupid thing to begin with (and yes, I’m ending this sentence with a preposition). Contrary to popular belief, not thinking is actually really hard. REALLY HARD. So, if you’ve attempted to meditate before and failed, congratulations, you’ve started your meditation practice in the same place as every successful meditater – it’s all downhill from here!

How to Meditate:

First, eliminate distractions and set a time goal. For the time you’ve allotted to attempt to meditate (30 minutes should be good), turn off the phone, lock up the dog, and if you’re like me, make sure the housework is out of the way and the bills have been paid as well. It’s hard enough to focus on not thinking that you want to do your best to nip any nagging thoughts or distractions in the bud. It’s for this reason that I actually find it way easier to meditate anywhere but my house, because there’s always something else I think I should be doing when I’m there, and these thoughts can consume me. Many cities have group meditation sessions. If you’re entirely too distracted at home, try a group session. Regardless, it’s best to approach your time goal with the mentality that this amount of time has been dedicated to meditation, and regardless of your perceived success you won’t do anything else but try to meditate during this time. We allocate time each day to shower (ok, some of us) or eat – don’t feel selfish or guilty taking this meditation time for you. For many of us it really can be an important element of daily self care.

Second, find a comfortable position. When I first began to learn to meditate, I was instructed to always sit – for the love of Buddha, don’t lay down!!! I then felt guilty several years into my practice that my primary meditation locale was horizontal. That’s right, I was a meditation bad-ass! Well, that is until I recently attended a group session and the instructor taught a lying down meditation. Finally, vindication! In all honestly, I can see why noob meditaters are encouraged NOT to lie down: you can easily fall asleep, especially if you’re attempting to meditate right before bed. Do yourself a solid and try sitting upright for a week. After that, consider your dues paid and lie down if you want. Personally, I find it more comfortable, but I do still occasionally meditate sitting up with my legs crossed. When I do, I sit on a thick pillow, which makes things more comfortable. The goal here is comfort. Choose a position you can sit in without pain for the duration of your practice. This actually goes back to distraction – you don’t want to be distracted by pain or discomfort that will make you need to switch positions. Sitting in a chair is acceptable too. Shit, any position is acceptable – just find a comfortable one!

Third, close your eyes. There’s many different types of meditation, and some have you keeping your eyes open, but this ain’t one of them. Again, this relates to eliminating distractions. If your eyes are closed there’s less stimuli to distract you.

Fourth, attempt to meditate – attempt to clear your mind of all thoughts for your specified period of time. If you take nothing else from this “how to”, take this: meditation isn’t a flawless accomplishment – it’s an attempt to hush the mind. An ATTEMPT. Because thoughts enter your mind doesn’t mean you have failed at meditating – in fact, this is a part of every meditation practice! Listen, thoughts are going to enter your mind, and your focus may drift away to hearing a garbage truck outside or a barking dog or the phone, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. There is no fail in a meditation practice. If you find yourself in the middle of thought, acknowledge that you’re thinking that thought without being hard on yourself and let it go. Go immediately back to attempting not to think, and continue to do this as many times as you need to during the timeframe you’ve allotted yourself to meditate. Everyone has good days and bad days – even seasoned meditaters (mmm, why am I craving homefries now?!). In every type of meditation practice I’ve been privy to, there is no good or bad – there just is. No judgment. No accomplishment. No failure. Meditation just is, so find comfort in the fact that you really can’t do this wrong as long as you’re trying to do it.

But how will you know when you ARE doing it??? Well, there is no ethereal state that you’ll enter that will let you know you are successfully meditating. A really good session for me is losing track of time – having 30 minutes (or an hour or so) pass that have felt like 5. Meditation isn’t meant to be done once, so over time you’ll be able to judge what a really good session feels like to you, and over time you’ll also begin to notice the benefits of a regular practice. For me, I’m not as quick to anger or stress, and my mind is clearer, which means I’m generally more happy when I do meditate regularly.

For those of you who maybe have meditated in the past but haven’t lately (although you’ve been meaning to get back into it) and for those new to meditation, I’d like to encourage you to be a positive influence on me and join me in a 30-day meditation challenge. Starting today, set aside time each day – be it 10 minutes or an hour and a half – to meditate. Let me know how you’re doing with it, and I’ll share here as well. Feel free to send questions my way. I’m certainly no meditation guru, but I have been doing it for (gulp!) nearly 13 years, so I’d be happy to share my experiences with you. It’s easiest to reach me on Twitter (@cindylop-her), but I’ll post any Q&A on here as well – you know, to also encourage my writing J Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings!

I've always craved more freedom than I’ve had, and perhaps I craved more than usual the summer before I got my license. I was 15, and I was spending my 3rd summer in a row living and working on a 300-some acre ranch that was also a summer camp. I only made $40 a week under the table, but being away from the rules of my parents for 3 months was well worth the shitty pay – not that my parents’ rules were all that difficult for me to follow, but they were rules nonetheless, and I’ve never really liked following rules. Late that summer my parents came up to visit me for the day. I remember it being a fun day, but the only specific I can remember is something my father said that took me by surprise then and still does to this day. My father was concerned and wanted to have a serious discussion with me about my weight. He said that I had appeared to have gained a significant portion of weight since being at the ranch that summer, and if I didn’t work to get it off now my friends might notice when I went back to school. Not to mention, if I perpetually ignored weight gain, I wouldn’t get a boyfriend and no man would ever want to marry me, because every man knows that a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married. Every cell that comprised my 150-pound body went into shock, and this was the moment that I developed a new level shame and self-consciousness regarding my body. I went on to gain 15 more pounds before I graduated high school, and during that time I was ashamed. I learned to lie about my weight, deny it, and obsess over it all at the same time, and through it all I kept silent. After all, if a higher number was something to be ashamed of, why would I ever want to share it with someone – anyone?!

Sometimes the things that hold us back the most are the ones we’re taught to keep silent. Last week I organized a Biggest Loser-style competition between my friends and coworkers, with the idea being that I’ve gained 15 pounds since I retired from derby, and quite frankly I need the aspect of competition to motivate me to figure out how to live and move after derby, which is something I’ve been struggling with (“what do you mean I can’t eat 4,000 calories a day and still accidentally lose 5 lbs?! Oh, yeah, cause I’m not skating 12 hours a week…”). The competition will last 60 days, it’s a $10 buy-in, and the person at the end who loses the highest percentage of weight wins the pot. In my emails with the participants I’ve been persuading them to use these 60 days wisely and create good, healthy habits that will extend beyond the end of the competition (aka, don’t use these 60 days to starve yourself for $100). I’ve explained how weights will be collected weekly and percentage lost will be shared with everyone (not the actual numbers on the scale), and I even tried to make everyone feel more comfortable about sharing their weight with me, the person recording things, by sharing my weight with them, which at the time was 187 pounds. Still, I’ve received numerous emails from people who want to participate but who have expressed resistance and panic at sharing their weekly weight with just me – the most nonjudgmental 187-pound woman there is. The first such email I got was from a very close friend who doesn’t want me or anyone else to judge her, to which I replied “I judge you more for feeling that way than I do for however much you may weight.” Harsh? Maybe, but it angers and frustrates me that so many people are slaves to the number on the scale – hell, almost everyone I know is a slave to that number! The most disturbing thing is that this idea that weight is something to be ashamed of and never talked about spans all sorts of different people – big, small, short, and tall. One of my coworkers who put up the biggest fight is literally one of the tiniest people participating. This got me thinking – just how many things that restrict our freedom do we impose on ourselves?

There’s seriously too much other bullshit we’re surrounded with and inundated by daily that we only make ourselves more miserable by enslaving ourselves to a number. And in the case of weight, one of the main reasons I think people allow the number on the scale to have so much control over them is because we continually reinforce each other to keep it a secret, which breeds denial, guilt, and a host of other negative emotions that have an affect on a person’s ability to overcome their situation, so I say don’t keep it a secret! For the past few years I’ve been really open about my weight, which has not only allowed me to feel better about myself but it’s also helped those I’ve shared with realize they aren’t alone and, hey, maybe this number isn’t such a big deal.

If you feel guilty or ashamed of your weight, I’d encourage you to do two things. First, tell someone how much you weigh. Say it matter-of-factly, say it proudly, just don’t say it sadly, negatively, or ashamedly. By doing this you’re proving to everyone who hears you that there is another option – that they don’t always have to stress over that number themselves. Second, watch what you say regarding weight to other people – even directing negative comments toward yourself perpetuates the stereotypes that do nothing more than fuck with people’s heads and make it harder for them to be their best selves. Contribute toward the creation of healthy attitudes – attitudes that make living life more pleasant for all of us.

I’m certainly not perfect, and I will admit that I did panic for a fleeting moment or two when I got married this past April, as my father’s words got stuck in a loop in my head: “a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married”. Those words that were once uttered over 15 years ago in less than 2 minutes time have had a huge impact on my life – a huge NEGATIVE impact. That’s the thing: there are people in life, some of whom you love and trust and respect dearly, who will knowingly or unknowingly encourage you to enslave your mind under the guise of wanting the best for you, but in the end only you know what’s truly best for you. Luckily for me, I knew well enough 15 years ago that I would never marry a man who didn’t want to marry me because I was fat. In my book, being fat’s way more acceptable than being a conceited judgmental douche bag, and I’d sooner fuck a fatty myself than a traditionally handsome fellow who’s rotting from the inside out. And if you don’t feel the same way about me, then you can take a hike and the cage you’re trying to put me in with you, because I refuse to place myself there. You may think I’m caged by looking at my size 16 pants or XL workout tops, but you’d be wrong. I’m more free than most girls who could slink between the bars, and my wish is that everyone could be this free!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

That Time of the Month

Anxious to leave work today, I could hardly wait to get to my car so I could listen to a new-to-me Twilight Singers album I just downloaded, and before I had the chance to exit the garage I found myself wondering for the millionth time just what exactly “it” is that makes me so drawn to Dulli as a lyricist. On the surface, it’s the relentless exhibit of desperation he’s willing to endure in exchange for a mere glimpse of love or lust or redemption. Over and over he manages to capture that brief and all too quickly forgotten moment where we leave ourselves completely and utterly exposed – a moment of frightening exhilaration in which (against all better judgment) we put ourselves out there, usually only to be rejected. And unlike me he’s able to convey all that through a single lyric. He’s truly an amazing storyteller, I thought. Then I remembered I was ovulating, and the $9.99 I spent earlier in the day at the iTunes store started to make a hell of a lot more sense.

I’ve read that men are more attracted to a woman who is ovulating, and I don’t doubt that fact – survival of the fittest and all – but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not ovulation itself that makes a woman more attractive but instead the way ovulation makes a woman feel and how she presents herself based on that feeling that makes her more attractive. I tend to suspect it’s the latter, which made me wonder if there isn’t a better time of the month to write erotic narrative. I think I’m onto something…

I’ve always wanted to respond to Bust’s open call for one-handed reads, because I think it would be fun to write one, but much like an old married couple – me and writing – I’m usually not in the mood. Still, it remains something I think I’d like to try one day, and I think that today my overly analytical mind has stumbled on which days I should attempt such writing. Good for me. And good thing I have an app for that too: AppBox Lite (it includes a cycle tracker, and it’s dead on). Now all I need are ideas...