Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Bubbly, giddy, dancing-on-the-toes-we're-going-to-Disneyland-excited!

I leave today :).

This is going to be an amazing trip--it has to be, it incorporates nearly all of my favorites things: travel, yoga, Indian food, learning, and potentially long walks next to a river (but the river Ganges, yeah? Yeah!).

I am so lucky to be able to have this opportunity. Thank you all for your love, your support, your general awesomeness. I will update with news of my safe arrival as soon as I can reasonably find a computer in Rishikesh.

Much love.

Monday, September 28, 2009


No articulating tonight. Just lists.

Things I am feeling sad about:

1) Being an idiot in the past.
2) Feeling like I have to put my heart inside a jar for a bit to keep it from hurting.
3) How cruel people can be towards each other.

Things I am feeling happy about:

1) Not being an idiot in the present (or future, let's hope).
2) Having a wonderful reason for my heart to hurt a bit.
3) Sun salutations, long walks, smells that evoke.
4) Butterscotch cookies.

Things that make my thinkerbox hurt:

1) Math.
2) The lack of scotch in butterscotch.
3) Buying toilet paper.

Self-exploration: a rather unapproachable dish for those souls with a prepared palate. Must be served with a hearty side of feelings. Top liberally with confusion, serve lukewarm with uncertainty. Nibble with caution.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hold Me?

I'm starting to get so very very nervous. I know it's ridiculous--I'm gone what, five weeks total? Five weeks is a drop in the ocean of time. I'm not going to be gone for months or years or to go live in the forests of India forever.

And I really do want to do this. For reals. The excitement I feel is just heavily layered with nervous anticipation right now.

I don't think I'm as nervous about culture shock or potential illness or anything like that. What is scampering around in my mind a lot lately is how, like, contemplate and stuff this trip is going to be. When I distill my anticipation down to a single point, I am nervous about the sheer amount of time that I will be spending alone. In silence, more or less, unless I develop a fun habit of muttering to myself.

When I'm not surrounded by the people I love or by the stressors that pervade my everyday life or simply by the habits that are so integrated into me, is there anything of value left over? Because what happens when the constant stimuli I have here is stripped away and I am left to my own devices? Part of why I was so interested, and am now so nervous about this journey, is that I want to find out exactly that.

I really struggle with what exactly makes me, well, me. And though I think that this will be an amazing, albeit short, chance for me to view my life from a different perspective, I know that there is also going to be some grasping around to find something to hold on to while I do this.

I've had a lot of people ask me about all the attachments I'm leaving behind here and how I'll be able to cope with them. That is an excellent question. "Attachments" have such a bad connotation, but when you think about the actual word, I don't think it's such a bad thing to have a little of. I am happy to be attached to some of the people and things in my life--they anchor me, keeping my from floating adrift, aloof, alone.

So I guess we (or I, singular, soon?) shall see. Hmmm boy.

...Two days...!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Newton's Third Law

The other day, one of my roommates asked me an interesting question.

"What are you most afraid of? And it has to be something tangible. It can't be, like loneliness."

We were both standing in the kitchen munching on cereal when she asked this. While we crunched away, I realized that I couldn't think of anything really good that was actually true. When I was 4, I would have said monsters in my room. Probably up until 3 or so years ago, it would have been creepy-crawlies (I am now Po the Warrior Princess against all with >4 legs, both fearless and bloodthirsty).

When I asked her what her greatest fear was, my roommate answered without hesitation, "Sharks." I wish I'd thought of that one. Fear of shark is a solid, well-grounded, and respectable fear. (Looking back, if I had been on my game that day, I would have said ninjas. But that's still only half true...).

I'm not saying that I don't have any fears, because I most definitely do. For instance, I really don't like being on planes because I'm pretty sure the recirculating air is carrying tuberculosis. And given the choice, I'd rather watch Discovery Channel videos on cave exploring rather than spelunk myself.

What I found most interesting about her question was the condition that the fear had to be something "tangible." Something that can be sensed and categorized, some fear that is probably based on our evolutionary desire to, you know, survive. So for my ancestors, maybe stale air and darkness were really good things to avoid, right up there with man-eating sharks.

Maybe it was just the bit she tacked on at the end that took my mind down this road, but I was disappointed to find that I couldn't get past the "not loneliness" bit of the question. Because as I poked at my bowl of raisin bran (mmm...) I couldn't seem to get my mind off all the intangible fears that I have been carrying around with me for so long.

Loneliness, depression, anxiety, being thrown helplessly into the darker pits of my personality-- my greatest fear is of these things attaching themselves relentlessly to my life, refusing to give up their hold. At times I have been able to shake them off, certain that I have abandoned their dark demands for good. But as experience tells me neither distance nor time nor force of will can permanently remove them from my life. The frustrating part of these aspects of my life is their very weightless, slippery, non-tangibleness. There are no easy ways to avoid them, and being fearful of their presence does me little to no good. I can't simply avoid swimming in the open ocean or opt to take a train or canoe instead of the airplane. I can't laughingly ask my friends to take pictures of the inside of the cave while I bask in the open sunshine outside, learning kung fu (to fight the ninjas). There is no direct action I can take to battle these fears away for good.

I think the point I'm trying, albeit rather unsuccessfully, to get at is this: fear can be an emotion that overwhelms us with its needs. It compels us to react to avoid the cause of our fear or to cling to what we perceive will protect us. When given free reign, fear will readily take up command at the forefront of our minds, guiding all of our thoughts and actions.

The problem lies within our attachment to the fear itself--at some point, we need to be able to distinguish a healthy, useful fear from one that can give us nothing but stress.

So when we're in shark infested waters it's probably a good thing to be afraid. The fear of the sharks and the sharks themselves are both motivating factors for us to remove ourselves from the threat. In this instance, fear is a useful survival tool that propels us to act in ways that encourage our personal safety.

On the other hand my fear of things like depression, anxiety and loneliness has also led me to react, but in ways that are either completely useless or harmful.

Feeling fearful and, well, anxious about anxiety creeping up on me is a little like running soapy water over a barely-touched dish before putting it directly in the dishwasher. It's useless, unrewarding, and wasteful. Not to mention just plain silly.

I think it would be very beneficial for me to learn how to detach myself from this fear I have--to acknowledge and accept that the things I'm afraid of may be in my life for a while, but I don't have to let the worry over them consume my life. Or even if I can't abandon the fear itself, maybe I can at least limit my reaction to (revolutionary!) things that actually help me.

Radical, I know, but something that has not been blaringly obvious to me in the past.

"Detachment" is a common theme in yoga philosophy and one that I am only just starting to come to terms with. Along with it comes the understanding that you can have a thought without being the thought, have an emotion without being the emotion. Just as we observe clouds work their way through the sky, so we can observe the workings of our mind ("Look! That thought is shaped like a duck!"). From this vantage point, we may even come to realize that we can act as a witness, one who is able to remove us from the action/reaction cycles that are so embedded in our lives.

So (what was I getting at?): acknowledging the fear but not being the fear. Stepping back and recognizing when the fear proves a useful function and when it only acts as a detriment. Being able to pick those bad apples of my thoughts out, choosing the shiny delicious ones to hold with me.

...Looking back, this may just have to be one of those rambling posts that only make sense to me. I should try and work on these ideas when it's not 4:30 in the morning :). In any case, your thoughts on my thoughts greatly appreciated...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drooling Monkey Children of the Mind

So...I've been thinking about taking up a meditation practice again. Thinking about trying. Thinking about trying to attempt taking up a meditation practice again. Maybe.

I'm a bit hesitant.

I know I'm being silly. There is good reason for me to try this again, the most obvious of which is that meditating, just hummin' along with the song of the universe, would be really, epically, cool. I love the image that gets into my head--sitting in lotus position high within the foothills of the Himalayas while I radiate inner peace and eternal contentment.

When distilled away from any sort of spiritual tradition or philosophy, meditating can be simply regarded as sitting. Just that. Sounds easy, yeah? Sure, we can all sit, maybe even in lotus position if we're feeling super fancy. If we can learn to sit with a quiet mind, we can learn how to find that ever-elusive present moment--the one in which there are no demands, no distractions, nothing but ahhhhhh....good. We all get glimpses into this state in the daily instances that we strive to hold on to. Long walks and beautiful sunsets, kisses, really good food, runner's highs, vacations, when you're nowhere else but Here and Here is so very good.

The thing is, meditation is tough stuff. Therein lies my struggle with it. Sure, I can sit in lotus position and close my eyes and be on a mountain top. But quiet my mind, much less hum with the song of the universe? My past meditation practice has left me feeling lifetimes away from even picking up the tune.

In yoga tradition, the everyday mind is often referred to as the "monkey" or "puppy" mind. Always distracted, our thoughts swing from vine to vine, from shiny object to tasty treat with barely a breath in between. For me, my meditation practice has been plagued with "4-year-old child" mind.

Let me describe what my meditation practice has been like in the past. I set a timer, intent upon doing my recommended dosage of sitting. I fold myself into a comfortable seated position, my hands resting gently in my lap, a blanket around my shoulders, a pillow helping my posture. I am going to rock this meditation.

For the first two seconds,
"Look at me, meditating...oh! I should stop thinking now."

After a few more,
"Man, this is so easy. I bet I could sit for like, hours, and not even be phased. I'm so glad I'm doing this. Oh! Stopping thinking now!"

It only takes a few more before my the 4-year-0ld child of my mind makes her entrance. Our interaction proceeds as follows:
Tugging on my sleeve, the child whines:
"Po? Po? Po! I'm bored."
Me: "Shhh...I'm trying to connect with the universe right now. Go away we'll talk later."
Child momentarily pauses.
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because I want to achieve inner peace."
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because I think it will help me be a happier person."
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Because being able to find stillness within the chaos that is...wait, I'm not thinking now!"
Child: "Why?"
Me: "Alright, no seriously you have to go away."
Child moves dejectedly to a corner for a brief pout.
Me: "Oh man she is tough to get rid of. Good thing I'm not thinking now."
Then, seeing my obvious weaknesses, the child pounces upon my non-thinkingness again.
Child: "Po? Po? Po! I'm hungry. And bored."

And it's about now that either Eye of the Tiger or that song from Mulan (Look at me/I will never pass for a perfect bride/or a perfect daughter) start playing, scratched-record-like, repeatedly in my head.

When I finally look down at the timer, certain that it must be broken, that hours have passed, it has been--dear lord--4.5 minutes.

But I know that I should try this again, and keep in mind that it's called a meditation practice for a reason. It can take years and years of daily intention to find even five minutes of a stilling of the mind. There are all sorts of useful techniques that are out there to help qualm the drooling monkey children that play so freely in our heads.

Because despite the hurdles I have encountered with meditation, I have also caught glimpses of quiet. Though they have been transient and elusive, they suggest a goal worth striving for.

I could totally dig some humming with the universe.

So maybe, just maybe, it's time to try again?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Feel Better Soon

Increased heart rate. Shortness of breath. Impaired vision. That slow, smoldering burn of emotion that emerges when we perceive to have been wronged.

If you or anyone you know have experienced these symptoms, you may be familiar with the disorder known as Righteous Rage, often associated with the disease Spiraling Emotions.

We've all been there. It could take something as simple as a car cutting us off on the freeway or a server forgetting our side of guacamole to start us down the path towards royally pissed off. And in situations like this it can be, at the time, immensely satisfying to wiggle your favorite finger at that crap driver or leave a penny tip for that incompetent waitress.

In these moments, we feel that the only cure for our anger--the only medication that can truly right the wrong that has been done to us--lies in the sweet retaliation to follow. In the manner of the great Hammurabi ("eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") we have done right by ourselves by taking the hurt someone has imposed on us and turning it right around. So. There. Ha.

Unfortunately, this cure can have terrible side effects. Instead of feeling our anger flow into well-earned contentment as we had hoped, it is replaced instead by guilt and dissatisfaction with the result. We are left to wonder what happened--surely the situation demanded this sort of action, right? But then why are we left feel so confoundedly crappy?

And it is at this point that it is all too easy to let this simple act compound into a series of emotions that lead to a bad day. 'Cause dammit, you earned these emotions and like hell you're going to just move on with your day. Best just to let them simmer around inside you, cooking into a rant that you can later vent out on some poor soul close to you.

Here's a truth that should be obvious: Getting angry is a waste of time. Getting angry and then taking it out on someone else is an exercise in how ridiculous we humans can be when we get all attached and bothered by our emotions. Human beings are emotional creatures, yes. But human beings are also rational creatures who really should learn how to distinguish things-that-make-us-feel-light-and-happy from things-that-make-us-feel-icky-and-gross.

If only the truth was easy to incorporate into our own lives. It is so ingrained in us to believe that we have to hold on to our feelings, letting one emotion lead to another lead to another until they spiral into some sinister monster completely out of our control.

Here is a skill I would love to to learn: To step back, to stop, to pause and acknowledge the emotion but not let it own me. To find patience and to discover the calm within the storm. To not allow myself to feel all icky and gross. 'Cause...ew.

I feel like I have often been the victim of Righteous Rage and that I am a long time sufferer from Spiraling Emotions. You too may be prey to these same afflictions. Join me in the struggle against them and forever banish those emotions that threaten to pull you down. Together, we can find a cure.

There is Hope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich

Keeping in mind that I have had a little too much time to myself these past few days, let me indulge in a little bit of self-directed analyzing...

Have you (you have) ever known those People who, upon meeting them, allow for no doubts as to their nature? These People are so unapologetically themselves, with such a strong sense of self, that they leave with no questions about who they are. It's not that they necessarily have really strong opinions on the issues or even that they come off as especially assertive or tough. They are, to put it simply, wholly comfortable within their own bodies and souls. Nothing to prove, nothing to display, nothing to change here.

Among a few of the goals that I have consciously stated for myself, one of the fundamental ones is to one day be one of those People.

But, like many, I often lose myself to the situation--like any good chameleon, my colors will change based on my situation and the desires I feel projected upon me by myself and others. Personally, the bit that I've been chewing on a lot lately is this: How many seemingly opposing attributes can I try and cram into my body and soul before someone gets kicked out? How dichotomous can the nature of a person be before they inevitably are at odds with their own selves?

Take for instance, my potential choice of careers. I have spent the past three years working in a research lab trying to keep up with the fast paced and demanding field that is molecular biology. And so far, despite some hurdles, I've enjoyed it enough to consider taking it a step further and pursuing a higher degree in graduate school with the intent of one day entering the world of academia for good. So there's that as an option. But on the other hand...

...I'm going to India. To become a yoga teacher. And while these two fields may not necessarily war against each other, they tend to demand entirely different skills. Yoga philosophy encourages the student to let go, to stop trying to control the situation, to relax into simply being. Which is all fine and good until I walk into my lab and the type A perfectionist I-can-hold-the-world-up-all-by-myself-thank-you-very-much aspect of my personality comes roaring to the surface.

Up until about 6 months ago, I was a pretty good lacto-ovo vegetarian (okay, bacon was allowed but c'mon...it's bacon). Somehow I now find myself having conversations about the value of a good Pittsburgh rare steak and how to properly roast a whole chicken all while eating a delicious meal of beef tripe and tendon. The thing is, I feel like the vegetarian I once was is still lurking inside somewhere, and though I'm not quite sure where she went, I have a feeling she could easily resurface given the right environment.

The title I chose for the post alludes to the delicious combination of peanut butter and pickle that lends itself to a bizarre but wonderful experience. It doesn't seem like the ingredients should mix but there is perfection in the combinations of salt and sugar, cool and creamy found in this creation. So. Yummy. Seriously.

But I'm also reminded of a story one of my best friends told me about a meal she and her husband were preparing together. Every week, they will choose a recipe that sounds fun and proceed to make it together. The recipe they chose (though if you ask her, her husband chose, period) was for Root Beer Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Presumably, this was recipe was read to be both saucy and delicious. At one point, as my friend later regaled to me, she was pouring--she'll mention how wrong she felt just doing it--root beer and enchilada sauce into a pan. After the addition of a few more ingredients this combination was to put on the pork in an au jus sort of situation. And it was, unfortunately, saucy not delicious. In this instance, two good ingredients did not combine to make a bizarre and wonderful experience. Though probably bizarre, the experience was mostly gross, later humorous, and a great example of how good things don't necessarily mix.

The question is this--can I still be one of those People with all these at-odds attributes (to this you might say that I've only mentioned a few and to that I plead a bit of laziness and an attempt at keeping this blog both tasteful and PG), or must I dig deeper to find that Real Self?

How does a person become a Person?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Behind door number one...

One of my favorite aspects of life is its ability to surprise me.

I never, ever dreamed of being a yoga teacher when I was a littler person. I was more the studious type who played in the school orchestra and dreamed more of being like Madame Curie, then, say, Mary Lou Retton. The world of sports is still a world that doesn't really employ my personal skill set. As I will tell my sports-loving friends, it's not that I dislike the sports. It's just that they, if I'm being completely honest, do not like me. So, as with any relationship based on mutual understanding, they (the sports) and I (glasses wearing Asian mildly afraid of objects hurtling through the air) have decided to keep a healthy distance apart. I find this an agreeable solution.

Except...bummer. There's a lot of pretty nifty things that come of sports. And until I met yoga, I was busy excluding myself from this whole realm of healthy fun entertainment that is encompassed under the "sports" label.

And like any good story, yoga and I fell in love at first sight. And like any good lover, yoga has stuck to me like a molasses laden bow upon a newborn baby's fuzzy bald head.

Some people would argue that yoga isn't just a sport.

And those people...they are totally my people.

Yes, there is a rigorous physical aspect to yoga. And a personal goal setting aspect to yoga. There can even be a teamwork component to yoga in certain partnery classes.

But yoga, if I may take the turn down Dramatic Road here for a bit, is not merely a sport. Yoga is a lifestyle. The practice of asana took my life, spun it around a few hundred degrees and demanded that I make something more of my spiritual self. All this while challenging me to test the limits of my physical self through countless sun salutations, arm balances, inversions, and the ever elusive marichiasanas (woot my yoga people out there).

And so we come full circle to making something of this 22 year old's dream. Come September 29th, I will be hopping on a 14 hour plane ride to live in Rishikesh, India. For one month I will be meditating, practicing asana, and most of all, learning how to transmit the love I have for this more-than-a-sport to other people.

Can I get a Weeeehhhaaaaawww????????

Oh dear...

Writer's block. A curse so easily imposed upon the first time blog writer. A first entry should be deep, insightful. Or if not that, then at least full of useful information or humorous anecdotes.

No pressure...