Wednesday, 31 December 2008

That uphill climb

I believe I'm heading in the right direction. I am down from 138.2 yesterday to 137.2 today. The long, slow road to recovery seems to have begun.

Interesting discovery. This is the first time I've made a serious effort to count my daily caloric intake since I 'changed my lifestyle' at the end of 2003. I used Weight Watchers' point system for about 9-10 months at the beginning, after that I just tried to make healthy choices and keep my portions at a reasonable size. I have never had any real idea of calories.

All the charts and graphs-- and the personal trainer I hired back in October-- have advised me that at my height and activity level and weight, I should eat 1800 calories a day to lose about a half a pound to one pound a week. I determined when I started keeping my food diary that for the first few weeks I would track my food without trying to plan to hit a certain number. For the last four days, I have made an effort to avoid junk (chocolate and biscuits), the way I used to do when I feel I was doing well--and when I weighed 131 pounds! Guess what. For three days running, my total caloric intake has been under 1500. I have eaten just like I 'used to' eat when the weight just kept falling off, seemingly without effort. (Other than the effort to eat a piece of fruit instead of the cakes and crap at work). I am going to continue to monitor my calories and rate of loss to try to establish what my personal baseline is for daily caloric requirements to reach and maintain my ideal weight.

I've re-read 'The Secrets of Skinny Chicks' over the last few days, as inspiration. I do find that book very inspiring. The author suggests you write a dream goal ('something you can only imagine achieving in an ideal world'), long-term goals ('things you should be able to achieve with a lot of work') and short-term goals ('things you can accomplish right away').

When I weighed 200 lbs and first embarked on a healthy lifestyle, my 'dream goal' was to weigh 137 lbs. I don't know how I arrived at that number, it just sounded good to me. When I surpassed that goal, I was amazed. And now, 137 is an unacceptable weight to me. So now, my dream goal is to weigh 129 lbs and to look not just toned but leaning toward the look of an actual athlete. Something only imaginable in a perfect world. Me, looking like an athlete, with arms like Angela Basset's or Jari Love's!

My long-term goal was to establish an exercise routine. That is well-entrenched. So now, my long-term is to not be complacent. Lift heavier and jump higher. I want to keep pushing myself to improve. I want to be able to do all my press-ups in every workout on my toes instead of only a few, I want to be able to do a pike on the stability ball, and to do upward bow in yoga.

My short-term goal was always to stay focused on the here-and-now so as not to get overwhelmed by it all. That is the formula for success for me. To remember that the only choice that matters is the one I'm making right at this moment. Whether to have hot chocolate (60 calories) or plain Caro (10 calories). Whether to do an easy cardio or go all-out with a 60-minute sweat-a-thon. It's the little things that really count. By being realistic rather than emotional about it, by making little choices moment to moment, anyone can achieve anything. I'm learning this lesson all over again.

Yesterday's food
Breakfast: peanut butter & jam toast with caro
Snack: homemade brown rice miso soup
Lunch: broccoli, cauliflower and carrot with brown rice and mung beans, a small pear
Snack: 2 red plums
When I got home: a tsp of peanut butter and corner torn off a wholewheat roll
Dinner: Tivall vegetarian escalope, roast potatoes and garlic brussels sprouts
Snack: Staffordshire oatcake and jam
During the day, 3 chewy mints
Total calories, 1478

Yesterday's meditation

Today's food
Breakfast: peanut butter and agave nectar toast with caro
Snack: a pear, a small wholemeal roll with 'Sheese' dairy free cream cheese
Lunch: leftover veggie chili and short grain brown rice
Snack: 50g dry apple oat cereal and a cup of hot chocolate
Dinner: trio of noodles with tofu (wheat udon, black rice udon, and yam cake noodle stir fried with carrot, cauliflower and red bell pepper) served with tiny side dishes of smoked takuan pickle and pickled ginger
New Years Treat: 250ml cava demi-sec
Total calories: 1,980
(Looking over it, I should have skipped that cereal snack and the hot chocolate. That would have knocked me back to 1,720. And less the cava it would be 1510! See how those little things add up).
On the plus side, though, I have done three workouts today: Firm Upper Body, Firm Standing Legs and yoga.

Today's meditation
Kundalini yoga set with Maya Fiennes 1 hour

Monday, 29 December 2008

Japanese wonder noodles!

Well, it's back to work tomorrow, 9-6. Then I have Wednesday and Thursday off--wahey!

This blog entry is just a shout-out about shirataki noodles. I tried them for the first time tonight and was very pleased. If you haven't heard of them, they are noodles made from konnyaku (a Japanese tuber) flour and are virtually free of calories and carbohydrate. They're nothing really but water-soluble fiber. The great thing is they take on the flavour of whatever they're cooked in. I just had a big plate of pasta with a mushroom tomato sauce for only 165 calories! I am well chuffed with this discovery, and have gone straight to Japan Centre's website to order more. ( sells packets for only 69p each).

Here are some links if you're curious to know more:

Konnyaku and shirataki FAQs

Shirataki noodles

Miracle Noodle

Today's food
Breakfast: 2 slices wholemeal toast with peanut butter and jam
Snack: mango smoothie
Lunch: leftover chili with wholemeal pitta and 'sheese' spread
Snack: half a punnet of blueberries
Dinner: shirataki noodles with spicy tomato stir-thru sauce, mushrooms and basil; steamed broccoli, carrot and cauliflower

Today's meditation
45 minute body scan guided meditation--I didn't sleep through the whole thing this time! Only about half of it. Ha!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Welcome back the light with Winter Sadhana and Detox

'Sadhana' is a daily spiritual practice. The word comes from Sanskrit and means 'a means of accomplishing something.'

I've decided to start a winter sadhana 7 days after the winter solstice--that's today! Traditionally, the sadhana should be practiced between the hours of 4-7 AM, known as the 'ambrosial hours', but I am going to do my practice as and when I can. I might try to do some early meditation, but I am not putting any pressure on myself to do that. Just doing the sadhana is discipline enough, in itself. My commitment is to 45 minutes a day of yoga and/or meditation. I will be following a CD for the meditations. The yoga/meditation aspect of my sadhana will last 8 weeks.

My detox is a mung bean and rice detox based on the solstice mung bean and rice diet handed down by Yogi Bhajan. Traditionally, this is a 40-day diet, but I will follow it with variations for 14 days. If I decide to go through another cycle, I will. The recipes are taken from 'The Kundalini Yoga Cookbook' by Ek Ong Kar Singh.

So, what it is I hope to accomplish using these means? I hope to embed a more solidly established meditation practice in the day-to-day of my life, and I want to clean out my system of all the rubbish I've eaten lately (and for the last year, to be honest!) and kick start myself on the road to losing some weight. I would like to lose 7-14 pounds over the course of 2009.

Today's food
Breakfast--a bowl of cooked amaranth with no-sugar strawberry jam and a cup of plain Caro
Snack--2 red plums, 1 slice of tomato basil Ryvita, 1 slice Cheatin' Meats turkey and some iceberg lettuce
Lunch--veggie chili and a wholemeal pita
Snack--fresh strawberries
Dinner--stir-fried asparagus, carrot and red pepper with mung beans and brown rice
Snack--Staffordshire oatcake with strawberry jam

Today's meditation
10 minutes vipassana (silent sitting)
45 minute 'body scan' guided meditation--Today was the first day I tried this. To my shame, I slept through nearly the entire thing. So now I know not to try this lying on the bed by candlelight. Looks like this is a job for the yoga mat and overhead lighting!

Friday, 26 December 2008

You, Walt Whitman

When I was younger, I detested Walt Whitman. I thought he was an annoying, arrogant egotistical list-maker. But the truth is, I was just a callow youth, and over the years of teaching high school English, I came to love Walt Whitman. If you haven't read him in a while, here are some of my favourite segments from the poem 'Song of Myself' in 'Leaves of Grass':

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white;
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps;
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers;
Darker than the colorless beards of old men;
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.


Having pried through the strata,
analyzed to a hair, counsell’d with doctors, and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself—none more, and not one a barleycorn less;
And the good or bad I say of myself, I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound;
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow;
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless;
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by the carpenter’s compass;
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august;
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood;
I see that the elementary laws never apologize;
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am—that is enough;
If no other in the world be aware, I sit content;
And if each and all be aware, I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself;
And whether I come to my own to-day, or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.


I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured, and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey—(come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods;
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair;
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy;
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, or exchange;
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents, and a plain public road.

Not I—not any one else, can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far—it is within reach;
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know;
Perhaps it is every where on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me;
For after we start, we never lie by again.


I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul;
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud,
And I or you, pocketless of a dime, may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye, or show a bean in its pod, confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I, who am curious about each, am not curious about God;
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God, and about death.)

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then;
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropt in the street—and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come forever and ever.

And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.


And as to you, Corpse, I think you are good manure—but that does not offend me;
I smell the white roses sweet-scented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips—I reach to the polish’d breasts of melons.

And as to you Life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths;
(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)

I hear you whispering there, O stars of heaven;
O suns! O grass of graves! O perpetual transfers and promotions!
If you do not say anything, how can I say anything?


There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.

Wrench’d and sweaty—calm and cool then my body becomes;
I sleep—I sleep long.

I do not know it—it is without name—it is a word unsaid;
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol. 1310

Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on;
To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.

Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.

Do you see, O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life—it is HAPPINESS.

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! Here, you! What have you to confide to me?
Look in my face, while I snuff the sidle of evening;
Talk honestly—no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)


The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Viewing the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still 57 years on, it's easy to dismiss it as one of many 50s SF B-movies, but to do so would show a terrible lack of insight. The film was definitely an A-lister, meant for an adult audience. Produced at the height of the McCarthy era, the film takes on the cold war and the red scare, suggesting that mankind is so far gone that nothing short of intelligent life from another world (if not divine intervention) can stop our rapacious need to destroy. Contrary to popular belief, Klaatu never says that he intends to save mankind from itself. Rather, he actually says that he is uninterested in earth's 'petty squabbles' and it is only because man's recent nuclear capabilities have made it a threat to other worlds that his people have decided to step in. Considering that the world had just witnessed the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the unleashing of the atomic bomb, one wonders what Klaatu would class as a 'serious fight'. The people of earth are given two choices: either submit to being policed by Gort and his cohorts (who are entirely unstoppable and programmed to respond to any sign of violence with deadly force), or face total annihilation at the hands of Klaatu's people. Having stopped all the machines on earth for half an hour to prove his power, Klaatu and Gort then fly away, leaving mankind to make its choice.

The 2008 version of the film takes a different tack. Its message is environmental. Klaatu is not a humanoid, but has taken on the form of a human (to reveal what he was 'before he was human', he says, 'would only frighten you'), and has come not to preserve the safety of other planets but to preserve life itself on earth. In the new version of the film, humanity is seen as a threat to all other life on earth. It is only the human species that lives out of harmony with the 'web of life.' Klaatu's people have been observing us for a very long time, and he has been sent to obliterate us in order to protect all other species here and to ensure that earth remains capable of sustaining life, as it is one of the precious few in the universe with that capability. The annihilation begins in a fascinating, and I must say really scary way, and is only halted when Klaatu himself sees that there is a chance, however small, that humankind could evolve and bring itself back into balance with nature. Unlike in the original version, though, humanity is not left with a choice. When Klaatu makes the earth stand still, he doesn't do it for 30 minutes--he leaves it that way. Technology is dead. Nothing works anymore. Presumably, nothing will ever work again. If that doesn't bring us back into harmony with the earth, I don't know what would! As he warns Helen Benson, the scientist who aids him on his mission, the only chance for survival means a complete change to our way of life. Think about what a complete lack of technology would mean. The population would decline immensely, bringing our population back into a natural balance with other species. We would not be able to live in certain parts of the earth--we would return to our rightful habitats, take up our real diets again, and find ourselves back in balance with the other species living on earth. At least, that's the message I got from this film. It is far, far harsher than the original. They are left with the chance to do nothing-- mutually assured destruction is their option, and they can keep their technology, to be guarded over by an alien one. But the 2008 film's human race is simply sent back to the stone age, where perhaps we belong. And, presumably, from whence we will evolve along more harmonious and enlightened lines the second time around.

The two films offer fascinating perspective on the cultural mores of the times. Klaatu in the original film is a blatant messianic figure, going by the pseudonym of 'Mr. Carpenter', an obvious reference to Jesus. Klaatu also speaks of the 'almighty spirit' when asked if Gort were able to bring him back to life: 'No, that power is reserved to the almighty spirit.' In fact, Klaatu is practically entirely messianic: he arrives from heaven with a message to save mankind, which no one wants to hear, goes by the name of Carpenter, is killed and resurrected, delivers his 'Divine Commission' and ascends again into heaven, leaving mankind to make its choice (accept his message or be damned!).

The contemporary Klaatu offers only a vaguely Buddhist perspective. He shocks a dead man back into life, and when Helen Benson's stepson grieves for his dead father and begs Klaatu to resurrect him, he says nothing about an almighty spirit. 'Nothing ever truly dies,' he says. 'The universe wastes nothing. Everything is simply transformed.' Well, Thich Nhat Hanh could not have said it better himself! Either tha is a Buddhist sentiment or the ultimate message about recycling, but either way it is hardly messianic. There is a Jesus-esque self-sacrifice, but nothing heavy-handed, and we get the feeling that there will be no resurrection from it, not to spoil to the entire plot.

I also find it interesting that throughout the 1951 film Klaatu refers constantly to 'your planet', 'your world' and the people of earth say 'our planet' again and again. Yet in the 2008 version, the first time a human (Regina Jackson, representative of the US President) refers to 'our planet', Klaatu turns to her sharply and says, 'Your planet? No. It is not.' I really love that scene:

Jackson: Do you represent a civilization?
Klaatu: I represent a group of civilizations.
Jackson: Where is this group of civilizations?
Klaatu: All around you.

Klaatu: Do you speak for the entire human race?
Jackson: I speak for the president of the United States. Now please tell me: Why have you come to our planet?
Klaatu: 'Your' planet?
Jackson: Yes, this is our planet.
Klaatu: No. It is not.

I couldn't help but think, 'I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.'

Well, I could carry on about the depiction of women, the parent-child relationship, and the special effects, but I'll stop here.

I really liked this film. I even liked Keanu Reeves's wooden perfomance. Who better to play someone who is awkward in his own body than someone who has always seemed awkward in his own body?

Someday, people are going to look back on this film as a moment frozen in time, where you can see all sorts of things about the way we view ourselves, each other, our planet, women, parenting, governments--just like you can look at the 1951 version now. And I think that's how the new version captures the spirit of the original. Intentionally or not.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Lean Mode Color Code: Not Your Usual Food Diary

Okay, I know I just bought Richard Simmons' Food Mover on eBay not long ago. But it didn't work out for me! I might use it someday in the future. I just kept forgetting about it and because it's divided into food groups, I found it a bother to figure out how to track my true calorie intake when I wasn't so disciplined. I mean, you can't close a veggie window when you've eaten a chocolate truffle, and there weren't enough fat windows for an indulgence like that. And of course no sugar windows. So I would end up closing all the windows and saying, well, I've eaten more calories than I'm supposed to. Wonder how many.

So anyway, I saw this Lean Mode Color Code: Not Your Usual Food Diary online and went ahead and ordered it. I know some people use online or computer-based programs for food-tracking, but I'm old-fashioned I guess because I do actually enjoy writing with pen and paper and I LOVE coloring and decorating with highlighters, colored pencils, and markers. I've used it for the last 3 days and enjoyed it! I think I might stick with this for a while--hopefully until June, which is how long the book lasts. I'm just writing down everything I eat to see how many calories and so forth I actually consumed. I am going to do that for awhile before I try to do any modifications for weight loss purposes. Then I can a good baseline and also have a look at my eating patterns. I've been using the recipe calculator at Spark People to analyze my little recipes for a nutritional breakdown. So far I like doing this!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

This is it.

The above cartoon is from the New Yorker, and is referenced in Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

'People don't usually get this right away,' Kabat-Zinn writes, 'They want to meditate in order to relax, to experience a special state, to become a better person, to reduce some stress or pain, to break out of old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating. You'll get caught up in wanting to have a 'special experience' or in looking for signs of progress, and if you don't feel something pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are 'doing it right.'

This is a way of looking at meditation that I have often struggled with. When sitting, I often get thoughts to the effect of, 'Is this a waste of time? What is the purpose of this? What am I supposed to be getting from this?' It's natural to think this way, and with most human endeavors, that kind of thinking is reasonable. It's only with meditation that the point is not what you're getting out of it. The point is clear ackowledgement that what is happening is happening.

But here's something that Kabat-Zinn says that really hit home with me. I'm not sure what I should do with it:

If you do decide to start meditating, there's no need to tell other people about it, or talk about why you are doing it, or what it's doing for you. In fact, there's no better way to waste your nascent energy and enthusiasm for practice and thwart your efforts so they will be unable to gather momentum. Best to meditate without advertising it.

Everytime you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off--especially you.

What do you make of that??

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Every year at this time, I have a look at the goals I set last year and sit down with my next year's journal and start coming up with some goals for next year. I've been doing this for a long time. But this year, I have questioned the value of it.

It's not because I haven't met a lot of the goals I've set over the years. In fact, I've achieved the major milestones I planned as long-term goals: lost weight, kept it off, increased fitness, bought a car, built up a bit of a savings nest egg, got married, got my UK citizenship. The only long-term goals left from the list are to get my driving licence and buy a house. I'm sure those will also happen. Of course, there are also many goals that I have not met, lots of elaborate plans that I've not carried through on, and lots of things that I thought ought to be important that I tried to force to be important, like going out on a regular basis, making an effort to get more involved in the community, stuff like that. And I've set goals year after year related to establishing a regular meditation practice, none of which I've consistently followed through on.

I looked at the 2009 journal this year and the thought of filling in all those places reserved for goals just made me feel--empty. I want to move beyond all this striving. It just felt to me like setting goals keeps my eyes always toward the future. Every day, I strike off a day from my month-at-a-glance page, I tick that I've done my workout and met any other obligations for the day. Then the day is gone. I've wished it away. I've got up in the morning, got ready for work, been there all day yearning toward quitting time, gone home, got through my workout while thinking about what to cook for dinner, got through dinner while watching TV, gone to bed thinking about the next day. All those moments passed me by, and how many of them have I paid any attention to? Even though I keep a blog dedicated to mindfulness! I might spend 5-10 minutes a day, tops, in mindfulness. And no, I'm not trying to criticize myself or set some sort of 'mindfulness goal' about it, although it might sound like that...and I don't regret leading a quiet life, I'm not saying I wish I'd been out at parties or anything like that. I don't mean, what did I accomplish? I mean, what did I notice myself actually doing? What was I aware of while doing it? I can tell you. I was caught up in the continual storm of past and future, and I completely let the present slip away from me. Even as I type this, I am thinking about what I'll take for lunch tomorrow, wondering what time I'll get to bed and how many hours of sleep I'll get, thinking about how I have to cancel the doctor's appointment first thing in the morning, feeling guilty that I haven't called my parents in a while, and constantly having images from the past--sometimes the quite distant past--flick into my mind. It's the 'ongoing story narration and mental time travel', ruminations and self-referential judgements that occupy all our minds all the time--unless we consciously learn to rise above it. That's what I mean.

So this year, I've sat and looked at those blank pages a lot. I've looked over the journals from the last few years and thought about it all a lot. The pages are filled with notations about how I must do better, I must try harder, I must improve! This sort of striving toward the future and working for goals is applauded where I'm from, America, that 'land of opportunity', where you can become whatever you want if you work hard enough for it. I know I was always raised to think it was a good thing, and I do think it's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with working hard. But how about a radical thought. How about working hard while being present in the moment that you're working, instead of striving for the goals some time in the future? How about eating a healthy meal while thinking about the beautiful earth that produced it, the people who worked so hard to raise, harvest and deliver it, and the miracle of how our bodies make use of it for nourishment? How about being present in your miraculous body while exercising, feeling the joy of movement, the pleasure of being alive in a physical body right then and there?

What if the only goal you set for the entire year was to be present in the moment? Not to live for the moment, but just to be present in each moment. What would you be like by the end of the year? What miracles of growth would have occurred in you? Where would you end up after 31,556,926 seconds of present moment living? And with what serenity would you meet whatever was occurring then?

I look at the face and hear the speech of people like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle and other people who I consider my teachers and boddhisatvas, and I see a level of peace and serenity, hear a depth of love and forgiveness and acceptance that no amount of striving could possibly achieve. And all of these teachers have only one lesson: you have only moments in which you live. Are you paying attention to them?

So, my goals for 2009 have been drawn from some notes I jotted down in a notebook in May 2008. I read Eckhart Tolle's 'A New Earth' and copied out some lines I considered striking. It's something I often do. And I've found a quotation to answer all the 'goals' in my 2009 journal:

'Nothing is going to make us free because only the present moment can make us free. that realisation is the awakening.'

Personal Growth:
'Nothing that you can find out about yourself is you. Nothing that you can know about you is you.'

'Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality.'

'Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do, and thus into this world from deep within you.'

This one answers both Personal Relationships and Belongings:
'The fact is: whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.'

There are several other goal-setting pages, but I'm not setting any goals on them. I'm going to put in more quotations instead, that remind me of what is really important.

And every year I write something on the title page of my journal that is meant to be the main focus of the year for me. Here it is for 2009:

Your purpose is to be where you are and do what you're doing,
because that's where you are and what you are doing.
Until you get up and do something else.
Then that becomes your purpose.

~Eckhart Tolle

Can you imagine what attention you could pay and what satisfaction you could get from the most mundane task if you turned your hand to it as if it were your very purpose in life? The point is, as you have only the moment in which you are presently living, whatever you are doing in this moment IS your purpose in life. Get it?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sacred Journey Journal

I've been preparing my 2009 journal. This is one of my favourite things to do during the month of December, setting up my next year's journal. I've been using this particular journal since 2003, and I love it! It's designed for people who use Tarot cards, but I adapt the multitude of pages inside to use how I want.

Here's the website: The Sacred Journey

This year I've got a page called 'My Heart Calling' (not finished yet), 'My Credo' (still working on that), a two-page spread called 'Monthly Fitness for 2009' where I've created a simple chart to record monthly weigh-in averages and any pertinent training notes. (The past 2 years I've kept several more complicated charts that tracked measurements, how many press-ups I can do in one minute, all sorts of things, but this year I'm simplifying them to the one chart). There are 6 more pages for setting up goals, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with those pages. I am beginning to feel ambivalent toward detailed goal-making at the beginning of the year. More on that later in a later entry.

For each month, I've prepared a page to record my daily weigh-in, name of the workout I'm doing, and a place to tick it after I've done it. I've decided not to preset my rotations this year. I'm going to wing it. I think I know enough about how to balance my workouts to do that now. On the month-at-glance calendar page, in addition to appointments, etc, I've decided to track certain things using highlighters, like in the Streaming Colors Journal. (I tried to keep a separate Streaming Colors Journal in 2008, but abandoned it in May. I prefer my Sacred Journey journal, and can easily incorporate the idea of using highlighters there.) I've set aside one page per month called 'Meditation, Flower Remedies, etc' where I can record notes about those things (this page was originally called 'Affirmations and Gratitudes' but I found trying to fill them in over the last 5 years to be laborious and unrewarding, so I changed them), and one page is divided into two halves, which I've labeled 'Must do this month' (for things like getting the car MOT'd, dentist appointments, whatever), and 'New Things to Try' where I will list ideas of new things to try that month. I'll tick them when (if) I do them. (These came headed 'Opportunities' and 'Goals', but I've found those headings too pressurizing, so I changed them.)

There's also a 'Symbolism' page for each month, which for the last 2 years I've used to make a collage of clippings, ticket stubs, etc, to represent what we did that month. I will continue that this year. Then there are the week-at-a-glance pages, with the days on the right page and the left page called 'Blessings, Gifts and Strengths'. I am going to make an effort to write something for each day. As in previous years, at the end of each month I have a page called 'Highlights and Insights' and a page divided down the middle where I can record the books I've read and films I've seen this month. It's fun to keep a running total of both for the year!

I absolutely love my journal. Does anyone else keep one?

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Secrets of Skinny Chicks

I just finished reading this book and it is fantastic. It says everything I've ever said to people who ask me how I lost weight and how I maintained it. Plus, it is a guide to take you that step further, from a 'normal' weight range to cut and hot--if you're willing to do what it takes to get there. (I have managed to get to a normal weight, and have spent the last couple of years wondering how to get to 'really cut'--or even a little bit cut to the point that people who see me would say, 'Oh, she must work out a LOT'.) This book offers a real-life look at actresses, body doubles, fitness models and other super fit lovelies, so you can read up on how they do it and decide for yourself if you want to go that far or stay where you are. When you've read it, you'll know the truth, the whole truth, and the skinny-forever truth about the matter. The size-6 bottom line.

Part 1: Deciding to Make the Change
This section is an oblique caveat to the contents of the book. The implication here is that if you embark on this level of scrutiny to your diet and exercise, you must be aware (and beware) of the possibility that you could go over the edge into an eating disorder if you aren't careful. What you have to do is decide at what weight and what level of discipline you are willing to live your life. There's a HUGE spectrum between sedentary shlub and bulemic marathon runner! Heck, there's a 40-lb range just in the 'normal' spectrum of the BMI. For my height, my 'normal' range is 115-155 lbs.) The question is, where in that spectrum do you want to be, and are you willing to face the truth of what it takes to get there, and then put it into practice every day for the rest of your life? Because in this book, there's no question that you want to, at the very least, be at the top end of 'normal', if you aren't there already.

Part 2: The Secrets Unveiled
This is the best section of the book, to me, because this is where we get the profiles of the real women who have put the work in to become 'skinny chicks'. We get complete profiles of 21 fit chicks--what they eat, how they workout, all their vital statistics, plus what a nutritionist, personal trainer and a doctor have to say about their regimes. It's illuminating! These women don't eat much--and they work out a lot. Here are 2 samples (the book goes into great detail about everything, I'm just giving you the bare minimum):

Sazzy Varga, actress
5'7", 126 lbs, dress size 6
35-25-35, BMI 20
1 child
daily caloric intake 1420
works out Mon, Tues, Thurs, Sat 30-45 minutes (bike, treadmill, floor aerobics, pilates, weight training)

Alex Barker, accountant
5'10", 155 lbs, dress size 10
36-29-40 BMI 22.5
1 child
daily caloric intake 1600-2100
works out 6 days a week, running 5-6 miles per workout, plus 20 minutes of free weights and 10 minutes of abs 3 out of the 6 days

The author then explains 50 secrets (really top tips) from the skinny chicks and makes suggestions as to how 'real women' can put them into practice. (I don't like the phrase 'real women' because it has come to mean 'fat lazy women who won't make time to care about themselves'--I don't want to be a 'real woman'. I want to be a skinny chick!)

Here is a random sample of the 50 tips. Bear in mind that there is nothing earth-shattering or new in this book. You know why? There is no earth-shatteringly new way to become a skinny chick! It takes hard work!

#12 Have a cheat day once a week to eat what you want.

#13 Have a 'no excuses' mindset.

#17 Get a portion size wake up call.

#26 Portion foods out. (She means when you buy something, get straight in there and portion out into baggies or containers and put it away. Good tip!)

#42 Focus on the good things you do get to eat.

#47 If man made it, avoid it.

See what I mean? These don't sound like anything new, but the author explains them well, gives great examples and has really good ideas about how you can apply these tips to your life.

Part 3: Putting the Plan into Action

This final section gives you more basic information about food (calories in, calories out), exercise (cardio to burn fat, weights to keep burning at rest), and a little pep talk at the end.

I guess there are a lot of women out there who would read this and still say, 'Get real. I can't do that. I won't do that.' That's fair enough. You don't have to do anything if you don't want to. Stay fat forever, your choice. But if you really want to get skinny, if you really want to know how 'real women' do it, then read this book. It is the truth--the whole truth--yes, the size-6 butt TRUTH!!

Now I'm going to add my profile:

Carla, library assistant
5'7", 136 lbs, dress size UK 10/US 6
32-27-36, BMI 21
1 child
daily caloric intake: no clue
works out 5-6 days per week, 45-60 minutes--all home exercise done to DVDs