Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sysiphus had it easy

I don't know what direction this post is going to go in, so be warned.

Right now I feel completely bogged down by my life. I feel like I'm stuck in some sort of warp where I have been repeating the same thoughts, the same angst, the same fears, the same behaviours, the same anxieties, the same worries, the same dread, the same boredom, the same frustrations, the same dissatisfactions, the same--well, everything--for the last five years or so.

I know this is the case because I've had a glance through my old journals going back to 2004. (I did this to have a look at my food and exercise programme, for some ideas of how to get myself back on track with at least that aspect of my life.) I noticed that I keep believing, thinking, fearing and doing the same things over and over. I keep setting the same goals for myself and then not working toward them. I keep wondering if my inaction means I don't really want those goals. I keep worrying that my life is slipping by day by day and I'm still not sure what it is that I even want out of it. I feel like Sysiphus, sort of. He was condemned to push a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down again, forcing him to start over from the beginning. And he knew he was destined to repeat this for eternity. --But I don't even get to the top of the hill. I'm Sysiphus standing at the foot of the hill staring at the rock. I think about reaching out to start pushing it, and my hands start to reach out, then they just drop helplessly back down to my sides. I can't get them to raise up again. I don't even get to start pushing. I seem to be condemned to just stand there, thinking I need or ought to make a start at getting that rock to the top of the hill, but I can't do it. My limbs are jittery with potential energy. My throat fills with a nauseous ache. But I just can't do it. (I am sick and about to pop out in a sweat just describing this stress).

I feel overwhelmed by my own uselessness.

What are some of these things that I've wanted for so long but haven't been able to do?

I want a meaningful meditation practice. I'd like to actually go to a Buddhist centre and see what it's like. I've talked to myself about this for years. What do I do? I write goals, I buy beads, I find out about events in the area. Then I go for 6 months without sitting down to meditate, I don't go to the events. I feel guilty for spending the money.

I want to learn to be happy with my work or find a new job. I'm not sure which. I want to not feel like I should be doing something else, something more. What do I do? I print applications for jobs, then I don't fill them in, or fill them in and don't send them off.

I want to have some emotional intelligence for a change, not be so reactionary to things. I want to be at peace in my spirit, and have it show. I want some serenity. I want a new way of coping in place of the volatile reactions and private meltdowns. What do I do? I fly off the handle and make remarks or show attitude instead of keeping quiet.

I want to stop fighting and arguing with the reality of the present moment. What do I do? I keep talking to myself about how unjust and unfair everything is, I keep talking out loud about how wrong everything is.

I want some assurance about my future in my old age. I want someone to help come up with some sort of retirement plan that will help me not be so afraid of the future. What do I do? I make contributions to my ISA but don't know what to do beyond that. I think about getting a financial advisor but I am afraid of taking their advice, so I don't even call one.

I want a house that I can afford, so I'll have a place to live when I'm old. What do I do? I keep finding reasons why 'Now is not a good time' to buy a house. I keep telling myself that I can't afford a house that I'd want to live in, or that the two of us are too ignorant to do the maintenance on a house.

I want to be of help to my son, but nothing I do seems to help. Everything seems to come back at me, and my version of helping him is to try to impose what I think is the right thing onto him, because I don't know what else to do for him but that. And that is not working and never has worked.

I just keep struggling and fighting against everything. I keep fighting. I keep fighting, fighting, fighting. I keep shouting, 'No! I don't want it to be the way it is, because I don't like it! I want it to be the way I want it to be! I will shout and fight and worry and cry and wrestle with it and will it to become what I want it to be! Aaaaaaaaa!!!!' Somewhere inside my spirit, this is what's going on.

Maybe I don't start pushing that rock because I don't want to push the rock. I want to resent the rock out of existence, so I can float effortlessly to the top of the hill and have a golden sunbeam slant down upon me through the parting clouds.

Or maybe there's not a rock there at all, or a hill. Why does there have to be a rock or a hill? Why can't there be a golden bed for me to snuggle into? Why do I envision my life as a futile uphill struggle, anyway? What kind of messed up place is that to start from? And anyway, is there even a start? No, I don't think there is.

I wish I could just let go of all this and just be. I don't need a new life, I need a new way to be me.

No, that's not it exactly.

I keep coming back to the same answer. I have to live in and accept the reality of the present moment. Why can't I manage to do it, for one single second? Even when I'm thinking and writing about doing it, I'm not doing it.

All I know is, I'm exhausted from all this.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Who ate all the pies?

I enjoy watching TV shows about food issues, obesity, health, fitness and all that good stuff. But I have to say there's a really annoying trend that I've noticed and that I've shouted at the TV about for all these years. I just can't understand it, and it's one of the things that winds me up more than anything else I see on TV.

Every time a dietitian or a nutritionist (or whatever title they happen to be calling themselves) appears on a morning television programme or one of those food and nutrition evening specials, it's almost always a FAT woman. I don't mean just a little tiny bit toward the top edge of a normal weight. I mean fat. As in, FAT.

There she is, tugging her blazer uncomfortably over her big belly, sitting on the couch next to a slim and healthy presenter on breakfast television, spouting statisics about how many British people are overweight, how we need to have at least 5 fruits and veggies a day and get more whole grains. The slim presenter is listening and nodding earnestly and I'm shouting at my TV, 'Who is going to listen to you when you're so FAT! When was the last time you took your own advice, lady?'

Then another one pops up on one of those fat-celebrity-tries-a-diet programmes. Standing in a kitchen beside an overweight B-list celeb, she's at best only marginally slimmer than the so-called 'obese' celeb whose 'bad lifestyle' is going to kill them, supposedly teaching them about proper portion sizes. And I'm yelling, 'Hey, lady, we might believe what you're saying if you weren't so big and FAT!'

'A serving of rice is about the size of a tennis ball,' she says, ladling one onto a plate. And I yell, 'How many tennis balls do you usually eat then, Krispy Kreme?'

Last night on a show called 'The Best Diet in the World,' a fat nutritionist, this time a man, whose gut and man-boobs were at least equal to the celeb he was counselling, asked the celeb to serve himself what he would consider a normal portion of lamb hotpot. The celeb proceeded to put enough for probably 4 people on his plate. 'Well, that is just gluttony,' said the nutritionist, and put a proper portion on a plate to compare them. But I could only yell, 'Yeah, like you don't do the same, Pork Pie!'

I have to admit, I hurl the most vile abuse at these people when I see and hear them. They make me so angry, because how can they have the gall to get on TV and give 'textbook' advice on food and nutrition and, yes, even exercise, when it is so patently obvious they don't practise it themselves? And what is worse, what if the people listening think that they DO take their own advice? Won't they just conclude that obviously healthy eating and exercise won't make that big a difference in the way they look and feel, because the people giving the advice don't look much different from the 'overweight' people they're counselling.

It makes me SO MAD.

I don't think a nutritionist should be allowed to counsel patients if they can't keep their own weight under control. I mean, good night, even Weight Watchers won't let their staff counsel people if they can't maintain goal weight, and those people don't have degrees and aren't giving what is considered medical advice.

They most definitely should not be allowed on telly if they haven't got their own weight under control.


Hey, if you like your pie and chips so be it, if you're a 'foodie' and decided to get a degree in 'nutrition' so you could do food demonstrations all day, whatever, but don't go around advising people about how to lose weight, and for corn sake, keep yourself off the telly, please!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

My Credo

A credo (Latin for 'I believe') is a statement of personal belief. Every year in January, I try to write a credo. In previous years, I have written down platitudes that bear little actual resemblance to my true behaviour and beliefs. They were just things that I aspired to, or thought that I ought to do or think.

This year, I sat down and thought really hard about my daily behaviour and attitude, and tried to find the beliefs behind them. I wrote up a credo that truly is what I believe.

The reason I've dragged it back out again to have a look at it is an old issue of mine that I've struggled with year upon year, the issue of 'socialising' with others. Every year I make resolutions that I know I can't keep, resolutions to be more 'sociable'. I am much more solitary than most people. I have always been that way. When I was a kid, I had only one or, at a stretch, two close friends, and that's all, and I felt happy that way. I was not raised in a home where the family ever took traditional vacations (other than going to visit relatives or the rare trip to the river), visited anyone else's home, or had guests in our home (who weren't relatives from far away who'd come for a rare visit). So 'socialising', other than going to church functions, is not something that was part of my paradigm. It never was. In college, I met a few people I've remained friends with, then I married a boy who hung out with my brother and was thus around enough for me to get talking to him. Throughout my life, I've got my fill social interaction at work with colleagues, and when I get home, I enjoy just being at home. I don't feel the need to talk to other people. I actually don't care about it at all. That's not to say I don't 'care' about other people, but you could say I care about them in the abstract. I want them all to have a happy life and get on with their lives, and if it's all the same to them, I'll get on with mine. Going out just to be with other people as some sort of social obligation feels like a theft of my precious time, the time that belongs to only me. I know that is totally foreign to a lot of people, but to me, it is normal. I feel happy having my husband as my best and only friend, and some nice people at work who I enjoy interacting with but who I don't necessarily feel the need to get together with outside of work hours. It's only when I compare my life with other people's that I feel there's something wrong with me and I should try to be more like them. They're always planning things, going places, spending money, eating crap food, getting together, not having 'time' to work out, watch TV or write a blog. Shouldn't I be like them? What, I've always wondered, is wrong with me?

All this has been brought on by going to my work friend's house tonight. They have given up inviting me to things a while ago, because I always opt out. I do it as kindly as I can, but the truth is I just don't want to go. But tonight I bit the bullet and went. Of course I was the first one to leave the event, but then I arrived first. (I always do that. Get there right on time, and then leave first. Probably because I want to get it over and done with.) While I was there, I enjoyed listening to people talking, and took part when I could--but when I'm ready to go I'm ready to go. Anyway, on the way home, I was thinking, why is it that they seem to enjoy this so much and I don't. I like talking to people socially, but only for about an hour or two, then I'm ready to return to the comfort of my home and my solitude. I don't like stuffing myself with lots of unhealthy food or drinking alcoholic drinks. I don't like sitting up late, knowing that everyone is wanting to go but not wanting to be the first one out. Why can't people just get together for a chat? For me, the nearly perfect social situation is the 15-minute staff break. We get a drink, laugh and talk, then we all get up and go back to work before the conversation gets boring and the whole thing starts to feel like more of a chore than a pleasure, which is what a group social situation feels like to me. One-on-one, I can talk to you for hours, but put me in a group, I clam up, slink around in the background, and check my watch until time to escape.

What deep beliefs make me act this way? What deep-held notions cause my daily behaviour? Does it even have to come from a belief? Maybe some of us are just solitary creatures.

Here's the credo I wrote on 21st December 2008.

I believe in privacy and solitude.

I believe in independence and freedom.

I value my own comfort and security.

I do not wish ill for anyone, but I feel no need to socialise with people in order to feel love for mankind.

I value peace.

I want to live and let live.

I eschew cruelty to animals and people.

I believe that people should show kindness to one another in ways comfortable and appropriate to the individual, not as they want to be treated, but as the person on the receiving end would like to be treated.

I believe everything in existence deserves to be free of pain. It is our moral obligation to see to that.

I believe that it is everyone's responsibility to make an informed decision about how they live their life--and if they CAUSE NO HARM, they should not have to answer to anyone for any of their life choices. Ever. Or be made to feel bad for them. You can have an opinion about it, but you should not condemn someone for living in a way that does no harm, no matter how different it is from the way you live.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

There I go getting all clingy again

What is it that causes us to worry? What is it that causes that constant fear, that niggling doubt, that feeling that if we don't keep up our guard, some big bad shadow is going to overtake us, taking away all the good things we treasure.

We crave physical comfort. We crave intellectual stimulation. We fear discomfort and boredom. We somehow have convinced ourselves that if we cling to what we love, if we worry and fret over it, it can't be taken from us. We live as though the act of worrying about what might happen will magically keep bad things away.

We thirst for existence. We want, somehow, to persist forever. We fear that we will cease.

Yet we long also for non-existence, in the sense that we yearn to be released from this world and its pains and vexations once and for all.

These three forms of craving, Buddha taught, are the basis of all suffering, what he called 'dukkha'. Virtually all the woe of humankind stem from these forms of craving, tumbling and stirring inside our hearts and minds. Our greatest pains are all self-inflicted.

All three of these desires rise out of a confusion about change, and about who we are. We think we are persons or individuals--separate entities that persist through time, with bodies that come into existence and then cease to exist. But we are mistaken. What we call a person, Buddha called a 'stream'. We're a ceaseless flow of constant change, there is nothing permanent about us. Yet there is nothing destructible about us, either. We are a conglomeration of five aggregates: the physical body, awareness, sensory perceptions, volition, and conceptualization. These five aggregates create the illusion of a separate self, but there is no separate self. For what we actually are is an infinite number of conditions which have manifested themselves, and which cannot be created or destroyed.

If you have a beginning, when did you begin? Was it when you were born? Was it at your conception? The truth is, you can't find 'coming into being' as an event or actual experience. If you have an ending, when do you end? Is it when you cease to be able to conceptualize? Is it when your heart stops beating? Is it when the last vestiges of your physical body have broken down into dust? The truth is, you can't find 'ceasing to exist' as an event or actual experience.

Thus you have no beginning and no end.

So what does that have to do with craving and clinging? We crave and we cling because we believe that things last forever, or certain conditions last forever, and that we can hang on to them and keep them forever. But this is not so. Just as we have to beginning and no end, conditions have no beginning and no end, the only thing that is ceaseless is the constant ebb and flow of continuous change. This is what the Buddha called 'impermanence' or 'emptiness'.

Good times come and go. And bad times do the same. Still we spend much of our time trying to get the good times back. We fail to notice that the good times arrived of their own; likewise, the bad times appear even though we spend so much effort trying to keep them away. We don't want them, but bad times are out of our control as much as good times. The times we don't want will come (and go) no matter what we do to control the situation. Good times do the same. Thus, beyond simply living fully in each moment, we should realise that such control is impossible, a pipe dream. When we realise this, we have found the dharma-path, the middle way.

In his book, Buddhism Plain and Simple, which I highly recommend and which I have cribbed from for this post, Steve Hagen tells the story of a Zen student who felt he just couldn't take the austerity of his monastery any longer.

'I can't take this, I want out,' he told his master.

'Okay, then leave,' the master said.

As the student started toward the door, the master said, 'That's not your door.'

'Oh, sorry,' said the student, startled. He looked around for another door, headed toward it. The teacher said, 'That's not your door.'

'Oh!' The student looked and saw little door behind the teacher which was used by the teacher's attendant. He started toward it. 'That's not your door!' the teacher shouted.

Bewildered and exasperated, the student said, 'What do you mean? There is no other door. You told me I could leave, but there's no door to leave by!'

'If there is no door you can leave by,' said the teacher, 'then sit down.'

We can only be here. We can only be in this moment. There is no door to leave by, there is nothing to cling to. There is only this moment. So stop worrying. Stop fighting it. Stop protesting. Stop trying to prevent the vain imaginings of your mind. Stop trying to escape. Sit down in the floor and live this moment.

Sky is falling?

(written Monday night--sorry for not posting sooner!)

So I head out the door at 8.24, as usual, then remember that I was supposed to be at work at 8.15 in place of someone who is on annual leave. I run there and fortunately all that happens is my line manager tells me I'm getting old and am losing my memory. Great start! A boring two-hour shift on the enquiries desk ensues, then after 10.30 break--something new happens.

On Sunday, a diffuser (aka plastic light cover) from one of the fluorescent light fixtures in the children's library fell down, nearly hitting a little old lady. This little old lady drives one of those scooters, and is just shy of being small enough to be classed as a 'little person'. She talks in a squeaky voice, has no teeth so her speech is nearly unintelligible, and every day she comes in and either asks for a book of knitting patterns or for the phone number of the Coventry crematorium. No, I'm not making this up. She looks exactly like one of those little dried apple dolls, and whenever she comes rolling through the library doors, there's a collective small groan from enquiry desk staff. She's had her share of trouble in the library. A few Sundays ago, she fell asleep in the corner and was missed by the member of staff who does the final look-round for customers and she got locked in. She got out by tapping furiously at the window when a member of the public was passing by, because she couldn't figure out how to get an outside line on the telephone. The police came and got her out and the library sent her a letter of apology. So anyway, she's had bad luck at the library and nearly got cold-cocked on Sunday. (She'd just pulled away on her little scooter when the light fell). You'd think she'd give up on the library, but nope. She's back every single day. Maybe she feels it's worth the risk.

Well, today when he was told about it, the head of libraries, in his wisdom, decided that the entire library needs to be closed until the maintenance crew can come in and put plastic ties on every single light fixture in the place, to secure them. The light fixtures were installed in 1962 and apparently the plastic has shrunk making them loose in their fittings. To be fair, this is not the first light that has fallen; we have had two fall in the work room, and if one hit someone on the head, it would be a pretty serious injury. Apparently it is going to take 4 guys until Friday to finish this job. So, today all staff were told to either take time owing, annual leave, or go to another library in the division to work for the day. Just choose one and turn up there! And that's why I spent today in a different library, apologising to customers for not knowing where anything is and answering the phone wrong. 'Hello, this is Carla at Nuneaton-I-mean-Bedworth library, may I help you?' (I don't have any time owing and I've already planned the rest of my annual leave for the year--there's no way I'm taking it today and missing my holiday!)


Library was closed Monday afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday. Staff were in, library closed. It's long day in the library with no customers, I can tell you! Wednesday was my day off, and I had a driving lesson. More on that later!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

My baby done gradjee-ated

Here we are after commencement, 16th May 2009, ASU Convocation Center. (When I was in high school, we just had graduation in the gym. Oh well!) Thank goodness high school is over. Now on to university!

And here we are at Craighead Forest Park. Hubby, son, nephew Jeremy and I had a little picnic lunch then went for a walk all the way around the lake. It was fairly warm, but most of the path is in the shade. We saw lots of ducks and turtles and one snake! Fortunately, it was swimming across the lake and not slithering across our path, or I would have fainted.

I wanted to show Derek something other than the delta, so we went toward the Ozark foothills to Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. We stopped for a bit in Old Hardy Towne, but if you're not on the market for a quilt or jar of fake molasses (ingredients corn syrup and caramel coloring!) with a picture of a hillbilly on it, there's not much to do there, so we were back home by the afternoon. It was lovely hot day, though, and we enjoyed walking around the spring, where Derek took more photos of ducks and geese. Of course!

This water wheel is just outside Hardy. Ever since I was a kid, this has been a place to stop and look around, stretch your legs. There used to be a Water Wheel Flea Market and Quick Shop across the road, but it seems to be out of business. When I was little, the water wheel didn't work, but they got it working some time in the 80s I think, and it was running while we were there. (But the maintenance guys were working on it so it's stopped in this photo).

Here we are on the other side of the stream behind the water wheel. There's a 'nature trail' but it was closed and the maintenance guys recommended we avoid it anyway because of ticks. I forgot about ticks. I have to say, I don't miss sticky Arkansas heat, mosquitos, snakes and ticks! Nice photo, though.