Saturday, May 08, 2010

Unusual Activity

While doing yoga, I left my computer on and logged into my email. When I returned to my gmail account I discovered an alert that warned me my computer had been accessed from somewhere in NY.  Now, I never received such a message with yahoo or hotmail or any of the other email accounts that were hacked.  What's more, there was an activity link that showed all of my recent activity.  Naturally it mostly showed that I had logged in from United States (GA) . . . except for one login session.

UnknownUnited States (NY) ( pm (5 hours ago)

Now I need to figure out what to do about it.  I've already changed my password but I am down to two email accounts including gmail and my isp account. I am loathe to expose my isp account and given that my blogs are all connected to my gmail account I am now concerned about all of the other accounts I have connected with my gmail account.

I'm tired of this, frankly.  I'm tired of trying to clean up a mess that doesn't seem to really matter.  At some point I should just take it all as a sign and just surrender altogether.

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iPhone app to cure vertigo created in Ontario

Very exciting news for those with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (aka BPPV).
iPhone app to cure vertigo created in Ontario

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Blue Like Jazz:  Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller is one of many spiritual memoirs.  In a self-deprecating voice that never comes off as self-righteous, Miller invites the reader into his head as he tries to make sense of what he believes in light of a world that often confuses him.  His experiences often contradict the more narrow perspective of the world with which he grew up.  Frustrated with the blurring of lines between church dogma and politics, unconvinced by the pulpit polemic, Miller doesn’t shy away from asking himself the hard questions.  What does he believe and why?  Who is he and what purpose is he here to serve?  As a Christian, what are his responsibilities to himself, to the church, to the world? 

I often found myself chuckling over his observations.  Miller uses hyperbole to drive home his points in a way that is downright infectious.  His descriptions of his own feelings are as clear and focused as his descriptions of the people around him.  He doesn’t tear himself down nor does he build himself up.  Miller comes off as the kind of guy even a non-Christian would enjoy hanging out with.  When he and his friends create a booth at their school’s typically a-spiritual festival, their actions speak as loudly as their words.  Nowhere in the pages, except towards the very end, did I feel the gospel was being shoved down my throat and even then I felt it wasn’t being shoved so much as offered.

The book reinforced a lot of my own feelings about Christianity.  I found myself feeling sad when late in the book Miller admitted to having never read the Bible cover-to-cover.  I confess that I still find this a surprising truism that those who are raised in the church are not necessarily reading the Bible even though they are the ones who will swear that they know and live by its truths.  Maybe I’m being too dogmatic or fundamentalist in my own beliefs but how can someone say they follow the teachings of a book they haven’t read for themselves?  I still can’t wrap my mind around it.  But it is that kind of honesty that makes Miller’s memoir a pleasure to read. 

This book was recommended to me by someone and now I am curious to find out if he felt any spiritual conviction or need to recommit himself to the beliefs of his childhood.  As for me, I liked the book but I was not inspired to change my mind, my heart, or my own convictions.  I think that Miller would be okay with that. 

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Randomness

Recently, I received a newsletter from Yoga Journal and the subject was:  The Art of Staying Young.  Uh oh.  I opened it with some trepidation.  And the first article shares how 6 master teachers stay young.  Lo and behold, the youngest is 59.  You know, it's a lot easier listening to people who are older than myself and haven't spent thousands of dollars on plastic surgery tell me how to stay young than say some celebrity.  Just saying!

And while you're at it, subscribe to the newsletter for yourself.  Good stuff!

An interesting article on journaling and mental health.

Lotsa Different Zines

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Another Moment of Synchronicity--Who Am I? NOT!

In Karen Armstrong’s History of God, she describes a form of theological discussion called Via Negativa, Negative Theology.  Theologians who follow this school of thought describe God in negative terms.  Rather than trying to describe God, a being beyond our limited human comprehension, one describes what God is not.  But even this explanation is imprecise for “God is not a being.” 

See?  That’s how it works.  God cannot be defined.  God is not limited.  God is not evil but then God is also not good because how we humans define these extremes are limited. 

Then I read about an experience Thomas Moore had when being introduced before he would speak to an audience.  His friend and colleague began listing the things Moore is not:  artist, scholar, philosopher (121). 

Here is the point of synchronicity—in The Yoga of Breath by Richard Rosen, he asks the reader to keep a pranayama journal.  The first journaling exercise he suggests is to answer the question “Who am I?”  (67) which is a meditation practice common in Buddhism and Hinduism.  Sometimes the question is asked in the context of breath work focusing on who is breathing.  The detachment from the self is a part of the experience but something not immediately realized. 

Needless to say, as far as I know there is no traditional religion that doesn’t have a variation on this theme, of overcoming the ego, the self, the I. 

The curious thing for me, when reading Rosen’s book, was my resistance to the exercise.  I didn’t want to look at who I am.  I mean, blah blah blah—I am a woman.  I am a mother.  I am a fiancée.  I am dizzy. 

Who cares?  Not I.

But then I thought about who I am not, to look at the self via negative, and list the many things I am not.  Have I done this yet?  No.  I have not.  I am open to it.  I think it would be an interesting way of looking at myself without attachment.  No doubt, I will write things that surprise me.  This is why I would like to do this exercise when I am able to devote myself to it without distractions or interruptions.  The opportunity is on the horizon. 

And I like what Moore says, “Maybe we could all use an emptying out of identity every now and again” (121).

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Yoga for Life by Pierce and Pierce

Yoga for Your Life:  A Practice Manual for Breath and Movement for Every Body by Margaret D Pierce and Martin G Pierce is one of those deceptively pretty yoga books that would normally suggest a focus solely on asana practice of yoga.  Although much of the book is about various poses, moving in and out of them with the breath, building up to a longer sequence, this book has just enough about yoga philosophy to make it something above and beyond.

Anyone who is ready to build a home practice or who wants to not always rely on a dvd collection for their home practice faces the dilemma of where and how to begin.   This book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to take their physical practice of yoga further, even exploring ways of building your own practice. 

The book is divided into two main parts.  The first has a series of sequences meant to be done for one or two weeks each.  Each sequence builds upon the previous one so strength and flexibility will gradually increase; therefore it is best to use this book over a period of time with a daily commitment, if at all possible.  The second half of the book focuses on more specific sequences including a morning stretch sequence, a series designed for before and after physical activity, etc. 

The authors were taught by Desikachar who has written a glorious book on how to build a home yoga practice, a book that has far more insight into the philosophy of yoga than the Pierces try to share in their book.  For anyone who is hoping to take their yoga practice to a more spiritual level, Yoga for Your Life may be a good book but inadequate.  However, most people who do yoga in the United States are not necessarily interested in the spiritual applications of a daily practice.  So for those who are mostly interested in learning how to build a sequence of their own, this book is a good starting point.  Add to it a book that shows a variety of asanas (poses) and it won’t be long before you have worked through this book and begun creating a yoga practice of your very own.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

How Rob and I Spent Our Tenth Anniversary

I'm writing this on May 1.  Today I said to Rob, “How would you like to get married on Wednseday?”

He said yes.

If you are reading this, Rob and I were married on 5 May 2010, exactly ten years after the day we met.  We married on 05/05/10 

5 + 5 = 10

I like that. 

I love him.

I hope you all are pleasantly surprised and will celebrate with us in your own way.

I am adding the pics, today, the day I married Robert W Cecil, Jr.

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Living Well With Pain & Illness by Vidyamala Burch

Living Well With Pain & Illness:  The Mindful Way to Free Yourself From Suffering by Vidyamala Burch is a wonderful book that invites the reader to use meditation, breathing, and mindfulness to move beyond the consciousness of pain into something more. 

The title is unfortunate; too many potential readers will dismiss this book because they are not experience either physical pain and/or illness.  However, the suffering Burch invites the reader to explore is not purely physical and I wish that the publishers had found a more encompassing title for this book.

Drawing on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the author draws on her own harrowing experience living with pain to share how the practices she has developed for herself and in working with others can and will help the reader.  It is easy enough for a supermodel to publish a book saying how to look great at any age and when a doctor says that certain exercises will help it’s interesting but not necessarily inspiring.  Because Burch herself has had two spinal injuries, with all the pain and suffering that this implies, it is easy to embrace her advice, to believe that what worked for her will work if only the reader will open themselves to the possibility.

This book does not offer healing.  Rather, the author is recommending a way of being, a manner of living from day-to-day, that is both disciplined and freeing.  It is hard to imagine that she could only write in 20 minute sprints before her body demanded movement or rest.  Yet, the book is evidence that a compromised life does not mean living a compromised existence.  And how superficial and inappropriate to suggest that her life is compromised!  What she cannot do is nothing when weighed against what she has accomplished.

I do not live with pain but I do have a condition that is incurable.  I have used many of the suggestions Burch makes in my own life, long before I read this book.  Kabat-Zinn’s work is familiar to many but, for those who may have found his work too dense or who were unable to identify with how he shares his experience and work, Burch offers a slightly different but oh-so familiar perspective.  This advice works, not because it heals but because where there is no promise of curing there is still the necessity of self-caring. 

I have lamented in the past whenever I’ve read a book that includes written meditations where there are no audio recordings made available for the reader.  I am very happy to say that there is an audio collection available.  Get the book or the audio recording or both, whether you are living with physical, emotional, or spiritual pain.  It will prove to be an investment that will never be regretted.  

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ten Years and Counting!

Happy Anniversary!

Ten Years of Relationship!

Five Years of Sobriety for Rob!!!

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Chinese Watercolor Techniques:  Painting Animals by Lian Quan Zhen is lovely, inspirational, and full of luscious illustrations that just make the reader want to grab some brushes, some paper, some inks and paints and get started.

Only problem is I have none of the above.  No . . . that’s not entirely true.  I have some brushes.  And some sketchbooks.  I saw another book by the same author when I was visiting my mother and was interested in the chapter on composition was interesting.  So when I saw this boo in the library, I snatched it up even though I didn’t have any intention of exploring watercolor techniques at this time.

The book is very well laid out, describing first the various effects one can create with the different tools and moving gradually through so that by the end of the book the reader/artist is practicing techniques that use masking liquid, salt, and more.  I am genuinely impressed with how the artist laid out the lessons. 

Practice makes perfect and the gradual development of technique, focusing first on brush strokes and layering of paint through more sophisticated methods using other tools is wonderful.  (The only way it could be better would be if there were a dvd presentation—and there is although I think it is a bootleg of an out-of-print video.)  

I found the paintings I liked most were also the most simple using only ink (ie page 37).  This doesn’t surprise me because I continue to be interested in sumi-e and, if I were to explore myself through painting, it would be with sumi-e first and foremost, although I suspect I would move onto other media over time.

Definitely an inspiring volume for those who want to play with watercolor techniques and are unsure where or how to begin.  The list of materials is not overly daunting and the appendix offers resources for purchasing everything from the brushes to the paper.  Inspiring without being overwhelming—what more can I say?

PS:  Google the author's name and you will find videos on youtube and other sites.  Woot!

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Christian Intolerance and Forgiving the Past

One day our Sunday school class added a new member, a young wife and mother who had moved to GA from another state.  She had previously belonged to a different church and had found a new spiritual home in the church where my family and I were members.  During class she would occasionally speak out against her past beliefs in defense of her present beliefs.  Her attacks on the old church were never addressed by anyone in our class, not even the teachers, and I soon became aware that I was the only one who was uncomfortable with her open hostility.

In spite of my discomfort, I also understood her intention—or I think I did, anyway.  In attacking her past beliefs she was defending herself but because she was not very strong in her new faith she was unable to speak from a solid position of confidence.  After all, spiritual conversion or commitment is not unlike any relationship; who isn’t defensive and even insecure in the early stages of falling in love?  This is why new lovers often immerse themselves in one another to feel the security in seclusion.  As the confidence in the mutuality of feelings grew, the lovers are more able to go out into the world where their love and relationship are inevitably exposed to criticism, to judgment, and even to attacks. 

This woman, who was eventually my friend, was not secure enough in her own beliefs to frame them without disabusing another belief system.  For my part, I eventually talked with her about some of her attacks explaining them from a Biblical context and even suggesting that her old beliefs were not wrong and nor were they, as she had come to believe, downright Satanic.  I even lent her a booklet written by a minister of her new path in defense of those who believed what she used to believe.

She never returned the booklet to me.  I don't know if she even read it.  And I don’t know if she ever arrived at a place of peace with her old beliefs.  Did she ever reach a point in her own spiritual growth where she believed her parents were not damned to hell for their misguided beliefs?  Did she ever come to forgive herself for choosing a spiritual path without question only to confront its ineffectiveness in her own life?  After all, I think ultimately it was not the old church’s belief system that angered her so very much so much as it was her own blind belief and then personal spiritual awakening that made her so angry.  Angry with her past mistake(s), she attacked the object rather than acknowledging her own duplicity.  And this too is not unlike the lover who compares her new beloved against the old and finds the old inevitably falling short to the point of vilifying him for being a bastard, unworthy, selfish, hateful, and even evil.

Thinking back on all of this, I know that my intention in sharing the booklet with her was not to say she was wrong or immature or whatever.  I merely wanted to invite her to see things differently, to gain a new perspective.  Could she have appreciated her new spiritual path had she never walked the old?  Perhaps but absolutely not in the same way.  Her old beliefs established a foundation for her future faith.  Had she chosen to remain with the church of her childhood she would have simply become more rooted in what she already knew to be true.  She chose, instead, to leap from the foundation of her past into a new truth and because of this she was able to appreciate the teachings she came across with the same openness and vulnerability of someone falling in love for the first time. 

I believe she could have fallen in love without uprooting herself from her past beliefs.  I also believe that she fell in love with a new belief system that was right for her.  Love is a funny thing and lovers are often fools for their beloved, whether the beloved is a person or a spiritual path, a belief system or a denial of a belief system.  The peace that comes with familiarity can also lead to contempt; keeping love fresh within a commitment is the challenge we all face regardless of the objet du désir.  

This is what I would like to believe.  I would like to believe that my friend reached that point of peace—peace with her new love, peace with her past love, and peace with herself.  Or maybe what I really would like to believe is that she grew so confident in her new love, was so immersed in her beloved, that she no longer felt the insecurity of her past shadowing and even threatening to overshadow her present.  I would like to believe that because of her painful past she was better able to love her present choice, the commitment she made as an adult that outshone her childhood beliefs.

I like to believe she is standing secure on her new foundation and rooting herself deeply in what she came to love.

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dat Sijie

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dat Sijie is a coming of age novel that takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution. Both stark and poetic, this novel manages to communicate a powerful story that is layered and delicately complex.  The friendship between the narrator and Luo is especially inspiring and when the Little Seamstress enters the story, it seems that she will be the focus of conflict between the two friends.  However, this is not what happens and nothing in this short novel is predictable. 

The main friendship is the least complicated but the two young men are in an incredibly complicated situation.  Sent to live in a small village to be re-educated, the boys are forced to labor arduously while managing to find moments of beauty and even joy.  The power for them both to overcome the immediate circumstances is further enhanced when they discover a cache of forbidden Western literature.

I found this novel impossible to put down. I consumed it, reveling in the boys’ growing love for literature.  Anyone who adores reading will appreciate this novel.  But more than this, the novel is about the depth of relationships, the power of education, and how each of the characters affects the other.  This is the type of novel that lends itself to a second or even third reading as I have no doubt layers of meaning will be revealed upon revisiting the characters and their story.  The ending is especially fulfilling.  Anyone who has read Anchee Min and wanted to read more about this era in Chinese history should find this book an interesting complement to her own semi-autobiographical novel and memoir. 

I look forward to reading more from this author, that’s for certain. 

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Monday, May 03, 2010

What to Wear on a Wednesday

Product Image Merona® Women's Smocked Waist Blouse - Fresh White

Product Image Merona® Women's Smocked Waist Blouse - Fresh White

Product Image Merona® Women's Smocked Waist Blouse - Fresh White

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Synchronicity in My Life

I wrote the following in my journal the other day . . . before this and before I discovered this.  It is funny how things like this happen.  Hard to believe and unpredictable.  

I caught myself the other day saying something surprising.  I showed Rob a flow practice in Body & Soul magazine in which the person moves from rocking back and forth on the spine rolling forward into crow pose (or crane pose) and then jumping the feet back into plank from which they rise into warrior III.  The practice is supposed to work the core and no doubt this practice would work the core.  However, given that this is a practice that supposedly flows from one pose to the next the person doing it would have to have balance far superior to my own.

Anyway, I showed this flow series to Rob and we both agreed that I can’t possibly do it.  “At least not now,” I concluded.  Then I realized what I had just said.  By implication, my saying “not now” suggests that maybe someday.  I didn’t realize that I still retain even an ember of hope that I will overcome the vertigo, that I will successfully rewire my brain with all these physical therapy exercises. 

It reminded me of the Whoopi Goldberg skit where she plays a drug addict who goes to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and sees the quote from Frank’s diary “Despite everything I believe people are really good at heart.”  Goldberg, as the addict, reacts by saying how childish this statement is which leads to an epiphany on the character’s part.  But I share all this because that was my reaction as well—how childish of me to think that I will ever be able to return myself to full balance, that I will ever be able to move from crow to plank to warrior III without falling flat on my ass. 

Childlish or not, I obviously hold onto some modicum of hope, as inexplicable as that may be.

By way of update, I have sent several emails to various people (lab researchers, my doctors at Emory University's Balance and Dizziness Clinic, Wicab, et al) to learn more about the research that is going on in hopes of finding something here in the United States.  If my participating in a research study could facilitate things, that would be wonderful.  Hopefully there is something out there and I can do something to help myself as well as others.  

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a young adult novel that takes place in Copenhagen during World War II.  Lowry tells a simple story about a very dramatic time, focusing on the friendship of two young girls—one Jewish and the other not.  When Ellen’s family learns that the Germans are going to start rounding up the Jews of the community, Annemarie and her family are called upon to help.

Lowry wastes no detail and although the exposition is occasionally contrived as are a couple of the more climactic moments towards the end of the novel, each event leads into the next, some hearkening back to earlier events in perfect foreshadowing.  But Lowry does not oversimplify a complicated situation and there is a back story that is told throughout the novel.  She’s always mindful of her audience while never compromising the integrity of the historical context.  While there are no details about the horrors which occurred in this time, there are enough indications of the dangers of the time and an obvious respect for the young adult reader to ensure this novel a permanent place in any library and on the personal bookshelves of young readers.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Library Books and Cigarettes

Lately I have borrowed more than a couple of books which absolutely reek of cigarette smoke.  Even when I was a smoker, books were too sacred for me to ever blow smoke onto the pages of what I was reading. 

The problem is, other smokers are not as mindful and when I read a book that has been borrowed by a smoker I end up feeling nauseous as I try to read the words on the page.  And let’s face it, with the vertigo, sometimes simply reading, moving my eyes back and forth across the page, is all it takes to make me feel nauseous as I am reading.  I don’t want, nor do I need, the added influence of stale cigarette smoke.  Especially in the morning.  I seem to be particularly vulnerable to offensive odors when I have just woken up.

I mean, honestly, can’t these smokers put the book down for the amount of time it takes to smoke a cigarette?  I’m reading the books and trust me . . . I am capable of putting them down for the time it takes me to take my dogs out or use the bathroom or even to make myself a meal.

I wish there were a way for me to walk up to each library patron and ask them not to blow smoke into the books they borrow. I wouldn’t discriminate—even if you don’t look or smell like a smoker, I would ask you not to do this. 

Yes.  Even children.  Anyone, absolutely anyone, walking out the door with a library book or more than one book in their hands would be respectfully accosted by yours truly and told not to smoke into the book.

I don’t think I’m asking too much from anyone.  Of course, you may disagree.  Lucky for me, I am not finishing one of the books because I am uncomfortable with something I read.  Oh well.  I was enjoying it up until I realized the author has said things that are anti-Semitic and there are some things I simply cannot abide. 

I guess that particular book stinks on several levels.  

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Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx is not a novel and I am not sure why the publishers didn’t publish a collection of her works including this lovely and poetic short story rather than publishing as a single book.* (see note below) I had seen the movie and fallen in love with the story, heartbreaking as it is. I am impressed with how Proulx tells her story and appreciate all the more how marvelously the story translated into film.

It isn’t often I find a book and movie equally evocative, inspiring, and emotionally honest. Typically Hollywood will compromise things, insulting its audience, which is why it is always a pleasure to discover that occasionally someone gets it right. I know that if I had read this story before seeing the movie I would have been leery of the film, afraid it would never, could never, do justice to the story, losing the emotional integrity and poetic precision of the romance.

 Note:  I have since learned that there is a collection of works by Proulx that includes this short story.  Unfortunately, my library didn't have anything but the one story in a single volume.  Weird.  Annoying.  Typical.  *sigh*