Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Zen Run

I wake up at noon on a Wednesday. It’s summer, and I’m in graduate school, so life is pretty good except for the whole poverty thing. My roommate Cassandra (who was job hunting at the time this actually happened, though she now works a 9 to 5er like most people) and I decide we should do something healthy, something good for ourselves. Let’s go for a run.

I strap on my ratty pair of sneakers, which are a little too big because I didn’t actually buy them for running: I needed them for a Villains and Heroes costume party as GoGo Yubari from Kill Bill 2. (I chose to inhabit the badness, the yang self, because even though I’d love to be enlightened, I’m still having a lot of fun wrestling with my darker energy.)

I go jogging about once every fiscal quarter, so I had no illusions of grandeur. There would be no dashing down Bayshore Boulevard, a buoyancy in my stride, ponytail gleefully bopping in the wind. But it ended up going down much worse than I thought.

Living in Tampa, you’d think we would realize it’s 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. So naturally blazing noon is the best time for outdoor cardio. Once we step outside I start to sweat like Lindsay Lohan in church. (Just kidding. Lindsay Lohan can no longer feel feelings, so clearly she can’t feel guilt.) After a few blocks Cassandra, a much more avid runner, darts ahead in her new sleek kicks.

I figure this jog is the perfect opportunity to practice meditation. The rhythm of my soles pounding the pavement, the sparking endorphins through my neural synapses, the deep breathing (okay, panting like a Labrador). Sometimes I try to repeat a mantra Om Shanti.

In yoga and Buddhism, om is considered to be the vibration that struck the world into being. It’s kind of like a poetic interpretation of the big bang: all these subatomic particles whizzing around space, knocking into one another and causing wavelengths to ripple out into glittering vastness. Everything vibrates: quantum physics has shown us this on the Hertz scale. Your liver cells, your turkey sandwich, even your desk is vibrating at various subatomic levels. And vibration is recognized as sound on the most material level for humans to perceive it (think of a guitar string being plucked, sending out waves of music into the atmosphere). Om is the sound, the giant guitar that sent this whole fabulous planetary dance into motion. Plus, om fun to repeat because, well, it just kinda has a nice ring to it. Ooooommmm.

Shanti, put simply, translates from Sanksrit as peace. So Om Shanti, to me, means peace for everything in this beautiful creation.

So here I go, trying to slip into this “runner’s zone” that resembles a meditative zen-like state. But my brain has other plans for me. Here’s a transcript of my internal monologue:

Om Shanti. Om Shan--
Do I look like an idiot when I run? I should swing my arms by my hips, I think my JV track coach told me that a decade ago, it would probably help that damn shoulder injury, and it might make me look cooler--
Oh yeah. Meditate. Don’t forget you’re supposed to be concentrating your mind, Melissa. Let’s do this.
Om Shanti. Om Shanti. Yeah, this feels good. Om Shanti. Om--
A rollerblader is approaching. Should I smile? Give the old nod of recognition? How can I time this out? What if they don’t smile back? It takes a lot of balls to be a rollerblader, the potential for looking goofy and falling is really high, I’d probably need knee pads. Not cool.
Okay, enough, back to the chant, thinking about how good you’ll feel when you master this meditation thing, how your brain will hum with tranquility. Om Shanti, Om Shanti--
FUCK! MY ASS! Why is there a sharp pain in my left ass muscle?
Okay, calm down, breathe it out. Oooom--
Don’t stop. Run through the pain. Use your meditation, now is when it counts.
Ooomm, sending deep healing blue energy to my ass. Heeealing my ass muscles. Ommm, relaxing the shoulders now. What if I need to see a physical therapist for my stupid ass after one stupid jog? Ommm Shanti.

The second I step into my sweet air conditioned apartment I crash to the floor. Lying there, recalibrating my body, I think about running, thoughts literally racing through my asphalt mind. I think about what I run away from, what I run toward. I often run away from difficult people and situations, as we all probably do. When negative situations arise my sympathetic nervous system kicks in and wham! I’m fleeing out the door. I feel like I’m constantly racing toward my goals, chasing down my definitions of what will make me really super happy. With all this bustling around, with all this busy-ness, it’s hard to slow down and just be present, in the moment. Right here.

I realize now that there is stillness in every movement, no matter how fast we may be speeding along. Regardless of what I'm doing--running a marathon or searching for my yet-again lost keys--I can discover the calmness, the quiet heart of every motion, every act. There is also movement in stillness. While sitting and meditating, my breath is flowing through me, blood circulates through my veins, I hum to the greater cadence of the world. Sometimes it takes a good run to figure out how to stay still.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zen Dancing: How to Be a Hipster at a Concert

You’re getting ready for your latest indie pop rock show, which ultimately means you’re going to have to assimilate into the culture of apathetic, unconventional hipsters. Like Jane Goodall, you must walk amongst the primates without being noticed as an outsider.* Now, this may seem contradictory considering hipsters “do their own thing and don’t care what anyone thinks,” but this is simply not true. News flash: Hipsters do care what other people think and, sadly, most people, including myself, care as well. Oh, enlightenment and oneness with the universe just can’t come soon enough, so we can all stop worrying about such trivial things. But in the meantime, you need an outfit.

An outfit that will showcase your awesomeness to the other rockers in a subtle way that really exclaims you as too cool for your own good. This, friends, is quite the fashion dilemma. Thank god (or Buddha, or Indra, or whatever) for you, I’m here to help your existential crisis.

Rule #1: Neon. There is nothing indie rockers respect more than a mind-blowing, faux-acid-trip-induced display of bright color. Wearing bright colors will camouflage you among the tribe, and garner acceptance from fellow concert goers. Hot pink is the indie rocker’s catnip, especially as tank tops on skinny boys. If it makes your grandmother’s retinas bleed, then wear it. Wear a lot of it.

Rule #2: Kicks. This is both a fashionable and practical decision. One must realize that to really immerse oneself in the indie rock culture one must dance his/her fucking face off. Therefore, it is imperative that one said indie rocker should choose footwear that is both comfortable for bouncing around to electro beats while at the same time appealing to the eye. Brands that have successfully manipulated young minds to agree with this philosophy include Converse, Vans and Puma. I have also found, thanks to uber-cool friend and Thumbs Up Blogger Corey Janssen, that cowboy boots pair well with little vintage dresses in the same way cheese pairs with wine.

Rule #3: Hair. You’ll impress indie rockers by only gazing out of one eye, as your hair has been waxed across your forehead over your other eye, rendering it blind. Indie rockers take this hairstyle as seriously as the Chinese took foot binding. This look is especially important for indie boys to impress one another, since it exudes indifference and edge at the same time. The only other acceptable hairstyle for guys is a beard and wild, free flowing locks. Beards are also highly respected in the indie rock environs, and the density of a beard directly correlates to how truly rock the gentleman is.

Now that you’re finally dressed and sipping on Pabst Blue Ribbon at the smoky venue, you can allow the music to seep into your veins, feel the pulsing baseline reverb in your hips, and really move like you don’t care what anyone thinks. Because now you’re dancing, and this is vital to the indie rock experience. Dancing is a pure expression of emotion, and synthed up, sugary indie pop music offers an earful of happiness to shake and jump to your heart’s content. And the beauty of an indie concert is that these people are generally bad at dancing, so there is no need to worry about style or rhythm. Just feel the music, and let your limbs do whatever they want. Close your eyes for a moment and let the sound rush through you like a log flume at Disney World. This is the perfect opportunity to be fully present, as many yogis and meditators will say, since you aren’t worried about the future or thinking about the past. You’re simply here, moving your beautiful body and enjoying the moment.

Many indie rockers will jam up close to the stage, only to stand like the British Royal Guard with their arms crossed. Big mistake: We get it, you’re so apathetic you paid money to listen to a concert and act like you’re in line at the supermarket. But you will get bumped into people like me, as I have now reached a low state of nirvana called Zen Dancing. I’m sweaty, buzzed, and deliriously, ridiculously happy.

*Thanks to Adam, self-proclaimed HippieCrite, for the Jane Goodall joke.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hippie VS. HippieCrite

OK folks, welcome to the first showdown between the real peace lovers and the trendy tree huggers. By analyzing these images for hours on end, you’ll be able to quickly and accurately decipher an honest hippie from a hippiecrite when you encounter them in the wild…such as a Ben Harper concert or the local mall. (Trick number one: Hardcore hippies don’t shop at malls. They only buy their sandals and ponchos from free-trade, hemp-spun online companies based out of Nepal and distributed in California. Take notes.)

What is a hippiecrite, you ask? Have you ever gotten a bitchy stare from a girl wearing a peace sign T-shirt from Diesel? Did you suddenly realize the biggest douchebag at work has a Coexist bumper sticker on the back of his Land Rover? Do you know the girl at the bar who talks about eating organic produce while she downs a vodka soda? These are hippiecrites. And I am actually the last one, among many other hippiecritical activities.

In an effort to confront the dualistic nature of my personality, and indeed perhaps helps us all reckon the dichotomies within ourselves, I have some visuals to help distinguish between the two poles:

Don't let Mary Kate Olsen's laissez-faire fashion sense circa 2005 fool you -- the Starbucks coffee cup is a dead give away. No hippie has drunk or will ever drink a frappuccino, even if it is made with soy. And her oversized tote probably cost her more than 6 months of my rent. VERDICT: MK Olsen is a HippieCrite.

Now, the eccentric gentleman below is a certified hippie. That tie-dye is not some overpriced imposter but the real deal -- and it probably smells like he's worn it since 1973. His peace sign hand gesture is potent with sincerity. See the conviction in that THC-addled gaze! (And really, is the hippie's drug of choice any worse than a venti double espresso machiato extra whip with 3 Splendas?)

I can understand some confusion, because both photos sport similar wavy curls. However, it is important to note that MK's locks were most likely scrunched with salon products, while the true hippie uses his own sweat, musk and the natural elements to create this genuine look.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions or confusion about what a hippie is versus a hippicrite. Stay tuned for the 2nd edition, coming to a downtown farmer's market haggling over locally grown organic tomatoes near you.

Keep smilin' life lovers!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to Win Every Argument...By Losing

Imagine you’re in a fight with your friend. He’s pissed. Maybe you accidentally ran over his pet ferret. Or had sex with his sister. Maybe he’s just being cranky and taking it out on you.

Regardless of the reasons, if you’re ever in a disagreement with someone there is a secret, ancient trick that will automatically resolve the issue. I learned this trick at my Buddhist meditation class the other night, and it actually works. It will almost always assuage the other person’s emotional fire and create space for everyone’s anger molecules to simmer, allowing forgiveness and understanding to rise up instead.

It’s two simple words. Ready? Say it with me now…

You're. Right.

I know, I know. But, you think, they’re not right! I am! I’m right! I AM RIGHT!

Well, I hate to be the first one to tell you this, but no, actually, you’re not always right. Because, if you are always correct, and everyone else thinks they’re always correct, then who the hell is actually correct? It’s kind of like religion; everyone’s got God on their side, and everyone else is damned…but logically, we know this simply can’t be true.

Obviously the other person in the argument thinks they’re right, just like you do. Isn’t that why you disagree in the first place? But different viewpoints are natural; they add color and fragrance to the carnival of humanity, so we should embrace them, even in the fire pit of a fight. And if we can see the other person’s perspective, just for a millisecond, and acknowledge their side, then we’ve just climbed out of the pit.

We don’t have to agree with them. But we can soothe any tense situation with those two magic words.

I tried this little experiment with my dear, sweet, beautiful, neurotic mother. She was angry that I hadn’t called a job prospect back and she had been nagging me about it. She was calling me for about two days, to which I didn’t respond. She called me repeatedly while I was in class.

When we got a 5-minute break, I called her back in the hallway.

A breathless voice answered the phone, with vocal chords stretched in annoyance like an untuned guitar.

“Why haven’t you called me back?”

“I just did now.” My voice is quick, tinged with cool distance.

“Two days without hearing from you!”

“MOM! I’ve been in class.”

“I called both your roommates to see where you were. Have you called the employer yet?”

“MOM! No, that’s ridiculous.”

We argue about who was more ridiculous until we both hung up bitter and flustered. Later that night, I remembered the trick of accepting defeat that the Buddhist monk taught us.He explained in his gentle, funny manner how we are so obsessed with holding on to our sense of "rightness" it is a very difficult practice to let go and give the glory to the other side, knowing secretly that when we let them win, we win as well, because the argument will be over.

“Hello.” Her voice is strained.

“I just wanted to call you back and let you know you’re right, Mom.” I didn’t mean it, but I pressed the words through my teeth anyway, because I’d rather her not be upset than me be stubborn and prove my point.

Deep exhale on the other end of the receiver. Her voice melted a bit.

“Well, you know you have to stay in touch with these employers, it’s a tough job market out there, it’s really difficult to find jobs and—”

“I know. You’re right.”

In those moments the energy shifted from combativeness on both our parts to understanding. With the argument over we could simply go back to being mother and daughter. And usually, if you can get the other side to soften after you've considered their viewpoint, they’ll reciprocate by considering yours.

So by loosening our precious egos for a minute and giving someone else the glory of “being right”, we can turn any sticky situation into a smooth ride.

Oh, and if you think this blog is just the super coolest, then I will tell you….you’re right.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ZenTunes: Music to make you supremely totally outrageously happy.

1. Thievery Corporation
These dudes are groovetastic to the nth degree. Lots of instrumentals, but each song is very different. One track will feature reggae beats, the next will be electronica, then there’ll be psychedelic Portishead-type hooks. You’ll feel like an aviator-wearing Terrantino-film extra who just got back from a month chilling out in Costa Rica, finding yourself and hang-gliding and whatnot. Check out the sweet-stylin groups Bonobo and Supreme Beings of Leisure, too. You simply can’t be stressed listening to ’em.

If “Electric Feel” does not make you exuberant in the first 8 bars, then you have no serotonin left in your brain. These hippie-haired Brooklyners will get you feeling ultra zen. Plus, I want to permanently live inside their surreal Fern Gully-esque music video:

3. Slightly Stoopid
Can you say beach music? Can you say beach music with an 18-pack of beer and a Frisbee and some illegal substances? You bring the acoustic guitar, I’ll bring the bongos, we’ll start a bonfire and watch the sun go down. See you by the pier, dude.

4. Vampire Weekend
Finally, the upper middle class has a soundtrack! Rock your Ray-Bans and rock out to these fun tunes, Belvidere vodka in hand on the way to your Columbia University banquet. The dean will totally not know you’re wasted.

5. Jack Johnson
Surfer? Check. Soulful music? Check. Energy independent music label in Hawaii? Triple check. Jack, if you’re reading this (which I’m sure you are), call me. I’ve loved you since Mud Football and Bubble Toes.

6. Animal Collective
Wacky electronica and guys singing up-tempo, mildly nonsensical lyrics? Yes please! Happiness is pouring out of my speakers!

7. Bob Marley
Do I need to explain? Go. Listen. Now.

8. Gypsy Kings
Listen to that Spanish guitar and just tell me you don’t feel alive. Tell me you don’t want to go jump in a fountain, dance on an outdoor cafĂ© table, and watch the stars splay across a mountain-ridged stretch of sky. Who cares if you can’t understand a lick of what they’re saying? It’s beautiful and pulsing with pure energy.

9. Phoenix
Musical elation with a French twist! Sounds so delicious you’ll think your iTunes was making you a Nutella crepe with whipped cream and strawberries.

10. Marvin Gaye
The Prince of Soul for a reason. Sure, everybody wants to get it on with some sexual healing, but have you checked out “Mercy, Mercy Me?” or “Right On” lately? Righteous tunes with some soul-stirring lyrics. Listen and love one another my babies.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Perky Forever

Keira Knightly. Audrey Hepburn. Mena Suvari. Kate Moss. Milla Jovovich. Somehow, in the western world these women have managed to swim through the sea of silicone and skyrocket to stardom with “small” breasts. How did Hollywood ever accept them? How could they possibly make an impression on a director, or a lover?

Perhaps it’s a matter of adjectives. Perhaps you say small breasts, and the ignorant say “non-breasts.” (Ironically these are always the same guys who never get laid and are constantly made fun of in the group…coincidence?)

But to others, those who have more to contribute than cleavage to a conversation (and those smart enough to appreciate that) considerate it perky, playful…dare I say, sexy, even?

Perhaps a woman is worth more than her cup size. Sure, a ji-gun-do set of tits is “tit”-ilating. The female breasts have always been objects of desire to men and lesbians. But that’s precisely what they are: objects. I’d rather be seen as a whole rather than a part.

But hey, that’s just me.

Cheers to the women who know who they are. To the ones who don’t need surgery to feel confident, or sexy. To the women who love themselves enough to realize they have more than enough to offer besides some fat mammary glands. To the ones who will never need a lift, who will never have a stretch mark, to the ones who, again, because this is so important to stress, don’t care about the American male’s obsessions with Jenna Jameson. And cheers to the men who are smart and strong and sexy enough to realize this simple fact. Tonight, my ladies and gents, I drink to you.

Beauty is nothing. The women in Burma wear lip plates, stretched out like platypus beaks, as a standard of beauty. These women are desired for their lip plates. Not to the average Jersey-fist-pumper, but hey, New Jersey ain't the whole world. The women in Cameroon who pad their hips and butt to land a man, unlike us starving westerners (In this case beauty is determined strictly by economics.) All beautiful, simply different cultural standards.

So you are beautiful. No matter what your waist or breast size. You. Are. Beautiful.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Which Type of Ex Are You?

You see him from across the bar. And of course he looks good. They always do. They’re firmly trimmed up in their single-status workout routine; not like the pudgy, stoned apartment goblin you broke up with four months earlier. Oh, no. They are fresh and fine and freakin’ fantastic and that’s exactly why you sip your beverage a little bit harder because you are working up the nerve to finally speak to him – as “friends” – that delicate religion no ex really believes in.

In my humble, and admittedly limited perspective, there are three kinds of exes:
1) Sayonara Mothafucka. You would be perfectly fine if this ex accidentally fell into the shark tank at Seaworld. Chances are you weren’t together for that long or, if you were, it was so outright miserable you have to take some serious meditation time to release the personal vexes said ex has accosted upon your psyche. If you see this ex out at a bar, you will most certainly walk (or run, or scamper, depending on your level of inebriation) in the opposite direction to avoid any contact because this person is as caustic as a TV evangelist set on fire from a righteous Petri dish of too many Amens.

2) Hey, “Friend.” This is an outright lie. No one who has ever had sex can ever be just truly “friends” again. Ok, that’s a lie, too. I’m full of those apparently. In fact, I have dated guys that I am now completely platonic with – and at the time I was a bonkers girlfriend for these guys, thought the universe of them and wanted to totally carry their babies someday kind of girlfriend. So it is possible. But these scenarios are rare, and it’s because of two reasons:

a) You are a mature, honest individual who realizes the depth and width of the relationship and understand that it has hit its boundary. You cannot proceed any further and must make a decision that will ultimately benefit you both. So you go ’head and be all friendly like. Cheer one another on for chattin’ up that cutie at the bar (never as cute as you, of course). But still, you genuinely care about them.

b) You realized how much of a tool they were and can’t believe you ever dated them in the first place. This is very Freudian, but you have repressed the relationship so deeply into your subconscious that you can’t even believe yourself that you even dated aforementioned tool. So instead you imagine a plane of existence where you two are just simple acquaintances having fun on random occasions. You never saw their genitalia. You never cried at their expense. You never tried fighting some drunken clubgoer who accidentally bought them a shot of Jaeger. No, you barely even know them at all. And there, in this Disney Land of Make Believe, you are 100 percent platonic.

3) Bangmenowiloveyou. This is the person you never got over. Everyone’s got one. Could be from years ago…that distant visage that creeps up in a random Tuesday dream. Or it could be your most recent ex, in which things fell apart because of circumstances moreso than personal reasons. They are the yin to your yang. And every time you hear that Script song you feel it. And every time you get drunk you feel it. And every time you meet someone who can’t live up to their standards (which is basically every time), you feel it even harder. And it burns like a gun barrel down your throat, but there’s nothing you can do. It’s over, and that is all you know. So what do you do?

Cheers, my friend. For that, for what little good it may do you, I drink to you. Drink wisely. Always. And meditate. Because there is zen in relationships, and, perhaps more importantly, in break ups. Just love each other.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Invited the Vegetarian to the BBQ?

Smoke wafts from the charcoal grill so thick you can smell it down the block. Some guy, who proudly goes by “Grill Master” or another honorary title, wields a shiny spatula like Tiger Woods wields a nine iron, or his dick (I know, T.W. jokes are as overplayed as “Bad Romance”). Anyway, back to the Grill Master: His chest is puffed as he assumes his crucial position, always eying the grill, and his metal spatula glints under the bright sun. The freshly mowed grass bends beneath many sandaled feet. Music plays from a sleek iTravelTubeThingy. It’s probably that goddamn Lady Gaga. Partygoers’ hands grip cold beer and empty paper plates like thin full moons, awaiting the burger or hot dog. The buns, those starch white dresses, look so lonely on the plastic table beside the grill. Their only hope is to be filled with juicy meat. (Insert your own inappropriate joke here. I will not do it for you.)

“Burger, dog, or chicken wing?” Grill Master yells toward you, flipping the meat like a Top Chef finalist. BBQ sauce cakes the air and you salivate a little, you Pavlovian dog.

“Oh, I’m a vegetarian,” you say.

A hush falls over the backyard. Some guests crane their necks around to see who’s intruded on the fabulous flesh feast. Your friends are suddenly embarrassed. Don’t be surprised if they gradually inch away from you.

The Grill Master is at a loss for words. How dare you come into his kingdom and not taste his meat? (Oh, this is just too easy.)

You can’t say you’d hoped there’d be cucumber-dill sandwiches, so you mutter sheepishly, “Don’t worry, I already ate. (Though you haven’t.) And there are Doritos! Mmm.” Be sure to act extra enthused about the Doritos. Grab a big handful, spill crumbs and stain your fingertips with the chemical seasoning. Omnivores like it when vegetarians can at least accept junk food. Consider Doritos to be the olive branch.


It’s strange to me that vegetarians get that awkward pause after stating their dietary preference, like people don’t know the benefits of going meatless. Many people claim “I love steak too much. And those soy burgers are nasty.” I used to love steak; prime rib to be exact. But after not eating meat for a couple years, I don’t miss it at all. It’s just like when I quit drinking soda in 8th grade; after a while, your taste buds and tummy adapts to other things. Now I can only drink the fizzy syrup with rum. (Hey, I choose my poisons).

I’m not trying to convert people to vegetarianism. (But if I buy you a beer, will you consider reducing your meat intake once a day?) And I’m no devout V-girl: Every four months or so I’ll order coconut shrimp if there’s nothing else on a menu and can’t pay $8 for a house salad, or if my parents cook me homemade chicken noodle soup in the winter. A friend saw me eating a portabella mushroom sandwich yesterday and joked, “You need more protein.” That’s the response everyone parrots, even though I can get healthier protein from almonds, spinach and edamame. I laugh politely at the jokes, burn inside, and take a huge, delicious bite.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lost Your Keys?

The bad news ... there is no key to the universe.

The good news ... it was never locked.

~Swami Beyondananda

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Off the Cushion...

It’s easy to be happy while sitting on the meditation cushion, breathing deeply. It’s easy in that moment to think about feeling compassion for all sorts of people. Oh how connected we all are over my chai latte and a deep resounding ommmm. It’s easy to feel joy and gratitude watching the red sun dip into the horizon. Easy, happy.

Then we get off the meditation cushion and live our lives. The breath quickens, the traffic’s jammed, the person in the next cubicle is so annoying. This is the hard, and essential, part. To transform adverse conditions into positive experiences. I know what you’re thinking. What the fuck, Melissa: A bad day is a bad day. But it doesn't have to be. It's possible to be free of our emotional and mental reaction to what we consider problems. It's a tough practice (for me at least), but so worth it. Who doesn’t want to be happy all the time, regardless of what happens?

It’s like Shanti Deva said:

When things are difficult and there’s something we can do about the situation, we shouldn’t worry, because we can change it.

When things are difficult and there’s nothing we can do about the situation, we shouldn’t worry, either. It is simply and purely what it is. Worrying about should or could have been won’t change it.

So, we’re happy when things are going well for us, right? We’re peaceful when we’re chilling out on the meditation cushion? Not so happy when we bicker with our significant other, are late for work, get a bad grade on a test, blah blah blah. But these adverse conditions are only adverse because we think of them that way. See, my adverse conditions may not be your adverse conditions. A monk considers his robe falling off his shoulder to be frustrating. That’s certainly not an issue for me, though I can relate to the muffin top over skinny jeans frustration. So if it’s only a problem for me, is it really a problem? Or is it just a problem in my head?

And if I can change my mind, I can change my ideas about what’s a problem and what ain’t.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Seasick, Part 2

(we last left off with me crunched inside a mangrove, munching on a cold gray branch)
So much for a zenful day on the crystal blue gulf.

Luckily, two other kayakers get stranded near me, lodged into strips of shrubbery. At least I’m not alone. Apparently our boss has been blown so off course the leader had to go fetch him. But, much to my fragile ego’s dismay, one of the young girls in the group is still paddling in the open water. In control. As if it were just another day at the fucking beach. She glides by coolly, telling me and the other stuck ducks we’ll have to wait here until the wind dies down to move. I slam my oar into the bright green thicket and use every iota of power to shove off the mangrove and into the gulf.

We clumsily paddle downwind into a nearby alcove, protected from the currents by a wall of thick foliage.

“There’s no way we’ll make it to Shell Island with the weather like this,” the leader says, climbing out of his kayak and standing in the knee-high water. “We’ll just have to have lunch here.” The leaders pull an assortment of food bags and a metal folding table from the storage compartments of their kayaks. There’s no beach to park on, so we dig the metal poles into the soft sand underwater and huddle around the table in the lagoon. The water is cold against my legs but it feels good to stand after being in the cramped cockpit.

We munch on pita bread, lemon hummus and oranges. I have to pee. Peeing is impossible. There are eight folks around, and I’m too embarrassed to wade off into a nearby corner, squat into the chilly surf and relieve myself.

But my bladder is the least of my worries. Just how in the hell am I going to get home? I have to climb back in that godforsaken plastic boat and face the furious gulf again? Excuse me?

The leaders explain our new route to return to the launch point.
“Can we just call the coast guard?” I ask, half joking, half dead serious. But no. I must do this. I love the outdoors, don’t I? I’m a hippie chick, a veritable wilderness woman, I should be able to handle this. Why can’t I handle this? For all my talk of wanting adventure and the wild core of nature, I’m pretty disappointed in my meager performance.

Reluctantly I suit back up and head off into the cruel waves. My arms feel like limp linguini. My feet are numb. My sandy, tangled mess of hair flings into my face like a defeated flag. Let’s do this. Deep breath in, deep breath out. I am a zen master. I am one with this water. I can do this.

Slam. Wave after wave knocks me farther away, turning my stern/bow the opposite way I need to go. I’m violently pawing at the air with my oar, thrashing against the elements. My boss and I lag behind the rest of the group. My boss’ shoulder is injured badly, and he’s in the lightest kayak. Two very good excuses. My shoulders are dandy, and my kayak is a perfectly average weight. The trip leader hangs back with us, trying to talk us through. It ain’t working.

There are mansions dotting the landscape: giant, ostentatious, MTV-Cribs style abodes on the waterfront.

“Why don’t we paddle over to that house, shore up and the others can pick us up from the road?” my boss yells over the windstorm.
“I’d rather not if we can avoid it. It’s trespassing,” the leader yells back.

I remain quiet in my wobbling boat, every single muscle clenched to avoid flipping. I’m even squeezing my eyeballs.

“I don’t think they’re home,” my boss yells and begins to paddle over. The leader shakes his head and paddles after him. I follow clumsily. Minutes later, my kayak slams into the dock. I’m grateful to be out, but frustrated that I couldn’t even finish the route. The peaceful kayak trip has turned into an ego trip. Or, hopefully, an ego lesson.

We drag the unyielding boats to the side of the road. Sprawling mansions flank us on both sides. We’re marooned on an ultra modern home with glass rooms jutting out of the third story and a red rooftop patio. Thankfully my boss was right; they don’t seem to be home. I doubt these rich folks would be too happy to find three water-logged, sand-whipped kayakers traipsing around their fancy backyard.

The leader treks down the road to meet the others at the launch site. We don’t know how far that is, maybe a few miles, and my boss and I hang back on the side of the road to watch the kayaks.

He digs through his kayak’s storage bin (I’m sure there’s a nautical term for this too—a hull?— of course I don’t know). He pulls out his beach towel and flaps it down on the front lawn of a mansion across the street. He groans and lies on his back, saying “I’m so sore! But, wow, this is a nice neighborhood, huh?”

I cautiously sit on the curb of this multi-million dollar neighborhood, worried some snobby homeowner walking her poodle will shoo us away, send us back into the perilous gulf.

An hour and a half later, the van collects us, soggy and exhausted. Still better than not going kayaking, though.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Seasick, Part 1

I’ve been anticipating the USF English Department’s kayak trip for months. I imagine my fellow instructors and I elegantly slicing our oars through shimmering Tierra Verde waters…what could be a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Zoning in front of another America’s Next Top Model marathon, you say? Ok, that’s a close second. I’ll be zening in a kayak, sun on my face, seaspray misting the air, discussing good books and philosophy with like-minded souls, thank you very much.

The plan is to kayak out a few miles off the St. Pete coast to Shell Island. I’ve even offered to teach the group a mini yoga session once we hit the beach. Ah, how glorious the day will be. So what if I stayed up until 5am that morning drinking red wine from the bottle and chainsmoking Marlboro’s on my balcony with a bunch of boys I barely know? We were playing an intense game of Saved by the Bell trivia. But, being the pinnacle of discipline that I am, I ushered the lovely gents out at the stroke of 5 to rest up. Gotta be centered for a venture into the blue wild.

The kayaks are lined up on the sand, translucent water lapping at the sterns (or maybe it’s the bows…I’m not too keen on nautical jargon). Pure energy pulses through every cell of my body, carried in by the topaz breeze. We suit up in life vests (the guides use some fancy name for it, which I should probably know, like I should also know the stern or the bow or whatever) and these goofy plastic skirts that Velcro around our waists and hook around the rim of the kayak’s cockpit. Being that it is January and the water a bit chilly, these skirts are supposed to keep waves from crashing into our boats. Off we go.

Sun glints off the water’s surface. Mangroves line the perimeter of the beach, green blooms of inlets and islands we paddle past. It’s wonderful out here, breathing deeply, meditating as I coast over the Gulf of Mexico. My mantra is om shanti. To Buddhists and yogis, Om represents the audible representation of the vibration that struck the world into being (more on this later), and shanti is Sanskrit for peace. When combined, I like to think they mean peace for all beings on the earth, and for the earth itself. If you don’t get down with meditating (though you should really consider it, all the cool kids are doing it these days) you can just understand that I am wholly, utterly relaxed and at peace in this moment. The inner and outer worlds have struck a balance. Ah. Sweet.

Now would be a good time for a confession. Two, actually. The first being that I’ve only kayaked three times my whole life, the last two in double kayaks, with muscley boys doing most of the grunt work. The first time was during a triathalon at karate camp when I was 16. It was a single kayak, and it wasn’t pretty. I flubbed around in the middle of the murky lake, not understanding the physics of paddling straight. I circled around like a fish with one fin as my competitors gracefully soared to the other shore and completed the race. It got so desperate some onlookers had to slosh into the dark water and pull me out. Needless to say, I came in last. Ten minutes behind everyone else. What a fond memory, that is.

Ok, confession number two, which sounds even worse after my triathalon tragedy. Even though I’m a total novice at kayaking, I still expect to be great at it. Worse than that, I expect to be better than my fellow ’yakers. How enormously egotistical is that? I’m the youngest of the crew, and I’m a yoga instructor, for chrissake. I should be like a dolphin out there. If dolphins could kayak.

So it completely throws me off center, literally and figuratively, when the wind picks up. But not your average, easy breezy refreshing type of wind. More like a big old GO FUCK YOURSELF from Mother Nature herself.

The fierce currents unleash punishing waves and push me away from the rest of the gang. I slam on the left foot pedal in my kayak to steer the rudder and jab at the relentless water. My breath quickens. Every second wasted is another second pushed farther out. The airstream won’t let up. I’ve skidded completely off course, and now slam on the right foot pedal and outrigger the left side like a spastic hyena. But my pathetic piloting skills only end me up zigzagging and getting hurled upstream. I’m expending precious energy—my shoulders and arms are on fire right now—because I don’t know how to properly steer this damn floating banana. I have a flashback of the karate camp fiasco at 16.

One of the group leaders paddles over and around me, literally herding me in the right direction. I’m like the lame sheep in the pen who can’t figure how to get out and graze. Even worse, the poor guy has to do this three times with me because every time I just get blown the opposite way by unruly waves. I try shouting apologies to him and cracking bad jokes over the heavy winds, but he’s not amused. Frustrated, he paddles off quickly and adeptly, yelling something about a rope.

Alone now, I try to reason with nature.

I can do this, I am not afraid of you, I tell the water. It laughs in my face, sending a shocking cold spray in my cockpit, drenching me. The weird Velcro skirt I’m wearing caves in instantly under the pressure. So much for that.

I will master you, I am strong! I proclaim, panting. A huge wave rocks my kayak. I wobble but steady before I flip.

GGGGRRAAAAHHHH! I grunt-scream as I dig my oar deeper, getting nowhere.

I’m launched into a patch of mangroves. The branches crunch and scrape against the kayak’s stern/bow. My body in the cockpit is next. I’m literally wedged inside the mangrove. I have to crane my neck back awkwardly to avoid a branch in the eye. Thick leaves dangle in front of my face. The waves still keep coming, shoving me deeper and deeper into the upgrowth. I open my mouth and bite down on a cold gray branch, my teeth gnashing against the brittle bark. Just for fun.

So much for a zenful day on the crystal blue gulf.

to be continued.....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ego Yoga

I walk into room and six women stare at me from the floor. I smile awkwardly and turn to grab a strange foam mat laying haphazardly to my right.

“We usually use the big mats against the wall,” a short, older woman tells me.

I thank her and head over to the big mats.

“The instructor unlocks them once he comes,” she says as I stand there considering the lock guarding the precious yoga mats.

I assume the mats need to be bolted down because this class is at the University of South Florida rec center, where broke undergrads may be inclined to steal the black slabs for added bedding, dorm room area rugs or nouveau sleds (even though it never snows i
n Florida). It’s the first time I’m attending this class, and this mamacita has made it clear she knows the ropes. I regret not bringing my own mat (I have three in my car) but the trek across the ninth largest campus in America wasn’t worth being late to yoga.

This is how it goes in many yoga classes. The students who’ve been there a while relish the seniority they feel in the room — and they want to make everyone else know they’re no downfacedog virgin. Of course, I’ve just established myself as the newcomer, fumbling with the whole imprisoned mat situation, which pisses me right off because godamnit, don’t these inflexible muscle spasms know I’m a yoga teacher?

And there it is. Ego in the yoga studio.

Now, where to sit. This may seem like an insignificant thing, but trust me, in the world of group fitness it isn’t. I’ve gotten into unspoken zumba battles when other students have cha-chaed their way into my personal space, fighting for prime mirror real estate. It is vicious on that hard wood floor.

If I sit up in the front, I’ll look arrogant because they now all know I’m new to this class. And I surely don’t want these strangers to think that I think I’m better than them, even though a deep dark part of me, that I don’t even want to admit to, does.
That’s the bitch about Ego; it exists underneath the surface, just out of sight or feel. It’s the skein rooted in our nerves that makes us want nice clothes, a nice car, a nice lover who loves us for all the wrong reasons.
So I sit in the back corner, as my own personal ‘new classmate protocol’ dictates. I intend it as a sign of respect, a deep Japanese bow to the other warriors, especially mamacita who’s already established herself as the guru, the one who belongs.

The instructor is late, and no one is stretching out before the class, as most of my own students will do. I’m a bit tight, so I start doing some simple seated stretches, making sure I don’t look like I’m showing off even though my dandasana is oh-so-deep. (But don’t be mistaken, I’m no yoga pro — my salamba sirsasana is nonexistent.)

For many of us, Ego is a constant internal struggle. We don’t like feeling unimportant, or even worse insignificant, because Ego is rooted in Pride — my precious pride! I keep thinking, ‘Check out my sweet spinal twist!’ This is when I have to mind-slap myself. Thwack. Forget those superficial thoughts, Melissa! ‘But I’m wearing my awesome new yoga pants!’ Smack. Nobody cares!

During the class, which focuses on retreating into the deep, expansive inner space, my brain keeps buzzing back to the other students. Do they see my fantastic posture? I keep mind-slapping myself, and am floored at the vice-grip Ego holds upon me. I invest so much time and energy reading about these various emotional states, and I’m quite aware of them, but yet still not strong enough to relinquish the Ego.

The saddest part is that this is all going down in a yoga class, where I’m supposed to train my frenetic, material-based mind to tune into my own inner wisdom. I am slowly, very slowly, tapping into the part of me that knows it’s poisonous to care so much about what the other yogis think of me. As the class continues, the lights dimmed to deter any Ego-based glances around the room, I feel the knots in my brain untangle. I detach from my clinging “me-ness” and reconnect to that space that knows it’s all ok; that I’m imperfect and perfect at the same time, just as everyone else here, and everyone else everywhere else, too. Who cares about my awesome new yoga pants.

I suppose that’s why it’s called yoga practice.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ant Life

Ant society is highly organized: They travel for miles away from their home to find food, but instead of eating it immediately themselves, they bring it all the way back to feed everyone in the colony. When an ant dies, the others lift it up and carry it back to a designated area for the dead, an ant graveyard of sorts. My seventh grade history teacher always said respect for the dead was a fundamental principle for any civilization. Ants even have pets; they’ve “domesticated” aphids, who help with plant growth.

Smush. Oops, we’ve stepped on a few. But some other ants are going to lift the dead guys up and carry them home.

It’s interesting how we consider ourselves so superior to animals, when we act very much like animals most of the time. Sure, we’ve got the whole evolution thing down, but think about it. We are born, we search for basic needs (food and shelter), we mate and procreate, we defend our young, we vie for our territory, and then we die. And we’re pretty violent during the cycle. We are no different than the squirrels, who hoard acorns and live defending their notch in the tree.

I could learn some things from the ants, and the squirrels. To share my earnings of the day instead of keeping such trinkets all to myself. To simply consider my fellow species. Sitting, breathing the trees’ exhalations, feeling the sunray’s wavelengths permeate my cells, I feel very much connected to the other living creatures we share this space with. A fire ant crosses my bare foot. It’s a beautiful day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Conceited & Deceitful

When the ankles flex after many hours perched on heels. When, after many good beers, you eat whatever the heck you want because your heart speaks louder than your hips. When all the words you ever thought you deserved to write completely fall away to broken slabs of syllables along the highway. Vocabulary roadkill under mac truck tires. When you are nothing but a happy fuck up, looking for that person to show the exponential value of how much you can love and be loved in return. Then wait a year.

Cultivate the garden of quiet footsteps. Tend to the acres of madness. You’ll see me there in passing, like a ghost or the shadow of a birch tree. Maybe I’ll offer you my last blood orange, freshly plucked, or maybe I’ll be selfish and eat it for myself.

When everything seems so suddenly inconsequential. When the apostrophe’s juxtaposition is the nexus of your orbit. When you know how little you really are. And how much that hurts your simple eager pride. When you try to remind yourself how we are all brittle bones just waiting to be uncovered by some other responding person. Why does it always go back to another person? In the meantime, you strengthen yourself with proverbs and hypotheses, listening to the listless debate of eons unresolved, and you question, and you fire many gunshots, and you wound yourself, and those dearest to you. For me, it might be my parents. Angels, so to speak. With as many flaws as angels should have, if we are all to be called angels then. He waits for me, whoever he is, and he doesn’t even know it. Whoever he is, and damn the fairytales for instilling this sense of princely salvation, he will have a number on his hands. But she will be worth it, I assure you that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Meditating on Beer

7 beers, 3.5 cigarettes, 4 hits, it’s 10:10 on the spot and I’m lying in bed surrounded by a wet bikini, a Yankees spring training ticket, a stolen jacket and a dying cell phone.

Thing is, I was supposed to go to meditation class tonight. If you don’t meditate, and you probably don’t since you’d rather spend your precious time reading shitty blogs, then you wouldn’t understand how amazing meditation really is. So let me try to explain it.

Meditation is like the perfect buzz without imbibing, inhaling or snorting anything. In actuality, it’s the opposite of being buzzed because instead of furthering the mental distraction, meditation purifies our normally frenetic minds. All it takes is some stillness. Thing is, stillness is really difficult to uncover, what with iPhones and Gossip Girl and billboards and bills to pay (or, ahem, facebook or blogs). But if you can set aside 5 or 10 minutes to just chill, to just shut the fuck up for 5 or 10 minutes, it can be a baptism.

It can be a “whoa, I don’t have to react to every stimulus that skitters across my path. I can breathe instead.” Just. Breathe. Ah.

It can be a new space within you that you didn’t even know existed. It can be that stream of clear, crisp, rushing water where the salmon swim, in those few pristine moments right before the grizzly bears chomp them up.

That’s my long way of saying I need meditation class, which allows me 90 minutes to sit, be still, breathe deeply, reconnect and feel like the person I want to be. As the Tao says, where the rough edges soften.

But not today, friends. No, today fate and Anheuser

Busch (or should I say InBev? Oh you fickle Capitalism, biting us Americans in the ass.) had other plans for my zen soul. Here’s how it played out:

It’s Monday morning. I’m at work in my awesome gray cubicle. Super yay fun.

It’s 10 am and I’ve been there for an hour and a half and I don’t want to actually begin working, so I get some herbal tea (with hibiscus flowers, so you know it’s hippie-certif

ied) and walk over to Fotios and Jen’s desk.

“Are you going to the baseball game today?” Jen asks.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I reply coolly. I meditate, after all.

“The CEO has a bunch of tickets to the Yankees spring tr

aining game, for ‘company bonding.’ People are leaving today at 12. You should try and find a ticket.”

I feel like Charlie, the weirdo whose 18 grandparents all slept in the same nasty bed, waiting for my golden ticket. My Get Out of Wo

rk Free Card.

As soon as I return to my computer, I see the email from my boss: “Hey, team. I have a ticket to the baseball game today and can’t make it, let me know if any of you would like to go.Reply button, thankyouverymuch. Jen prances over to my desk, gleefully announcing my sealed fate as soon as I could frantically hit send.

Two hours and zero work accomplished later we’re at the game. But I don’t drink there. No no, I have principles, my dear friends. I still plan on attending meditation class, while my buds sip cool drafts under the oppressive heat near first base. Would I let you down? ME, the pinnacle of truth and justice in this chaotic blip of existence? So I sit, and I sweat, and I pretend to care about baseball.

But as you may have guessed by now, my

discipline is as steadfast and true as Tiger Woods' dick. (Yeah i said

it. Whatevs.) On the ride home, somehow Jen, Fotios and I decided that buying beer, drinking on the way back to Tampa and continuing to drink at my pool would be a marvelous idea. And it is. And so we drink. And we listen to the Arctic Monkeys, MGMT, Daft Punk, MIA and other musical geniuses. And we bop around, as white people often do when they’re drunk and happy. It is at the point when I crack open my second brew as we cross the bridge that I realize I’m not going to meditation class. And so we lie out in the glorious Florida late Monday afternoon Sunlight, soaking up our youth (or clinging to it, since we’re 25 and suffering a selfish brand of quarter-life crises).

Then we have the swell idea of going to Hula, the new waterfront bar right by my apartment, which is conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. Really. If Tampa were the world (and to us, it is), my apartment would be just north of Uzbekistan. No one really knows how to get there, no one really cares about it and there’s really nothing to do there. Except for this Hula place. I’ve heard good things about this establishment from my friend Megan, who has a propensity for hobnobbing with Bucs football players at uber-swanky venues. Well, we’re too intoxicated to drive, so I suggest we walk. How far? Who knows. Just down the street, I say. Not knowing will make it all the more exhilarating.

We’re like Lewis and Clark, only drunk and hapless. The journey continues…

…we walk. Jen’s munching on a bag of baseball stadium peanuts, stumbling along the street and occasionally screaming Turret’s-style phrases. I’m worried we’re not even on the right street. It's a lovely time. It’s sunset and a black oak tree’s silhouette scrapes the electric sky. “We should have brought a camera,” Foty says. But I wager the sun will do the same thing tomorrow, behind the same tree. I just have to be present enough to notice it. And smart enough to remember the camera.

Anyway, after walking for about a century we discover Hula. Yay, we’re there, food and beer and gorgeous scenery. Nope. Fucking closed. We see the desolate poolside, the empty waterfront cabanas. Uber-swank indeed, Megan. Just not on Mondays. Who doesn’t drink on Mondays? What the fuck, Tampa?

We venture onward, pretty defeated but further determined to find this illustrious beer and food.

To Hyde Park we go, the trendy young section of town where all the 20-somethings find nothing to do. Foty calls Wes Mantooth to come pick us up on the street and drive us.

Dubliner, yes, good Irish pub with a reputation for good pizza. It’s 9 pm, kitchen just closed. Of course. Zeus, you’ve cursed me for missing meditation class. Or is it Shiva? Buddha, most likely, but he’s not really into the whole smiting and damnation thing. Though he is all about karma, good or bad.

In essence, our desperate search for the finer things in life was a meditation. We eventually found some greasy, horrible nourishment and tasty drafts at the Tavern. But it didn’t matter in the long run. I am happy, floating along, being propelled by the forces of nature, the current of Budweiser. 25 indeed. And drunk on a Monday. And with two good friends. Tonight, we meditate without sitting still. But we find the stillness in the movement, the joy in the pace. It’s the awareness that makes all the difference.

After all, “Before enlightenment, chopping wood. After enlightenment, chopping wood.”

God, I hate using quotes. Especially to end shitty blog posts. It’s such a cheap trick. And yet, it works.

“Before enlightenment, drinking beer. After enlightenment, drinking beer.”