Laughing It Off

I’m wondering if it’s a universal rule that after every good day a crappy day must follow. We had a brilliant time with our daughter and granddaughter yesterday; she did not stop talking from the moment we got there till the moment we left. She is truly a marvel of nature – all children are, of course, but this one can hold conversations like a four-year-old and has only to hear a word in order to know it. She knows colours, letters, numbers up to ten, parts of the body and can hold a conversation better than some adults I know. She was much more confident with us this time and even let me change her nappy, which I discovered is like riding a bike, ie a skill you don’t lose.

Speaking of riding bikes, I’ve not been out yet this week, though I plan to go later today. I did 17.5 miles last week in total, which is not too bad, and during August I plan to have some proper days out. But! is it a universal rule that after every great day a crappy day must follow? Sometimes it seems like it. I woke this morning feeling headachy, depressed and poorly rested and with an overwhelming sense of the pointlessness of my existence. Sartre would be proud of me… it is hard to counteract a sense of the pointlessness of one’s own existence because any activity at all seems – well, pointless. Which is why I think on the whole I’d rather have pain than depression. Pain is awful, it can be agonising and debilitating, but it is something to fight against whereas depression is like a cloud that covers everything – and how can you fight a cloud? To add to my woes this morning the curtain rail broke, the toilet seat needed adjusting and then I had an alert from the bank saying I’ve gone over my overdraft limit. Again.

Mornings when I’m feeling like this I do yoga laughter breath. Basically you just breathe out in short bursts saying ‘hahahahahahaha, hehehehehe, hihihi’ and so on, going through the vowels. It really does help; I didn’t feel like laughing AT ALL this morning but once you start you find yourself laughing for real – and then you can’t help but feel better.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Kirk out

Need Me! Feed Me!

Yes, it’s too true, I’ve started to worry about being needed and feeded – or fed and ned – for today I am 64. Yes, that’s right – sixty-bloody-four. When the Beatles wrote that song it must have seemed unimaginable to be that age. 64! God, that’s so OLD! Sadly half of them didn’t get to experience what 64 is like, but I have, and that is something to be celebrated. I’m still here! There were times when, for one reason or another, it looked as if I wouldn’t be but here I am, still moving and breathing and metabolising and all, and with much to be thankful for. So today I’m going to pause and just think about all the good things in my life. I will not be complaining about politics, I will not be mentioning the many faults of our glorious leader, I will not be moaning about the weather or the telly or anything.

First I shall consider the presents. I’m obviously very happy with the bike and since that was my main present I wasn’t expecting much else. But this morning OH came bearing the teapot below (I’ve cut down drastically on caffeine and was after a smaller teapot so I can still brew leaf tea); we’re not keen on the inscription but it’s one of those pots which sits inside the cup, which is neat. Apart from that my mother in law has spent far too much money on a Google play voucher which I shall spend on getting some music for my phone. I’ve had a fair few cards too and lots of birthday wishes on Facebook, which is nice.

So what can I say that’s positive about my life so far? In general I’m in good health, which is not a small consideration. Tiredness and hypothyroidism apart, I don’t have many health problems, partly because I’m still doing my yoga every day. I did have trouble sleeping last night which I think was due to the imminent sixty-fourness of it all; there’s something about that age that feels like a landmark. Maybe it’s the Beatles’ song, maybe it’s because it’s a multiple of 12 – I don’t know, but it seems like a significant age. So if the Beatles are right I should be digging the garden, doing the weeds and renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it’s not too dear.) Actually yesterday OH and I went to B&Q and as we perused the compost and garden gates and pushed our trolley between aisles of bedding plants I said, ‘don’t you just feel like the typical retired couple, going to the garden centre on a weekday?’

What other positives are there? I’m still writing and getting better and better at it. I’m still doing this blog after 13 years. I’m still a Quaker which is a valuable part of my life. I’ve read loads of books this last year and even more when we do the thing-that-isn’t-Sabbath and turn off all devices. I’ve started learning Ancient Greek, I’ve re-read Beowulf and dipped into Anglo-Saxon, I’ve made the outfit I’m wearing (blouse and flared trousers) and I’ve knitted no fewer than three jumpers. I’ve taken up the piano-keyboard again and I’ve decorated various parts of the house.

So that’s all good.

What about the kind of person I’ve become? I was saying to OH the other day that I’m not a selfless person * and I stand by that; on the other hand I’ve become stronger and more assertive, more willing to stand my ground, less concerned with what people think. So that’s all good.

*OH made the mistake of agreeing with me

What else is there to say? I don’t know, except thanks for reading, liking and commenting and please keep it up.

Kirk out

Just Shut up and Listen

No, not you; I would never talk to you like that. I was answering the question posed by yesterday’s post: what is my head trying to tell me? And the answer is, shut up and listen. Stop doing the usual stuff, stop thinking the usual thoughts and listen to what I’m telling you.

That’s all pretty clear, though when you do start to listen it’s a bit like trying to decipher the voices of the sea or to hear a message in the static of a non-digital radio. OK, you say, here I am listening. So what have you got for me? And the answer is a prolonged chhhhhhcccchhhhhhhhhhhhh

hhhhzzssczxcszxxchzxchzxchzxhczhxczhxczhxchzxchzxhczhxczh

xchxzchzxhczhczhxchzxc

zzzziggazig-ahhhhh!

Oh god, now I’ve gone and reminded myself of the Spice Girls. Bleaurgh.

But you get the picture – or rather, you don’t. Sometimes you have to listen but not-listen; to give a sort of sideways or slantways attention to what your brain is trying to tell you. Phillip Pullman describes this brilliantly in His Dark Materials when the knife-bearer teaches Will how to use the subtle knife; it’s a kind of attention without concentration – or what we think of as concentration which is a willed screwing-up of the mind like pinning a butterfly to a card. This type of concentration is looser, it’s trying without trying, harder to achieve in one way but easier in another way. It is a flow.

I’ve talked about all this in earlier posts on yoga concentration and meditation, but it’s a lesson you have to learn over and over again, deepening it every time.

So after all that I watched Patrick Melrose. I recommend this but not last thing at night as it’s deeply disturbing. It’s currently streaming on NowTV, effortlessly.

Kirk out

Additional: OH has just pointed out that in a similar way to a computer, the mind works on the GIGO principle: garbage in, garbage out. Therefore if you want to produce good writing, you should read good books. And watch good TV.

Like Patrick Melrose.

What Do We Do? We Jog, Jog, Jog

What? Me? Jogging? No! No no no, no nay never, jamais, nunca jamas, non! Absolument pas! Je ne jog pas. No hago el footing*. Nope.

Except yes. My ever-loving family are conspiring to keep me (and themselves) indoors as I’m at a slightly elevated risk of C19 due to asthma. It’s not bad asthma, not double-up-and-gasp asthma, not wheeze-and-cough asthma, just inconvenient-slightly-tight-chested asthma. But still. I am told I must stay indoors For My Own Good. This I do not like.

Before you start, yes I’m totally aware of the guidelines around personal distancing, contact and unnecessary trips out. Yesterday I went shopping with a scarf over my lower features (by which I mean nose and mouth, not my private parts) and feeling like a terrorist about to produce a bomb, I maintained a distance of three feet from those who served me. Actually it was quite fun; having gone into Sainsbury’s yesterday and quickly out again as it was heaving, I sallied forth a little later and trawled around all the nice little local shops which I often mean to patronise and seldom do. I bought a few necessaries including a nice bottle of Rioja and some lovely free range local eggs.

And so to today. Having been lectured by Son and OH I was feeling mutinous. **** them! I thought, I’m going out. But not to the shops. Instead – and I never in my life thought I’d be doing this – I jogged round the park. Yes, actually jogged. I mean, god – what next? Will I start running marathons?

Unlikely. But the gym did give me a taste for gentle jogging, and very gentle it was too; half-trotting and half-fast walking round the park. Still, it put some spark in the old grey matter and I do feel better for it.

I’m not saying I’ll do this every day but it does seem a good way to start the day, especially as you get out into the fresh air and can maintain distance from others whilst giving them a friendly wave. Not that any of them waved back. They must have thought I was a nutter.

Actually nobody gives you a second glance if you’re jogging; it’s one of the socially sanctioned activities that renders you virtually invisible. Which in my case is all to the good.

Now, I’ve been thinking about using this time to pass on some of my skills. And I’m wondering what people would be interested in. Would you like videos on gentle yoga, perhaps done sitting in a chair? Or perhaps suggestions on how to begin creative writing? Or poetry workshops? There are a number of things I am actually qualified to teach, yoga being one, so let me know. What are you interested in learning while you’re stuck at home?

Just don’t ask me about jogging…

Kirk out

* Fun fact: in Spanish, jogging is called footing. Otherwise it would be pronounced hogging.

It Ain’t Tosh, it’s Santosh

I know I’m bombarding you with posts at the moment but the brain is very fertile right now and who am I to resist? So as a companion piece or riposte, if you will, to the last post here is a tried-and-tested method of dealing with perfectionism, called Santosh.

It’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘contentment’ (the very sound of it is comforting, and that’s no coincidence, as I’ll explain) but not the lying-on-the-sofa-watching-TV kind of contentment, if indeed that is contentment at all. No, it’s the contentment that consists in being satisfied with what you’ve achieved, no matter where you might end up. To paraphrase Kipling, it’s meeting with triumph and disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (Kipling was born in India and was very influenced by ‘Eastern’ thought.) Anyway, leaving Kipling on one side for a moment, contentment or santosh is the practice of being content in the moment with what one has achieved. It does not imply self-satisfaction, nor does it prevent future progress; in fact I would suggest that without santosh there is no real progress.

Consider the case of someone (I know wherof I speak) who is overweight and desires to be slim. Their life may be dominated by self-disgust and thoughts of how they would like to look. But far from being a spur to achievement this is an obstacle because acceptance is lacking. Unless you can accept where you are – however briefly – you can’t move on: it’s like trying to find your way somewhere by putting the wrong postcode into your satnav.

Sanskrit is an ancient and astonishing language, and one in which sound and sense work closely together. This can be seen more clearly in the practice of mantra where a word or phrase has a meaning, a sound and an appearance, each of which can be used for meditation.

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

I miss seeing cartoons on telly.

Kirk out

In Search of Mental Equilibrium

There are times in a person’s life when mental equilibrium can be almost impossible to find; and now is such a time for me. There is a man who has lied, cheated, run away and hidden in fridges, stolen journalist’s phones and held talks with the US about our public services, and still enough people are planning to vote for his party to enable him to be Prime Minister. Devastating cuts to public services are not enough to change their minds, nor are threats to the NHS, nor cowardice in the face of Andrew Neil (who, to his credit, did his best to shame Johnson into being interviewed.) Nope, the nation wants this guy and apparently the phrase GET BREXIT DONE, when repeated often enough, is sufficient to overturn all this. I simply cannot believe a single person would vote for him, let alone millions. It makes me wonder what has happened to the world.

It is essential to one’s mental well-being to have a break from all this, and yesterday I took the train down to Leicester to look round the shops and visit a friend in hospital. It was a horrid day, windy and wet, but nevertheless a welcome break and I was able to buy a couple of pressies; however I was less than gruntled to find a TV in the waiting room blasting out a speech by our glorious leader, necessitating a scramble for earphones and music.

Grr.

It’s been a week for egotistical males, as last night we watched a documentary about Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga. I have long been sceptical about this form of yoga as it seems to embody the most anti-yogic characteristics of competitiveness and greed. I was outraged to hear that Bikram was trying to copyright asanas (postures) which he did not invent but which derive from ancient texts and practices and belong to everyone. He did not succeed but the attempt embodies the very worst of capitalism.

Despite studying under his own guru, Bikram seems to have known nothing of the ethical side of yoga; the do’s and don’ts or yamas and niyamas which also come from the ancient texts and include such practices as ahimsa, non-violence; aparigraha, non-greed and most importantly brahmacharya, sexual abstinence or, for those in relationships, sexual continence. This was the most disturbing of the accusations levelled against him; that he did, Weinstein-like, invite young women to massage him and sexually assaulted them in his room. He is also accused of several rapes but has refused to testify.

Sadly the US equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service has declined to make this a criminal case in spite of the wealth of evidence against him, leaving plaintiffs to pursue their own civil cases. Bikram is in the same mould as Trump and Johnson and is still at large running courses in Mexico.

The film is well worth watching for the massive size of Bikram’s ego and for the way he quite literally stands on the backs of his students as they are performing asanas. And unless we vote him out, we can now look forward to five more years of Boris Johnson doing the same thing to the country.

Kirk out

This Time Ten Years Ago

Do you know what you were doing ten years ago? Thanks to this blog all I have to do is pick a month and I can find out; it’s always worth keeping a blog and then you have something sensational to read on the train…

So here it is; this time ten years ago I was… on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square doing yoga and poetry. It was an amazing day, a positive tsunami of circumstances conspiring to create an event which involved a CND minibus with a dozen or so people scooting down to London where Bruce Kent and Kate Hudson joined us and I had a brilliant time doing yoga and poetry. So check out all these posts from that time:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/photos-of-me/

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/

Kirk out

A Week of Patience

So how has it been, this week of practising patience? Well, I have to report that the Caffeine Withdrawal Bill did not pass its first reading in Parliament and as such has been ditched. It caused an immense headache (quite literally) and such lassitude that I lost the will to carry on. Like Spike Milligan I woke up the next morning with the letters T-E-A etched on my eyeballs and, reader, I caved. But other than that I have made progress.

First, as with all such things, the problem is to remember. All too often you have to reach the point of boiling exasperation before it comes to you that ah, yes, you were supposed to be practising patience.

One of the most important disciplines I’ve found is the practice of now. No matter how screwed up things have become, no matter how far you’ve let things slide, the time to change is now. Not tomorrow, not when you feel better, not when you’re in a more positive frame of mind but now; start practising patience right now, even if – especially if – you don’t feel ready. To paraphrase Yoda, ‘do or not do; there is no ready.’

One technique I use which I didn’t mention before is Narrating Your Life. I find this very helpful if my mind is running on ahead, thinking of the next thing and the thing after that and what’s happening this evening and not focussing on what I’m doing right now. When that happens I start to narrate my life, for example, thus: ‘I am climbing the stairs. I have a tray in my hands. I feel the weight of the tray. I am aware of my head rising up. I can feel the stairs under my feet,’ and so on; and before you know it the seemingly dull and mindless activity of bringing the tea upstairs is accomplished. It’s amazing how many things you can find to notice if you try. Have a go right now. What are you doing? Where are you sitting? What can you feel under you, around and above you? Be aware of your feet, your buttocks, your hands. What are you holding? What are you touching? What is the air temperature like? How is the light?

One yogi master (I forget who) said this when asked about the main points of yoga:

What is the most important aspect of yoga? – Attention.

What is the second most important practice of yoga? – Attention

What is the third most important practice of yoga? – Yep, you’ve got it. Pay attention – not in a stand-up-and-salute-an-officer kind of way but gently, bringing the mind to bear on what is happening right now. Otherwise life passes in a blur of anticipation, never being present in the moment.

Kirk out

Five Steps to Improve Patience. And Hurry Up!

Impatience, like many other habits, can be hard to eradicate. When publishing yesterday’s post I found myself getting all aeriated when the button up the top (for some reason the very word ‘button’ makes me feel impatient; perhaps it presses my buttons) said ‘schedule’ instead of ‘publish’ and I wanted to publish the post and it did publish it so why didn’t it say publish instead of schedule? I caught myself getting impatient about this and said to myself, ‘slow down. It’s fine. It really doesn’t matter.

So here, from the depths of my hard-won wisdom, are five strategies to develop patience.

Step One: Cut out caffeine. Yesterday I decided to forego my mid-morning pot of tea and have roibos instead. I don’t drink a lot of tea but caffeine is a known stimulant which can only exacurbate the problem of impatience, so it might be a good idea to give it a miss for a while, which means this week I shall be mostly drinking roibos.

Step two: get back into practising meditation. This has gone by the board in recent months, partly because I’ve been sleeping better and partly because I can’t be bothered, but the effects are deeply salutary and tend to counteract impatience.

Step three: when in a queue, use the time well. Next time I’m standing at a checkout or waiting for the lights to change I shall do something useful. This has to be an activity which can be laid down easily, so checking your phone is probably not the best idea (it’s illegal in the car anyway) as about sixty other kinds of impatience can begin to sprout from whatever it is you may find there and you can get involved in conversations which distract you once you reach the nirvana of the beeping terminal. Something mental would work for me, such as reciting a poem in my head (one I’m trying to learn as I learn all my poems by heart) or remembering some Spanish or assembling some ideas for a blog post. Chanting mantras is a good idea (mentally if you’re in the queue, out loud in the car) and a deeply calming mantra such as So Ham or Om Nama Shivaya can really help with the surges of irritability. Visualisations can also work; a calm sea, a deep forest, a blue sky. You could also try listening to calming music or sounds like the ocean or whalesong; there are a million of these apps out there but the thing is to pick one and stick to it. Here’s one I like:

Step four is to walk more and drive less. I have a vague general aim to do this anyway under my climate change agenda but driving less will definitely help with impatience.

Oh look, there were only four in the end. But they’re good ‘uns.

Kirk out

Patience on a Monument

When I was a youngling people used to wind me up by saying ‘patience-is-a-virtue!‘ whenever I got impatient about something. But regardless of their sing-song self-righteousness, patience is in fact a virtue and one that’s in short supply right now. I’m not boasting here (really not) but my brain works very fast and zooms ahead of me all the time, so I find it hard to be patient. This means I need to practise all the harder because being on your toes and frowning all the time is not a good look, nor does it make for a happy and peaceful life.

Everything in our modern world conspires against patience. Driving habituates us to speed (or the expectation of speed) so that when stuck in traffic we paw the ground and snort like a bull at a gate; similarly because supermarket checkouts can process items very quickly we resent standing in a queue and waiting – as I was the other day – for some woman when her shopping had been beeped through to pack it all away and rummage in her bag for a purse and find the Nectar card and then the sodding bank card and then REMEMBER THE PIN NUMBER!!!!!!!! A lot of deep calming breaths did I practise but I was still impatient and she felt our impatience and smiled at the snorting queue and said ‘Sorry, more haste less speed’ and clearly felt so bad about holding us up that, reader, I was ashamed. And when subsequent to that event I found myself on the road wishing a cyclist weren’t in the way and indulging fantasies of knocking them off their bike (only momentary, you understand, but still) I thought, ‘My dear woman, you have to seriously take yourself in hand’. And so I do.

Computers are of course a key factor in this. I find it very hard to focus on one thing at a time and if a page takes more than a few seconds to load or hassles me with adverts and cookie declarations (please click on C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me and while you’re about it would you like to take your survey? No thanks) then I find myself getting very impatient.

Enough! This must and shall stop. So, how does one practise patience? I am reminded, dear friends, of a character in La Peste whose idea of making the most of time was to stand in a long queue, wait till you are at the head of it, then leave. No, on second thoughts I don’t think that’d work. So, how do we do this? First, I shall walk more and drive less. That will take out one plank of this buzzing edifice. Next I shall learn to value waiting. Look around me, take in my environment, think some thoughts, maybe even start a conversation, recite a poem in my head or chant a mantra or write some thoughts in my notebook but anything that not only passes the time – for that is half the battle – but values the time so that you regard it, not as time wasted but as time spent.

What would be a useful way to spend time, say, in a supermarket queue? Imagine you’re several shopping-loads short of a checkout and it’s going to take a while, what can you do? Well, instead of watching each beeping item inch down the conveyor belt (cuddly toy, cuddly toy) some useful thoughts and ideas might ensue. This would I think involve entering a different frame of mind from the usual Sainsbury’s-consciousness. Of course another way would be to avoid supermarkets altogether. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll update you as to how my patience practice evolves, now hurry up and post some comments!

LOL.

I have a great deal more to tell you about What I Did On My Birthday and which books I’ve been reading but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Kirk out