Public Display of Excrementing

In China, I saw more than my fair share of people unleashing their bowels in open areas. I’ve pointed and howled with judgment. But today I realized that I do the same thing, except I don’t drop my pants, I drop my jaw.  I’ve been “shoulding” all over the place.

Lately, I’ve been in a foul mood. I feel like all I can see is the negative in situations and in others, especially in myself. It’s felt like the very worst verbal snowball that I have ever created, as one crappy thought sticks to another flake of criticism and complaint. And the worst part of it is that this snowball has been gaining speed and growing, as my only hope is that it reaches the bottom of the hill and stops. But how much negativity can I really generate and collect in my mind, I do not know? It is an incredibly unpleasant experience, especially when I am conscious enough to observe it, yet not disciplined to stop it from exiting my mouth, to begin with.

The irony, of course, is that I have been setting this intention to find more good in life so I can open up to awe. Yet the more I dig into this, the more I see what is wrong and the beauty and joy of life seem to hover beyond this dark cloud, blocking my sun.

This is the worst thought of them all is that something beyond my control is creating this worry and despair, that this mood will stay and become a part of my personality–that I am becoming less agreeable and cheerful with age. No frickin’ way do I want these crappy thoughts to take up permanent residence in my head. I gotta kick these unwanted guests out!!

But what if I am changing? What if I was to embrace my inner-grumpy, to become more curious and kind towards these unloveable thoughts? To look at me as you might see a toddler having a cry over dropping their cracker–despite this absolute trivial brooding, there is an opportunity to have a laugh over the ridiculous self-imposed helplessness of the situation and extend a hand to pick up the cracker.

Change does not have to be about becoming someone else, but about rearranging the pieces of the puzzle in your life in a way that better serves your purpose. Maybe it is not ‘something’ that is missing from your life – it is how everything fits in the bigger picture of your life that makes the difference -Astro Butterfly-

I read that quote the other day and have been examining my mood to see how perhaps this is serving me, that, perhaps I am in the midst of a wonderful transformation, as the pieces of who I am, shift into new positions and will create a new picture of Who I Am. Perhaps what I am experiencing is what people call a “dark night of the soul.” And, although it is awful to swell with such feelings and have a lot of diarrhea of the mouth, the mental muscle I am gaining in overcoming this and the faith that I am developing is creating the most delicious experience of renewal.

And with this insight, although I stand in a gloomy place, there is now an opening, a crack, in which I can put a wedge into to let some light enter, recognizing that this moment can be ethereal if I give it permission to be present in my life. Yes, I can accept this phase, while simultaneously attending my gaze towards the light. There is good in this experience and I have the capacity to find it.

This weekend we intend to drive to Vien Viang, a riverside town in central Laos. We intend to go tubing on the Nam Song River and explore caves in the area. Even though it is impossible to predict the end of this “shoulding”,  I am hopeful that this respite will accelerate the demise of my funk and give birth to a more content and hopeful version of me. If nature is really an antidote to unease, then there stands a chance that I may be injected with revelation and joy, as this dark cloud comes to pass. And, although I feel mentally feeble,  Inshallah, God willing,  I will hold on to the prospect of this possibility.

 

When the Road I Traveled Becomes an Open Path

Do you ever wish you were a better person than who you are? Me too. Like all the time.

A couple weeks ago we had a terrible thunderstorm with torrential downpour and lightning that sparked the night with a purple white glow. Since the street to my home is riveted with deep muddy potholes, I was nervous that my friend’s car might get stuck or damaged when she dropped me off, so I decided to walk. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, but as soon as the car sped away, I felt a real sense of stupidity and fear.  I was going to have to wade through knee-deep water to get to my home. The story of a colleague’s neighbor getting bit by a baby cobra was stuck in my head and it too added fuel to the fear that was sloshing in my mind. I realized that these flooded waters could very well be full of water snakes and other creatures that could cause harm. But if I was going to return home, I really had no other alternative but to walk through these deep “puddles” that were a block long. I chanted “Please God help me” as I entered the road and stepped into the dimly lighted water, my flip-flops searching for an ounce of high ground. 10 minutes later, I arrived at my gate, very wet but very relieved that I somehow managed to make it through to dry land.

the truthAs I stripped off my wet and muddy clothes, I recanted my daring act to my husband and realized that I may very well have this experience again. This is Laos and I have signed up for an adventure, clearly. Why did I think this was a good idea? I wanted a postcard type of experience, you know–coconut trees swaying in the breeze and an easy going pace to life, but this is what I chose. I had the luxury to choose to live in a developing country and now I faced the reality of what is it like to live in a country that is so poor that most of the streets of its nation’s capital aren’t even paved.

All of sudden it got me thinking, if this experience was a lesson, what did I learn? How am I going to meet this “road”–My attitude? Am I going to go running and screaming down it (kind of what I did) or can I manage this experience a different way–My actions? How else could I go down this “road”–My opportunity? And who do I have to become in order to travel on this “road” that I have chosen–My identity?

I am in the process of answering these questions and was reminded recently of a poem by a famous Indian poet,  Rabindranath Tagore, whose message made me awaken out of self-absorption and see the truth that I am not alone on this journey. (None of us are.) Although I am unique, I am not different, because we all wrestle with the circumstances and the choices that create change in our lives.

Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

I connect deeply to this idea of  “new country”; this experience is revealing how much of me is a work in progress, as I reflect on who I am and how I see the world. There’s quite a bit that I can improve upon, let’s just say. However, to meet this challenge with self-loathing of all the things I wish I could be would be squandering the possibility for serious transformation. I still haven’t sorted out how to approach this task but I know that this discomfort is the first sign of the real potential for change. And if I keep focused….well who knows where this road I traveled where lead me.

In Transit

I can hear a bleating gong that seems to signal the coming of the monks for giving of alms.  My neighbors will bring out in bags and baskets food for the monks, as they pass by and give their good wishes and blessings. And this is how the day begins, an ebb and flow of giving and take within my neighborhood. It’s 5:45 am here in Laos and I am trying to prepare my mind for going to school, for a day of unexpected experiences as I am getting to know my new school community as well as the delightful students who are in my care. Not only that but my little nuclear family is trying to figure out what will be our new normal and establish a semblance of routine.  Although I can identify my feelings of unease as a natural part of adjusting to these new concentric circles of culture (my family, my work, relationships outside of work, my neighborhood, Laos)  it doesn’t make them go away and I wonder how long will I stay in this tentative emotional state.

ambivalence.jpg

Although this place is special, it is not unique, meaning that I have encountered so many of the same frustrations in other countries. At first, I found this ambivalence akin to having still not arrived here, feeling that somehow a part of me is still in transit, being processed and on its way to this destination, and was an odd feeling to grapple with.  But I have come to realize that in this new life here, I, like a piece of solid iron, am being smelted by this experience, reformed and fashioned for a new purpose. I know to decide to be happy, to enjoy how quirky and different everything is here, is surely the first step in this appreciating the transformation. I am trying to find some sort of ritual, some sort of antidote to these simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward our new life in Laos.

beauty.jpg I am reminded that my thoughts become my words and my words become my actions and my actions become my habits, and my habits become my character, and my character becomes my life. So I have decided to start making lists of things that create small moments of happiness in my life, like air conditioning at a restaurant, the beauty of lightening as it races across the sky, and the contentment I feel when Hannah enjoys local food. I want to find the beauty in this world and in my new life.

So I thank you, dear reader, for allowing this blog post to help me expedite my shift and define who I will become in this new environment, articulating this idea. I hope that wherever you are in the world, you too can find the beauty in it.

the Beginning or is it the End?

Here we go again. Another MOOC. This time has been Sit Less, Get Active which butterfly-lao-tzuis offered through the University of Edinburgh. I’m not an athletic person, in fact I think most sporty things I like to do involves sitting like biking and canoeing. I noticed about a month ago that I started to get pain in my right hip, which I later learned was caused by sitting too much. I literally have a ‘weak ass’, which causes my hip pain. Fact.

Well something like an irritation is a gift in disguise.

Recently I was listening to a talk about some of the content that is in the book Spark by John Ratey, in which he talks about the importance of exercise for our brains. Our brain is like a muscle, so when we exercise, it too gets a work out which contributes to a decrease in diseases such as dementia and ADHD. However, he explains that from an evolutionary perspective, our brain was designed for movement; so in effect, if we don’t move it (as in our bodies), we experience cognitive decline from our sedentary lifestyle.   Dr. Ratey illustrates this point with an explanation of a Sea Squirt (pictured here), which is a little piece of coral which breaks off and looks similar to a sea horse. When it does this, it develops a primitive bsea-squirtrain and neurocord in order for it to move, swimming for roughly 12 hours, until it sits down, takes “roots” , in order launch a new coral. What is fascinating is when this creature finds its new spot, it literally eats its brain, which gets reassimilated into the new growing coral structure. As I take in this example, it provides greater fodder for movement and exercise in my life.

 

So, with that in mind, I consider this revelation as a new beginning for me, in which I start to reshape my mindset to not see exercise and movement as an inconvenience but more like an opportunity to transform my mind, as well as my body. Perhaps too, it will put me on a path of self-discovery, in which I see my personal development in a more holistic way–literally re-creating who I am, cell by cell.   Needless to say, I’m excited by the prospect of transformation and hope that this too inspires you to get up and move, just as you were genetically designed to do.

Keep breathing. (And Keep Moving!)

 

Addicted to Distraction?

report cards keep calmIt’s report card time here for teachers and there’s nothing I’d rather do than NOT write and read those comments. So this week’s journey into distraction and procrastination was perfectly timed.

Did you know that we are wired for distraction?–that every time we get off task, our brain’s get a little dose of dopamine, which is a chemical on the reward pathway in the brain; furthermore, avoiding what needs to be done and letting ourselves wander off task could actually be addictive. So we are screwed, right? Not necessarily because through our directed attention, mindfulness works to subdue our emotions, bringing us back on task and renewing our focus.

 

Also, the attitude in which we pay attention can also determine our ability to stray or come back into focus. I found this video of distraction memeBrendon Burchard’s War and Peace model a reminder that when we want to change something in our life, we must commit to finding every possible solution and accepting that change takes time. I think this is really relevant as I consider that the practice of mindfulness is not just a one-off thing that perhaps I do in the morning or evening, but I need to find ways to seed this activity throughout my day in order for mindfulness to be hard-wired into my brain and become my mind’s default mode. An excellent suggestion was to take a moment to get in touch with the breath as we transition to a task that we may find challenging in order to avoid procrastination. This would help to give attention to what is relevant and necessary to complete a task, instead of allowing the mind to wander into worry or fear. Moreover, extending compassion to ourselves when we do stray off track, helps to decrease and de-activate the stress response that may accompany us when we are in avoidance and procrastination. Not only does it help to alleviate the negative emotion associated with the task, but has physiological benefits such as improved immunity and executive functioning of our brains.

So, I have to wonder, if I can be addicted to distraction, can I also become addicted to awareness? Is that possible?  I’m not sure, but I’m willing to dedicate myself to this challenge….one moment at a time. (: