Day 57: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Fierce’

Tell me what you would do in this situation.

You check into your AirBNB for the weekend in the Poconos. Your friends have all split the cost for two nights and it came to ~$140 per person for this house rental.

You find out only after opening the door that the house has no central A/C. It is currently 89 degrees. You would like to turn on the fans around the house, but they are all coated in dust. You blast the central A/C unit in the kitchen and hope it spreads while you explore the rest of the house. Luckily the rooms have their own individual units but again, fans and surfaces are dirty. It’s been a long two and a half hour drive due to traffic and you go to relieve yourself. You reach for the toilet paper and the holder drops with a loud, threatening metallic THUD as the stainless steel paper holder drops to the ground, seemingly attached to the wall by a strand of hair. You go to place your towel on the towel rack by the shower and THUD it falls as well.

Whatever. It’s fine. We’ll just place the toilet paper on the window sill and our towels by the sink. You and your group all go grocery shopping, spending more than $200 as the plan is to cook all your meals as part of the experience. You return home hungry to begin the first meal and notice that the stove fire is weaker than normal…and weakening…and weakening…and then…it’s out. Like, completely out. You try to reignite. The starter works. You hear the characteristic *click click click* of the starter and you can see the spark. But no flame. In remote PA, you know all the houses rely on their own propane supplies versus hooking into a gas line. You fear the worst…and check the fireplace. You hit the start and hope to see a flame. It flickers…flames…and then dies again…

The propane is out. You notify the homeowner who tells you that, while they apologize for the inconvenience, they cannot get anyone to refill the propane until Monday. When you check out. It is Saturday and you have two days’ worth of food in the refrigerator. It’s fine. Whatever. We have an electric rice cooker, an electric griddle, and a microwave. We’ll cook everything hibachi style like our ancestors at Benihana (note, I am Filipino, one friend is Korean, and the rest are Taiwanese).

Ultimately, for the inconveniences of the house the owner reaches out to your group and offers a consolation of a $50 refund. The groceries cost $200, and each member paid more than $100 for the two nights. You feel it is a paltry sum and not reflective of nearly the amount of inconvenience, but it’s fine. Whatever. We’ll go spend it on gas and tolls.

TigerI know there are many of you reading this who would have been up in arms by the third paragraph. Outraged by the fourth. Livid by the fifth. There would have been harsh words. Demands for more compensation. Sharply worded complaints and negative reviews.

So what did my group of friends and I do? We wrote a four star review noting how wonderful the owners were for caring and trying to make us happy.

This is the curse of the Asian attitude. A cross-cultural embedded ethos of humility, meekness, and tolerance. It is why issues of racism against Asians and Asian-Americans are never as widely publicized or heard. This is why American actors are cast in Asian movies and no one cries foul. It is why relationally, American women are not as interested in Asian men as they are seen as ‘weak’ and American men fetishize Asian women as ‘submissive’.

When I was a travel agent, this presented a whole new level of complication and issue because my capacity to endure trouble and hardship without complaint was now affecting my clients. Clients who, primarily Caucasian, would call me furious about the fact that the ‘blankets are gaudy’ or that the room is ‘ocean view and not ocean front’ or that ‘the hotel has to move us from one room to the other in the middle of the trip’. All of these issues that, were it me or my family or friends, we would have accepted as part of the unpredictability of travel and would simply soldier on. But for my clients this was the end of the world and somehow I had to find within me a fierceness and an aggression not characteristic to me or my culture to demand of equally confused hotel staff refunds, upgrades, special amenities, things I have never dreamt of asking for.

KittenThis is by no means a criticism of American culture. It is an observation of the Asian mindset that has characterized many of my social interactions. I don’t know who of us is more right or appropriate. There are certainly times when the fierceness of a tiger is more apropos than the meekness of a cat. But conversely there are times when the ability to accept and move on is critical and better for the heart and the blood pressure.

I think the Filipino is even more at a disadvantage than most other Asians. See a key characteristic for the Filipino is in fact their ability to endure. ‘The Filipino endures’. Corruption. Poverty. Natural disaster. The Filipino is applauded for his ability to endure and smile and move on. They never cause a ruckus, never raise a voice, they are the most adept at adapting. You could throw one of us anywhere in the world in any situation and we would find a way to succeed. It is a matter of strength and resolution but also of accepting one’s fate and making the best of it, rather than subvert or augment it.

But there must be a turning point when to adapt is no longer acceptable. A firm stance is necessary. It seems so difficult, combining Catholic values of ‘suffer in this life to be rewarded in the next’ with the natural tendency for Asians to be more reserved, less open about troubles and difficulties, for us as Filipinos to ever ask, expect, or seek better in life.

Take meals for example. If you are not Asian and have ever eaten with them, you will notice a certain phenomenon near the end of the meal. No matter how hungry people are there seems to always be one last morsel of each dish still on the table. And now comes the song and dance of trying to get others to eat it and being offered by others to eat. There are smiles and gestures and gestations and it’s all a big commotion. Until your white friend, confused by what is happening, unused to the rhythm of the dance, helps himself to it all.

EatingThis is a huge social faux pas. What is happening behind the scenes is every good little Asian boy and good little Asian girl is doing what was always taught to them. Concern yourself with others and, ignoring your own condition, offer to someone else and allow yourself to take only what is offered to you. We are all hungry. We all want something. We know who to offer what so they can get what they like and we know someone will offer to us what we want. We won’t even find the ability to tell our friend what happened because again, we should simply be good diners and allow him to finish what he would like. To the untrained eye though, it looks like the perfect environment for more aggressive and self-assured people to thrive and take advantage.

Filipino Eyes.gifMake no mistake. Asians are fierce. Fiercely proud and protective. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely attached to honor and tradition that we endure the mark of meekness. If you cross us we will fight back. We have overthrown governments and dictators. Started revolutions. We just think that going a little hungry is less important than the contentment of our friends. We are used to a bit more hardship, and in the grand perspective of things, we shrink to the common trivialities and difficulties of the everyday. But we are fierce. And Filipinos? Some of the fiercest lovers. Blame that on some of our latent Spanish blood.

Day 57

Man: 41 Loneliness: 16

 

Day 59: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Vice’

Ooh boy. Back from vacation and I see today’s prompt is ‘vice’. Hah. Well, we’re going to get to know each other really really well now, aren’t we?

That we all have certain vices in life should come to no surprise. We are all, after all, human. Therefore the knowledge of the existence of vices is certainly a given. An unstated fact of the human condition. But the sharing of vices is so closely guarded for fear of judgement or shame. Our vices are as integral to the definition of our identity as any positive trait or habit that we may possess and readily display. What is our weakness and how does that shape the things we succeed or fail in. How does that dictate where we are confident and when we are meek. How do we carry our vices in our gait, our posture, our attitude.

Gambling.gifPerhaps you’d like me to share my gambling. I’ve always been lured by the bells and whistles. My father used to take the family to Atlantic City every summer and I wanted nothing to do with the Boardwalk or the beach and just wanted to sit at the card tables. In high school I taught all my friends how to play Texas Hold ‘Em and Mahjong. We’d have poker or mahjong nights on the weekends and stay up until 4am. We played for chump change, anything from $5-$20 but it was a rush and a thrill and it felt like we were part of an underground world. My teenage mahjong parlor days. Hahah. When I finally turned 21 my friends and family and I rented some cabins in the Poconos for snowboarding, snowtubing, but we also spent the night of my birthday at Mount Airy Casino. It was my first real taste of the big leagues. I didn’t know what I was doing or what games to play or how to play but I knew I wanted to be part of the action and didn’t want to miss out on anything. I was in every hand and laughing in the face of destiny. In the course of one hour I managed to lose $500, my entire birthday gift. No one was having fun that night. It was embarrassing and I was ashamed to look my parents in the eye when they asked what I did with the money they gave me. My friends were almost sucked into my abysmal whirlpool of bad decisions but luckily they only got minor damages. Losing much less than what I had done all on my own.

Since my first foray, I’ve still become a casino regular. You will find me in Las Vegas at least once a year and Atlantic City, for however long it still lives, has been a weekend retreat for me almost every other month in the spring and fall. Since I clearly still have a job, shelter, food, and clothing, I have not yet gambled myself into crippling debt. I’ve learned to control my vice and still enjoy myself. I want to be very clear when I say this, I did not control my gambling vice by getting better at gambling. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. If you lose money, you don’t get it back by being better at gambling. That’s now how you control the beast. You realize that the best will always be bigger, faster, and stronger than you so you become smarter. I learned to control my budget when I go to a casino. Learned the art of getting up with dignity and grace and walking away. I learned to stop when I’m ahead and appreciate what I was able to squeeze out of a system that is stacked, fundamentally, against me. Yes I learned how to play the games and the basic strategy and mathematics, but most importantly I learned not to try and guarantee anything other than ‘I’ll walk away when I’m x in the hole, I’ll walk away when I’m y up, and I’ll have fun because I don’t expect to use this as a living’.
DrinkingOr we could talk about my drinking. Not to disparage my Filipino upbringing or anything, of which I am very proud mind you, but one thing I will say is that there is definitely a much more lax and blasé attitude prevalent when it comes to alcohol. Since I was a child I have always been surrounded by alcohol at almost every family event. As such it never really had this strange lure that most kids in the US feel that causes them to binge and get inevitably get sick and (unfortunately) sometimes stupid. Having said that, I still do enjoy a stiff drink every now and then. Emphasis on the now. While I never associated alcohol with freedom or partying, I did end up looking to alcohol for comfort and companionship during some tougher times in the past, especially after relationships would end. I think some of the most dangerous drinking is the one you do alone, and I certainly did a lot of that at times with no one to really keep tabs on me. Fortunately I never did anything reckless, as I was usually at home and knew better than to drive. It would just be a lot of desperation, badly timed texts, and regrettable contacts.

If you ever want a good reason to mind what you drink, you need not look further than the company you are with. Like I said, the most dangerous drinking you can do is alone, because there is no one to hold you accountable. I am the unofficial guardian of our group. I lead, organize, and coordinate. I cannot afford to be in a questionable state. I’ve seen the situations getting drunk can get you in. If not for me, I would then definitely stay away from them for the sake of my friends and family. People I care about. Who I feel it is my duty to protect and provide for. Maybe it’s a Kuya (big brother) thing. Hahah. I cannot fulfill my responsibility to them if I have no control over myself. I’ve also taken drinks to become a part of the dining experience. As much as a good dish is a work of art, so too is a beautiful, well-balanced, articulate cocktail. I learned the art of mixing drinks from the books of the masters and what I call ‘live study’ at some of the best bars in the country. Now I have a fully stocked bar at home with all the tools and gadgets and I can say I actually have enjoyed and appreciated drinks now more than ever. But no friend was ever made at the bottom of the bottle. And you certainly don’t keep many down there either.

XXX.jpgActually the vice I want to discuss, the one that does still have a pretty bad hold on me, and notably is also the most difficult to state (despite my oratory in the beginning) is to, well, pornography. Yes I am succumb to the same weak, baseless, immoral vices of all other young men. It started pretty typically as well. Discovering my father’s old Playboys boxed up under their bed. The dawn of the internet. Hoping that her grainy picture will load faster than my mother’s footsteps to the computer room. Then discovering that I could have actual preferences, and search specific things, and enjoy specific images or themes. Suddenly nothing was safe. Celebrities, shows, characters, no one was excused from my wild and perverted searches. I would like to say that this obsession died down after puberty. That I had become more than that by now. But to certain extents this interest, this hobby, this consumption, would remain a part of my, sometimes daily, life. In times of loneliness, pornography was a substitute. A life of intimacy by proxy, fueling fantasies and living in the dream world. Even in relationships, pornography would find its place. Pornography was always up, always ready, and never thought any request was too strange. I wish I could at least say that it was a necessary substitute, but the truth of the matter is I would often times be too self-conscious, too embarrassed, to unsure of myself to even communicate effectively what it was I was hoping for. It was so much easier to click than to talk. At its worst, I would be regularly watching pornography twice or even three times a day. And if I viewed it too often, I’d even lose sensitivity and awareness in the moment. I’d have it on my phone, my laptop, and maybe a dirty novel every now and then as well. Now I know I’m not the worst case. I don’t need to go to rehab or declare my addiction to pornography. I am a functioning member of society, and I have not yet resigned myself to a life of living in the dark of my basement surrounded by lewd moans coming from a weak speaker.

Intimacy Killer.jpg

But it is worth noting because of how this particular vice affects relationships. See like I said, I was using it at times as a substitute when I was single and in a relationship. And that is such a shame and such a waste, especially when you do have someone who cares about you. See pornography can’t hold your hand. It doesn’t embrace you while you sleep. It has no place for you in its heart as you do. What is yours is not yours, it is the whole world’s. Pornography is the great intimacy killer. It prevents communication. What a waste of a resource though. Not letting it take over your world, it can actually be a great tool. I do admit to occasionally watching with a girlfriend and it getting us both in the mood. It’s a great way to introduce a certain interest or curiosity. But when it is used to hide from them instead? A waste. With the year still so far ahead of me and only a bit done, I know this will become something to consider. I will have to monitor this, remember not to become too comfortable or reliant, and remember that there is something so much better to work towards.

Remember that your vices are sometimes not just yours. They can affect your relationship with others as well.

Day 59

Man: 43 Loneliness: 16

Day 56: The Man and the Second Technique

I’m sitting in our cabin right now with the A/C blasting because it’s a lot hotter than I anticipated it would be in Pennsylvania. My friends and I arrived earlier this afternoon and just got back from doing some grocery shopping. Tonight it’s Al and Ei’s responsibility to cook dinner so I thought I could use this time to write today’s post. Since I’m on vacation with friends I probably won’t be able to do the prompt as well and posts will probably be much much later than I would like each day. Still I don’t want the habit to die and it’s important that I continue, as my fingers get fidgety if they don’t get their opportunity to type and the thoughts get congested in my head. Hahah.

I’m excited that the cabin has a huge field right outside because it allows me to practice the second half of my retreat weekend, the double broadsword! This is what I would like to discuss today.

Broadsword Fight.gifThe broadsword, or dao in Chinese, is one of the four main principle weapons of martial arts. Its versatility, lethality, ease of production, and ease of use made it one of the most popular weapons in Chinese martial arts for novices and experts and its wide appeal made it known as the ‘General of All Weapons’. The dao has some very unique design features. The first is the curved handle. The dao is held primarily with the thumb and pointer finger and the middle, ring, and pinky are used as ‘brakes’. Unlike the samurai sword which uses the shoulders to deliver slashing motions, the broadsword uses the wrist to generate speed and the fingers to brake for control. Contrary to what you might believe, the broadsword is more like the samurai sword, which slices and slashes, then the machete, which hacks. The broadsword also features a very dynamic blade with a slight curve and varying thicknesses. The straighter, thicker base is used to block and counter parry attacks. The blade thins and curves at the end for a sharper and longer cutting edge. The shape of the blade is often referred to as a ‘willow leaf’.

Plastic Sword.jpg

Plastic swords meant for sparring practice.

In form the dao is often used in circular motions to block, clear, and strike all in one motion. The flat side of the blade is used to parry and block and the attacks are primarily slashes or thrusts. Its versatility and applicability is also why martial arts schools today still love to teach dao forms. Even though we live in a world where spears, swords, and staffs are not readily available, the broadsword form can be applied to bats, canes, and any stick of similar length.

The form I learned was actually double broadsword. The especially fun and unique aspect of this was we used what are known as shuangdao, which is a sabre in each hand. The broadswords I use are actually half-handled, because their original intent was to wield it as one sword and, when necessary, to be able to separate them and surprise the enemy with a second attack.

But this is not what I wanted to discuss. Not everyone will have the opportunity to pursue a training in ancient Chinese martial arts weapons. But everyone will have experience in relationships, and the connection, though faint, does exist.

See many amateur martial artists love the idea of weapons training because they think they can pursue it in lieu of regular training. They don’t work on themselves as much and instead their unarmed, what we call ‘empty hand’ is weak and they rely solely on weapons training. But what should be immediately apparent is that not everyone will always have a weapon at hand. And so the person who relies on that as a supplement is at a disadvantage.

Steel Sword

Steel swords for demonstration and weight training.

This understanding can then be applied to relationships. For example, I was very keen to supplement what personal shortcomings I may have possessed with the strengths of the person I was dating. I did not work on improving myself or fulfilling certain aspects of my personality that were lacking because I relied solely on the supplemental characteristics of another person. But here I am now, single and with no intention otherwise, and I must now realize that the responsibility of betterment relies solely on myself.

See weapons training is not meant to be a supplement. It is meant to be a way of strengthening that which already exists. Much like we should not look to relationships to improve that which we are lacking. There’s something to be said of complimentary relationships, of course. How the right person can balance who we are and bring completeness in that sense. But we should never content ourselves to rely permanently on others to finish what we are incomplete in. A weapon is only as good as the empty hand technique from which it is based. A relationship is only as strong as the individuals who make it.

I used to view relationships as a natural extension of my self. I would purposefully force the mantle of my shortcomings on the woman I was with. But now I am tasked with improving that which I know is a weakness, and pursuing as far as I can improvement and betterment. Sure I may not finish the journey, as no one is perfect. But I can say I have not relied on anyone else first before finding out what I am capable of.

Day 56

Man: 40 Loneliness: 16

Day 55 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Witness’

Eye.jpg

We have always been a society of observers. We take in information most frequently, efficiently, and primarily through sight.

We witnessed fire. The wheel. We witnessed the migration patterns of animals and the cultivation of agriculture.

When civilization rose we witnessed the advancements of science, mathematics, government, and art.

As our borders grew we witnessed great battles and advanced weaponry and tactics and the making of legends.

When we were comfortable we witnessed entertainment. We were there to watch the great tragedies and comedies. We witnessed mortality in the Coliseum. Drama at the Globe.

We have always been a society of observers. But somewhere along the line there was a shift, and we went from observers to capturers.

As we reached the pinnacle of observation technology we began to focus on the ability to capture what it was we were observing. We have telescopes powerful enough to observe the farthest reach of our galaxy and microscopes powerful enough to view in between the minute infinity in the space between atoms. But we wanted to capture these images, for posterity or study or vanity, so we worked also on the ability to freeze sight.

But now I feel people have forgotten how to observe and cherish. There was a time when beauty before our eyes was enough to bring us to our knees. It was a very intimate moment between object and observer. And we never really felt that we lacked the ability to portray it afterwards. We have our words, our stories, our drawings and pictures. We have always had the ability to share. Never once did I ever feel that I lacked the ability to observe and relay the great things I have seen.

StadiumBut now people have forgotten how to appreciate the things in front of them. I cannot see the stage past the bright LED sea of cell phones. I cannot enjoy a meal without fussing over the placement of plating and the composition of light. Those I speak to have lost the words to portray what they’ve seen. Their minds have forgotten beauty because their devices have captured it for the lazy.

Being able to observe, being the one to see, was once a private and reserved pleasure and privilege. You felt empowered and special. It carried the responsibility of commitment and dedication to share with others. Now we are all consumers, capturers, but we do not know how to appreciate what it was or how to share it. We just post and share and tag and like but forget the subject.

Even more dangerous, in times when observation is not enough and participation must be warranted, we are now so occupied with the former that we often miss every call for the latter. How many videos are there of people being hurt versus stories of those who stepped in. How many more videos are there for people to consume of game and sport versus how many actual players.

I cannot believe sometimes how many viewers someone online playing a game can get Food Photowhen I cannot get enough people to fill a board game. I cannot believe how little people can tell me about the pictures and videos they have captured. Yes, the food looks incredible. But what did it smell like. Taste like. Feel like on the tongue. Did the dish shine and shimmer as you cut into it. Did you see the freshness in the fish, the richness of the meat. Did it crackle and crunch and slide and bounce when you cut into it. Did the flavors dance on your tongue with bright vibrant spices and seasonings. You were there! I was not. This is how our society grows. This is how we have conquered the world. Share with me. I don’t want your grainy video. I don’t want your shaky cam. I don’t want you to be satisfied with simply capturing.

I don’t want to witness the great and vast and beautiful infinite world through a five inch screen.

Day 55: The Man and the Most Painful Relaxation p.3; The Stomach and Spleen

In the last part of my Yin Yoga series we will discuss the importance and significance of the Stomach and Spleen meridian lines as well as how to get the most out of effective, mindful, and consistent Yin Yoga exercise.

If you’ve had any chance to try any of the poses, you’ll notice that the majority of the strain and development doesn’t come from the pose itself but from the prolonged practice of holding them. Remember that this is a form of deep stretching and meditation meant to gradually lengthen and open the joints and increase flexibility. Unlike other forms of yoga that rely on extreme poses in shorter bursts of time, this is a much slower practice. The difference is while the extreme poses stress and develop the muscles, Yin Yoga’s slower practice focuses on the tendons, ligaments, and the fascia.

Improvement in these areas requires more consistent practice, and to really see a tremendous amount of change requires a consistent practice over a period of time. As little as 30 days and as much as 100 days can make a world of difference. What I am currently doing, and what I would recommend, is to begin with a commitment of 30 days consecutively. Each sequence is only about ten or so poses, and even at the max of 5 minutes (though benefits can be seen with as little as one) you are still only looking at about an hour’s worth of meditative practice or as little as ten minutes.

One of the poses that has consistently killed me has been saddle. Surprisingly it wasn’t my back that felt the pressure but the stretching in my feet. When I started I could barely sit on my feet and even begin to lean back. At this point I am further back and supporting myself on my hands with straight arms. I am hoping to eventually move to my elbows, and then a full saddle. The importance is to remain consistent, keep practicing, and to never pass judgement on progress.

After the 30 days has passed you will see a vast improvement in flexibility and health. After that, the 100 days challenge does not necessarily need to be consecutive. Set a reasonable goal such as 100 days of practice within 120 or 150 days. Again the most important thing is consistency, mindfulness, and no judgement. Allow yourself to have days when you are not able to practice. And choose based on what your body tells you you need. Remember that certain poses are good for certain organs and meridians. Pick and choose based on energy, emotions, and what you feel you need. The stomach and spleen poses we are about to discuss are consistently on my routine because I have always had a weak stomach since I was a child and the spleen is important for my work and keeping energy levels up.

The stomach (yang) and spleen (yin) meridians are associated with late Summer. The stomach of course receives, stores, and partially digests food particles which it then passes to the small intestines and spleen. On a more metaphysical level the stomach represents how well one can assimilate joy and contentment. It absorbs our thoughts and mental attitudes about life and the Earth and helps to determine where we stand. How well we as a person nurture, nourish, and feel secure about ourselves and our lives dictates how well the stomach can balance and support the flow of chi. When we are balanced we feel centered, grounded, and fulfilled. Imbalances in the stomach meridian can result in lethargy, weakness, and digestive problems.

The spleen, including the pancreas, is about storing blood, forming antibodies, and fighting off harmful bacteria. It is concerned with the absorption, transformation, and transportation of food, water, and energy (chi). When we are deficient in spleen chi we feel sluggish and fatigued both physically and mentally. the spleen is also said to house the thought processes, and if we think too much the spleen may suffer. Over-thinking (like worrying) leads to spleen chi deficiency.

The Poses

Dragon PoseDragon Pose: Similar to the Swan Pose except the front leg is not twisted and resting on the floor but out in front, foot flat on the ground and the knee either in line with the ankle or a bit forward. Back leg is straight and resting on the thigh.

 

 

Saddle PoseSaddle Pose: This pose stretches the feet, ankles, thighs, and arches the lumbar. Start by sitting on the top part of your foot and feel the stretch. If it’s okay, sit fully back and feel the stretch in your thighs. If still comfortable, go ahead and lean fully back and either support yourself on your hands or go fully back to your elbows.

Dragonfly PoseDragonfly Pose: From the top resembles a dragonfly with its long body and two sets of wings represented by the arms and legs. From a seated position spread your legs out to your sides and fall forward. Spread your arms out as much as you can and try to lean forward and lie flat. If needed, prop either your hips up to help the legs or your elbows up to help your arms.

Corpse PoseCorpse Pose: Lie flat on your back, with legs slightly apart, arms at your side, with palms up and fingers spread. Use this time to relax, focus on breath, and take a mental inventory of your body and mind. Reflect on any sensations that came up during yoga. What body parts responded well, what rebelled. What emotions are you stirring up in this long and mindful practice. Make no judgements. Allow everything to be.

That’s it! All the meridian lines discussed in Yin Yoga and a bit of insight in the mental and physical states while practicing. I hope this was informative and interesting and whether you have had prior yoga experience or not, this is a wonderful style of yoga exercise and meditation that is a bit easier on the body but with far reaching benefits.

Day 55

Man: 39 Loneliness: 16

Day 54 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Obvious’

Obvious: You can’t lick your own elbow.

Not obvious: Why the first person tried and then asked someone else to.

Obvious: The sky is blue.

Not obvious: The color of the underwear of the person next to you.

ObviousRight and wrong.

Not obvious: The right thing to do.

Obvious: The sun will rise.

Not obviousThe world that it will rise on.

Obvious: Hunger.

Not obvious: What to eat tonight.

Obvious: Fire is hot.

Not obvious: The woman sitting at the other side of the room is too. For you.

Obvious: All things must end.

Not obvious: How do things begin.

Obvious: You’re leaving me.

Not obvious: Your heart.

Obvious: My back.

Not obvious: Your knife.

ObviousI will be stronger.

Not obvious: When.

Captain Obvious.jpg

Day 54: The Man and the Most Painful Relaxation P.2; The Liver and Gallbladder

Today in part two we will discuss the liver (yin) and the gallbladder (yang) meridian lines. The liver and gall bladder correspond to the wood element in Chinese medicine and it is said that people with a strong wood element have clear vision when setting goals, an ability to plan and execute decisions, and a clarity and decisiveness when arguing. I also want to discuss a bit more on the mental aspect of Yin Yoga to balance out the physical. Once you are comfortable with achieving the poses and can rest comfortably for some time in them it is time to extend the practice beyond just what your body is doing and feeling and begin to take mental inventory of the thoughts and emotions that arise.

What should I be thinking about while practicing Yin Yoga?

Nothing. Which is the hardest thing to focus on, to be honest. There is a very significant difference between empty thoughts and and empty mind. In meditation, empty thoughts are the distractions. The sound of traffic passing by. Self-consciousness. Impatience. Groceries. The ambient noise in our minds that we have become much too accustomed to. An empty mind is one that is void of thought and 100% present. This is a very difficult concept for many to think about.

For example, if I said to you right now to close your eyes and think about nothing for even a minute, could you? Try this experiment and see how long it takes before the first errant thought enters your mind. It might even be the thought of ‘is this nothing?’ which, unfortunately, isn’t. Yin Yoga is often also considered an exercise in practicing and developing patience because it requires us to hold these poses and try and maintain empty minds much longer.

The difficulty is human nature wants to classify and define every experience. We cannot simply let things be, which is the goal of meditation. We want to quantify and judge, when the goal of meditation is to pass no judgements.

Aside from the regular thoughts that bombard our mind, there will be more specific to your experience with Yin Yoga. More than just thinking about work or relationships or dinner, you will find that Yin Yoga, because of its structure and the way it stimulates certain body parts and emotions, adds a whole other set of thoughts to wrestle yourself free from.

First there are the physical thoughts. You will be tempted if in a group to look around. You will think about others and their poses. Why are some in deeper poses than you. Do you look silly or foolish. Should the pose be like x or y. This pose hurts. How much time is left. How much time has passed. Etc.

Do not judge what others do or look like when practicing and meditating. It is not your concern. Some are naturally more open or closed and so the bodies reflect that. Pass no judgements. Take the time in the beginning of each pose to be mindful and purposeful in setting up your pose and make no judgement of what you are able to do. Understand that Yin Yoga is about deep relaxation and gradual opening. If it hurts, back off. But do not be lazy. Keep mindful of the 80% rule. 80% of your edge to promote growth and progress but remain comfortable.

Then there are the mental obstacles. Insecurity. Frustration. As you try to think of nothing, which is an entirely new experience for you, you will get frustrated as thoughts enter your mind. Then you are not only trying to free yourself from the original thought, you are now also trying to free yourself from the thought about the thought! This can become a vicious cycle that spins out of control and completely uproots your practice.

You must allow your thoughts to be like clouds on the breeze. When practicing your meditation think of your mind as a large empty field. As a thought enters, do not focus or linger on it. Do not judge yourself for thinking. Like a cloud, do not concern yourself with where it came from or where it goes. Let it touch you briefly and do not attach yourself to the thought. Let it blow by. Attach no value to your thoughts. Eventually the thought will leave, like a breeze crossing over a field.

The Liver

The liver is central to blood regulation and storage. Because it is the primary factory of the body, with its wide reaching functions, it is especially important to keep it balanced and working well. The liver is responsible for the distribution and regulation of chi. When the wood element is weak, people can feel indecisive and stuck. They may become more angry, arrogant, and/or short-tempered. Depression or long-term frustration can hinder the liver’s ability to distribute vital chi to the body, resulting in lethargy, exhaustion, and forgetfulness.

When the liver chi is stagnant, symptoms like paranoia, insomnia, nightmares, pale complexion, dizziness, and pale lips and nails may appear.

The Gallbladder

The gallbladder aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients and neutralizing of fats and acids. With gallbladder imbalance there is a tendency to be emotionally frustrated, resentful, and irritable. You may also have digestive problems and experience bloating or gas. A strong liver and gallbladder can prevent cramps, headaches, and migraines.

The liver and gallbladder are associated with spring, wind from the East, and the color green.

Frog PoseFrog Pose: Start in child’s pose and, while leaning forward, spread the legs apart while still sitting on your heels. Aids in digestion and opens up the hips, especially the abductors.

 

Sphinx PoseSphinx Pose: Unlike in other forms of yoga, in Yin Yoga the legs are completely relaxed in the Sphinx pose and there is a natural, comfortable arch in the back from being completely held up by the arms alone.

Swan PoseSwan Pose: Provides stretching for the quadriceps and hip flexors along with a moderate backbend for compression. You should have one knee against your chest with the foot between the hands and the other leg extended straight back with the bottom of the foot facing to the ceiling. Note that you are NOT resting your back leg on the knee but rather right above it on the thigh.

Shoelace PoseShoelace Pose: Also known as zipper. Great for opening the hips and decompressing the back if leaning forward is possible. Begin on all fours and then cross one leg in front of the other. Sit back in that position and try to keep the legs in their place. Knees should be directly on top of another and you should be flat on both sit bones, not leaning to one side. If necessary, use a prop to elevate the top leg and keep it parallel to ground.

Dragonfly PoseDragonfly Pose: From the top resembles a dragonfly with its long body and two sets of wings represented by the arms and legs. From a seated position spread your legs out to your sides and fall forward. Spread your arms out as much as you can and try to lean forward and lie flat. If needed, prop either your hips up to help the legs or your elbows up to help your arms.

Banana PoseBananasana Pose: Lying flat with your buttocks firmly planted on the ground, begin to slowly move your arms and legs to the right. Do not twist or roll or allow any sit bone to rise up unevenly. As you approach your first limit and surpass it, slowly continue to reach further up and out to the right. Switch sides.

 

 

Reclining TwistReclining Twist Pose: Start by lying on your back. Roll to your right side and keep your right leg straight in line with you. Take the left leg and raise your thigh perpendicular to your spine and place it over your right leg. Your left arm will extend straight to your left side, twisting the body. Do this on both sides. Modified version as shown where both legs are thighs perpendicular to spine.

Corpse PoseCorpse Pose: Lie flat on your back, with legs slightly apart, arms at your side, with palms up and fingers spread. Use this time to relax, focus on breath, and take a mental inventory of your body and mind. Reflect on any sensations that came up during yoga. What body parts responded well, what rebelled. What emotions are you stirring up in this long and mindful practice. Make no judgements. Allow everything to be.

Day 54

Man: 38 Loneliness: 16

 

Day 53 Supplemental: The Man and Daily Prompt; ‘ Miniature’

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One of the hardest parts of transitioning from being in a relationship to being single again is realizing how much bigger your world has become.

When you are single your world is only as big as you know it to be. It comprises of your experiences, emotions, lessons, people, places, etc. With nothing else to put into perspective you find that you fit within your world in a comfortable way. You are not a big fish or a small fish and your pond is neither big nor small. You are simply a fish in what you believe is the only pond and you fit. Your proportions are equal to everyone else and you are contented to simply swim from one border to the next with plenty enough to discover and explore.

But when you find someone and embark on a relationship, you have to realize that you are not only dating that person and learning more about them, but you are also dating and learning about their world. See she is not just another fish in your pond. She is a fish from a whole different pond, and now your waters flow directly together. In the blink of an eye, you are exposed to double the amount of space.

This is okay, however, because as a part of a pair you are now also double the entity, and therefore able to handle it all and remain in the same proportion. She brings with her her own set of realities, expectations, experiences, and stories. You contribute yours. Her interests can become yours and yours can become hers. You are suddenly exposed to brand new people, places, and things. Your pond has gotten wider and deeper and the two of you exhaust your little fins racing from one end to the other.

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Unfortunately not all relationships last forever, and sometimes two fish who seem to have swum together forever may find at one point that their streams will lead to different waters. The problem here is that, while she may be gone, the world she left behind isn’t. Your pond has permanently been touched by her presence. You will always now be aware of how much deeper and wider everything has become. Whereas before we may have been comfortable in our world and our size within it, we now find ourselves feeling much smaller in a world that feels much bigger.

I never knew about bouldering before I started dating Beautiful again. I never considered skydiving or hiking or any of the other many things she introduced me to. And I know I did the same for her, introducing my own interests and worlds. I find myself now realizing just how much more there is than what I knew. She may not be here anymore to be by my side as I learn and grow and experience but I don’t need her. We don’t need another to feel equal enough to the world we inhabit. Beyond simply just continuing to explore the things she introduced me to I find I am now more curious and inquisitive and exploring things neither she nor I had done before. Archery for one. More travel another. Even relationships have become new things for me as I deepen my relationships with my friends and family on a level I only once ever thought to reserve for someone I was dating.

Pond.gifSee there is only so much we as individuals can ever hope to explore and accomplish in one given life. The most inquisitive and explorative of us will find frustration at our limits and resent the infinity we cannot be a part of. The complacent and comfortable will become resigned to their borders and never develop their own incentive to grow beyond. The only way to really experience as much of the world as we can is to allow others to come and make their ponds part of ours. Whether or not they remain with us to explore it is an entirely different matter. Even heartbreak and loss needs to be experienced in our lives.

We can spend our time angry at those who left us. Allow ourselves to be consumed with anger and disappointment at those who have left us behind with this vast and violent rapid. We can dwell on those who built up false promises and hopes and threw us in unfamiliar waters.

Or we could recoil in insecurity and self-doubt. We could continue to feel small and insignificant in the face of the new world, the world of being alone where you once were not. Find a comfortable reef to hide away in as the world continues on without us because we feel incomplete or not large enough to take on the new challenges and stories that await our fish.

MiniatureOr we could grow bigger on our own. Consume. If our world has become larger than we must grow to meet it. Consume everything. Experiences. Stories. Knowledge. Love. If you ever played that computer game where you start off as a tiny fish and as you eat more and more you grow larger and larger until you can take over the entire pond you know exactly what I mean. Our worlds need to grow and we need to grow with it. People come and pour more water and we cannot just content ourselves to be small or hope to find someone else to make us bigger. We must do it ourselves. We must consume with energy and enthusiasm and the most powerful feeling of being entitled to grow.

You have to remember, have to realize, your pond can always get bigger. There will always be ways whether you choose to or not to have the borders of your world stretched and reshaped. You can always get bigger. You can consume and meet the same pace as your world. But even when the person who made your world bigger leaves and you feel less than equal to the world, you have to remember, you never actually shrunk. You have always been the size you are. You don’t get smaller. You get bigger. When you are left alone, you are not smaller than the person you were before. Your world is bigger, and at the very least, you are the same size fish you were before you met her. Which means you better get out there and consume everything you can. No one deserves to feel like a miniature of themselves in a life-size model of their world.

Day 53: The Man and the Most Painful Relaxation P.1; The Kidney and Bladder

As mentioned before one of the main focus of my weekend retreat was to learn a new form of relaxation and meditation known as Yin Yoga.

I’d like to share what I learned and the poses associated as I begin a 30 day reflective yoga practice. I hope you find you can take some benefit from this sharing of knowledge. Regardless of what your belief system is I think a healthy mind and body is important and whether you agree or believe the concept of energy, or chi, the poses are still a great way to increase flexibility, sensitivity, and longevity. We are all on a continual pursuit to better our minds and bodies and I hope you find this to be a new opportunity to walk together towards that goal.

So what is Yin Yoga?

Unlike other forms of yoga, yin yoga emphasizes four things. 1) Holding poses for a longer duration of time 2) A deeper form of relaxation with less stress on the muscles and more focus on flexibility 3) A more meditative nature with slow, purposeful movements to create inner peace and silence and 4) A purposeful objective to stimulate or inhibit certain emotions, mentalities, energies, and/or physical characteristics.

How does Yin Yoga aim to do these things? How does one practice Yin Yoga?

The poses, or asanas, in Yin Yoga are much more relaxed and the movements from each are much slower and more meditative. There is less strain on the muscles as we work on slowly increasing flexibility and reaching and then slowly surpassing mental and physical ‘gates’ or limitations. With less physical exertion you are able to hold the poses longer, which allows for more gradual and consistent growth and improvement and also, as your mind is not so preoccupied with strain and exercise per se, you are able to spend more time in a meditative and reflective state. So the key in Yin Yoga is to understand that you are not supposed to be at 100% of your exertion as you will easily and quickly burn out before the end. Stay at a comfortable but consistent 80% and pay attention to your body and mind. Feel your body gradually begin to open up to the pose and sink even deeper than if you had exerted yourself outright. Pay attention to the calm of the mind and make no judgements as thoughts enter and then leave. Let them go as you focus on silence and peace. Use any necessary props to adjust poses to be more comfortable and to be able to hold them for longer. Props are not signs of weakness or inability. They are tools to help you attain your goals and hopefully one day you will find you will need them less and less, if at all. Again, no judgements.

Another aspect of Yin Yoga is how it can target specific body parts for specific purposes, whether mental or physical. You can pick and choose based on your needs each day on what you will want to improve and as you are in your pose, focus on stimulating that particular body part to induce that specific effect.

Today we will discuss the Kidney (Yin) and Bladder (Yang) Meridians of the body.

The Kidney

The Kidney is considered the ‘Root of Life’ because it houses the force that we are given at birth, chi. In Chinese medicine the kidney system also includes the ‘external kidneys’ (testicles in men and ovaries in women). The ‘external kidneys’ are important for sexual vitality and reproductive health. Kidneys are the seat of power, courage, and willfulness. When the kidney chi is full, we are centered, fearless, rational, and clear headed. We are gentle and understanding, filled with compassion for ourselves and others. But when the kidney chi is lacking, there is fear (possibly explaining why when we are frightened there is a tendency to urinate), paranoia, anxiety, jealousy, suspicion, and a loose morality.

Physical symptoms of a weak kidney chi are dark circles under the eyes, imbalanced hormones, genital and sexual disorders such as poor libido, impotence, and weak limbs.

The Bladder

While the kidney is considered the ‘Root of Life’ as it houses all of our essential energy, the bladder is called the ‘Minister of the Resevoir’ as it serves as the gatekeeper, keeping essential energy from the kidney in and filtering out bad energy to leave the body in the form of waste. Stress and tension play a key part when bladder chi is weak. Signs of problems with the bladder are backaches, headaches, and pain in the lower limbs. This is negative chi being housed and unable to leave, so staying and festering within the body.

The Poses

These poses in Yin Yoga are meant specifically to stimulate the kidney and bladder. Hold each as comfortably as you can, starting with one minute each and gradually over time increasing to around five minutes each.

Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose: Unlike in other forms of yoga, in Yin Yoga the legs are completely relaxed in the Sphinx pose and there is a natural, comfortable arch in the back from being completely held up by the arms alone.

Saddle Pose.jpgSaddle Pose: This pose stretches the feet, ankles, thighs, and arches the lumbar. Start by sitting on the top part of your foot and feel the stretch. If it’s okay, sit fully back and feel the stretch in your thighs. If still comfortable, go ahead and lean fully back and either support yourself on your hands or go fully back to your elbows.

Butterfly Pose.jpgButterfly Pose: A nice, relaxing way to stretch the back. From seated position, bring the feet together and lean forward, careful not to bend the spine but to stray straight and bend from the waist, stretching the back forward. Hands at feet in the beginning but when possible walk them further out, with the goal of being flat on the floor with head between your legs.

 

Dragonfly Pose.jpgDragonfly Pose: From the top resembles a dragonfly with its long body and two sets of wings represented by the arms and legs. From a seated position spread your legs out to your sides and fall forward. Spread your arms out as much as you can and try to lean forward and lie flat. If needed, prop either your hips up to help the legs or your elbows up to help your arms.

Caterpillar Pose.jpgCaterpillar Pose: With both legs out in front of you, fold forward and now allow the back to round. Try to hold the legs to stretch forward or, if it is too much, use a prop to sit on and elevate your hips.

 

Reclining TwistReclining Twist Pose: Start by lying on your back. Roll to your right side and keep your right leg straight in line with you. Take the left leg and raise your thigh perpendicular to your spine and place it over your right leg. Your left arm will extend straight to your left side, twisting the body. Do this on both sides. Modified version as shown where both legs are thighs perpendicular to spine.

Corpse Pose.jpgCorpse Pose: Lie flat on your back, with legs slightly apart, arms at your side, with palms up and fingers spread. Use this time to relax, focus on breath, and take a mental inventory of your body and mind. Reflect on any sensations that came up during yoga. What body parts responded well, what rebelled. What emotions are you stirring up in this long and mindful practice. Make no judgements. Allow everything to be.

 

Well that’s it! Part 1 of sharing my Yin Yoga experiences with everyone. I hope you enjoyed the read and hope you can try it out. If you do I would love to know how you felt and if you noticed any changes or sensations.

Day 53

Man: 37 Loneliness: 16

Day 52 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Learning’

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I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but before I was a corporate trainer for travel agents, and before I was a travel agent, I was a high school English teacher. I graduated from university in 2012 and right after I was hired at the school where I did my student teaching. Which became a problem. Because before I was a high school teacher, and before I graduated from university, I was a high school student myself. And I was very, very good.

My high school has regularly ranked among the top in the nation in terms of academics from publications such as The Washington Post and Newsweek. I had to take a test, do an interview, and get letters of recommendation from my middle school teachers in order to attend. I enjoyed the rigor and the intense academic focus. I was always a very gifted student and regularly excelled in my classes. Because of this I don’t really have many memories in high school of having to study much, worrying about grades, or really struggling in class. I don’t say this to brag. I say it as a precursor to my experience as a teacher.

See I was hired at a school that regularly had academic and disciplinary issues. The school’s SAT and ACT scores, college acceptance rate, and graduation rate was one of the lowest in the county. I taught three classes of sophomores and two classes of juniors. Four of these were inclusive classrooms, which meant that with the assistance of a paraprofessional I had to teach, and modify lessons for, students with learning and behavioral problems. As a young teacher, fresh out of school and with a very unassuming demeanor, my students regularly and mistakenly tried to test their boundaries in class. I’ve had students threaten to fight me, some who straight got up and left in the middle of the day, and others who had…more inappropriate….intentions towards me. And during all of that I was still trying to explain to them the values and lessons of Shakespeare, Salinger, Hemingway, and Beckett.

Needless to say, the transition was rocky, if I could even say I ever did make the transition at all.

I left after my first year of teaching. I thought, given my academic background, I would be Far Sidea suitable candidate for a teacher. I still do love literature and writing. I have not lost my passion for teaching and sharing knowledge with others. I have simply had to find another venue to channel my desire to teach outside of the classroom. I was a pretty sub-par travel agent but in my current role I am very proud to say I have become quite accomplished within the company as I tour the country and train my peers.

What I learned from my experience is that being a good student does not necessarily make you a good teacher. In fact, I would venture to say it may actually be an obstacle for a good educator to overcome.

See I came from a personal background of pressure for academic excellence. It was expected of me by my family and culture so wanting to excel was ingrained into me. It was then paired with a natural inclination towards accelerated learning and a voracious appetite for knowledge. Being placed in a magnet school that attracted only the top students of each local high school in the region also did not give me any sort of realistic expectation and image of the regular high school experience and student body.

I could not relate to the students I had. Perhaps if I was miraculously immediately hired by my own high school I would have fit in perfectly and still been in education. But not all schools are like mine. In fact most aren’t. Most have schools with students who have to balance personal and academic life. Most schools have to contend with issues like lack of funding (my high school had its own electron microscope) and a student body that lacks an internal drive for academic success. Therefore these schools need teachers who know how to reach beyond the subject matter. Relate to students on a personal level. Identify with family problems, social pressure, cultural identity. I was an Asian-American teacher in a primarily African-American and Hispanic school. These schools need teachers who know not just the material but how to get the students interested, excited, and invested in it as well. I never had to worry about that as a student because I personally already loved the material and I never really saw how a teacher could do that effectively because my teachers took advantage of and were very comfortable with the situation and the fact that they were teaching the top students in the area.

I had very little prior experience that could apply to the situation my students were in. Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching. And despite it all there were those brief shining moments where I truly loved what I was doing and felt a genuine connection with my students. But these are the very broad universal truths we all share. When you do a Holocaust literature unit you know you can relate to feelings of loss, isolation, paranoia, fear, hate, anger, etc. When you do Frederick Douglas or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a primarily black school that’s just dialing it in but you know you’ll be able to elicit personal response and interest. Beyond that I could not do what some of my colleagues were doing, and in a school that desperately needed it, these were some of the best teachers I have ever met who possessed that skill. Ultimately I knew that to stay any longer in this school I may end up hating either the profession or the students, and it would be a disservice to both if that would happen. Being a teacher is not like many other professions. You cannot quit in the middle of the year. You cannot allow yourself to be comfortable with mediocrity. A bad chef makes a bad dish. A bad teacher can make a bad person.

Hobbit

I don’t think I’m saying, or would say, I was a bad teacher. I believe I still do have very important messages and lessons to share with others. I believe I have the ability and the skill to portray my teachings in relatable ways. I just don’t think I had that then, nor did I understand why it was so important. Even now I do not think I can relate to what students are going through anymore. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a student in this world. But I can understand what it is like to be alone, so I write about loneliness. I can relate to love and being loved and wanting to love another, so I write about relationships. I feel for the pressures of dealing with the public and the difficulty of managing expectations of clients and the company so I can teach in an accessibly way to travel agents. I can speak to what I know, and though I may not know much what I do know, I know deeply and personally and wholly.

People should never lose their propensity and their desire for learning and education. And though we may not be the best teachers in all aspects, I do also believe we all have some lessons we can share with the world.