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A good fight

July 25, 2010

So much pain; so much grief. It’s everywhere.

I’m still listening to this lecture on insulin resistance. It’s a long lecture and I have lots of notes to take. One of the things that I like about it is that he often relates the scientific studies that he quotes to hunter-gatherer societies. Now granted we can only really guess, or educated guess, what these societies were like, I still like it. Partly because it makes me nostalgic for a way of life I’ve never known, but mostly because it’s rational. If our species have been doing something for thousands of years, and it worked for us, then I am going to go with that, especially if it feels good too.

It got me thinking about stress. About stress and life and how, a few months ago when I was on a sailing trip, I was less stressed than I’d been in years. Quite possibly since I’d been out sailing last. Out at sea, completely cut off from civilisation. Phones don’t work. Computers don’t have interwebs to connect to (not that one guy on the trip didn’t try every five minutes to find a wi-fi signal… in the middle of the Pacific). You throw dinner together with what you have on hand (I insisted on cooking– I don’t trust these men with their man meals). And you hope that you don’t run out of tea before you get back. But all of these things are a combination of planning and chance; rootedness and openness.

Life slows down a bit. For long periods of time you gaze out at the horizon. Every now and then another vessel comes into sight and you get to play mariner and try to figure out the vector of its course. And then often times you realise that it’s a MASSIVE ship bringing freight boxes all the way from China and how unnaturally big it must be for you to be able to see it so clearly when it’s actually two miles away. It gets closer and is the size of a ten story building. Big things scare me. But that’s another story.

And the constant motion is so reassuring. It’s the safety in chaos. The one thing that never happens with silence or peace of static perfection because installed in it is always this seed of fear that it could and will break. But not the sea. The sea is always unpredictable. The waves keep you rolling, and the weather keeps you on your toes. So do engines, by the way, especially ones that break when you’re navigating your way into a tight cove to grab a mooring for the night. They keep you on your toes so that you have to make snap decisions (carry on and do it under sail) that could mean life or death, or at least hypothermia. And we slept. With the waves lapping the hull. With the sound of halyards tinking on masts. With the winds picking up, and the birds and the trees on the shore. In constant movement.

There comes a point, with this movement, where it gets a little overwhelming. I feel it in my liver, this fear, that it’s all just too much. It grabs on to something, anything, for dear life, and clings to it until I convince it to let go, which it does. But then the constant influx of movement is once again too much and it grabs and holds again. Release, grab, hold, relax, release. Classic liver qi stagnation. But then, along the way, there’s always a point at which I get bigger. I get bigger and I also get smaller, and all of a sudden I am a part of the change. And the smallness is both change and constant; it keeps pace like a metronome. Inhale, exhale. Lub-dub. But more than keep pace, it also watches. And then it’s all just a matter of action and breath. I don’t know any other way to describe it than that. Act and breathe. And everything else falls into place.

I wake up at 4am. The night is still dark. I crawl up onto the deck and breathe in the smells. Seaweed and salt and old boats and grasses on the shore of the island. I sit there and, since I’m alone, I start to talk to my dad. I tell him that I find it funny that I don’t want to be away from this. That for so many years I didn’t want to be like him, and was convinced that I wasn’t like him, but when he died that changed. When he died my anger went away and was replaced with a grief that was deep like the ocean, and all of a sudden I didn’t need to not be like him anymore. I want to live like this. I want to throw out almost everything that I own and have the things that I need to deal with be broken engines and halyards being set free by idiots who want wifi signals and places to hang their shorts to dry. Not standing in line at the DMV (which reminds me, I still need to do that) or dealing with parking tickets or school administrations or any of the stuff that is stressful in a baseline exhausting way.  And then I say that I understand why he wanted to spend so much time out here. And why he clung to it, as a small rebellion. And the black turns to grey, and the grey turns to yellow, and I pad below deck to make coffee for the crew.

Stress. City stress. Waiting in hours of traffic to get to somewhere 8 miles away. Waiting in lines to get pieces of paper to take to other places to get stamped and put in the mail to get little certificates that say you are allowed to own a car, or drive a car, or operate heavy machinery. I can’t help but grit my teeth at the imposed order. I can’t help but tense my shoulders in response to the inhumanity of it all. But then, when you look at how we treat other animals in different species, how can we be expected to treat each other with any shred of respect either? When a life can be snuffed out without so much as a thought of the amount of energy it took to create. Or the cycle of life that it is a part of. When we consume our way through lives and resources to feed this great big hunger hole, why on earth would we want to slow down and breathe in the smog and watch the pretty sunsets that result without at least quantifying it in some way (oh but it makes me feel better, to be able to label it and put it away again, out of harms reach): beautiful, pretty, nice, cool, awesome, rad. Shhh.

So much pain. So much pain that we run as fast as we can to get away from it all.

It’s not going anywhere.



July 23, 2010

The other day, instead of feeding in to my usual story “I can’t do it, it’s all so scary, I could have done that better, this hurts, this hurts, this hurts” I turned around inside my own little head and said “Oh shut UP”.

And when I was finished with the lightest and strongest practice of my life (busted knee or no busted knee), I walked outside the shala and a man walking past to go to his shop, who was carrying a vase full of lilies, stopped, put them down, and gave me half. He gave me flowers, for telling myself to shut the fuck up. I should get my brain to shut up more often…


_Please pardon our mess while we’re under construction.

July 18, 2010

That’s the problem with comparisons, you know. The problem with practicing in a room full of people too. With self-practice, I do the same thing every day. Every day my leg inches a little closer to the back of my neck. Every day my fingertips edge closer to my heels. My pick ups become lighter, my jump throughs start barely scraping, and I feel like I’m doing well. And then I walk into a room full of people who have been doing this for much longer, who are much bendier, and much stronger, and have brighter eyes and fancier outfits. And all of a sudden I cannot pick up enough. And my stupid hips won’t open enough. And somebody else can get themselves into garba pidasana, and I happen to glance over and see that his leg is in a different place to mine. So I grab my leg and move it, and my knee says CRACK POP because, well, my knee isn’t supposed to go where his knee went.

I’m reading a lot about insulin resistance lately. How our brains are so used to running on glucose that when we try and make the switch to running on ketones (which, according to the few studies I’ve read, is actually an even more natural state to us humans than glucose*), our brains hate it. There’s a good 3 weeks in which you feel depressed and exhausted because your brain cannot get used to the new fuel. Most weaklings, me included, at this point start eating copious amounts of cherries to give oneself a quick glucose fix. But if you can stick it out, through the sludge, then one morning you wake up and the world is a different place. This is what I’ve read. I’m still trudging through sludge. The cherry binges get in the way a bit.

A busted knee is a huge alarm clock that rings every time you try to be something you’re not. I feel like it’s not just my brain making a switch. That my psyche, that is so used to external stimuli as a marker for progress, will never actually be satisfied with my place in the world outside of a vacum. That it’s making a switch to being driven by internal stimuli, by a pleasure-metre, and an impeccability metre, and that right now I just shudder to a halt quite a lot while I try to decide which engine to run.

*The addition of grains to the human diet, and subsequently the addition of massive doses of carbohydrate to our diet (that is, the switch from a hunter-gatherer diet, living and brain-feeding on ketones to glucose) has been documented to have happened around the same time as the right-left brain switch. Ok, I lied. There’s no documentation at all. You’ll have to follow it back yourself, too. But think about it for a minute… what came before the sugar high and the caffeine tic?


July 12, 2010

When I was 12, I promised god that if Nick Hughes could fall in love with me, then I would stop picking my nose. He looked like Tin Tin, and I had a thing for Tin Tin.

Anyway he didn’t fall in love with me. Obviously god didn’t consider it to be enough of a sacrifice. It was only because god didn’t have a nose that he didn’t understand what a sacrifice I had made. So I started picking my nose again, and stopped praying (except on planes, of course).

This (god not having a nose) is, of course, contrary to what I learned at my friend Nadia’s house when I was 5. She had a card on her mantlepiece, with a picture of an old man on the front. I asked her who the old man was, and she told me it was god. He was Indian, and he had white hair and a white beard. I was confused.

It occurred to me that if god looked like a man, then he must be a powerful man, like my dad. Or even like the head of my school. Or even like the Prime Minister (if the Prime Minister hadn’t been a woman). I asked mum about it and she said that Christians think god looks like a man, but Jews think that there’s no way to say what god looks like. I asked her who was right, and she assured me that of course we were. For a long time after that, I evaluated people on whether they thought god had a face or not. And what that face looked like.

God the man. God the woman. God with wings and a lightning bolt. God with a blue face and a river flowing from his hair. God with a benevolent smile and a heart that sat on the outside of his white robes, beating in rhythm with the ebb and flow of the earth. God with the blood of sacrifice dripping from his teeth as he severs dreams and snuffs out lights.


June 21, 2010

Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw the Atlantic Ocean? Mum had taken Alex and me up north on holiday. We were staying in this little cottage in a tiny village called Craobh Haven, right on the West Coast. The cottage looked out over this little bay, and there was a wall that ran out alongside one edge. Every morning I’d wake up early and walk out on that wall, all the way to the end. From there, I could see all of the islands that lay between me and the Atlantic. The Atlantic was an OCEAN, not just a sea. The big-ness of it fascinated me, just as the big-ness of things fascinates me now, still. One day, while on this holiday, mum drove me out to a place where I could see the actual Atlantic ocean.

I must have stood there for an hour, just trying to absorb the big-ness of all of it.

Tonight, as I was driving up the coast, heading to the beach, the smell of the sea hits me, and I am reminded of that day, standing in the rain with my little cold fingers gripping that metal railing, water dripping off my nose. And then I remembered when I was three or so, sleeping on my dad’s boat off the south coast of England. He would wait till mum was asleep, then open the hatch above my bed, slip a life jacked over my head, and pull me out on the deck to lie and watch the stars with him. The smell of the sea. The tinking of halyards. The rocking of the ship in the waves, and the creaking of ropes tugging on anchors deep under the water.

I remember being asked once what I would be willing to risk to be fully, responsibly, excruciatingly alive. It occurs to me that in order to be so, one has to risk absolutely everything at every single tiny given moment.

I walk the length of the deserted beach.

Dust hangs around the moon like a question mark.

The cold wind whips my hair around my face.

Happy summer solstice. That’s enough expansion for a while.

SIgns that I may be losing it a little.

June 19, 2010

1. Legally Blonde made me cry. It was just so sweet at the end when she graduated and was the class speaker, and Emmett was going to propose, and… I’m not doing myself any favours here am I?

2. I have decided that I prefer Coldplay to Radiohead this month. I have cried twice listening to Amsterdam, once listening to that one about being Swallowed in the Sea, once with a really sweet Message, and have come quite close with Strawberry Swing, that one that was annoyingly played out on the radio, and Violet Hill.

3. I went for a long walk today, and ran into my favourite oak tree (Oh! Hey tri! What are you doing here?!). So I climbed it and lay back and all of a sudden I’m not just Rebecca but Rebecca and the tree. And I’m both in my body and in the tree’s body, which, as we all know, doesn’t actually just extend to the tips of its branches and leaves, but quite a few metres out. And then I’m not only in both bodies, but I’m breathing with the tree, pulsating in and out, rhythmically like a jelly fish, and connected to absolutely everything around it. I opened my eyese, and the light was hitting the leaves just so, and the smell of sage blossoms and woodland mustiness hit my nostrils, and I started to cry.

4. Lying like a broken and beaten noodle on my mat at the end of practice, (I’ve been going to AYLA for a few weeks) I could feel the people breathing around me, the focus of some, the lack of focus of others, the adjustments that Isa gives that are both strong and soft at the same time, the absolute effort followed by the absolute relaxation and I felt… nice. I didn’t cry. But I might have if Coldplay had been on at the same time.

5. Being squished in a forward fold the other day, I started to have a panic attack. And instead of running from it, I went into it, followed the fear, sat with it, stared it in the eye and realised it was just a sensation like any other. Just a sensation. What the hell have I been running from all this bloody time?

6. Behind my closed eyes I see images of plants in far away places that I’ve never seen before but am pretty sure exist.

7. There is hair growing on the palms of my hands. Just kidding.


June 3, 2010

I like yarzheit candles. They’re little candles that Jewish people light in memorial of the dead– usually on the day somebody died, though I light them on birthdays too. They burn for 24 hours. A 24 hour memorial.

There are plenty of things that I dislike about the Jewish religion, and plenty of things that I’ve had to reconcile myself with, or find my own personal meanings for in order to be able to sit around the dinner table and not cringe. But yarzheit, I appreciate.

I like the continuity of it– that a person is now missing from the planet, but is kept alive in memory, year after year, until you die. And when you die, somebody else will [hopefully] light a candle for you. In that way, I am lighting candles for generations upon generations of people, dating back in time to when oil lamps were used for this kind of thing. And I like that mourning is still acceptable every year because, let’s face it, we don’t ever ‘get over it’, we get used to it.

And I like the symbolism. I like that I get to talk to these ghosts a couple of times a year. Sometimes I wish that they’d come around more often, but then, I don’t want to be one of those people who spends her life with her head turned around, watching what came before her. No, I want to face the world as it is. But a couple of times a year, to pay my respect to everything that came before, I don’t think this is such a bad thing.