Thursday, April 01, 2010

Let's Face It, I Fail at Blogging

Oh well, have fun reading the archives. I've no idea what I'll decide to do in the future, but for now, this blog is dead.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Finally went back to iaido, finally meditating, finally exercising

I finally got back to iaido practice. This makes my second practice since things fell apart, but I feel confident that I'm going to make it to practice again next week. More good news: My sensei said I looked good, almost like I hadn't been away.

A month or two ago I decided to restart hung gar practice again on my own. I'm not starting a school or anything like that (it'd be dishonorable to do so without my sifu's permission). Rather, I'm going through all my old notes and increasingly fuzzy memories, trying to reconstruct my old school's forms and other training. It's been surprisingly interesting to go through everything. Interesting and very physically demanding. I can't believe how rugged I used to be. No good news regarding weight loss though (in fact I'm up to 255 lbs!) but my body's starting to remember how to move again.

I've also started meditating again. Not much, just five minutes a day, and unfortunately I forget often enough. However it makes a difference. Just five minutes in the morning colors how I go about the apartment getting ready for work, and then that changes the way I drive, which in turn alters my mindset at the office, and so on. What a difference a few minutes of breathing can make.

Of course, my cynical side believes that this is just an upswing in the cycle of life, and that it's unlikely that I'll be able to maintain this positive trend forever. That is, there must be a corresponding period of unproductive behavior, probably no matter what I do to avoid it. This blog, for instance, has many examples of trying again and again to maintain my exercise and mental development, and failing again and again.

This time it's going to be different, because I've had a realization: If I focus on success, I fail. If I focus on failing, I fail. If I don't focus, I fail. The only thing that really works for me, so far, is focusing on my state of mind.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Still Soft, Like Clay

I feel I'm still mush, often enough. My mind is soft and yielding, like pudding. I don't have much will to resist unproductive desires, for example eating. While I was really ill I lost ten or twenty pounds, but since then I've gained it all back and then more besides. Recently most of my diet has consisted of fast food, and a lot of it. In fact, I haven't been this heavy since I started iaido nine years ago. Essentially, weight and fitness-wise, I'm pretty much all the way back to the beginning, the bad old days you might say.

Speaking of iaido, that's the other problem -- I haven't touched my sword in at least six weeks. This means nationals are out of the question, as is making yondan on schedule. This will put me a year behind my peers, depending on how you look at it (some people prefer strict seniority over rank when discerning these matters), but either way, it's a serious loss.

I don't meditate either. Not on my own, and neither do I go to sangha. In a way I'm like the overweight lazy monks in one of the founding legends of shaolin kung fu: My body can't handle the sitting, so my mind does not sharpen, so I have no will to lose weight and gain fitness. It's a vicious circle. I guess I'm waiting for my Boddhidharma to come and teach me yoga.

I've had a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning. In a way this is the seed of all my problems -- I get out of work so late that I can't make it to meditation and can't make it to iaido practice either, on their respective evenings.

You ever hear that phrase, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? It's a partial truth; the hard part is left out: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, because often becoming stronger is the only way to recover in the first place.

Maybe there is progress that isn't easily seen, even by myself. That's often the way of it in nature -- seeds germinate out of sight after all.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Starting Out Small . . . Again

Buddhism, I guess taking a cue from Hinduism, speaks about repeating cycles. The classic example is reincarnation. I don't feel I literally have died and been reborn, but on the other hand, I've found that I've had to start over in several ways over the past two months since my manic/psychotic episode.

One of them has been iaido practice. I lost eight weeks of training, which is a huge problem since I'm warming up for a test in June. It's actually been the longest dry spell since I started practice back in 2000.

I've also had to restart my Buddhist practice. The truth is, for awhile I was afraid of my practice for a couple of reasons, and I'm only recently recovering from that fear. This morning was the first time I'd meditated since my episode. It wasn't much - just counting breaths while walking from my car to the office.

I feel a part of me crashed, hard, and became wreckage. That hurt, a lot. Then the wreckage had to be melted down into raw materials again, and this was painful too. But now parts of me are liquid again, and can be remade into anything I choose.

So I hope, anyway.

Friday, March 20, 2009

. . . And Then, For Awhile, I Went Mad

No, really. I can't remember a period of my life that was more emotionally harrowing. I experienced suffering of an intensity that I didn't know existed, and it went on for over a month.

See, my family has a history of mental illness. Part of the reason I got into martial arts and Buddhism was to help me develop myself, so I could fight these problems. For awhile, my counsellor thought I had depression, so she prescribed an antidepressant. Turns out I'm actually bipolar -- manic periods and depressed periods. This meant that the antidepressant would be useless and actually counterproductive -- dangerously so -- during a manic episode.

Unfortunately, this is what happened to me a few days after my retreat ended. I'd never really had a manic episode before, so I mistook it for the possibility of Buddhist enlightenment. I started to act erratic, and it developed into actual psychosis after several days -- me believing I could control everything around me, for instance. I guess on some level I knew something was wrong, because I started screaming "Hospital!" and couldn't stop. Luckily I was with my girlfriend at the time. She tried to take me to the hospital, but then I ended up going for a ride in the ambulance. I'm pretty sure I actually walked into the emergency room.

I spent two days in the psych ward, with a bunch of people I didn't know. I think I scared a lady half to death by screaming at her. The memories are naturally pretty vague. For awhile there I was doubting everything -- whether I existed, whether I was who I thought I was, or even if I was alive or dead, or maybe I was in Hell. Definitely though there were gaps in time. I was really, really terrified that I'd hurt someone and couldn't remember it.

Yet, believe it or not, this was the beginning of my suffering. After the manic episode wore off and the Zoloft was flushed down the toilet, my nervous system had no antidepressant active at all for the first time in over two years, and it also had two days of completely crazy stuff to mull over. I have no description at all for my feelings during this period, except that it hurt more than anything I've ever felt before, and it went on for three or four weeks.

I was a complete mess during this period. I tried to go back to work a couple of times when I really probably should not have. Other times I'd spend a couple of days doing nothing but sleeping.

I was being treated though. Over time a balance of medications brought me back, and these days I feel pretty much normal.

So far, anyway. It's been a long, strange trip.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Oh Yeah, One More Thing

I guess the final-final word on my experience with this experimental retreat is that I'm definitely going to find the time to do it again.

Daily Journal From my Retreat

The last thing I'm going to post about my retreat is a record of the journal I kept:

Monday. Failed to do morning routine due to oversleeping; did bring lunch though. Evening routine went well, though short of time. I got to bed very late.

Tuesday. Woke up at 6am for zazen but after, fell alseep. : ( Ended up doing nothing but zazen & got to work @ 9:30 am. Going to skip sangha practice* in favor of more at home. Evening - 9:55 pm, barely had time to finish routine, despite getting home at 6 pm.

Wednesday. failure to wake up on time; got to work late, then home late, lateness everywhere. Took a night off from meditation and iaido to clean kitchen; wasited a bunch of time on the internet.

Thursday. went to iai @ gym (note after the fact - Focus on Fitness, my gym, lets me practice solo in the aerobics room); finished cleaning kitchen. did a lot of reflection & journaling of retreat activity. Finished night with 15 minutes of meditation lying in bed.

Friday. giving up on no-restaurant pledge; attachment is attachment even if seen as virtue.

Observations from my Retreat

To continue from previously ("I'm so full of energy that I don't know what to do with it all."), the effect seems to have worn off, or at least ebbed enough that I feel rather well-balanced again. Lots has been going on in the past couple of days so naturally I can't clearly point to any particular causation anyway.

Anyway, more observations:

Two: I cling and crave much more than I realize, to my pattern of life, to what food I habitually eat, and so on. It's not simply mere wanting or desiring; it's rather the feeling that "things are not okay" unless I achieve the object of my clinging or craving.

Three: My awareness or knowledge of myself and human nature is not yet adequate, at least not in a working sense. That is, I seem to know enough about "the way I am" and "the way people are," but I seem to have difficulty acting on this knowledge in a habitual way. That is, many of my personal habits and near-unconscious responses to stimulus are based on other assumptions about human nature than I currently have.

Four: There is, in me, more vanity, particularly regarding the opinions of me that other people have, than I usually believe. Certainly more than I'm comfortable believing.

Five: My schedule was too ambitious. A lot of time was wasted realizing this. If I'd been more self-aware at the outset, such a realization would have occurred sooner, and thus some difficulty and frustration would have been avoided. I don't sit in judgement over myself over this; rather it's more evidence regarding the usefulness of mindfulness.

Six: I failed to understand how much work and energy I'd really need to prepare my own food and clean up afterwards.

Seven: Skill makes any task easier; conversely, lack of it makes any task more taxing, frustrating, and time-consuming. Even sweeping the floor has methods and useful techniques; it is possible therefore to be very bad at sweeping the floor.

Eight: (Follows perhaps from Seven above.) It is necessary to practice at just about everything. This, I think, is why it's so hard to, for instance, clean the bathroom after ignoring it for a month or two. Roughly, I forgot how to do it. This is probably a big reason I let it go for so long. Too many negative feelings were tangled up with the act of keeping my bathroom clean, because I unconsciously associated it with the frustration of being unskilled at accomplishing the task, and the additional frustration of not understanding this consciously.

Nine: Clinging and craving are counterproductive sources of disruption, imbalance, and emotional stress, even when the object of clinging and craving (that is, the thing to which one is clinging, or the thing for which one is craving) is seen as, or even really is, totally virtuous.

Ten: The effects on my body and mind from this retreat should, to benefit me the most, change my behavior forever.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rejoining the World

Well, not really; how can a human being leave the world? We're immersed in it, swimming in it like fish. Leaving it is rather like a fish leaving water -- tends to be an unpleasant and decidedly one-way trip. I guess what I mean is "rejoining my circles of friends, family, video games, and booze," but that doesn't make a very good title.


So, a series of useful or otherwise remarkable observations, some about Life, the Universe, and Everything, but some about my personal experiences during the retreat, will follow.

One: I'm so full of energy that I don't know what to do with it all. It's leaking out the seams of my character, making me twitchy and excitable. It can't be caffeine or anything like that, because I haven't had any in several hours (in fact a cup of herbal tea that contains chamomile sits between my forearms as I type this -- hopefully it'll help me calm down). I'm bouncing off the walls, it's crazy. I assume this is the result of all the exercise and manual labor I've done recently -- though I'm sure all my mental efforts have paid dividends too. More on this later.