Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blue Cross, Blood and Sweat

Blue Cross wants Blood and Sweat.

Last August, Blue Cross sent me an email that I could have 15% off on my insurance for the year if I got a bunch of blood tests by the end of the month.  I hate being popped.  I hate discussing my results with a doctor who is out-of-date on the latest research and insists that high cholesterol is dangerous for women.  The latest research shows that high cholesterol is protective for women.  But, I got the tests. And I sent the latest articles to the doctor, who ignored them and told me to get more exercise.

I go to my gym at least 3 times a week.  Monday is elliptical.  Wednesday is tread mill. Friday is helix.  Plus any day is rowing, free weights, and mat exercise. I ride my bike all over town. And I do yoga at home, daily.  I’ve told the doc this, but he doesn’t listen.

Blue Cross has a deal that if I go to the gym 120 times in a year, they’ll pay me $150.  I thought I had plenty of time until the end of the year.  Then Blue Cross sent me a letter.  This year, I have to finish the 120 visits by December 12.  

I looked at the calendar.  I can make it.  If I don’t miss a day, I can do it by December 6.

I’m not going to do anything based on the blood tests.  I’m not sure why going to the gym every day for a few weeks matters to Blue Cross.

They’re crazy.  My blood and sweat don’t do them any good.  But, I’ll do what they want in order to save money.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Must Tigers Eat Only Vegetables?

I attended a Mindfulness Workshop at which the leaders read some of their favorite poems. Two lines have stuck with me:

For us to know peace, is it necessary that there be no war anywhere in the world?
For us to know peace, is it necessary that all tigers eat only vegetables?

I find the juxtaposition useful as well as charming.

It is easy to say that feeling responsible for the world is a good thing. 

It is less easy to give orders to tigers, and expect them to be obeyed.

The juxtaposition allows me to see the warmongers of the world as tigers.  This does not mean that war is okay.  It just means that I acknowledge war as part of this world, just like tigers.

I can vote and advocate for peace.

I can also admit that my life goes on just fine when I don’t read the newspaper and don’t inform myself about the wars.

The peace that really matters to me does not depend on wars or tigers, but on how I treat my fellow humans, be they warmongers or tigers, or other peace-lovers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I've Become Part of the Problem

I have been known to make mistakes on my taxes. The feds and the state send me corrections to my taxes, usually in their favor. They show me where I made my errors, much like a school teacher.

So, this year, I was pleased when the city of Philadelphia put up a self-calculating tax form. All I had to do was copy numbers from my schedule C – total income and total profit.  The form calculated the rest.  I paid the city what it said I owed.  I thought I was done.

Yesterday, I got a letter.  Underpayment $29. Plus late fee and penalty.  Pay $32.87 by November 11, or the bill will go up.

No explanation.  No copy of my tax forms with corrections.  Just a bill.

And since they calculated the tax in the first place, it seems to me that if there is an error, they made it.   Yes, I did double check their math and I did calculate the same tax. It is unlikely that they and I would make the same mistake, if there is one.  So, I doubt there was an error. I suspect that the city wants more money and they know if they send every small business in the city a bill for a small enough amount that we’ll all pay it and not try to fight them.

I feel dishonest paying that bill.  I’ve become part of the problem – I no longer fight for my ideals if they cost $32.87.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Taking a Mindfulness Class

 I’ve been stressing out lately, playing scary scenarios in my head, rehashing conversations that went badly, even my dog quickly bored of playing with me.

I decided to take the Mindfulness class offered at a nearby hospital.  Jon Kabat-Zinn has a good reputation, as a man who was trained as a Buddhist meditator who figured out how to teach meditation without the Buddhism.

I’ve meditated before, on a regular basis, but this program was reputed to offer something gentler.

I’ve heard the words: be kind to yourself, before.

But then there was always the strict set of instructions: how to sit, how to breathe, how to think about thinking. Yes, when I can get it all together, it does feel like a vacation from stress.  I was looking for a gentler way to get the same or better effect.

The program has this, and it has its own stresses. I’ve got a personality clash with the teacher. Plus, as a long time yoga student, I resent the mechanical yoga script that the teacher uses.  I think she got it from headquarters – this is a franchised program – which makes the poor yoga class even more wrong – it’s not just my teacher messing up, but teachers all over the world messing up. Yoga is so much more than getting into various postures. It is a way of being in the postures, feeling the body, the areas that tighten up and the areas that relax. 

I get it – Kabat-Zinn is a trained meditator – not a trained yoga teacher.  But I wish he’d hired a yoga teacher to write that script.  When I mentioned this to the teacher, she gave me “permission to do your own yoga routine.”  I wasn’t asking for permission.  I was pointing out that the class could be improved with a yoga script prepared by a real yoga teacher. I even found her two good routines on YouTube, and sent her the links.

Anyway, the course has ways to deal with being upset, disappointed, angry, frustrated, and all the other emotions.  I particularly liked the week in which we were asked to write down one unpleasant event each day, and then write how it felt in our bodies.  The goal is to be able to notice the physical sensations that come with emotions, and recognize what is happening – maybe in time to avoid yelling at somebody.

These feelings come and go – the program helps students get used to the changing terrain that is our bodymind.

I've been taught be-kind-to-others forever.  Don’t accuse other people of cheating or lying. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they are cheating and / or lying, they’ve got stresses, they are doing the best they can.  Be nice to them. 

But I’ve always been under strict instructions that I must never cheat or lie or do any number of “bad things.”. And it seemed to me that I was not allowed to be kind to myself.

I’m finding that if I take the time to approach an angry disagreement while keeping in mind that we're just two people getting upset -- then it’s not such a scary big deal.  We can deal with this, and get on with our lives.

This works way better for me than, I’m-supposed-to-be-kind and they’re supposed-to-be-scary.

I like the mindset of this program – explore what it is to be human, have likes and dislikes, fears and joys, and recognize that everybody else has these, too.  

There is no need to pay for a class at your local hospital. I wish I’d known that before I signed up. The class is available free online:

The only reasons to seek out a class is if you want other people to practice with, or if you want the pressure of homework assignments to make sure you do the work. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mindful Movements

So you’ve taken a yoga class... that doesn’t mean you know how to teach yoga.

I’m taking Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. In the first few weeks we were taught how to do a body scan and how to do breath-based meditation.  I’ve meditated for over 20 years.  These instructions were valid and valuable.

This week, a student-teacher lead our class in about 25 minutes of what she said was yoga. Her first instruction was “Get into Rest Pose.”

Yipes!  “Rest Pose!”

First of all she presumed that everybody in the room knew what she meant.  She never described the pose, or how to get into it. And second she thought that baby-talk was appropriate.  There is no such thing as “Rest Pose.”  If you want to be delicate, you could call it “Final Rest Pose.”  The real name is “Corpse Pose.”  Or if you want to be formal “Shivasana.”

The session got worse from there.  Her descriptions, when she bothered to give them, weren’t clear, so I had to keep sitting up to watch her.  She never described where to relax, where to focus the mind.  This is supposed to be “mindful movement.”  Yoga is indeed mindful movement.  All she had was a series of positions with minimal explanation. 

I get it that a beginning yoga student may perceive a class like that.  

This woman is studying to become a Mindfulness teacher.  She knows she must study in order to teach Mindfulness.   Why does she think she can teach yoga, without learning how?

I tried to talk about this with the main teacher.  She was, understandably, protective of her student.  She suggested I try the recordings available on the class website.  

I already do yoga every day.  I don’t feel the need for a recording.  But any program that would allow an unqualified teacher in a live situation needs to rethink yoga as part of their curriculum.

I went to youtube and found a video by Thich Nhat Hanh showing mindful movements that do not involve yoga:

And here’s a reminder sheet, for printing:

I get it that folks who want to teach Mindfulness may not also wish to become certified yoga teachers.   They should either hire certified yoga teachers for that portion of the class, or teach different movements.  Yoga has no monopoly on mindful movements. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Doing Battle with Comcast

My neighbor has Comcast for internet, TV and telephone.  I always advise my clients to have telephone separate from their internet, so that when one is down, they can use the other to get help. Most of my clients don’t listen to my advice. They just call me when things go wrong.

It was a dark and stormy night (I kid you not) when my neighbor with the Comcast Trifecta called from another neighbor’s.  He lives about 5 blocks from me.  His phone was out. I suggested he call Comcast.  But Comcast was having troubles with their hotline, so they weren’t taking calls.

I knew there was no way I could talk my neighbor through getting on webchat unless he was at his keyboard, so I went on webchat on his behalf from my home on my computer, with my login.

The Comcast rep said she couldn’t send someone to my neighbor’s house unless he got on the chat to ask in person and verified his identity. I couldn’t call him to tell him this. I wasn’t going to walk 5 blocks in the dark and rain to tell him. I asked if I could talk to a supervisor.  The rep insisted this was a Comcast rule for my neighbor’s security.  I tried telling her that my neighbor is an elderly gentleman who lives alone and it was far greater risk to his security that he spend the night without a phone than that somebody from the Comcast repair department knock on his door and ask if it’s okay to come in and fix the problem.

Finally, the Comcast rep agreed to send an email with a webchat link to my neighbor.

He couldn’t log in because he didn’t know his password.  And he couldn’t get a password because he couldn’t call while he was at his computer. And they weren't answering calls anyway.

I had a job the next morning, but that afternoon I went over.  His phone still didn’t work. He had called Comcast from the neighbor’s.  They said they were sending somebody.

Meanwhile, as long as I was there, he wanted me to disconnect his fax machine and his upstairs answering machine that he never uses.  After I had them out, and removed the daisy chain of cables and used a coat hanger to get the true phone line behind the desk so it could reach the wall jack, his phone started working.

My guess is that something in one of them was keeping his phone in a state of off-the-hook. It was now long past time when Comcast’s representative should have arrived.  They hadn’t sent anybody after all.  My client received a phone call asking how he liked Comcast’s service.  5 for very satisfied and 1 for dissatisfied.  He pressed 1.  The Comcast call hung up.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hanging Up Socks by the Toes

My houseguest and I were hanging up our laundry on the line. I hung up my socks by one side of the cuff.  She hung hers up by the toe.

I remembered that my mother used to hang her socks up by the toe.  It never made sense to me. The point of hanging up laundry is so it will dry.  The toe is the thickest part of the sock, and when you put a clothes pin over a bent toe, you are just bunching the thickest part of the sock together – that can only slow down the drying process.

So, I asked my houseguest – “Why do you hang your socks that way?”

She answered, “That’s how my mother taught me.”

We’re both teachers.  So, I suggested, “Look at it from first principles.” 

She continued to hang up her socks by the toe.  Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it is illogical.  But it the long run, who cares? Both our socks did dry in the sunshine.