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. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Lying Day

I'm working on a completely different story and can't get my head out of it to write a blog, so here's a story I wrote a few years ago:

The Lying Day

1) Today is a school holiday. A whole day for playing. Except you never can tell with my mother. Usually she asks me what I want to do, and we do it. But sometimes, she decides to do chores, which I hate.

2) "Chester," my mother calls. "Have you cleaned your room?"
"Yes," I say. But, I'm lying. I really pushed everything under the bed. I don't want today to be a chores day.

3) "Knock. Knock." My mother knocks at the door. "May I come in?"
"Yes," I say. I just know she'll say something nice about my neat-looking room.
She opens the door. "How neat your room looks!" she says. I smile, but I don't feel proud.

4) Then she walks over to my bed, lifts up the bedspread, and looks underneath.
I get a tight feeling in my stomach. I just know she's going to yell at me. And I hate it when she does that.

5) But she doesn't yell. She puts the cover down again, looks at me, and says calmly, "Your room isn't neat at all. Your toys are all under your bed. How did that happen?"
"Aliens put them there," I say. I know this is another lie, but I hope she'll believe it and feel sorry for me. If she's feeling sorry for me, I never have a chores day.

6) My mother's expression doesn't change. She doesn't look sorry for me. But she doesn't look angry, either, like she does when I've been bad.
"Oh," she says, still calmly. "The aliens put them there."
"Yes," I say, hoping that repeating my lie will convince her it's true.

7) "In that case," says my mother, "I think I'll take you to Cinderella this afternoon, instead of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
"But I want to see Indiana Jones!" I yell.
"You couldn't possibly want to see Indiana Jones," says my mother. "You tell lies."
"I'm not lying," I shout. "I want to see Indiana Jones."

8) But my mother acts as if she didn't hear me.
We get in the car, and we drive right by the movie theater with Indiana Jones. And she takes me to Cinderella. I have to sit through all that gushy stuff with the singing mice, which I hate.

9) Afterwards, my mother takes me to the ice cream parlor, like she always does after a movie.
"I want pecan fudge!" I say.
"Then I'll order strawberry for you," says my mother.
"But I want pecan fudge!" I yell. 
"You couldn't possibly want pecan fudge," says my mother. "You tell lies."

10) I eat the strawberry ice cream, but I don't like it. Strawberry ice cream is boring. It doesn't crunch like pecan fudge.

11) I look at the clock. It isn't even 4 in the afternoon yet. I don't want my mother to get any more weird ideas for how to ruin my day, so I say, "I want to go to the park." There isn't anything I don't like to do at the park. If I say I want to swing and she takes me to the slide, I'll still have fun.

12) My mother says, "I'm taking you to the department store, where you can try on new shirts."
"I want to go to the park!" I yell. "I don't like to try on shirts."
"You couldn't possibly want to go to the park," says my mother. "You tell lies."

13) We drive right past the park on the way to the department store.
"Let's stop and swing on the swings!" I yell. Usually my mother likes to swing on the swings.
My mother acts as if she doesn't hear me.

14) I think about telling her I want to go to the barber shop, which I hate even worse than trying on shirts. But she might take me to the barber shop. And then I'd have to get my hair cut. Today is even worse than a chores day.

15) When we get to the department store, my mother makes me try on white shirts. That's the color I hate the worst.
"I want a red shirt," I say.
"You couldn't possibly want a red shirt," says my mother. "You tell lies."

16) I am getting angrier and angrier. This is no way to spend a school holiday. There has to be a way to get her to listen to me and do what I want.
"When can we go home?" I ask.
"Do you want to go home?" asks my mother.

17) I am so angry I can barely talk. I say, "If I say 'Yes, I want to go home,' you'll say I couldn't possibly want to go home.
You'll say I tell lies. But if I say 'No, I don't want to go home,' then I'm lying. How can I tell you what I really want?"

18) "You'll have to tell the truth," says my mother.
"How will you know it's the truth?" I ask.
"Let's practice," says my mother.
"Okay," I say.
"Is your room clean?" asks my mother.
"No," I say. "I put everything under the bed."

19) "Why did you do that?" asks my mother.
"Because I didn't want today to be a chores day," I say.
"That sounds like the truth," says my mother. "Now, do you want to go home?"
"Yes," I say. "I want to go home."

20) When we get home, my mother asks, "What do you want to do tomorrow?"
I say, "I want to see Indiana Jones and I want pecan fudge ice cream, and I want to go to the park."
My mother says, "Now I know you're not lying. If you clean your room, we'll do that."

21) "What if the aliens come and put everything under my bed?" I ask.
"If they do, I'll believe you," says my mother. "I know you won't tell lies again."