Peanut Butter Shaming

For a number of reasons with which I don’t want to bore you just now, over the past several years we’ve made decisions to purchase only organic, free range, grass-fed meats and also reduce all processed white things that either are sugar or become sugar once processed by the gut.  Our choices evolved over time and reflected the fact that we could afford to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $100 per week on protein alone.  For three people.  Add organic produce, exotic seeds and grains, and all of the health-and-beauty, cleaning-and-storage, and animal-related products that seem to evaporate immediately after having been purchased…and we were regularly regurgitating money into the fledgling mouths of Giant Eagle corporate.

Yay.

For a number of other reasons with which I also don’t want to bore you, over the past several months we’ve needed to modify all of our grocery decisions given recent financial considerations.  So…it’s “5 meats for 20 dollars” for us, and similar decisions throughout the entire grocery store.

Yay.

This sets the stage for an experience that unexpectedly kicked me in the emotional twig and berries.

The setting:
Nut butters’ shelves, aisle one, New Kensington Giant Eagle

The actors:
Greg (A lethargic though determined shopper.  Kind and personable.  Not bothering anybody.  Not intentionally, at least.)

Lady (A well-dressed fifty-something, hair and make-up meticulous and severe – like a waning stage actress, Starbucks coffee in one hand.)

The scene:
Greg approaches the nut butters from stage left.  Lady is standing in front of said nut butters, scanning indecisively, shopping cart in front of her as Greg arrives head on.  Greg parks his cart unobtrusively near an end cap and again approaches the seemingly immovable lady with cart.

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Here I’d like to step out of that third person, dramatic convention to resume the role of narrator.

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I kneeled between the lady’s cart and the Jif section, looking up at her and immediately letting her know, “I’m just going to slip in here.  You’re fine.  No need to move at all…unless you need me to shift?”  I was met with silence.  She looked at the Jif container near which my hand was hovering.  She looked back at me.  Her visage unclear, though I sensed harsh judgment.  I was in a position of complete vulnerability, she of superiority.  “That’s bad,” is what pounced out of her mouth.  I continued to look at her, mouth agape now.  I’m sure the happy-guy mask on my face began to melt incrementally into something approaching perplexed and indignant.  I thought I understood her but at the same time it never struck me that I would be peanut-butter shamed by a middle-aged church-matron toting a grande pumpkin spice latte.  (Yes, I had enough time to process that fact.)  My brain finally jumped to action, but instead of chastising her, or ignoring her, or changing the topic, or walking away, or doing anything that would make sense…it decided to go the self-shame route, “I know, it’s just…,” and she interrupted me.  “All that palm oil is destroying the rain forests.”

She reminded me so much of the several patronizing, emotionally controlling women who plagued my childhood and early adulthood and tap-danced all over my tenuous sense of self, low-grade anxiety, and perfection-drive.  I was, as a Brit might say, gob smacked.  Speechless.  But the anger started to creep in.  This hooker was holding her ground, turning her head to take a sip of that shitty, overpriced, balogna-tasting latte, turning back to me.  Not budging her cart.  She was going to teach me a lesson.

Do I explain the reason for my decision?  Do I tell her that I would normally purchase the overpriced organic peanut butter?  Do I stand up and whisper, “Fuck…right…off, you old judgmental bitch,” maintaining a Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance batshit crazy smile?  Do I point out the fact that she’s a walking contradiction as she pseudo-cries on the inside for some generalized spoon-fed, regressive (…when did the regressives start to outnumber the progressives…) concept of “the rain forest” – leather boots with rubber bottoms made in some Chinese factory where suicide rates are close to those of returned war veterans, make-up that is only safe to put on her face…maybe…after the death and dismemberment of countless animals and massive environmental degradation along the way, sweatshop clothing made affordable by the carcinogen-exposed bodies of hundreds of Central American children, scads of plastic bags which will only serve to clog up the planet even further, and that goddamn shitty Starbucks coffee which is utterly unaffordable to every brown-skinned woman who picks the beans in South America or Africa so that Starsucks corporate can simply burn them unrecognizable and charge you a 5,000% mark-up while you live out your clueless, NPR, holier-than-thou, save-the-planet life unaware of the suffering you cause even by standing in this fucking Giant Eagle?!

No.

I just kneeled there, my internal hate mechanism telling me, “You know she’s right.”

And she walked away, leaving me with, “Well, if that’s the worst thing you do today I suppose you’re fine.”

I stood slowly, backing away from the Jif, looking at the peanut butters, stunned.  I looked up palm oil and deforestation.  A wretched curse and a glorious blessing are the internet and Google.  I was incapable of doing anything…but pouring anger into my psychic trough.  I wanted to throat punch her.  I wanted to explain myself.  And I knew that ultimately she was just a kind-of shitty person who felt the need to spew her beliefs into the world.  And I knew that I should just pick up the jar of Jif and get on with my life.  But I didn’t.  I stood there and contemplated my life, my decisions, and the state of the world.

And I bought a jar of peanut butter that was both organic and without palm oil.  But still Smuckers…because I know how much money is in my account.  So, it was the worse compromise decision possible.  And.  AND…knowing that this decision would do absolutely NOTHING for deforestation, for world hunger, for income disparity, for corporate greed, for clueless liberal propagandizing, or for my physical or emotional health.

I walked by that lady three more times as we made our way through the store.  She’d entirely forgotten about me and the interaction at the nut butter.

She’ll lose no sleep over it.  She’ll drink another pumpkin spice latte and absolutely love it.  She’ll turn her nose up at Jif and Proctor and Gamble and she’ll continue to take in NPR and whatever her pastor says.

And me?

Fortunately, I also will lose no sleep.  Though I will have spent the several hours it took me to release all of this onto screen, and whatever additional time is necessary for revision.

And I will continue to struggle with all that I’ve yet to resolve.

But resolution will come.

Albeit with cheap peanut butter.

-G

shame
(Click on photo for source. Shame on you!)

Fly’s Time

Here we introduce amarguinha…a sweet, pleasantly nectar-like, shockingly affordable (…about $15 per bottle…) Portuguese almond liqueur that has become a staple in D2D cocktail creations.  The Ginetto becomes the AmarGINha with a simple substitution for the amaretto, and the Bittersweet Portuguese Coffee Cocktail (BPC) is born.  (Please click over to the Cocktails, etc. page to find recipes for all of these.)

Here we discuss “grit,” passionate perseverance in the face of seemingly endless obstacles, discomfort, even failure…for the sake of a longer-term objective.

Here we discuss Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird, including:

  1. The Happy Birthday judgement. There is no longer a copyright on the song. Did you know there had been?  Did you know that’s why national restaurant chains started creating birthday songs?  Well, no more lawsuits, and no more shitty made-up birthday ditties.  Unless you like that sort of thing.  You’re not into that sort of thing, are you?
  2. Fetish parties and scrotal inflation. Yep, some dudes dig on having fluids and/or gasses pumped into their testicles. A niche for everyone.  Careful though, one of the complications of this behavior is Fournier gangrene.  I’m not linking it.  You look it up.  I get a little woozy just thinking about the image that assaulted my eyes a few minutes back.
  3. The goings on of an amateur serial tooth puller. I’m entirely unsure how this happens. Is this torture or fetish?  Or both?  Or something entirely different?!  I don’t want to venture too deep into hackneyed and potentially insensitive jokes related to the erotic potential of dentureless gums.
  4. A carnivorous clock powered by dead flies. THIS…this intrigued and excited Jen, as we’ve been plagued by flies for months. Imagine…robots turning biomass (e.g. dead things) into electricity.  How about that for science NON fiction!?

Our music today comes from Portugal (Just Girls with “Amarguinhas”) and Great Britain (Pink Floyd with “Time”).

Alright people, we present to you, “Fly’s Time.”

the-persistence-of-memory
(The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali.)

A Thought Experiment

I offer, here, a thought exercise in which I used to engage.

In which I ought to engage more frequently.

It was during a time through which my emotional center and sanity were shaken, and I found refuge in Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga and mantra, meditation, mindfulness, and a cruelty-free ethic.  Indeed, I was as exciting as cold-pressed juice described by an NPR radio voice over Beatles Muzak. (“Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away…”)  However, I was connected, focused, peaceful, and I really figured some shit out.  Through this process, existential crisis became confidence in purpose…listless depression shifted to mindful non-action…and a nearly bipolar emotional roller coaster found stability.

This particular exercise became one of my favorites because, as long as I approached it with determination and dispassion, I consistently arrived at the doorstep the mythical “aha” moment, that flash of Truth when our veil of human perspective parts fleetingly and smacks us in the face with a resounding, “THIS!”

So here it is:

The first thing is to find any place where you can calm you brain, find your breath, and peacefully observe your surroundings for at least 5-10 minutes.

Find your breath.  This is both utterly simple and impossible simultaneously.  To gently focus your brain on your breath.  Inhale…two…three…four…pause, exhale…two…three…four.  It helps to just count. Then feel the sensation of the air rushing in and out of your nose, your mouth.  Notice your chest, stomach, your diaphragm…which is the muscle that separates your upper chest from your guts.  During the inhale, your chest expands and the diaphragm lowers.  Pause.  During the exhale, your chest collapses, diaphragm rises.  Try not to engage your shoulders.  Try to keep your face in a resting position…no tension in your jaw, your tongue, your neck, your eyes, your shoulders.  Just.  Follow.  The breath.

Coming back to the breath is like a magic trick, a little miracle for bringing us back to the present moment, to our bodies, to our senses, our feelings…and it allows us to gently release cyclical thoughts, worries, anxiety.

But then, hundreds of potential distractions steal us away from our breath.  An itch, a muscle spasm, a memory, the temperature, something we see or hear, a song, that memory again.

And the miracle?  Our breath is always with us, always occurring, and we can always come back to it.  We may not be able to remain with it for as long as we’d prefer.  But there it is.  To ground us.

Perhaps you simply start and finish here, with mindful breathing…counting through the natural cycle of inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause…but perhaps you feel ready to move forward with the thought experiment.

Grounded in the present moment, find any person, animal, plant, or inanimate object, and gently watch it.  No judgement.  No contemplation.  Just…there he is, there she is, or there it is.  You might even consider yourself, or your finger.  Whatever it is, there it is.

Come back to your breath for one cycle.  Relax your facial muscles.  Allow a gentle, natural smile to occur, and allow that smile to infiltrate your cheeks, eyes, ears, your consciousness.  Breathe.

Now contemplate the origin of that person, or thing…either living or non-living.  If it is a person, gently travel from the person to that person’s Mother.  If you are watching a food item, travel back to the original components.  Now focus on just one thing there.  Breath.  Now trace that person or thing back one additional step or generation.  Breath.  Now continue in this fashion until you can no longer trace back.  Where have you landed?  What is the thing currently in your consciousness?

Let it go.

What thoughts are you having?  What insights?

Let them go.

Come back to your breath for one cycle.

Now find another thing.  If you first found a person or animal or plant, find something inanimate this time.  If your focus initially was inanimate, choose a living thing this time.

Now move through that same exercise.

Contemplate the origin of that person, or thing…either living or non-living.  If it is a person, gently travel from the person to that person’s Father.  If you are watching a food item, travel back to the original components.  Now focus on just one thing there.  Breath.  Now trace that person or thing back one additional step or generation.  Breath.  Now continue in this fashion until you can no longer trace back.  Where have you landed?  What is the thing currently in your consciousness?

Is it the very same thing?

It is.

The very same thing.

Depending on the time you have, you might continue this thought experiment with a variety of objects.  Let’s consider a context.  Lunch with a friend, perhaps.  Within this context exist a multitude of potential subjects.  We can contemplate the person across from us.  We can contemplate ourselves.  Then, each food item, some fruit, some vegetable, some animal.  Then, the plates.  The forks. Chairs.  Our drinks.

And where do we arrive?

The very same thing.

I realize that not everyone, certainly including me, has a sufficient enough understanding of the chemical, elemental, and/or biological make up of all things to fully trace any object back to its molecular origins.  However, this thought experiment can be approached from any level of understanding.  Ultimately, all things return back to the earth.  Or God, or some ultimate reality, if that’s your belief.  I might even then suggest continuing the thought experiment through the big bang, if you land there, or God, if you land there, or nothingness, or wherever you arrive as your zero-point.

The very same thing.

And…back to your breath.

Now, depending on the time you have, you can reverse this experiment.  From zero-point back to the object you initially chose, or back to you.

The very same thing.

The journey is profound.  And no matter how far you go, remember to return to your breath.  And no matter how many minutes or seconds you spend, the exercise will bring you some level of peace, calm, and insight.

One more exercise.  Instead of moving in time, let’s move in space.  Choose an object, a person, a plant, an animal, a thing.  Of what is that thing made?  Then, of what is that thing made?  And so on.  Regardless of your level of precision or knowledge, we will always arrive back at this.  All things are made of Protons, Neutrons, and Electrons.  All of us.  All things.  All…the very same things.  We might even contemplate, “Of what are those core pieces made?”  The very same thing.  We then travel back to gestalt object of our attention.  The fingernail.  The child.  The shoe.  The chair.  Whatever.

Again, the journey is profound.  Again, remember to return to your breath.

Inhale.

(2,3,4…or wherever the inhale naturally concludes)

Pause.

Exhale.

(2,3,4…or wherever the full breath naturally concludes)

From one, infinity.

From infinity, one.

All the same thing.

The very…same…thing.

Peace.

-G

Buddha-Meditation-Tree

Make It Rain

The mood:
Greg is “whiny and complainy,” to quote Jennifer, and likely on the doorstep of illness.

Jen is being a difficult shit to amuse herself and (hopefully) you

The intoxicants:
Jen: Fat Head Hop Juju

Greg: Dogfishhead Burton Baton and TheraFlu Nighttime*

*NOTE: It is likely advisable to NOT combine alcohol with night time cold medicine. However, the combination makes for an amusing, sluggish and slurry Greg with a considerably-less-than-strict brain-to-mouth filter. So have fun with that!

The Topics:
1. Why would a man stand in a bank line and request four-hundred one-dollar bills? Your guess is likely precisely as good as ours.

2. Greg’s latent racism, made manifest by the combination of intoxicants described above, which apparently spans all populations and denominations and has the bite of a toothless nursing home resident.

3. Jen’s sneeze. This is the first time the startler of humans and animals is captured on tape. This must have clipped the recorder’s capabilities and will surely cause you to jump. Ever see that Will Ferrell/Kristin Wiig bit on SNL? Yeah, that.

4. Liberated Syndication (LibSyn) and iTunes. On this date (February 12, 2015 to be precise) we released the very first D2D podcast (“A Brussels Sprout is a Cruel, Cruel, Mistress”) on these platforms. It marks D2D putting on big-kids pants, even though only like 5 people give a shit.

5. Cocktails, etc. On this date, Jen suggests a cocktail page…and here it is! (Actually, it’s back up there…just under my head.  See it?  Yes, there.)

6. Rejection fest. Fall and Winter of 2014 marked Greg’s foray into submitting essays to various blogs, sites, and publications…thus ushering in the late Winter (2015) series of rejection messages. Fun. (But hey, thank YOU for reading and listening.)

The Soundtrack:
At the beginning: “I can read your mind” by R.J. Heid
At the conclusion: “Make it rain” by Ed Sheeran

The final word:
We present to you, “Make it Rain.”

Make-It-Rain_o_31248

The Next Step

What has 2015 taught me?

It ushered me into a dimly lit waiting room with no reading material and a television looping Proactiv commercials with atypically attractive superstars bemoaning all the acne and depression they suffered before they became well-adjusted gods among (wo)men, sat me down in an uncomfortable, vomit-stained vinyl seat, served me a cup of the shittiest coffee imaginable with neither cream nor sugar, left me waiting for 9 months, then brought me back to tell me this, “You are not in control.”  Then it sent me away bewildered and with a $1,000 copay.  And no parking validation.

I’ve fallen apart in private, shed a tear or two, gnashed my teeth, and strolled the earth with nearly constant low-grade neck tension and pre-migraine sensory symptoms for months.  But I managed to remain plugged-in to those people, places, things, and activities that bring me just enough stability and joy to move forward.  And I’ve remained medicated.

And you know what?

I’m finally, honestly grateful for that input. (“You are not in control.”)  I believe it.  I embrace it.

Because very recently I got the bill (…the cost beyond the copay was applied to my dollar deductible, fuck you very much…) and I read the fine print.

Here’s what it said:

You are not in control of anything outside of your brain.  And often enough…not even that.  We’re not going to try and convince you who or what is. That shit’s too complex for the very brain of which you already have little control.  But guess what?  You still have choices.  Think about that initial experience when you came to see us.  January through, what, yesterday…it was pretty uncomfortable, right?  You were pissed, or sad, or despondent, or confused, or worried, or anxious, or all of that at the same time.  We know.  However, you still had choices.  Your mental, emotional, and behavioral reactions to each of fucked up things along the way…were yours.  You were in control of those.  And all the people around you…family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, clients, all the way down to that cantankerous woman at Giant Eagle who complains about something each time you put a six pack of beer on the counter and then rolls her eyes unabashedly when you don’t present your ID quickly enough… were immediately and indelibly impacted by your reactions.  Point is, you have control of your reactions, and your reactions have an impact on you and everyone around you.

Pretty heavy.  Far out, even.

Here’s the thing.  I’m not in control.  However, I can approach the world around me with kindness, mindfulness, trust, optimism, honesty, gratitude, and faith in humanity.  I can weather the storm as well as I can bask in the calm.

If I were still a practicing Buddhist, I might say I’m attempting to take the middle path…neither ingratiating myself with the false clinging to peak joy nor selfishly wallowing in a false belief of punishing sorrow.  If I were still a practicing Christian, I might say, “This too shall pass.”  In either case, the sentiment, I believe, reveals Truth.

The thing I control is the next step. (Do you?)  Always the next step, physically, cognitively, and emotionally.  There’s no telling what will happen even 5 seconds from now, and there’s no use either lamenting or celebrating that which happened.  But the next step is always right there, and I can choose the direction of that very next step…then deal with the consequences of that as honestly and dispassionately as possible.  History becomes the previous step becomes the next step becomes the rest of your life.  We can only dwell in the next step.  Otherwise, the result is more suffering, more false beliefs, more blind faith.

So I’ll take the next step.

And I invite you to do the same, grateful for the love, laughs, kindness, insights, or even fleeting compassionate thoughts you’ve provided me.

It all alleviates suffering.  It all brings us a step closer to Truth.

One step closer.

-G

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The Middle Path

1 Girl, 2 Cups…of Beer

The beers:

Greg = Southern Tier Choklat Oranj with Wigle Orange Bitters.

Jen = Rogue Imperial IPA in a 750 ml crockery bottle.

The plot:

Jen makes one of the biggest mistakes of her life. “I had a little time between clients,” she said. So she found the perhaps not-entirely-innocuous, “13 Most Deranged Halloween Pumpkins Ever Carved” article to the startlingly nocuous, “2 Girls, 1 Cup: A Love Story.” (I refuse to link you there. If you feel the need to watch it, go watch it. I will not lead you there nor will I mince words. I do not watch beheadings and I will not watch “2 Girls, 1 Cup: A Love Story.”  A fucking love story.  Yikes.)

The description lured her in:

What is Two Girls One Cup?

Two girls one cup is a trailer that was released in 2007 for the artistic film “Hungry Bitches” made by MFX Media. The daring work of art is an allegory for the concept of spiritual awakening. It examines the prevalent ideologies that are internalized in our culture, and in true post-modern form; the thematic piece tends to raise more questions than answers. The philosophical film has varying interpretations, which is why the 2 girls 1 cup film is still analysed and debated about to this date.

The fact that the tab-icon for the video is the smiley poo-pile did not dissuade her.

The fact that animated biracial anal porn GIFs populate the screen also did not dissuade her.

Here are a few of the comments just below the video, which apparently did not dissuade her:

“What did I watch?!”

“Ohhhhh fuck.”

“How in gods name can ppl do that kinda shit! That’s just NOT RIGHT!”

“that is fucked
what have i just watched”

So…perhaps you can’t resist. And perhaps you’ll make it through the entire video, which is only 1 minute. Jen apparently made it through about 10 – 15 seconds, then deleted our entire browser history and had a nice, hot shower.

But if you’re smart…you’ll just listen to our podcast, have a few laughs, and count yourself among the lucky who have avoided it and heeded the words of my spoiler: It involves 2 girls, 1 cup, and copious amounts of shit.

And by the way, have you seen that Squatty Potty commercial? The one with the Unicorn. THAT…you should watch. (You can venture to that video by clicking on the photo below.) But even this piece of edgy alt-comedy humor gets kind-of ruined in light of the smiling poo icon and all that it now represents.

We present to you, “1 Girl, 2 Cups…of Beer.”

squatty-potty-stool-video
(Yep. It’s kind-of like that.)

Knowing is Not Half the Battle (Part 2)

How many times have you heard, nodded your head reflexively at, perhaps even uttered the phrase, “Knowing is half the battle,” without truly thinking about it?

I used to say this very thing, often in an attempt to take myself off the hook for some shitty behavior related to my temper, my anxiety, my fears, or insecurities.   I might as well have said what I meant, “Hey, I know what I just did/said was fucked up.  Like, really fucked up…but I don’t REALLY want to change.  I just want you to accept me unconditionally.  And hey…I know about it, so that’s good enough.  Right?  Right!  Thanks for participating in this one-sided conversation.”

A mentor once told me, “The greatest distance in human behavioral change is the gulf between knowing and doing.”

the-bridge-over-the-valley-durach
(source)

It spoke, and continues to speak, undeniable Truth to me.

Regardless of what anyone thinks, here’s a fact:  Knowing is NOT half the battle.  Not even in a game ostensibly predicated on general knowledge, “Jeopardy.”  Nope, because if you’re not perfect on the trigger, it doesn’t matter what you know.  In life, it’s an even trickier endeavor…the knowing-to-doing journey.

The first thing we must do is define, quite specifically, “the battle.”  In other words, what is it we’re trying to change?  This, by itself, is neither a simple nor an easy endeavor.  One must look deeply and honestly in the mirror.  That is, sit quietly and contemplate, perhaps even write about, those things one doesn’t like or prefer about oneself; what one would like to change, and how one would go about changing.  For me, just arriving at the definition of “the battle” required emotional devastation (i.e. losing my first love), spiritual study (i.e. reading, contemplating, and journaling about the “Tao Te Ching,” “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, and “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Naht Hahn), meditation (i.e. practicing basic mindfulness meditation with breath focus and mantra chanting), hatha yoga, and a round of counseling with a professional.  My intention isn’t to insinuate that you, that everyone, or even that anyone other than me needs this degree of intense introspection to arrive at the definition of “the battle.” I was an emotional mess and I could no longer see a path forward that didn’t involve massive external supports. What I do intend to communicate is that no matter what your chosen battle, it’ll take more than just flippantly claiming, “Yeah, I know I need to work on that,” then doing nothing.  Rest assured you will fall back on the old emotional patterns.  Even WITH prescriptive work you will.  But with no work, without commitment to change our undesired behavioral reactions and patterns, we are all doomed to repeat our failings until we take our final breaths.  So, the battle…

For me, the first and most challenging commitment was the hair-trigger temper battle.  My temper, which existed for many years on a precarious toggle switch, caused me to punch, kick, and otherwise cause many holes in many walls; break trophies, toys, pencils, and even more expensive objects; and, on several occasions, almost kill myself and others in fits of blind road rage over incidents as innocuous as lane changes without turn signals.  My battle was thus defined: How can I shift from a toggle switch temper to a dimmer switch temper and, through that process, define and recognize the triggers and emotional/behavioral reactions that indicate to me that I’m heading toward a temper break (i.e. batshit crazy ON) and then apply whatever relaxation/grounding techniques that are available to me to shift that toggle back to OFF?

dimmer
(Left = bad. Right = good. Any questions? Good, read on.)

Knowing is the first step of the battle.  The ESSENTIAL first step.  Without knowing there is no further progress.  But for me, knowing was the first step, then acknowledging was the second, then analyzing was third, and resolving to change was fourth.  Then I needed to utilize all of those awareness facilitators…the reading, meditating, breathing, yoga, counseling…to shift that toggle toward a dimmer, to then recognize and deal with the tantrum triggers, and ultimately to love and forgive myself all my past, present, and future transgressions on the path toward actual change.

What did I learn?  I learned that I do several things as my anxiety compounds.  One of the very first “red flags” is teeth gnashing and jaw tension.  I never realized I was doing it…until I realized I was doing it, and holy shit was I doing it!  Once I did, I could start to make connections.  During these times, my wife would also indicate to me that I seemed to be audibly “chewing” in my sleep, sometimes clicking my teeth.  My dentist sealed the deal when he told me, “You’re really grinding and you’ll need to get a bite guard.”  As I begin the process of jaw clenching, my dimmer becomes a toggle.  I will shift from seemingly perfectly okay to pre-Hulk levels of rage in a millisecond and because of any number of otherwise completely insignificant things.  Examples: not being able to untie my shoes as quickly as I prefer, having a favorite pen run out of ink, accidentally spilling coffee on myself because I’ve overloaded my arms with stuff and forgotten to “lock” the cup lid, running late (…which for me is running on-time…),  watching a person switch lanes immediately in front of me.  See the problem?  Little things go wrong because I’m already in a state of non-mindfulness and frenetic energy…then my anxiety and frustration rises…thus causing me to be even less mindful…thus causing shit to go wrong…NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOP…NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOP.

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(source)
(O.G. poster boy for hair-trigger temper.)

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(…and then there’s this guy)

Again, I never even realized I was there…until I attended.  And honestly, until my wonderful and kind wife pointed it out to me in a non-accusatory manner.  Sure, I fought her initially.  I argued…because that’s what I do.  But it all clicked.  And now I know that the teeth gnashing and the jaw clenching, which lead to tension headaches…are my sign to chill the fuck out and begin to relax, meditate, have a run, etc.

And guess what?  I still fuck up often.  That is, even with knowing, even with making a long-term concerted effort (…I started this endeavor in the vicinity of 1996…) to make the behavioral change and shift my temper toggle to an emotional dimmer, I still haven’t “won” the battle.  And…I never will…because there really is no battle.  It’s a journey toward becoming…and we can each nudge and will and work toward becoming the person we want to become, but we never actually become because we’re always changing.  Here.  And now.  It’s like a kaleidoscope, a dynamic mandala, ever morphing…yesterday becoming today becoming tomorrow becoming yesterday…and so on.

Knowing is the first step.  To becoming.

Who do you want to become?

How will you get there?

What will you do?

Whatever you do, I pray that you’ll go with peace in your heart and brain.

-G

gi-joe-awesome
(Don’t listen to these people.)

Peace Be With You

Each of us, at some point or another (…and likely a couple more…) meet life at the intersection of “Shit” and “Gets Real,” where we’re stripped of our ego, our façade of dignity and control, our false faiths, even our semblance of sanity and grasp on whatever we previously defined as “reality,” and we’re left cowering, undeniably aware of and terrified by the fragility and precariousness of our fleshy, vulnerable, unprotected bodies and the imperfect gelatinous mass of mostly water encasing mere millimeters of quite penetrable bone.

It’s unavoidable, and one should not attempt to avoid it.

(This is easy to say when one is not currently in the spiral of that seemingly inescapable vortex.)

But still, it’s unavoidable…and the faster you run, the higher you climb, the deeper you dig…the harder and further and more exposed you’ll fall.

“Why is this happening to me?”

Because you’re here.

“What did I do to deserve this?”

You entered this world as a human, and you lived long enough to be here now.

“When will it end?”

When it ends, or when you end.

“How can I make it through?”

A-ha!  There’s the important question.  I guarantee you’ll get absolutely nowhere if you focus on those first three questions, nowhere but a place of debilitating anxiety, imbalance, and despair.  The human endeavor is one towards safety/survival, homeostasis, happiness, and…God, gods, soul, and/or universe willing…Truth.  The only path toward those righteous ends is honestly, humbly, and humorously focusing on the HOW.  Neither you nor I are in control of anything other than the next steps.

What resonates with you?  What feels right?  What lowers your heart rate and allows you to sit or lie calmly and contemplate?  What makes you feel good?

Is it a certain structure or atmosphere?  Go there.  A particular scent?  Find it.  A sensation or certain sounds?  Bathe in them.  Do you know a person or people who, when you are in their presence, bring you great calm?  Go to them.  Do you take refuge in a particular God, or in gods, or in any ritualistic spiritual practice that clears the muddy waters of your ego and provides you access to Truth, or at least peace?  By all means, prostrate yourself to the embrace you find there.

Only you know how you can move forward.  Only you.

But your ego must get out of your way.

You did nothing to deserve this.  Whatever is happening to you now has happened, is happening, and will happen to perhaps billions of others and is only happening because the universe has no choice but to happen. You cannot know when a thing will end, why it is happening, or even how it will proceed.  What you can do is find a way forward, each step at a time, keeping those things that bring you calm, insight, homeostasis, and happiness near you…and allowing those things that do not to pass by.

Then, when shit gets real, you will be prepared for whatever it brings.

Or you won’t.

In either case, the universe continues.

My love to you all, my friends.

-G

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Greek Week

Like with many things in life, I often let house cleaning go until I hate myself. This sucks because I despise dust and dander and clutter, but obviously not enough to avoid them completely.

Can one digress before one begins?  If so, I did.

Apparently, someone opened a Mediterranean restaurant right next to Christos. Christos, by the way, is the tiny, hole-in-the-wall, very Mediterranean-feeling spot where Jen and I had a super romantic and delicious meal quite early in our relationship. Christos, the owner, dragged us in, explained to us how he catered for the Onassis family on one of their yachts, served us homemade wine, and finished the experience with a piece of Onassis dessert. We connected with Christo and his spot, Greek photos, paraphernalia, and other curios crammed into the small space. To get to the bathroom, one must travel through the kitchen and down enough steps to make one believe the final destination point is under the damn river.

The new restaurant, Alihan’s, is Turkish. They serve Kebabs, not Souvlaki. Alihan’s is HUGE, pristine, elegant, new. It’s a stark contrast to the homey (and homely) visage of Christos. I remember, many years ago while in Greece with my University choir, being firmly but politely asked by a street vendor to refer to his meat on a stick as “souvlaki” and not “kebab,” because the latter is a Turkish term. Beyond the obvious problems that a much smaller though well-established Mediterranean restaurant owner might have with a brand new, extra shiny and super flashy Mediterranean restaurant opening RIGHT NEXT DOOR, I wonder if any additional Turkish-Greek abrasion exists?

In any case, in honor of Christo, and the fact that we got a sweet deal on Groupon for “Wine Insiders,” we consume California reds.

The core recording here is from May 17th, 2015, which reminded us that there was no Spring in Pittsburgh this year. Snow on Easter, then cold, cold rain, then highs in the 90’s. Fun.

The lovely music at the end is a piece called “Shish Kebab” by Ralph Marterie.

We present to you, “Greek Week.”

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Knowing is Not Half the Battle (Part 1)

Recently my wife challenged me to count the number of negative and positive things I say to my step-daughter, Madison.  Just count.  That rattled around in my head for a full night, through my dreams (…often the mirror in one’s dreams can be quite revealing and terribly uncomfortable…), and into my waking hours.  I replayed, as honestly as my self-preservation drive would allow, the previous several weeks. I contemplated, with as much dispassion and objectivity as I could muster, the proportions of debilitating (i.e. judgmental, sarcastic, accusatory, mistrusting, invalidating) and facilitating (i.e. receptive, sincere, compassionate, trusting, supportive) responses, non-verbal reactions, and initiations that I’d laid on Maddy’s emotional doorstep.

Broadly, the facts were utterly sobering.  I had never spent a day with Maddy through which I’d been completely positive.  Never.  On the other hand, there had been multiple days with her through which I’d been completely, or nearly completely negative.  Furthermore, well over 50%, and probably closer to 75% of my interactions with Maddy, on the whole, have been flavored neutral to negative.

When one is attempting to approach human behavior measurement and change (…and I do want to change…), it’s quite helpful to utilize a sliding scale.  Thinking about my interactions with Maddy in particular, a perfectly neutral behavior would exist at, let’s say, zero.  Shockingly negative, or completely emotionally debilitating, negative 10.   And fully facilitating, or Fred Rogers level positive, positive 10.

While I never reached the vicinity of -10, I was consistently on the negative side of zero.  Furthermore, rarely did I approach +10…and Maddy (…and all children…) certainly deserves and needs that.

Having grown up in a family full of secrets, sarcasm, anxiety-inducing poverty, and traditional guilt-laden, perfection-demanding Catholicism along with unrelenting Primitive Methodist judgment…I’ve never felt fully comfortable embracing an outwardly loving, compassionate, empathetic, earnest communication style.  Add to that lingering self-doubt, insecurities, and my own anxiety…and the recipe is bitterly non-ironic.  Anyone could predict my current predicament.

I generally prefer keeping the mirror in front of me, shining the hot spotlight directly on top of my hipster hairdo.  However, here I’d like to turn outward.  That incredibly simple exercise that my wife offered was like a tidal wave of insight.  Indeed, in my dreams that night I nearly drown in it.

Think about your children.  If you don’t have children, think about your partners, or your parents, or whatever person or creature is closest and dearest to you.  For one day, count the number of negative and the number of positive interactions you have with him/her/them/it.  Be honest.  And remember, blaming another being for your negative reaction or feelings is debilitating to them.  And you, for that matter.  Try not to judge, analyze, or opine.  Just count.

That process might (…I believe will…) open your mind to other, more important, perhaps critical insights to guide you toward true joy and happiness…and toward Truth.  For me, the truth was quite painful.  The truth revealed a man whose actions spoke considerably louder than his contrary words.  How many times have I quoted Marvin Gaye? (Fathers stop criticizing your sons.  Mothers please leave your daughters alone.  That’s what’s wrong with the world today.  Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.  We all talk of kindness, but it’s only a word.  Brother turn on sister, in this cruel, cruel world.) How often have I called on Ghandi (You must be the change you wish to see in the world), Jesus (A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another), or King (Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that).  How many times have I patted myself publicly on the back for having read Nelson Mandela, Kahlil Gibran, Thich Naht Hahn, Ram Dass, or Buddha?  How many times have I accepted your accolades, praise, and unconditional kindness with only superficial processing?  Upon how many pedestals have I been placed?  The answer to all of these questions:  Too many.  This is not to say that I (…that you, that we…) don’t deserve love, compassion, kindness, and human dignity.  However, it has become startlingly obvious to me that knowing is NOT half the battle.  Not by a long shot.

Next time, we’ll explore that assertion.

-G

Mandala