Thursday, February 24, 2011

Words and more words

Wordle: Three Years of Blog Posts

A "word cloud" drawn from the four or so years of my blog (created via Wordle). Curious and revealing, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Useless Days

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

From "Dear Sugar, The Rumpus Advice Column #64: Tiny Beautiful Things."

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Awareness. I always considered it to be a cognitive skill, a kind of mental discipline that was often beyond me. It some ways, it felt easier to be harried, stressed, and under pressure even though those feelings are so negative. This semester I've been feeling an intense amount of pressure in my academic and personal life ... as if this semester were some kind of medieval torture device, and someone was maliciously tightening the screws day by day. I feel worst when I feel out of control. This has been a pattern that's gone on long enough, though. Many conversations, readings and experience are beginning to shift my perception of my own stress. First of all, feeling "out of control" assumes that there actually exists some level of control that I could gain over my life and what happens next. Really, I'll never know or control that. Now, that's a tough one and I still don't quite believe it on a gut level but I hope to get there eventually.

Recently, I've begun to think that there are important decisions that can impact my day-to-day perceptions. What started me off was a comment from a respected professor, who pointed out that I will always be busy, and that there will always be multiple demands on my time. It made me think that I need to take make decisions right now that will make me feel more sane, rather than assuming my life will become less hectic at some point in the future ... since then, I've stumbled across this interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn. It's changed my ideas about awareness and mindfulness. Zinn, a scientist and zen student who has studied mediation and its clinical and practical applications, speaks to the essential difference between awareness and "thinking." Thinking, he says, is a source of great creativity but it can also be destructive. Awareness or mindfulness is entirely different. It is not a cognitive exercise so much as a willingness to let of thinking and to settle into your body and the present moment instead. The ability to truly focus our attention on the present is a skill humans are not taught to cultivate. Zinn argues that cultivating great awareness does not only reduce feelings of stress and illness, it allows us to live life as if every moment really does matter.

What a radical concept. I spend so much time, these past few weeks especially, worrying and yearning for the future. I'm starting to wonder if I have more control over my sense of dissatisfaction than I thought. This concept of awareness runs much deeper than that, though. I think there is more at stake. I wonder if a greater sense of awareness might also lead to a greater sense of compassion and flexibility. Awareness in communication seems crucial to me, that ability to be present with another person, acting as if each moment is worth paying attention to. What would happen if I tried to do that more?

Yoga gives me a greater sense of mindfulness, of simply being in my body. It's difficult to maintain in an academic environment where thinking is valued so highly. But it seems to me that a balance between the two would allow for greater creativity of thought and a deeper sense of engagement.

So, this is a really tall order. This is tough work. Just trying to be more mindful at least part of the time helps though, rather than thinking "if I could just graduate" or "if I could just go back to Europe." It's better than just giving up and letting myself slip back into that sense of pressure and self-preoccupation. That's no way to live.

Postscript: strangely enough (or not strangely at all) Zinn also has some potential Quaker influences. I love finding these connections.