Monday, May 13, 2013

Online Education: The Human Toll

I haven't been blogging, but I've spent plenty of time online. My classes are on Blackboard.  I have students upload all their work, minus a few homework assignments or physical projects that need all 5 senses to evaluate. I thought it would make life easier for all, and there is no denying the perks. I don't lose grades, assignments or any documentation. My teaching is fairly transparent, so if people want to know what is going on, the information is available. It also saves me from diving through a hoard of dead trees, wondering "what did I do with __________?" Perks.

But living online for a job is not how nature intended us to be. After a while, my eyes burn and I get that dull headache between the eye socket and the bridge of my nose. I lose track of life as I know it, because I think about grading, putting up assignments, adding more documents to each unit, finding cool videos, answering emails promptly and making everything hunky dory. I'm not even an online instructor as I see my students 3 times a week. Online teaching is the next brand of Coca Cola for universities, kind of like "computers taking over the cash" as Nas would put it. How long before that last vestige of human contact within the educational superstructure goes the way of the one-hit wonder?

I'm glad I teach yoga and go to my meditation group or else I might forget that I do have contact with people who don't give a hoot about educational technology. I remember that I'm living this life to better myself. Too many people live for their work. Without their careers, they don't know how to function as all control is off, and the messiness of human relationships out them as awkward and vulnerable, much like the rest of us. There was a time I lived for my work, but it was an escape hatch. I was scared to let anyone get to know me, and I didn't want to admit I was lonely. Now I just work very hard, but the boundaries are there, reminding me that I have a family, a few good friends and other things to do besides my job, my job, my job.

Perhaps that is the best thing about working online so much. Even when I want to go on, my body clenches up and screams at me to get the hell away from the screen to water my plants, play with my cats or close my eyes to think of England. Even the negative becomes positive if we can look at it with a clear perspective.

So I'm going to finish this blog, and go downstairs to watch reruns of Deep Space Nine with my son. I'll be back online in about 3 hours to grade some more or maybe not. It is spring and it's time I cultivate my garden, inside and out.

Much love to you all,


Friday, March 15, 2013

Dear Mom--Friday 55

13 years. Feels like yesterday. Everyday I remember. I'm never getting over it. That's fine. Maybe it makes me a better person. My heart is a gaping hole. You can get used to dark distances. Holes have bottoms. When I fall into the chasm, a lifetime will become our daily conversation. I'm doing good, Mom. 

My mother in a futile effort to bring dignity to my wedding. I'm in the right corner, giving her pointers.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Moby Dick Redux-55 Word Friday

"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee." -- Job

Call me Toilet. Broke and bored, I joined Captain Ahab's crew. We hunted the white whale. Damn thing tossed his cookies all over the deck. Starbuck thought Ahab had serious thrill issues. Should he drown because Ahab felt castrated by some toothy fish?  Funny, I was ready to die for Ahab's rage. Read my book.

"Actually, I never read it."
From Star Trek: First Contact

Friday, January 25, 2013

55 Word Friday-Spiritual Rock Star

Election Day—vote for love! You love nobody. You love looking like you love others. You’re the President of false gurus, fake teachings—nothing about you is real except your need to convey that you are Love Incarnate. You have your disciples. They cling to your love -starved words. Belief is everything; love is nothing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sofia in 55 words

 I want to try this 55 word story form suggested by G-Man. Here goes:

Sofia died. My cousin. I saw her last when I was 17 in a hospital. room. She was uncomfortably gentle as she invited me to California. Sofia struggled with cocaine. A broken marriage, a ruined modeling career.  When she got clean, they still called her addict. Auntie says her death was no surprise. She's wrong.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Communication Game: Big Mouth 10--Satya 0

Man, I suck at this game.

I've spent the last two years watching my words, monitoring my speech and making sure that I don't open my big mouth and actually tell someone what I really think. The work climate was hostile to anything that remotely resembling truth. Many of my personal relationships seemed based on compliance and pleasantries. I found myself avoiding any loaded situation that might provoke me to answer a question authentically. People did not want to hear it: moreover, any individual who deviated from the specified doctrine of discourse faced imminent retaliation, often months after the action took place.

Unfortunately, conscious self-censorship does not work indefinitely. People get fed up. An innocent question like "what would make your life easier" becomes a catalyst for unloading every slight that burns inside your internal organs. Soon that intestinal fortitude becomes another Walking Dead graphic as innards spill out like the culmination of a zombie attack.  Now people know what you think, but they see it coated with bile and blood. It no more resembles the truth than the lie of silence that kept all of these perceptions locked away.

As 2012 winds down into...what--the apocalypse, the big spiritual awakening or just another year, I see this pattern over the past 12 months. Somehow it relates to the study of satya, a yama in the yogic tradition that means speaking truth. But what is truth? Our perceptions may feel correct, but they are not objective, so how can they be true? If a person hears you speak your truth and perceives your words as an attack, have you spoken truth or just blown a horn to prepare for battle? Even if you don't know your intention for uttering what you are sure the other person needs to know, the result is what remains.

How does one live his or her life honestly in a world that demands illusion and falsehoods? Does one have to purge all those negative emotions that may skewer truth into a lie? Why do people ask you what you think when they really don't want to know? Why do they ask you how you feel when they don't care? A society that makes us into slaves to social cues and understood non-utterances will not be a healthful place for those who want something real.

I need to know more about satya. I need to understand why truth is such a burden for others. I need to learn how I can speak truth without others seeing it as something I never intended it to be. My husband says that truth only exists in love and compassion. If truth cannot serve the greater good, then it is no longer true. He is probably right. He usually is.
                                 See you in February, guys!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Anger and Betrayal on the Spiritual Path

In July, I went to Washington D.C. to see Amma, the hugging guru. We stayed during one of the hottest weekends on the East Coast since record taking began. My son had no interest in hanging out with what he calls my "yoga weirdo friends", so his cousin showed him around while  I spend a day in an air conditioned hotel, waiting for my hug. When it was my turn, I felt her arms around me and I began to have flashbacks, as though my entire life was passing through my eyes. These were not pleasant images. I was remembering everything and everyone who had ever hurt me in my life--yes, in the span of a few minutes, all of those memories washed over me like sewage. I left that hotel shaken and alarmed.

I had seen Amma a year earlier in New York, and I remember experiencing a taste of the full course meal I got in D.C. I figured I was reacting to the bouncing of disparate energy that only a bulging metropolis can bring. When I came back from my D.C. trip, I talked about my experience with  two friends who also seen Amma to get their reaction. Both said that I had experienced a kind of emotional release. It was as though Amma was giving me permission to feel my anger instead of repressing it through unhealthy behavior, toxic relationships and unconscious snide remarks. Since July, I have been feeling all that anger of a lifetime. And I don't know what to do.

Generally, we think we are angry about people who did such and such to us. But now I wonder if all of our anger is based on one simple thing: betrayal. The person may have built himself up to be something he clearly is not. Another may have a role to play, like mother or sister or best friend. Somewhere along the line, that person did not fulfill that promise or deliberately broke it in scorn. Another individual or group may have relished in the betrayal. Another may still not realize what he or she has done. Some people go through life totally unconscious of who they are or how they affect others. Some people work hard to create an grandiose image of benevolence and empathy to hide their inner darkness. They live a lie. When we deny what we feel, we too, are a part of the lie. Enlightenment is the path to truth, even when it hurts like hell.

I began to get deeper into Reiki healing and yoga with somatic release as a way to let go of this anger. I know it is a process. But lately, I haven't been feeling so good about my progress. Recently, I found out that someone I've known for most of my life chose to believe something about me that wasn't true, because it was easier than finding out what really happened. I was stunned, but really, I shouldn't have been surprised. I've seen that pattern all of my life, particularly from those whom I once held so dear.

There is good in all of this. I no longer feel angry at people who just don't matter. Instead of finding a surrogate, I know what is going on. Now I hope I can purge all of these horrible emotions away. I've been sick with lung trouble this fall, and I'm convinced these frantic gasps for air is my body's way of coughing out the toxins of a lifetime of unfocused rage. If only some angel could put a burning piece of coal to my lips and cleanse me of this fire, then I could get some peace. But it doesn't work like that. You have to give it all a name before you can let it go.   I'll be glad when it is over. The compassion I seek in others really begins with myself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Post-Traumatic Stress: Mindfulness and the Mask

Recently, my boss told me that he has been in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. He had spent years living in Haiti and the Congo. He saw things that went beyond any imagined concept of human cruelty. He began reading Buddhist sutras to break the power of the thoughts that terrorized him. I was astounded that he shared these experiences with me. He told me that he tells his students; he doesn't want it to be a secret. His most important point spoke to my heart: post-traumatic stress can develop from observing horrors. One does not have to be a participant.

I  organize my teaching around two concepts: mindfulness and self-awareness. It doesn't matter if I am teaching yoga, The Dao de jing or some scientific text that the students don't want to read. We are all connected by the simple fact that we are human. But we have been trained from day one to think in term of difference. Post-traumatic stress disorder is perhaps the pinnacle of the lie of our separation, as it marks the individual as a freak. He couldn't man up; she couldn't get past whatever happened to her and all that.  The PTSD survivor blames himself because he sees others who went through similar things and seem just fine. Somehow he or she couldn't measure up to healing and getting on with life. It's a subliminal message within our culture, feeding the disorder and keeping people from happiness.

As I tell my students, once you know something, you can't unknow it. Likewise, once the experience takes place, it cannot disappear. If the mind shuts down, so will the body, but the memories remain embedded in the flesh, then go deeper into the unconscious. After a while, our bodies and minds become the enemy, even more than the outside world that brought this trauma into our lives.  Imagine this conversation between the PTSD survivor and the trauma: "There's no going back. You've changed things. Forever."

There is a great scene in The Dark Knight Rises that made me think of PTSD. (Actually, I could argue that it is one of the main themes of the Nolan Batman trilogy). The police officer, Blake, goes to Wayne Manor to convince Bruce Wayne to get Batman back in the game. He startles Bruce by telling him that he knows he is the Batman. Blake knows through intuition and similar experience, having been orphaned as a young boy. He notes how the world cannot understand the depths of sudden loss and emotional pain, as he says:

Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry, in your bones. I mean, they understand, foster parents, everybody understands, for awhile. Then they want the angry little kid to do something he knows he can't do, move on. So after awhile they stop understanding. They send the angry kid to a boy's home. I figured it out too late. You gotta learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in the mirror. It's like putting on a mask.

The PTSD survivor has to wear that same mask. He or she has to learn to act as though nothing had happened. Not all masks are connected to a anesthesia like Bane's that helps dull the pain. Some masks are paper thin and equally frail. In order to heal, the mask has to come off and the wound has to get some air. The person has to confront the wound, wrestle it down and make it stop taking over his/her life. How can this be done while passing for the I'm Just Fine routine that the world demands?

I don't have an answer to that question. But I believe it starts with compassion. If we have compassion for ourselves, we will have compassion for others. Then it moves to acceptance. If we can accept ourselves with all the flaws we've been taught to despise, then we may be less critical of everyone else. It's a tough road, with so many ways to get waylaid by our anger at those who hurt us and our inability to handle what we are feeling. In my mind, the PTSD survivor is the bravest person I will ever know.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making A Choice In The Yoga World

I'm going to be starting a personal website to develop my yoga and reiki work. I may also use it to promote other business related pursuits. Once I deem it worthy of viewing, I will share the link.
I'm not sure if I will leave Blogger as I have so many good friends here. I also haven't figured out whether my website should be strictly business or if I can have a good rant every now and then about the state of the world.

Yoga is often misperceived as the world of OM in which we all sit around and spread the love. If so, I would like to visit that place. What I see is a group of people who are on a path. Some look to yoga for personal healing, some see yoga as another way to work the body, some use yoga for their own ego driven interests, some substitute the ten commandments for the yamas/nijamas( Thou shalt do yoga as my guru tells us), and some start off with yoga to find other avenues to what they may call enlightenment.  Then there are those who like the lyrics from John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth." Yoga helps them find it for themselves.

The yoga world is just like any other society: people don't like each other, but pretend that they do. People say they don't care about money, but they care very much indeed. People lie. People hide. People get frustrated. People move on. People stagnate. People hurt each other. People help each other. People fault their own expectations. People fault everyone else. It is like any other group I have dealt with in my life. The one difference is that it has worked for me. But it doesn't work for everybody.

Our personal liberties erode when we decide how people should behave. Once we pronounce judgment, it will return to us tenfold. Once we become afraid of others, we censure ourselves. Once we learn to depend on a system that bleeds us, we lose all hope of liberation. So spiritual enlightenment may be all that is left in a world that holds people in shackles while telling them they are free to choose their own destiny. This mass deception harms our bliss. But people need to find out for themselves.

I leave you with my commentary on the joke we call democracy in America. Someone sent me this cartoon, and I thought it was too good to pass up.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Using Injustice as Uploading Practice

I got a Mac. Only now have I figured out how to upload images from Iphoto. I was going to attend a training session about Iphoto at the Apple store as I was getting so frustrated, but nothing beats good old hacking. I'm a tactile learning to be sure.

So why the photo? I admire Dr. King. I love his words on justice. Many of us accept injustice as a matter of course. What do we say?
1. There is nothing I can do about it.
2. It has nothing to do with me.
3. I had better make sure the same thing doesn't happen to me.
4. So and so was probably asking for it.
5. Keep out of harm's way, and no harm comes to you.

Well, you live a little while and all of the above will eventually be proven wrong. Whatever happens to another can surely happen to you. Hiding from the throes of injustice is only temporary safety. Keeping yourself safe may expose you to more negativity. Harm will come to you: sorry, but it will, and you will have to figure out a game plan. As for asking for it, well, a piano fell on my head as I was waiting for the bus. Silly me. I should have driven to work.

So what do you think? What does injustice look like to you? And what can we do about it?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Coolest Royal Ever

Okay, just sue me. I love Prince Harry. He understands that public life is superficial and makes sure to ridicule everyone's fetish for image over truth. American politicians could learn a lot from Harry's swagger.

Clearly, Harry knows who writes the checks for his lifestyle and doesn't care if the rest of us know it as well. The American politician seems to think that we don't realize who is putting them up to spew forth their nonsense. The UK may own Harry, but he isn't anyone's puppet. That's why people like him. No one likes people who pretend to empathize with the peons they scorn. So I will continue my trend of watching Harry's costumes and ignoring the farce called the American presidential elections.

Do the world some good, folks. Write in Prince Harry on November 6. Better yet, write in Angry Birds or Ping Pong Paddle. Feel free to share your choices. And you can get your angry birds hat right here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Is Not a Poem

Once I had a successful blog, read by thousands. I gave it up.

Once I had a job offer to relocate to Manhattan and become a rock journalist. I gave it up.

Once I only wanted to be a celebrated academic, a great scholar of literature. I gave it up.

Once I wanted to live in Spain and never come back to this mess called America. I gave it up.

Once I vowed to never marry or have kids. I gave it up.

Once I was on the road to getting my first book of poetry published. I gave it up.

Once I decided that I'd never speak to my father again. I gave it up.

Once I had a stable job, enough money to buy a house and financial security for the rest of my life. I gave it up.

Once I thought that family was the most important part of life. I gave it up.

Am I sorry? Am I glad? Does it matter?

Not really.

It's just life. We all give things up. And we aren't always better because of our choices.

Whether I'm depressed or happy or angry or bored, I'm still here. I won't always be here.

The body has to give it up.