Friday, April 26, 2013

instruments only

For about three or four hours this afternoon I was quite sure that my wife didn't love me anymore.  She didn't say anything explicit, she didn't even suggest it.  I knew, though.  Or rather felt it in a deeply visceral way.  Anybody who knows her or us will tell you that said conviction is in no way rooted in reality.  For most of this week I have been textbook insane, although I hope (and I have good reason to hope) only temporarily so.  The fact is I have struggled with Depression (note the capital D) for the better part of my life. If you ask my mother, she can tell you about the pediatrician who told my her and my father not to leave me alone for fear of a suicide attempt.  I was in third grade, if memory serves.  It's been coming and going, always.  Simply put,  my hardware, i.e. the neurotransmitters in my brain, is essentially and categorically deficient.  Sufficient wattage, but some crossed and burnt out wires, you could say.  I don't have it as bad as some, thank God, and in the past seven years or so, I've been able to construct a life for myself in which I can deal without the help of pharmaceuticals, most of which I've tried and earnestly hope never to do again.  The tri-cyclics, SSRI's, MAOI's, etc. all come with a price, and unfortunately there are many fellow sufferers who cannot live without them.

Still sometimes, every so often, I slip off a cliff.   When this happens it is a shit sandwich on rye with caramelized onions and russian dressing.  Physically, it feels like opiate withdrawal: I can't get comfortable in my skin and I just want to jump through a plate glass window.  Mentally, I feel like Tantalus in the river: almost every time I try to formulate a thought I can sense it receding away into ephemeral nothingness.  I'm always left grasping.  Such thoughts as do come through are prone to be absurdly self-flagellating with no basis in reality.

Now for the hopeful part.  I have been cultivating a means of protection from episodes such as this, and mercifully it came through for me.  For some time now I've been immersed in a way of life which teaches that all of the  material world is impermanent, and therefore illusory.  I chant "from the unreal, lead me to the real" almost every day.  I take it as an article of faith that despite the illusory nature of our physical world, we are all endowed with a transcendent eternal soul.  The trick is being able to tell the real from the unreal.  This is known as viveka, or discrimination.  Another way to put it is to say that today I decided to fly instruments only.  Experienced airplane pilots, ones with advanced certifications, are able to fly by looking only at the instruments on the dashboard.  Certain weather phenomena can render what the eye sees out of the window completely false.  It is presumed this is why John F. Kennedy, Jr. crashed his plane and died tragically.  He couldn't see the horizon properly and thought he was higher above the water than he actually was.  For me this meant ignoring the input from my heart and gut, however real it seemed, and going by what I knew to be true.  I'm not out of the woods yet by any stretch, but yoga has come through for me today, big time.  I have a plan to keep these episodes at bay, but I want to implement it first to see if it works.  You'll have to tune in next time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Chapter 23: In which an experiment gets off to a rocky start

For all you smarty-pants literary type readers out there, the title of this post is in fact a nod to Thomas Pynchon's cryptic Beat masterwork, V.  That said...

I changed my schedule at the beginning of the year, going from teaching Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga from 630-9pm to a more standard time of 6-830am. [A quick digression: how about replacing the word "traditional," which seems to cause such consternation among skeptics, with "standard" when discussing Ashtanga Yoga?  This way we can retain the notion of a centralized authority, i.e. our beloved teacher R. Sharath Jois, as a reason for doing what it is we do, and sidestep the notion of authenticity and authority rooted in time.  Think about it....]  I quickly realized something that many other teachers probably already knew, and that is that it really sucks to practice after teaching.  It sucks bad.  The first few weeks I just dealt with it. Then I started making some changes.  Changes that seemed to me to be ingenious problem-solving but are actually just common sense.  Bear with me.  First, I started taking a half hour break between teaching and practicing.  Rest and a light snack made for a pleasant improvement.  Then, I brought another change of clothes.  Dry underwear and a dry shirt makes for a substantially more pleasant practice.  These changes helped, but not enough.  Practice still felt as if it were being started a step behind emotionally/mentally/physically.

Two weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and do what many teachers (Sharath and David Robson come to mind immediately, but there are so many more, I'm sure) who are levels above me do: bite the bullet and get up as early as is necessary to practice before teaching.  This means up at 3am and begin practicing at around 3:15 for me.  It also means home practice, another thing not necessarily in my comfort zone.

As with anything, this new system has its pros and cons.   First, it will come as no surprise to those who know me that I do get off on the Spartan, "hard core," if you will, nature of finishing practice before the sun has even risen.  I can practice in my underwear, and throw decorum to the wind, so to speak.  (Get it?  The wind....)  I like practicing in front of the altar I've made in my home shala and checking in with the picture of my late father which adorns it from time to time.  I've come to like practicing alone, I must admit.  Now when I've finished teaching I have time to do pranayama and sitting practice at Miami Life Center before I either go back home or teach my full primary class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That's all well and good, but the fact remains that it's very very hard to get up at 3 in the morning.  Hypothetically it shouldn't be too bad if you can get yourself to bed by 8, but that goal has remained elusive as of this writing.  My wife is seldom home from work before 7, and it's crucial that we eat together and have at least an hour together before going to bed.  Most nights I'm in bed by 9, giving me about 6 hours of sleep a night, which is just barely not quite enough.  The ever-so-slight sleep deficit has done a number on me emotionally.  I've been up and down and all around.  One morning the alarm went off and I didn't get up, having one of those most belittling body trumps the mind moments.  I wonder if this will be sustainable.  Will I be able to get myself to sleep earlier?  Will mid-day naps do the trick?  Lots of extra sleep on Saturday?  I'm open to encouragement and suggestions.....