Sunday, March 30, 2014

Memo to the past: f%#k off

There's a great Facebook page for word nerds (and I am most definitely one) called Word Porn. Today, I noticed the above photo on their site. And it got me thinking....

I am not going to write that note to myself.

Because it wouldn't be just two words long because I am a loquacious bastard? Yeah. Ha. But there's more to it than that.

Every one of us has a past -- full of things to be proud of, but also, almost undoubtedly, containing some behavior that, given the chance to relive the moment, a lot of us would choose to modify.

I'm fairly certain that the note that you would write to your former self isn't going to say, "Nice job! Keep up the good work!"

Not that it shouldn't, mind you, but most of you know it wouldn't.

You'd get fixated on that thing -- or those things -- that could've (...should've...would've...) been better if only....

Fuck "if only...."

Really. Take "if only" out back, beat it senseless and leave it there to die.

Sure, learn from your mistakes, but that learning process isn't an excuse to revisit past transgressions and torture yourself over them. Move on. Live your life. Being the best you can be today actually has nothing to do with whatever you did five, ten, twenty or more years ago. Or what was done to you.


(And if you think I am going to suggest that meditation/mindfulness might help you out with this stuff.... I think I just did).

You truly have no choice but to get over it -- whatever "it" is. We've all fucked up and been done wrong (and lived lives that would be punk-rock lyrics if only we were that clever), but the only potential difference between you and the next guy or gal in that regard is whether you are still dwelling on all of that today, or kicking "if only" in the tender parts and moving on to live your life.

We call that "progress."

The greatest thing that hits me on a frequent basis from my time with paleo living, CrossFit, etc. is that people are never too old, too fat, too shy, too slow or too broken to make a positive change. How you get there depends almost entirely on you, today. Not yesterday's you. And most definitely not the you that did (or didn't do) ______ many years ago. I see people coming into paleo, and into the gym, in all shapes and sizes, trying to move on. And up. And it's inspiring as hell.

So what are you doing today? Making things better for yourself and those around you? I hope so.

(And start with liking that Word Porn page. It'll make you smarter; I swear).

--Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 24, 2014

Musician 1 - Rude guy with phone 0

Last night, I witnessed the classiest, quietest smackdown I have seen in a while.

I was standing at the bar just a few feet from the side of the stage at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia. Malia James, bass player for the Dum Dum Girls, leaned down between songs and said, quietly but firmly -- to the guy whose beer had already been teetering so perilously close to her various pedals that she had spent some of the previous songs blocking the approach of said beer with her foot -- "Excuse me, but do you have any idea how rude you are being right now?"

He (and his sloshy beer) had been on the phone together. Texting. For a while. While he leaned over the edge of the stage. Five musicians were on that stage playing their asses off. He was completely ignoring them, head down, looking at the phone, with his screen turned up to brightness-level "Totally Obnoxious." Texting. Fucking texting. For most of a song.

So she said something.

And he put the phone away, with a look that indicated he had never previously considered what a self-involved turd he is.

It was so quick, awesome and effective that my wife, standing next to me, didn't even see it happen. I was filled with fellow-musician pride.

The cell-phone plague at shows is bad enough already. Morons are filming large chunks of entire shows, blocking the views of those behind them with bright screens held in the air. That's bad enough. But when the idiotic behavior starts affecting the musicians onstage, it's gone completely over the edge.

Just put your phone away while the band is onstage.

Cheers, Malia. Well-played.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Floating in a saltwater sensory-deprivation tank in Philly. Oh. My. God….

"Who doesn't want to disappear, at some point in a day, in a year, to just step off the map and float?"
            -- Nick Flynn (from "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City"**)

If you traverse these parts often, or even a little, you'll notice that I have a bit of a thing for the mind-body connection. My brain is my best asset, and, occasionally -- and that seems to be at 3 a.m. if at all -- my worst enemy. And that's neither hubris nor craziness. It's likely true for you too. Your brain controls your own surfboard on the waves of life, but as the Internet meme goes, "I got 99 problems, and 86 of them are complete bullshit that I made up in my own head." Let the balancing act begin….

When the mind takes a hard right turn for the dark places, the body usually follows. A little anxiety about an upcoming whatever, and I get a little stomach pain, a little lost sleep, maybe even the dreaded 3 a.m. worry-wakeup. And, conversely, when the head is soaring, well, that's when I have those days that edge toward perfection.

I vote for more days like that.

(And I'll sidetrack for a moment to say that my anxiety is always (ALWAYS!) about the future. I have no hangups about the past. My particular superpower is to be able to Crush All Bad Shit that has ever happened to me. I learn from it, and move on -- a good thing. But, whatever bonus mental-outlook points I get for that particular sparkling attitude can get lost sometimes amidst the "what ifs" of the future. They can bog me down if I don't keep them in perspective. So I try….)

There's a float tank in this story, I swear.

Anyway…. another thing you might recall is that I get past the bad spots with meditation. The brain-emptying Zen smash of a regular meditation routine is, for me, unmatched. It keeps me calm. It makes me prioritize and compartmentalize what needs to be dealt with. It flushes anxiety away.

I've even gone on here about why I think open-eyes/in-the-moment Zen meditation has an edge on almost any other stress-relief technique. Spacing out/chilling out is awesome in its proper time and place. But it's not the same as emptying your present moment and letting that emptiness floss the bad bits out of your brain.

So what the hell am I doing in a space-out saltwater sensory-deprivation flotation tank at Halcyon Floats at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Philadelphia?

Chilling way out.

Remember, I didn't tell you there was no value in relaxation. In fact, I told you relaxation is amazing. It's just not the same as open-eyes meditation.

A couple months back I noticed that Skylee Robinson was tweeting frequently about the wonders of floating. I asked her if she would like to do a guest post here about it. She did, and it was great. The post received tons of hits, and, better yet, she got me interested in floating.

Just as I can ask you when the last time your mind was truly empty as a way to entice you to try a month or so of daily meditation, let me ask you this: when is the last time you just stopped? With no input but the thoughts in your head? For 90 minutes? That dead stop is what floating does. Or at least it's part of it.

The basics of a floatation-tank experience are pretty simple.

The water in the tank is about 12 inches deep, and contains 800 pounds of epsom salts. It's saltier than the Dead Sea. Anyone will float in it. The water is also close to body temperature. The tank itself is soundproofed and pitch-black (in theory anyway… more on that in a moment). The idea is that, once floating, you lose the edges, blurring the defining points between where the body ends and the water begins. The chill is, according to the hype, extreme.

So, I arrived at Halcyon Floats for my 10 a.m. appointment a few minutes early. After a quick briefing on the tank, and a quick shower, I plunged in.

Tell someone you are going to a float-tank place and you get interesting reactions like:

-- "Oh my god, I'd freak out."
-- "I don't know if I could calm down enough to enjoy it."
-- "I'm not sure I like myself enough to be alone with me for that long."

And so on….

Having a pretty strong base in meditation, I wasn't worried about any of that. In fact, I wasn't worried about anything. I was raring to go.

So, about ten minutes in, once I had fully taken in the initial warm dip into the water, laid my head back on one of those inflatable neck pillows that you see on airplanes, and gotten my eyes accustomed to the dark, and my ears to the quiet, I was having a few thoughts. None of them were the pleasant buzz i had anticipated:

--"What the hell is that noise?"
--"No, really, what the hell is that noise?"
-- "You know, it's really not pitch-black in here. There is a tiny bit of light bleeding in from the crack in the door and from down near the pipes near my feet."

I closed my eyes. Light "problems" disappeared. But the noise was still distracting. I'm still not clear what it was -- an almost imperceptible static-y buzz that came and went. But good god, once I heard it, and it went on and off for another ten minutes or so, it was killing me. It was not constant, and not rhythmic. I began to wonder if it was the newly installed sound system buzzing. But it wasn't *that* loud. Whatever it was, it was the opposite of relaxing.

I opened my eyes. The light that was ever-so-slightly coming in through the cracks began pissing me off too.

Then I remembered what I was told in the orientation: "You probably are going to want to turn the ceiling lights off before you get in the tank. There's a little night-light over here that will still be on in the room, but this way it won't be so bright when you get out."

Oh, right…. Shit, I left the (big! bright!) lights on.

I popped the hatch. All the light in the universe blinded me for a moment, and then I killed the light switch. Darkness! The weird buzzing noise stopped too (I guess it was the lights?).

I shut the hatch.

I headed for Awesome.

The difference between the next hour or so and what had preceded it was the same as the comparison between, say, London Calling and Cut the Crap. Between Rust Never Sleeps and Landing on Water. Between "Gimme Shelter" and "Emotional Rescue."

You get the idea.

The minor annoyances of the first 20 minutes disappeared into a very deep haze.

I simultaneously disappeared into a very deep trance. It was truly unlike anything I have ever experienced. That whole "loss of the edges of the body" thing? Yeah. In spades. I felt my pulse slow down to endurance-athlete levels. My breathing was a sound that joined me in the tank, but seemed oddly disconnected from anything going on in my own body. I drifted, in every sense of the word.

When gentle music finally came on to signify that my time was up, I felt more relaxed than, well, ever.

And it's still not the same (for me, anyway) as meditation. But wow, is it ever worthwhile.

I showered the salty slime away, had a cup of tea and a nice conversation with the woman who had been in the float tank in the other room during the same time, and headed out into a day that had a special glow to it, all day long.

Wow. I'll be back.

But there are a few things I will do differently next time:

-- obviously (duh) heed the suggestion to kill the big lights before heading into the tank.
-- ditch the inflatable pillow and use the earplugs that are offered (to keep out water more than sound). The only parts of my body that never really floated "away" completely were my head and neck. The pillow was a constant reminder of an "attachment" that I could do without next time.
-- opt out of the cooling fan that was offered for the tank. The water ended up ever so slightly cooler than body temp as a result. I accepted the fan because I tend to run hot, but overheating wasn't an issue at all. If anything, the water temp was just slightly cooler than optimal.

But those are all just "tweaks" to an otherwise wonderful experience.

Another positive that I didn't necessarily expect -- beyond the deep and abiding chill: when I went into Halcyon, my knees were aching from this week's CrossFit adventures. 90 minutes of Epsom-salt soaking later? 51-year-old dude is in no pain. Boom.

Really, if any of this experience sounds at all vaguely attractive to you, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I can't promise that you will love floating as much as I did. But with the potential for such a deep, relaxing, transformative impact on you, isn't it worth one visit, at least?

Me? I'll be back very soon. And regularly.


**a.k.a. the best damn book you have never read. It rides the thin razor's edge between "harrowing" and "amazing" like nothing else I have run across in a long time. The author is working in a homeless shelter full of the mentally ill. In walks Dad, as a client. Yes, really. Read it. Now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The value of a truly genuine compliment

I am not someone who thinks I need a lot of affirmation that I do a good job at work. I have been at it for many years, and I know what I am doing when I go to do my day job (the specifics of which we never ever discuss here, you may recall...).

So, something surprised me the other day.

First, someone from outside my office, whose work I respect a lot, said really nice things about some particular efforts of mine. And then, the next day, a very high-ranking official in my field (can you tell I am being purposely vague?) gave my efforts over the years in front of him and his peers a more global, far-reaching compliment when we happened to be riding on the same elevator. The first was cool. The second was completely unexpected, and, consequently, whatever better than "cool" is, especially considering the source.

And it got me to thinking....

A really genuine compliment -- particularly from someone who is an esteemed member of his or her field -- is a truly valuable thing.

Most of us toil away at our chosen path in life without a whole lot of positive feedback. Yeah, there are job-performance evaluations and the like. But those are often bullshit forms filled out only because some bullshit bureaucrat said they should be. A positive review like that means little to the recipient.

But it's different when the Big Kahuna, whoever that may be in a particular field -- you know, the Man or Woman in Charge of Everything -- takes time out of his or her busy day to say something genuinely complimentary to a non-peer. I think it's even more special when that person only occasionally hands out that kind of praise.

So.... Be aware of this fact, Mr. or Ms. Big Cheese: a really genuine compliment matters. No, don't go handing out praise left and right. That just cheapens the whole deal, and is as meaningless as that fake smile you get from the realtor (or teller or whomever) as they tell you, "Thanks *so* much," for something trivial. But when you see someone, particularly below you on the ladder of your profession, really kicking ass on a regular basis, tell that person that you appreciate his or her efforts. Do so in a real and genuine way. And you will make the world a little better, more-caring place. You may also truly brighten that person's day, week or month. And what's better than that?

Because, as a fairly common Internet meme tells us, almost everyone is struggling with something that's invisible to most of us. So, when it's appropriate, try and lighten people's loads by letting them know that their hard work is appreciated. It could be more important to them than a paycheck. Really.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 17, 2014

Down on sleep? Kill the alarm, when you can

Back in the pre-CrossFit days, my wife and I used to go to the gym every morning. Up by 5 or 5:30, and out the door by 6 or so. When CrossFit started, we scaled back the number of days that we worked out, but we still usually went first thing in the morning.

And that meant setting an alarm. Alarms are cool if you have the personal discipline to go to bed by a (pretty early) certain time every night, but it seems that life often intrudes on any semblance of a "regular" bedtime. And when that bedtime creeps later, the next morning's alarm transforms from a gentle taskmaster to a drill sergeant.

So, lately, we have started with a new approach when we can: no alarm. Under the theory that if we aren't well-rested enough to wake up on our own, maybe we should be rethinking that early-a.m. workout schedule, we began sleeping in just a little. A little, mind you... not a lot. We have jobs. More importantly, we have dogs, who would wake us up to eat, eventually ("eventually"= by about 7 o'clock). But, let me assure you that there is an enormous difference between waking up at 5 a.m. and getting up at 7. There is also a big difference between the jolt of an alarm clock and waking up when your body actually feels like it. And if we want to go to the gym, there are still late-afternoon/early-evening CrossFit classes that we can get to. Or not. And we are good with that.

There is some truth to the notion that unless you are actually getting up at sunrise and going to bed around sunset, you are a sleep "hacker" to at least a degree. But let's face it, that means that we are *all* sleep hackers. So does that mean we should just throw in the towel and wing it when it comes to getting a good night's rest? No. You can still carve out a decent portion of your night for some quality shut-eye.

There's, first and foremost, shutting down your electronics earlier than you do now (says the guy typing at night, on an iPad), and then there's getting to bed earlier. But don't forget the "sleeping in a little" trick. Unless you have taken The Big Leap and decided that you are training for CrossFit as a "sport," rather than as a health/longevity aid, you are probably better off getting quality sleep and foregoing a few trips to the gym each week than you are beating the bejeezus out of yourself by dragging yourself to CrossFit on five hours' sleep.

And I know... This is "sleep in a little" advice from someone who doesn't have young kids or other reasons to be awake at a very early hour no matter what every morning. So if this tip doesn't work for you, then so be it. But maybe, just maybe, you are a (young-)childless workaholic who needs to examine just why the hell you are dragging yourself out of bed to beat yourself into a cortisol-filled coma some mornings. Believe me.... *that's* not doing you any favors.

And yeah, it's taken me a while to catch on to this little fact myself. I will be at p.m. CrossFit even a little more than usual....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Paleo FX 2014: bigger, better and hey! I'm on a panel!

Last year, I went to the Paleo FX conference in Austin, Texas. I had a blast (paradoxically eating more off-the-map food in a few days than I normally do in a few months.... mmmm chocolate bourbon pecan pie at the 24 Diner). I learned a lot, and -- despite said gastronomical diversions -- I returned home more committed than ever to this lifestyle.

This year, from April 10-13, I am headed back to Austin for Paleo FX 2014.

It's bigger (more stages) and better (more smart speakers, something like ten NYT best-selling authors!) and I'm actually there to participate this time, not just hang in the background while learning a lot.

You may recall that Kendall Kendrick from Primal Balance asked me last year to be a guest on her podcast. It was great fun, and her followup to my podcast appearance was to offer me a spot on a "mastermind panel" at PFX this year.

Of course I jumped at the chance.

I believe my exact response when she first asked was: "That sounds vaguely terrifying. But sure. And thanks!"

The terror has long since subsided, and now I am just excited to do this thing. On the panel -- beside me and Kendall -- are Darryl Edwards, Dr. Daniel Stickler and Kyle Maynard. And the whole thing is moderated by Tony Federico.

It's an impressive, inspiring group of people that I get to share the stage with, and I couldn't be more honored to participate. The panel is called "Beyond Food," and our focus is on all the other things a paleo person can do, other than paleo eating, to maximize his or her health and wellbeing. Unsurprisingly (at least for anyone who hangs out here), my focus will be on the positive, quieting and life-changing aspects of regular meditation.

As of the date that I am posting this, the official schedule is not out yet, but I will update the post as soon as we get the official word on the date and time of our panel. UPDATE: we are on the "cooking demo" stage at 1:35 p.m. on Sunday!

I am really looking forward to this experience, along with meeting a lot more of you paleo folks. Last year, I put a lid on my usual conversational/social self and concentrated on learning as much as possible. I left PFX thrilled, inspired, full of great Austin food, and... sworn to be more social next time.

Next time is almost here. If you are going to the conference, make sure to say hi. Let's hang out, shoot the proverbial shit and enjoy some great food and drink. This will be fun.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 3, 2014

You vs. your brain, in the middle of the night, a.k.a. another meditation post

The 3 a.m. anxiety demons take a while to show up to wreck my sleep. Everyone has his or her own version of stress. Mine isn't a tidal wave. It's a slow leak. And, theoretically, at least, I should be able to see it coming. Maybe work is a little heavier than usual, or, back when my dad was alive -- but not really living -- the issues of dealing with his dementia could pile up in my brain. Add a few extra drinks, maybe a late night or two and what seems manageable becomes a near-comical middle-of-the-night clusterfuck.

 A recent version went like this: heavy work stuff added up and up and up, and a couple nights I was up later than usual, not because of work -- because of fun. Nothing seemed crazy, but I skipped my meditation practice a number of those days too. "Suddenly" -- read: not actually suddenly at all -- I woke up at 1 a.m. when the dogs heard something, and, instead of just drifting back to sleep in seconds like I do normally, I had a thought, and another thought and then another, and before I knew it, it was almost 3 a.m. and my heart was pounding over stuff that, by that point, I was just making up.

But one's capacity for imagination and anxiety is never better than at 3 a.m.

I tried a quick-fix remedy that often works -- just go walk around the house, maybe have a quick drink of water.

Something about moving often resets the slightly-stressed brain.

But that didn't do it. So there I was, at three in the morning, sitting on a pillow on the floor, staring at a wall.

Ten minutes of meditation. At three in the fucking morning.

I went back to bed and konked out almost immediately.

"Whatever it takes" is my new mantra.

See, like I said at the outset of this little spiel, everyone has his or her own stress. You can only pretend to understand mine, and I yours. I don't "get" people who can't let go of the past. That's not my particular version of hell. I can detach from actual events that have really happened and erase their negativity from my brain with no problem. My issue with "living in the present moment" is the future. I can't just wing that shit. I need to plan, at least a little. But planning, in the hands of the over-planner, can become, well, over-planning. In the hands of the over-planner who is also a perfectionist about stuff he cares about, whether it be playing music or working that day job that I have that we (still) never talk about here, over-planning can become a bit of anxiety.

And in the hands of that guy, when he skips his meditation practice for a few days, the "bit of anxiety" creeps and crawls and drips and leaks until the 3 a.m. anxiety demons make an early call at 1 a.m.

You get the idea. If meditation fixes the bad stuff -- and it does for me -- don't skip it, any more than you would skip eating. And if you aren't on the meditation bandwagon yet, whether your stress is a slow leak or a tsunami, you might want to give it a shot.

Whatever it takes. Whatever. It. Takes. Be strong. Deal with the bad shit.