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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

ID-10028225The forthcoming tips come from a journal entry from last week. Its fun to flip through a soft leather pocket-sized volume,  reading bits in juicy blue fountain pen hand. I adore fountain pens, the quill gliding, feeling the shining liquid ink absorb into the paper. I relish writing in cursive, something Israelis find perplexing. Creating loop upon look feels a little like drawing, doesn’t it?  They don’t write that way here, the boxy Hebrew characters aren’t built for it. Though everyone is fluent in English, they cannot read our connective writing. Shame.

In any case, a few facts.

1) I’m writing this post on my kindle fire – a used new-to-me model given me by my mother incredibly thoughtful sister, which despite its first-generation-ness, has really improved the quality of my life. It’s a rudimentary tablet, and I have access to wifi like a smart phone,  something I don’t have as its very expensive here. Though clunky, its so nice to have a browser and books (of which I’ve read a few) and newspapers (I read the Herald Tribune daily) and apps, though usually its just a few card games I use to distract myself to blow off steam. There is no camera and no mic so Skype and photos aren’t relevant. However I just downloaded this mobile wordpress app, seems easy to use, and here I am, writing! Brilliant. Thank you Ashley!

2) The following are guidelines I created for myself, very straightforward, things I know will vastly improve my daily existence. The moment by moment breathing in and out getting out of bed and being functional and happy kind of existence. The physical that should improve the metaphysical.  Underneath the funky bookishness, I’m just an ordinary schmo. I’m very messy and unraveled at the edges. These are my goals. Maybe you guys would find some benefit too from reading this. Or at least you can check up on me. Or ask me out. Or publish my novel. Or do my dishes. Whatever floats your boat.

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night, preferably turning in before midnight.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day. 
  • Create a daily work checklist and stick to it.
  • Don’t dare to think about work after work, and really create a line, even if and when overtime is required.
  • Always be reading a book.
  • Read the newspaper every day. 
  • Attend or participate in (at least) one cultural activity per week, whether it be a night at the opera or digging out the colored pencils for a fun sketch fest at home.
  • See friends twice per week or more.
  • Write, blog, or otherwise work with words in some way every day.
  • Clean something every day and maintain a clean (ish) home – i.e. sweeping, dishes, cat box, laundry, gardening, general tidying.
  • Pay bills/rent/vaad bayit on time.
  • Cook and generally eat healthy meals (and eat with people preferably), not in front of the computer or TV.
  • Go to yoga once per week if not more.
  • Go on one date per week.

How hard is this?  Very hard!  Well, not really, but really.  It takes some self-conscious effort.  Nothing on the list is difficult.  Well, not too difficult – the cleaning is not easy for me.  But doing every single thing, or at least many of them — that is discipline.  I do some of these things, sometimes, and somehow I manage.  I imagine if I could accomplish these tasks, and maintained it, my life would be less stressed and far more fulfilling.  How often do I lose sleep over timing, running to keep up on deadlines, avoiding the disgusting kitchen sink, feeling guilty guilty guilty.  The stress is physically and mentally unhealthy.  So, while easier said than done, I must attempt this everyday Everest.

What do you think?  Do you have a regimen?  Any tips?

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Dear Readers,

I have not written in an eternity.  For a while, I knew it was the right decision.  Life was overwhelming, so much so, that keeping up a blog was becoming more of a guilty burden than an outlet for self-expression and the exchange of ideas.  However, the last few months revealed an interesting symptom: my facebook and twitter status updates became longer, more complex, resembling compositions, carefully, artfully, lovingly crafted. Word art in 140 characters or less. A clear sign I needed to actually do some real writing.  The potential subject matters have also become overwhelming – what to write about?  Where should I start?  So I’m going to jump.  Bear with me, dear reader.

Riojan Revelations

I took myself on vacation to Spain in September.  I won’t go into details except to say – visit Basque Country.  The best food, gorgeous landscape, and the kindest people you’d ever want to meet.  You wouldn’t think it – it’s not a sexy place – but there is a subtle grandeur, an old world Europe elegance, with a fascinating and often sad history, that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself.  Besides, Riojan wine country is literally next door (and culturally related), there are Europe’s loveliest beaches, and you can even go surfing if you dare to face those cold waters.

I always keep a journal when I travel extensively.  I buy a leather bound volume or two and invest in a good pen.  As I travel alone, it keeps me sane, gives me purpose, gives me distraction when needed.  It’s not easy just being with yourself and only with yourself without a routine – travel for me is a kind of meditation – extremely difficult at first, but when you get into the rhythm, the benefits are infinite.  By the end of the trip, I felt more like myself in years.  

My main revelation: who I am.  I never had a calling, never knew I had to be a surgeon or a ballerina.  And that practicality in college or slightly after never kicked in – I didn’t enlist in law school or business school or find an interesting sector to devote my life to some sort of desk.  I am not unique in this.  Whatever the decisions of the people in my generation, there is an clear sense of ennui.  Books and research and articles about “the quarterlife crisis” and the downfalls of having too many choices leading to major anxiety and crippling indecision, abounded.  In many ways, I have been a leaf.  That image of Forrest Gump’s leaf has remained ingrained in my memory.  Though I’ve had a stable job for a year and a half, in a sector I devoted 4 years to in some semblance or another, my mind, heart, “soul,” self, is not that professional person.  I love so much of what I do.  I threw all of my energy, sacrificing my health sometimes, to the company, to the mission, for the benefit of wine culture in Israel.  I’m very lucky to have this in my life.  But this is not my raison d’etre.  This is not my life.  It is not worth my health or the majority of hours in the week.  The time has come to go back to “me.”  It probably won’t make me money.  But I’m dying inside sometimes from the lack of time and attention to who it really is that I am.

(Goodness doesn’t this sound like the introduction to some sappy self-help novel! Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy-go-luck person…)

This will sound stupid, and I even felt it to be so stupid as I wrote in my journal on my last day in San Sebastian while drinking a too-sweet cafe con leche and nibbling on a tortilla pintxo (a Spanish omelet placed on top of a too-small slice of baguette, speared with a toothpick), that I wrote down that this was embarrassingly stupid to be writing.  It’s so far-fetched. It’s such a grandiose word, that I feel I’m being an arrogant sophist for thinking such a thought.  But the word felt right, and it wouldn’t go away.  Words are powerful.  Now I’ve always felt kind of OK calling myself a thinker, or a person who likes to think, who often (or at best occasionally these days) wrote.  What I am, what I have always been, is a philosopher.  When I wrote that down, I felt good.  I am in such awe at that word – pictures of brilliant pipe-smoking tweed-clad professors and long-dead robe-wrapped Greeks come to mind.  So you can understand how silly I feel calling myself such a word.  

On a daily basis, I have all-encompassing “thinking spells.” I am an incurable daydreamer.  When seen in children it seems sweet and creative and fanciful until or unless it interrupts schoolwork or other such responsible tasks.  In adults, it’s perceived as a wishy-washy hippie impractical waste of a thing to do.  I can’t help it.  Overpowering ideas flow, and I stop, and I let them wash into me.  For minutes, for hours, on and off over the course of days sometimes.  It gives me great pleasure to think.  To roll thoughts and facts and theories over and over in my mind, connecting the dots, creating fascinating conclusions.  For example, yesterday, I entertained an imaginary conversation with an old acquaintance from college about the earliest origins of marriage, land-ownership, violence and the current socioeconomic state.  My greatest pain – that I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things.  Perhaps it’s why so many of my mental wanderings take the form of dialogues, either with people I have known, or people I respect, whether they be perfect strangers or even long-dead.  I’ve been labeled strange, an oddity, and I don’t mind that. But not to be listened to.  Not fun.  And I fear that my wits have dulled without this practice. I feel that I sometimes reject the thought pattern building up, and distract myself with television, games, food, alcohol, cleaning, gardening, and most of all – work – not entirely unhealthy, but it borders on it.  It’s why it was particularly heartbreaking not to have been accepted into a doctoral program a couple years ago.  I knew my application was hurried and weakly presented, but I still had hoped it would be enough.  

My conclusion in Spain: let it be.  It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Like meditating.  Like anything worth doing in life – it takes discipline in order to build a healthy habit.  My goal is to begin writing these thoughts down, as I have in the past.  Beyond that, I feel I need to at least try to publish something formally.  It won’t take the place of a regular discourse, but it will affirm I’m not crazy.  There’s a particular treatise on ecology, the environment, and economics that I’ve been meaning to get out of my system for over three years.  Perhaps sending these ideas into the world will negate my new self-identity – there is a danger that I will discover I’ve never had an even slightly original idea in my life.  But I need to take that chance. Exploring the writing of others, extensively, in order to better informed, is never bad. It’s always fruitful.  Thinking is always better than not thinking.  I need not be ashamed of that.  I need to embrace it, whether or not anyone understands me or cares.

I will leave you with a treat! Photos of some incredible home-libraries that have been popping up on my facebook stream all week.  I am desperate for something like this in my home.  A respite for the soul.  It’s ever so much easier to be productive and comfortable in one’s own skin when surrounded by a beautiful, functional environment. Squishy armchair required.  Fireplace optional.  Thank you for reading.

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The Ivory Tower (from The NeverEnding Story)

1 down, 9 to go.

I turned in my first application to grad school two days ago.  I should feel some semblance of relief, but I don’t.  My official test scores will take weeks to get there, and my stupid stupid MFA transcripts from London haven’t arrived despite being mailed 3 weeks ago.  I’m pissed off!  A really really really nice woman who answered my phone call to the Humanities department calmed me a bit, at least confirming that I would not be automatically disqualified.  She said she wouldn’t know if it would help, but she accepted a scanned copy of my MFA transcripts until the real ones arrive.

It became far clearer to me how difficult it will be to get in when this week a professor connection I was trying to make basically said, flat out, “there’s no point in me talking to her because we accept 3 people every year, and I’m busy anyway, so leave me alone.”  3 people out of 100.  My test scores are abysmal and I’m not that sure about my writing sample, so even if my grades, recommendation, and personal statement get me into top 10, these are easy elements by which to separate me out.  And I’m screwed if some schools look at scores first – if they only look at 650 and up – I am dead.  3.8 GPA, UofC honors degree, Phi Beta Kappa or no, I’m a terrible test-taker.  I’m counting on the readers being fair, and who knows how likely that will be.  Hence, 10 applications.  Hopefully I can raise my chances from 3% to, who knows, 10-20%, and maybe higher if I apply to many levels of programs.  Which I think I am.

That’s the story, Mornin’ Glories.  I’ve spent every night this past week working on my candidate statement, losing so much sleep, I can’t tell you, driving myself to exhaustion and sickness, and my work and grad school load have both suffered for it.  If it pays off, it will have been worth it.  If it doesn’t, I suppose I’m better prepared to do it again next year.  If I can bear it.  If I can bear it.

Knock, knock, knocking.  Please let me back in.  It’s cold and lonely out here.

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Golan Heights Winery's Gamay Nouveau Festival

Worries about finances, men, career, short story writing, reading long classic novels, applications, and the near-to-not-so-near future have not made for an easy couple of weeks.  It’s been a sort of sleepless treading of water.  My schedule has been impossible, and it doesn’t look like it will abate.  I’m not complaining.  I’ve made my bed.  I’m simply hoping that expressing some of this will alleviate some of the pressure, like poking some tiny holes in a balloon to make it leak instead of explode.  Notice how many “some“s I used in the previous sentence.  Oh well.  This isn’t the great American novel.

There are some things to look forward to.  Namely, big time wine events.   If you can make them, do so.

The Sommelier 2010 Wine Expo: November 8 & 9, 12-9pm

Sommelier 2010

This is the largest and most important annual wine show in Israel, and it will be held at Heychal Ha’Tarbut (the cultural center where HaBima Theatre is, at the top of Rothschild).  Some of you may wonder if it’s larger than the IsraWinExpo that happens every two years at the Exhibition Grounds, but it’s not, and I’ll tell you why.   This event is geared towards professionals.  The wineries know that they are dealing with wine store owners, chefs, beverage managers, high-end waiters, and yes, sommeliers, and the wine variety and selection show it.  I won’t divulge what the Golan Heights Winery is presenting yet (secrets, secrets), but I can tell you the lineup is impressive.

The event is open to the general public after 7:30 pm, and I believe it will cost 100 shekels.  It’s not such a steep price when you consider you can drink as much as you want (well, it’s a “tasting” quantity – but with dozens of wineries to visit, it adds up) while learning about the best of the best of the Israeli wine industry.  For those of you with even a remote connection to food and wine on a professional or semi-professional level (food bloggers and cafe waiters listen up) – you can try to register on the Sommelier website, and I’m almost certain you’ll be approved.  Important: you’ve got to write in Hebrew, your name, profession, the works, or the form won’t submit.  Get some help if it’s a problem.  The confirmation will most likely go into spam, and it will be in Hebrew, so also be on the lookout. Print it out and bring it with you if you can.  Today is probably the last day to register, so act now.  It’s free for you!

Israeli “Beaujolais Nouveau” Festival – 19 November, 12-4 pm, “HaTachana” in Neve Tzedek

2009 Gamay - designs by young artist contest winners

I know, I know, I should not use the word Beaujolais.  But I did get your attention, I hope.   The Beaujolais Day in France was a marketing ploy created after WWII, and it was seen as way to clear out the vin ordinaire (ordinary, simple table wine) at the very beginning of the season and make a good profit.  So, on the 3rd Thursday of November, the very first wines of the year (yup, the 2010’s – off the vine as little as 6 weeks ago) open up to the market (this is a legality – French wine rules are strict).  AND wineries compete in a race to get their wines to Paris from Burgundy first.  Lots of media hype over the years has made this race an international phenomenon.

The Golan Heights Winery has followed suit, and on the 3rd Thursday of November, they are releasing their 2010 Gamay Nouveau.  Yes the same varietal as the genuine article.  The method of production is also the same, using a fermentation method called carbonic maceration and preventing an malolactic fermentation from happening.  Basically, the wine is fermented inside the grapes, before pressing, preventing any harsh flavors, no tannins, etc.  It’s a fresh light magenta-pinky-purple wine, and you’ve got to drink it within the first year.  It’s great moderately chilled.

GHW’s Gamay Nouveau Festival (map)

Friday, November 19, 2010

12-4 pm

Building 3

HaTachana (map)

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Meditation Hall

 

I’m heading off to a Vipassana retreat, and I won’t be able to make phone calls, check email, write, read, or otherwise speak for a week.  And I am so thrilled!  The problem is in the leaving.  I’m trying to finish off a big work project (procrastinating until the final second), and clean the house, and be kind to my pets (as I’m leaving them alone for almost two days until my sister flies home).  Money.  Do you remember the days of not having to worry about it?  And why did that thought come out?  Probably because September is a slow moneymaking month (holidays), I’m owed some money, and I’m taking a whole week off that I could be working, thus making September less painful.  And as I’m an independent, the amount I make every month varies.  Oh goodness.  I just hope I can unwind quickly enough.  At moments like these I’m embarrassed for myself, as I don’t feel like a self-sufficient productive member of society.  Who are you and what good are your degrees and diplomas and accomplishments if you worry like mad about bills?  And yet, I’m going to Vipassana.  Buddhist teachings have changed my life, but it is so much harder to release and let go than one could possibly imagine.  How do you live every day, consciously, with insight, with grace, kindness, and compassion…and work like a maniac, plan for the future, wash the dishes, date, write, go to school, work, meditate, work, meditate, cook, work, etc, etc, etc?  This is why retreats exist.  To get away.  Refresh.  Relax.  Focus.  Gear up to go back.

 

Sangha

 

OK.  So back to work.  To procrastinating.  To cooking up yet more of the greens in my fridge (yes, I have succeeded in eating nothing but greens and tahini and a few nuts for 4 days now).  To packing.  To not being in the moment so that tomorrow I will receive an even bigger shock when I get to meditate 24/7.  Yippee!

A wonderful Sukkot holiday to all!

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I haven’t blogged in an eternity.  It has been difficult to share with people what I experienced a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure I want to – or if this story will interest anyone.  I feel I’ve become some sort of missionary – but please know that that is the last of my intentions. Without further ado – here’s the blog post.

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Does sitting silently with 100+ strangers in the middle of nowhere for 7 days sound like a vacation to you?  I don’t know if I was nuts out of my mind when I signed up, but it did indeed sound like the perfect getaway for this stressed out Telavivian.

From March 31 to April 6 I attended a Vipassana Retreat – a living meditation immersion, where from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm all time was devoted to sitting, standing, and walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – conducted completely in noble silence.

I can say with certainty that attending this retreat (hosted by the incredible Tovana organization and led by Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss) was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

For those who don’t know anything about Buddhism, I don’t want to go into detail here and risk boring or alienating you.  What I would like to do is share with you even a small bit of what the experience was like.

Buddhism in 10 words:

There is suffering, and there is an end to suffering.

The Buddhist teachings, known as the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali), spoke so clearly to me.  To even touch upon them in such brevity would be fruitless here.   They tell of a “middle path,” not one of religion and not one of secular life – away from both the comforts of blind faith and competitive addictive materialism.  The smallest summary – Buddhism is the most peace-loving and logical philosophy and practice I have ever encountered.  And I stress philosophy and practice.  Buddhism did not begin as a religion – it became one – probably contrary to what the historical Buddha would have wanted.  This is not to say that all the religious Buddhists today are in the wrong.  But I do want to communicate here is that you can be a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, and still practice meditation, live by Buddhist ways.  Never did we speak of God.

The meditations, difficult as it is to sit on your ass for 8+ hours every day, frustrating as it is to hear yourself silently repeating over and over, “why the fuck am I here,” eventually become incredibly beautiful experiences.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such complete calm as I did then.  After a few days, your senses become heightened.  Smells, sounds, tastes – both within your body and without – become acutely fine-tuned.  Silence, a scary concept for busy city dwellers, becomes a beautiful, no, a precious commodity.

Calmness – however – is not the goal of meditation. Vipassana means insight.  If we can quiet all our voices, focus our minds, practice mindfulness, we then are in a position to really examine ourselves.  Before I started meditating, I thought that it would be easy or boring or simply a tactic at reducing stress.  Now I know it’s a difficult lifelong process.  It is a process of learning how to end suffering. Because we all suffer in varying degrees – from the drudgery of work, to the annoyances of family, to the very fiber of our social structure of making it, making it big, buying it all, impressing the neighbors, becoming famous, seeking out the finest pleasures, and reviling all that is ugly and painful.

Coming back to Tel Aviv was not as difficult as I had expected.  I believe this is because I learned to process fear differently.  I wasn’t dreading the drudgery.  I wasn’t scared of life after the calm.  But I also didn’t know how to share what I experienced.  I still don’t.  I live with my sister, a beautiful human being, who I believe is governed by a lot of anger and self doubt.  It would be highly unlikely that she would even want to begin to understand.  Some friends gave me wide eyed, “oh my god she’s gone off the deep end and joined a cult,” expressions while politely nodding.  Luckily, I found several groups to study and meditate with.  I have meditated twice every day (or more, on days I have meetings and classes) for a month.  For related reasons, but not ones altogether decided upon, I have not been eating any meat.  I have been sleeping more, and I have found that the life I had found to be exceptionally dull, painful, and hopeless at times (time spent with yoga, wine, food, friends, good books being the exception), was all of a sudden not only tolerable, but beautiful.  I wash dishes.  I clean the cat box.  I work at the computer.  And I am fine.  I do not suffer. As much. It is a process, after all.  And boy oh boy, does it take time and learning.

I am stopping now.  If you’d like to know more, please email me.  If you’re in Tel Aviv and want to come with me to Dharma talks and/or learn how to meditate, email me.  In all, dear readers of mine, please know that I am actually happier than I was.  There are those few moments in our busy lives when we can stop and put a finger down and say, “here, now, I am happy.”  I’m having more of those now than I’ve had in a long time.

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