before MS/after MS – a typical day

before: I drank coffee all day long everyday. 4 to 6 beers on the weekend. maybe a bottle of wine. held my breath and didn’t breathe properly all day at work. lots and lots of cured meat. donuts and cake all the time. mean-spirited sarcasm. played soccer all weekend without properly warming up before games. i was self-employed and ran an advertising agency. struggled to employ 10 people with healthcare. saturated with negative thinking. artistically drawn toward gritty urban decay as subject matter. I created mixed media paintings using oil paint, collage, turpentine and other toxic mediums. smoked  cigars. argued alot. refinished the floors in my house using polyurethane. trip to the butcher and the bakery to stock up. 6 big chocolate cookies and milk before bed. late night TV. back out to the painting studio to see if the glue or paint dried…

after: I work for someone else. eat lots of steamed vegetables and rice. practice and teach yoga. am mindful of my speech and actions as not to harm anyone. draw the human figure while integrating yogic breath techniques. watch kids movies with my son. meditate. fall asleep at about 9. try to always be positive. sleep and read on the train. look for people that I can help. drink herbal tea.

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I was accused of being “positive”.

You never know when the benefits of yoga will surface.
One of my goals has been to lessen the amount of my negativity. It appears as though I’ve made some progress. It hasn’t been easy. I needed to purge the mean-spirited sarcasm from my system, as well as other unhealthy behaviors. I used to spend lots of time crafting stories about tragic events that “could only happen to me”. Telling lies in the form of gross exaggeration was another of my past traits– a gift from my father. And my habit of making fun of people for my own amusement– yes, even the handicapped. There was much more.

So after years of self-study in yoga and buddhism, a glimmer of success arrived in my cubicle. A co-worker, in front of other co-workers, pointed out that she likes working with me because I’m “always positive”.

That felt good. So good it’s a blog entry.

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a list of things I can do: as of Sept 30th, 2010

I can put on my socks, move my legs and toes,
smell coffee, create art, talk on my cell phone,
see my sister’s babies, earn a paycheck, enjoy music,
appreciate cold rainy days, love my girlfriend, bundle my son up in a quilt and lift him up into his bunk bed, apologize endlessly, be in yoga, sleep really well on cool stormy nights with the windows open, remember to breath, eat ice pops and watch the discovery channel with Luke, run as fast as I can playing sharks and minnows with the elementary school kids, appreciate standing on a crowded train home, make halloween decorations, appreciate everything about Aimee, put on my favorite flannel shirt, help my son get in and out of the shower, tuck him in, load the dishwasher, admit that I’m addicted to pizza, sketch people in the book store, buy Warren a corn muffin with butter and jelly on the corner of 30th and Market at 8am, close my eyes and relax my face, fall asleep in a leather chair in the middle of the mall, balance on a fallen tree, watch Ice Age the Meltdown for the 10th time and still laugh, remember the Hail Mary, enjoy the scent of you on your side of the bed after you’ve left, make mashed potatoes with rice milk, do 59 push-ups, talk to my mother, meditate before bed, become sleepy,

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meditation is like vacation

After a few days of vacationing at the beach you begin to disconnect from the routine behavior in life.  You find the superficial distractions beginning to dissolve.  A few more days and the distractions begin to disappear and feel insignificant.

Your environment is different. The habitual reminders aren’t availlable. The cell phone no longer  important. The lists aren’t important. The computer becomes unwanted.

Becoming more and more submerged into your vacation you see just a few important topics emerge. Realizations. A feeling that you have been distracted away from the very obvious.

Meditation is the same kind of trip. Distractions get set aside so that things can become quiet, like you are submerged in a deep ocean. When things become quiet the really important topics find their way to the surface.

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The tow truck driver

The oil light went on in my car tonight. Shortly after that, at a traffic light I heard some strange mechanical noises coming from the engine of my brand new Honda. I pulled off the road and noticed all the oil running out onto the pavement.

The Honda dealership had just changed my oil a day before and obviously did not tighten the oil pan screw. I called the dealership and they sent a tow truck. The flat bed tow truck came with lights flashing at 6:30 pm. The driver of the truck didn’t talk much. He asked me what happened and I explained. He didn’t have much of a reaction. He just seemed to understand that these things can happen. He wore typical gas station clothes. Grey and dirty, and oily, old boots. A shaved head and baseball cap. He carefully attached my car to the truck, and secured the connections. Then he skillfully manuevered the car into position and the cable pulled my car onto the deck of the truck.

I climbed in the cab and we started out for the Honda dealership. It was very dark now and I could see him illuminated by the dashboard lights. The ride would take about twenty minutes. We talked about deer and how they are so active this time of year because its mating season. I asked him if he is prepared for the weather to get even colder. He didn’t give much of an opinion about that. I asked if he was from around here and said he was from Montgomery. He said he works the night shift towing and has a full-time day job at a refinery in Perth Amboy. Also he has 4 kids. The oldest two are in college and his youngest, Christian, is 5, His thirteen year old has just starting high school. He noted that it is a coincidence that his kids names start with either a J or a C in alternating order and that his name is Jose and his wife’s name is Carmen.

Jose and Carmen have been married since they were 19.  He’s 40 now. He told me how well he understands his wife. He knows exactly how to handle things when she is cranky because of her period and how he never argues with her because it doesn’t get them anywhere. Even when she wants to argue he is the first to back down. If he needs to, he takes his 5-year old out for a ride or to the movies, and when they come back home she has forgotten all about the disagreement. He really understands women. In fact he studied women. His father told him that if you’re going to get married you better know something about women. So he read books about relationships to prepare. Even now he studies about menopause and tells Carmen what to expect and that it’s coming.

We pulled into the Honda dealership at about 7:45 . After my car was unloaded and checked in for the repair, I gave Jose a tip and shook his hand. My ex-wife and son had arrived too and were waiting with the headlights on. My son excitedly got out and into my used mini van provided by the dealership as a courtesy. We headed home. My son was very talkative and told me about a little, shy, latino girl in his class named Julia that he likes to help everyday.

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peace treaty

Doctors say it.  Patients say it. Bumper stickers say it. You’ve got to “fight” the disease. This aggressive, external mantra, usually is applied to those people with cancer or some other autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis.

After dealing with my own case of MS, it has become clear to me that conflict with my body is what got me into trouble. Ignoring my body, and treating it poorly, combined with years of stress is a catalyst for this autoimmune disease. My father, as well, treated himself so poorly both physically and mentally that he died of cancer at the age of 66. Cigarettes, chemical inhalants, alcohol, and processed foods went into his body. He was ruled by the negative emotions of anger, frustration, and hatred.

Living a life filled with addictions, stress, poor diet and negative thinking is a typical lifestyle for people diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. When the body is detached and the mind is frantic with distractions, there is already a fight.

With an autoimmune disease there needs to be a new, internal, mantra. Make “peace” with your body. Begin by simply knowing that everything must change.

Relearn how to breathe. I wasn’t breathing correctly. Sometimes not at all. My yoga teacher once said, “god only has given you so many breathes on this earth., so make them long and smooth”.

Relearn how to eat. I wasn’t eating correctly. Processed meats, high fat, sugar, caffeine, beer and alcohol. Everything in excess (just like my father). Begin to eat as pure as possible and in a mindful manner. Remove all addictive substances. Find out all your allergies to avoid stressful foods. Take supplements.

Relearn how to live with people. I was in a stressful relationship. I see and hear it all the time now. People feeling trapped in relationships, or jobs with people who aren’t healthy for them to be around. Part of treating yourself well is to engage only in healthy relationships at home and work. Kind, loving, caring people. And then reciprocating the kind, loving, and caring way. The negativity soon transforms with a focus on peace.

Join the body with the mind and spirit in a peace treaty. Be in yoga. Meditate. The conflict within the body can be resolved and then restoration begins. It takes a lot of attention and dedication. I initially acted out of fear when diagnosed, like most people, but the fear also transforms and turns into confidence. Then at some point I put the medicine down.

MS medicine works and there are stories of how chemo has saved lives. My father couldn’t be corrected with chemo. He made no peaceful changes in his life. Always a fight between mind and body. He stayed addictive and increasingly negative.

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mindfulness in a yoga pose

Yoga is sometimes described as the middle path in life.
It encompasses how we think about diet, our speech, our thought patterns, our actions off the mat, and of course our actions on the mat, the asanas.

In the  asanas there should be some effort as well as comfort. If there is too little effort the pose becomes passive. The mind is not engaged at all with the body. If this happens then the mind easily wanders. It might seem boring or fruitless, and then we think about the yard work that needs to be done after the class or what was said last weekend at a dinner party. There will be no progress noted during class or the  days after and the practitioner may feel like there is no reason to be in yoga.

If the action of the pose is too aggressive, then there is pain in the muscle or joint that is being stressed. The mind becomes  acutely focused on that part of body and wants the action to stop as soon as possible. The thoughts are negative and there is no joy in the pose. There will be soreness or pain the next day or all week and the practitioner may not look forward to returning or give up.

There is the middle way to experience each asana. Create a mild effort toward expressing the pose. This effort will be different for each practitioner of course. There should be no pain, just give yourself a sensation in the challenged area of the body. It should be an effort that can be sustained. Now the mind has a place to contentedly begin. There is no agony and no particular great joy, but the mind is present and noticing. The mind isn’t retreating to the past or projecting into the future. Once you have achieved this state of mild effort, breath into that area for a few breaths. Inhaling expanding the area, exhaling relaxing the area. With each new breath begin expanding your attention to finally include the whole body. Continue the process of inhaling to expand the body, and exhaling to relax the body. Effort and ease. Inhale, exhale. Explore the pose with your breath creating a union of the mind, body and spirit. The joy arises. This middle ground is where yoga can be found. This is where meditation in each pose is possible.

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