Friday, June 29, 2012

Wise Pacing

This week my son had some tough issues come up at work. We talked about it more than he would have liked. While our discussions gave me a good understanding of what happened and what he can do going forward, what's most important is his understanding and how he proceeds.

In one of our conversations, he said he prefers to solve problems in his own way and his own time. Truth is, that's how he's been since he was a baby. He came into the world wanting to be his own man. I like to think Don and I have allowed him the freedom to do just that.

"That's all well and good," I said, "but sometimes you need to speed up or slow down the pace of your problem-solving, depending on the situation."

Learning how to pace myself has been one of my touchstones. For most of my life, the pace has been fast. The maid of honor at my wedding, Cheryl Brown Manning, called me a "driver" when we were students at Montana State. Renay Oshop, the vedic astrologer I work with, refers to my "gung-ho" attitude.

Over the past seven years or so, I've consciously slowed my pacing. I can't say I'm a very good student of the art of slowness, other than to say I'm a slow learner of this particular art.

Teaching others to slow down via yoga has helped me with my own pacing. When I teach pranayama, for instance, it's all about the pacing of the breath. I invite students to breathe in through the nose, slowly threading it past the navel. At the bottom of the inhale, hold it for a couple of heartbeats before slowly exhaling back up the torso and through the nose. At the top of the exhale, again hold the breath for a few heartbeats before allowing the next in-breath. Repeat at least 10 times. It takes maybe three minutes to get yourself breathing at a pace that sustains real living.

In the have-it-fast, have-it-now world we inhabit, the word allowing is probably the hardest to cope with. Back in my gung-ho, driver days, there was no allow. I made things happen. I didn't let them happen to me. But when they did, I got angry, especially at things I viewed as negative or that diminished me somehow. Because I was already so small in my own mind, I couldn't bear to think of losing any more. And forget about savoring the good things that happened. They'd already arrived too late, when I'd given up wanting them.

Being on edge like this took a toll on my nervous system, which yoga master BKS Iyengar says spans 600 miles in the human body. Yowza. That's a veritable superhighway. I've been on road trips, and a lot can go terribly wrong in 600 miles. Yogic breathing goes a long way toward repairing those stress-created rough patches of road.

One of the acharyas at the ashram mentioned a study she'd read about the effects of stress. It takes about twenty minutes of shallow breathing to dump an unsustainable amount of stress hormones into your system. The antidote, of course, is to breath slowly, deeply and consciously.

Sometimes I have to go fast, like when I drove I-25 to Denver on Wednesday night. You can get squashed if you go less than 75 mph on some stretches. But mostly I go slow. It takes some planning. It takes me about eight minutes to get to work every morning, when conditions are perfect. But they rarely are. The stoplights are out of sync, road construction, a pedestrian in the crosswalk. So I tack on another five minutes to make sure I'm not rushing before I get to work. I throw in as many deep, conscious breaths as I can along the way. Try it some time. You'll enjoy the time you have more.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obamacare Upheld

In today's Longmont Daily-Times Call, there was a story about a tourist from California who was evacuated from her motel in Estes Park during the fire there last Saturday. Her next destination: Colorado Springs, specifically in the area of the Waldo Canyon fire. It must seem to this poor woman that the whole state of Colorado is on fire.

Similarly, there has been so much overheated rhetoric over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as I'm now resigned to calling it, that I'm hoping today's Supreme Court's decision at least puts an ice cube or two on the debate. I'm relieved that the ruling came down in favor of preserving Obamacare. On SCOTUSblog, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler writes:
"With this deft ruling, Roberts avoided what was certain to be a cascade of criticism of the high court. No Supreme Court has struck down a president's signature piece of legislation in over 75 years. Had Obamacare been voided, it would have inevitably led to charges of aggressive judicial activism. Roberts peered over the abyss and decided he didn't want to go there."
 Hallelujah. Today sanity prevailed.

Now can somebody please put out all these fires in Colorado, already?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The V-word

One of my favorite shows ever was "Tales of the City." Whenever I need to escape, TOTC is one of my go-tos, along with "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Manhattan." Sometimes all three at a time, when I've really got the mean reds. To say TOTC is a series about a bunch of goofy characters in late 70s San Francisco is accurate, but it just doesn't do it justice. The series combines disco culture and Hitchcock's "Vertigo," old-money San Franciscans and a little girl from small town Ohio's infatuation with the City, and it all makes sense. Or at least enough for me. And what's not to love about Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney?

A memorable scene is when a main character, Mona Ramsey, is doing an advertising pitch for an underwear company. The old guys from the undies company object to the phrase "cotton crotch." She is visibly annoyed. What other word to replace crotch? She ends the meeting--and her career at the agency--with "You don't like the word 'crotch'? Well, I'll give you crotch! Crotch, crotch, crotch!"

Mona's travails remind me of Michigan Rep. Lisa Brown's. Yesterday Rep. Brown was barred from speaking on the floor of the Michigan House for comments she made about a pending bill that would restrict access to abortion, ""I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. [Rep. Brown is Jewish.] Why are you asking me to adopt yours?"

In her own "crotch, crotch, crotch" statement, Rep Brown spoke the words that got her into trouble with Republican leaders: "And finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'"

Saucy, yes. But barred from speaking worthy? Uh-uh. No state legislature is a family viewing zone. Everyone doing business there is an adult over the age of 18. As Rep. Brown stated later, at least she had the courtesy to use the anatomically correct word. Not crotch, or the other c-word, but the Latin-derived word for part of the female anatomy.

Now if this was 1912, right at the tail-end of the Victorian era, this wouldn't surprise me. But's it's 2012, for crying out loud. The 60s and 70s happened. If you're talking abortion on the floor of a state legislature, I hate to tell you guys, you're talking vaginas.Vagina, vagina, vagina. There. I said it. Three times. Maybe people all across the country should link hands and sing a happy vagina song to demonstrate the ridiculousness that this is 2012. 2012!!!

These so-called House leaders need to put on their big boy pants. My kids are Love and Logic raised, so I'm a big believer in natural consequences. So I've got a natural consequence for the guys who barred Rep. Lisa Brown to watch a performance of "The Vagina Monologues," preferably starring Jane Fonda, Janeane Garofolo and Eve Ensler (no doubt their favorite liberal women). They'll hear the word vagina, and the various indignities vaginas suffer, more than they ever bargained for.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Fourth Estate

I was part of a discussion where someone was arguing that the media is most responsible for what ails our country. He cited Geraldo Rivera--Geraldo!!--as one of the culprits. Finally! Something we could agree on, that Geraldo is a joke.

But seriously. Anyone who would mistake Geraldo for a journalist has already disqualified himself from continuing to argue in good faith. But he was determined to make his point.

"Well, what about Columbine? Those kids learned everything they knew about guns from what they read in magazines and saw on TV."

OK, I can go along with that. There's a lot of stuff in the media that is simply out there, like how to build a nuclear bomb, that is lethal when combined with mental illness and an axe to grind. There's also the issue that guns are too readily available, sanctioned by a permissive government hiding behind an archaic interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Nor do I buy the argument that media makes people mentally ill. The proclivity is already there. The "news" is fuel for mental illness, just as somebody looking at them the wrong way is.

And besides, if I were, God forbid, one of the parents whose kid had died at Columbine or any other school shooting, I'd want this horror to be discussed in the media. That's why there's a Holocaust Museum--to make sure people remember.

Whether people like it or not, the Fourth Estate serves a useful purpose in U.S. democracy, or what's left of it. People complain about the "liberal media," while me and my liberal friends bitch about FOX News. If you want to watch real journalists practicing their craft--and btw, you can catch Geraldo's show on FOX, just sayin'--look to Jim Lehrer's and his cohorts weekdays on PBS' "The Newshour." These journalist know how to ask questions and actually listen for the answers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Freedom isn't free redux

In Longmont, the town where I've lived for the past twelve years, the City Council has been grappling with the issue of whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called fracking, to take place within city limits. The predictable arguments have already begun: Do you heat your house or drive a car? Then you're already pro-fracking, because being against it makes no sense. Do communities want to risk groundwater pollution and other unknown effects of the practice of fracking? Then let municipalities, rather than state and federal governments, decide if and how they want to proceed with fracking.

Last weekend the fracking debate literally came to my door, or rather, the door of my current workplace, Cheese Importers. A local group was collecting signatures for an initiative they seek to put on the November ballot that would ban fracking. One of my co-workers argued that these people are stupid.

Now I do have some questions about the wisdom of fracking in urban areas like the one where I live, so I might very well be one of the "stupid" people who signs the petition. I may even vote for a continued ban on fracking in Longmont, if enough stupid people actually sign the petition. I''m also trying very hard to reverse a lifelong tendency to personalize everything that is said and done in my presence.

"They do have the right to petition. It's a First Amendment right." (Pretty smart response, huh? I'm still drafting off my trip to Washington.)

"Yeah, the right to be stupid," he said, before walking away.

True enough. Everyone risks being stupid when they take a stand, especially when opponents are at least as equally convinced that their viewpoint is correct. I also wanted to laugh, because that's a funny thing to say. But I have to be honest, I was also personalizing. I flinched at the thought that he might think I'm stupid.

Just so you know, I have a lot of respect for this guy. He served in Afghanistan, and the dude knows how to work. He doesn't think anything's beneath him. One thing I'm wondering, though--isn't one of the things he served for was for peoples' right to petition, even to be stupid?

Or is the freedom isn't free argument really about ensuring that everyone sees the world in the same way, i.e., that every military action that our country takes is morally sanctified? I won't be coy about stating my opinion--freedom of speech trumps a country's freedom to make war against any other country it pleases.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori?

Translation: "Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country." (Horace's Odes)

I accompanied my eighth-grade son's class to Arlington National Cemetery the Sunday before Memorial Day. I am not known for my pro-war credentials, so I expected to feel uncomfortable at the least, and downright annoyed at worse. Memorial Day Eve is a special time to visit Arlington, where 300,000 American flags graced every grave. I appreciate that act of devotion. I like to think that each of the people who placed the flags said a little blessing as they worked. As we walked along the pleasant grounds of what was once Robert E. Lee's home, it struck me that the tombstones were themselves an ode to the armed services' devotion to bringing order of chaos. As a poetic device, I appreciate that. Order is good. It doesn't erase the fact that legions of war dead, and those who suffered through yet survived the brutality of combat, lie beneath the ground.

We went to the Kennedy family's plot. John and Bobby died so long ago they might as well have lived at the same time as Horace. But I was surprised to find myself moved to tears when I came to Teddy's grave. There's no denying that the man was an old sinner, but I ended up respecting him for his ability to get things done in our national legislature, a feat that appears to have died with him. There were several medals from labor unions atop his grave, and a St. Christopher medal, and some coins and other tokens people had left behind. Maybe I had such a strong response because he died almost three years ago. I don't know. But like I said, it surprised me.

The brother of a seventh-grade student from the middle school had been recently buried in Arlington, and she had asked us to visit his grave. All 45 of us walked to the recent graves. That was also very moving.

So back to what Horace said. I'm always put off when I hear people say that freedom isn't free. To me, that means that somebody else's child or spouse or close relative or friend has had to give their lives so we can be free. Wars keep getting more and more expensive, literally and figuratively, and less and less do they serve the holy purposes stated by our leaders. How many wars have we had to end all wars, and yet war still rages in Afghanistan and Darfur and is brewing elsewhere?

We behave as if someday we're going to get the whole war thing right, when only God has the power to make all things right. Because we as a species seem to be almost incapable of it. The best we can do is to stop making things wrong.