Thanks a Lot Mom, I’m Chubby Again

Mansaf

Mansaf, Jordan’s signature dish. Stewed lamb, topped with jameed, a tangy sauce, served over rice and garnished with toasted almonds. Too delicious not to eat the whole thing.

My partner would be the first to admit she’s no fan of the gym. Luckily this isn’t a problem for her because she’s so petite and perfectly proportioned despite her, um, lack of enthusiasm for exercise. She’s also Sicilian, and is running in her sleep apparently, because her lack of exercise during waking hours hasn’t taken the ‘bella’ out of her ‘figura’.

I am glad to avoid having the awkward conversation when she asks “do I look fat in this?” If she were, my penchant for brutal honesty combined with the lack of a functioning mouth filtration system would not catch the words “a little actually, since you asked” before they had already passed foolishly from my lips, as so often happened in my failed marriage. Instead, I can honestly say “No, and I loathe you a little. Mia amore.”

It’s not fair. I could eat nothing besides lentils and celery for weeks but if I didn’t exercise like a hamster to burn off the calories I’d be husky, pudgy, hefty, have a great personality or any of the other euphemisms for “fat.”

My partner doesn’t exercise in the mornings before work because she’s not a morning person. I am the morning person. I am incredulous there are people in the world who aren’t, and I use The Force (of Annoying Persuasion) to win more people over from the Dark Side. Who wouldn’t respond favourably to morning musicals performed in their bedroom? Who doesn’t want their toast and coffee with a side of jazz hands, juggling poodles, and flaming sword-swallowing? Her, that’s who. “Lasciami in pace!” and a flicking of her hand from under her chin is all the response I get.

Zaatar

Za’atar Manakeesh. Za’atar is a combination of crushed oregano, thyme, marjoram, and toasted sesame seeds. You mix with olive oil and spread over the flatbread (manakeesh). I don’t know how I lived so long without it.

My morning enthusiasm is fuelled more by neurosis than genuine fervour. It’s hard to accept my partner hates me in the morning, that I will be doing yoga and meditation alone again, so I intensify the zeal to turn her frowns upside down, hoping she’ll at least leap out of bed at five thirty to kick me in the crotch. At least she’d be out of bed. Then, just then, maybe she’d work out with me. Alas, the gimmicks in my tickle trunk – which are legion – fall flat. Tough crowd, those Sicilians. It isn’t personal, she tells me, but I’m pretty certain “sta ‘zitto buffone” is not the nicest way to say “Please stop, dear.”

She works for a large multi-billion dollar profit-making bank by day. You’d think that she’d have a cushy life and drive Lambourghinis. Think again. She works the retail side. All the back office staff were cut because a few billion in net after-tax profits was underwhelming to the greedy bastards who run the place. She’s essentially a white-collar slave who works countless hours a day to get paid slightly more than a Wal-Mart greeter. So she’s almost dead when she comes home, which is why she can’t work out then either.

But you know what sucks most of all? She’s not fat, despite the nothing she does to burn off all the pasta, pannetoni, prosciutto, provolone, and other fattening foods beginning with the letter ‘p’ she routinely consumes. I mean, she’s not even a little chubby. Sure, in the winter months a barely noticeable undulation collects on her mid-section, what she and her mom call a “panza.” Pfft. You call that a belly. This, is a belly (lifting up my shirt).

At last, spring has finally descended upon the Arctic wasteland in the mid-western Canadian city my stupid ancestors set down roots to curse the following generations for their easier lives. This week, my petite, Sicilian girlfriend who burns calories in her sleep and hates me in the morning has been walking to and from work. Way to go, eh? Not really. I mean, she only lives about one kilometre away from her office. Because her legs aren’t much longer than the members of the Lollipop Guild it takes her about twenty-five minutes to walk that distance.

It seems to her like she’s doing a lot of walking, but she’s really not. She likes to meander and ogle other people’s gardens and landscaping to get ideas for her own house along the way. After walking a whole eight kilometres this week you know what happened to the little panza? Arrivederci. Addio. Ciao. That’s what. It was gone, as quickly as a tray of fresh cannoli in an Italian cucina.

It ain’t fair. The oxford shirts that hung breezily over my relatively firm, somewhat mildly-toned body last summer cling to me like spandex. The buttons struggling to hold my shirts closed are poised to take out an eye when they finally bust loose. When I button up my pants, the mini-muffin tops I had before have turned into sacks of dough big enough to make ciabatta bread for all fifty of my partner’s cousins. My hairy “gulo” springs out of my pants like a moron whenever I bend over – usually to pick up one of the poodles I’ve been juggling to impress mia amore in the mornings. Ah, there’s a smile, at my hairy, fat ass. I am learning she uses Sicilian words when she’s laughing at me.

The Hulk - My Clothes Don't Fit

Damn it, my clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I put on my favourite black blazer, once the centrepiece of my “If this doesn’t make one in twenty ladies take a second look, nothing will” outfit, it looks like I put it on just before I became The Incredible Hulk. ‘Don’t run ladies, I’m not angry, I’m just heftier than I once was. I swear, I’ll fit my clothes again by the end of summer.’

Damn, I did it again. I emotionally-ate my way through the winter. Frankly, I don’t know why people choose heroin or alcohol when you can just eat a whole extra large seven-meat pizza and be totally fine, at least until Type II diabetes spoils the party. Until then, you get to douse your existential pain in buckets of saturated fats, salt, and sugar.

I had a good excuse this winter; I did work stints in Jordan and Lebanon where I gorged on delicious, rich, restaurant-made middle eastern cuisine nearly every day because it was absolutely necessary. The word ‘no’ in Arabic was too counter-intuitive to really learn (‘Laa’), while the word for ‘yes’ (Na’am) sounded eerily similar to the noises oozing from my soul as I inhaled the delicious food. “Do I want the mega-shawarma platter for six? Nom, nom, nom.”

Kanafeh

Kanafeh. Nabulsi cheese swimming in syrupy water, topped with light coat of pastry, and sprinkles of pistacchio. One JD at a little stall in the gold souk in Amman. Delicious.

This winter my self-discipline and I took a flying leap into the Dead Sea, which made me grateful on many fronts. First of all, it was a remarkable experience. Second, my skin was really, really soft for days after. Third, and most importantly, when I was in the water I didn’t sink like a lead weight despite the fact I had gained fifteen pounds. Even though I looked fatter in front of my colleagues than I would had we done this months earlier, I splashed like a joyful gimp as I bobbed on the surface, wincing in pain as the salt-water instantly desiccated my eyeballs and began to singe my skin after twenty-five minutes. I didn’t sink. How fat could I really be?

Obviously, I was a little more sad than I had anticipated, which fueled my appetite. I was away at Christmas. I’ve never been away from my kids for the season. I missed them; I missed my partner. I heard countless tragic stories from the Syrian refugees I was meeting every day. The kids were so joyful and resilient, totally unaware of the gravity of their situation, what terrible fate they had barely averted. Their fathers were crestfallen for having to leave their home, a place where they toiled and made a good life for their families until it was stolen by war. As a man and a father it broke my heart to personally meet thousands of people uprooted by calamities I’d spent a lifetime watching on television. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected flurry of emotions.

So I ate. And ate. Then, I ate some more to keep the scary emotions at bay.

Shwarma, halloumi, and za’atar oh my.
Mansaf, and mezze, and zarb oh my.
Kanafeh, baklava, harissa, oh my.  
Fattoush, and falafel, and fwal, oh my.
Taouk, and tabbouleh, and toum, oh my.
Hommous, and hommous, and hommous, OH MY!

Shawarma

Shawarma. Instant ecstasy.

Masha’Allah they shun pork in the Middle East, otherwise I would have had to buy two seats on the plane to get me home to Canada. Who knew chick peas could taste so good? They probably use Dead Sea salt in that too. I smoked shisha because the fruity, spice-infused tobacco was more breathable than Amman’s exhaust-filled air, more pleasant than the putrefying garbage dotting Beirut streets since the country had been without a waste disposal contract since last August. Take note, Donald Trump, the Lebanese have discovered Beirut’s garbage makes an outstanding wall along the Syrian border, giving refugees pause before they hold their nose and flee into Lebanon, if a little more fastidiously these days than prior to last August.

This may come as a surprise, but eating in restaurants every single night, finishing off bags of Al Rifai™ crunchy-coated peanuts when dinner is postponed an hour because you’re stuck in Beirut traffic, drinking three beers with every meal because you’re on an expense account, and sleeping cat hours are not recommended for those in their forties interested in maintaining a decent body. That is, unless you’re my Sicilian girlfriend, in which case, carry on as you were. You’ll only need to do ten minutes of exercise to burn it off.

Almaza - better than tap water

Almaza. Lebanese beer. Since I didn’t trust the tap water in Beirut, I drank this instead, hydrating liberally with every meal.

Since I got back, I have resumed my regular routine. I do at least an hour of exercise every day, except for those mornings after I drink too much, stay up reading a good book, or watch entire seasons of something on Netflix. Other than those mornings, I do Ashtanga yoga. I go for long hikes with my kids. I walk home from work, which isn’t one kilometre but four. I go up and down the stairs instead of using the elevator at work. In other words, I work my gulo off to get back in shape, but it’s still there, leering out of my pants.

So now my partner gets to sleep in without any guilt because she exercised for a whole frickin’ week and her winter weight is gone. Meanwhile, I feel like a sausage all the time and am filled with self-consciousness whenever I bend over to tie my shoes. It may put a smile on my partner’s face, but it’s a pyrrhic victory.

It’s all my fault. I didn’t have to eat each and every heaping plate of Middle Eastern cuisine to the last bite, but I did because it was so bloody good and there are people starving in Africa. Hey. Wait a minute. That’s what my mother used to say when I was a kid so I wouldn’t waste food. That’s why I always feel such an intense need to lick my plate clean. She needed me to be chubby so she wouldn’t feel like a bad mother who starved her children. Dang it mom, look what you made me do again. I hope you’re happy.

Oh, Sweet Kryptonite

Sometimes in my office people leave containers of home-baked dainties to share with their co-workers. In my particular work-area the goodie drop-zone is a little enclave just a few feet away from my cubicle, which is good and bad. It’s good because I can usually count on first dibs on heaps of free, sugary swag, but bad because I am a weak-willed glutton when it comes to free, sugary swag.

The profound lack of will is especially intense when mind-numbing boredom sets in after several hours of daily imprisonment. My cell is made up of grey, padded dividers, in a fluorescent-lit room with staid carpets, randomly placed filing cabinets, and grimy walls made of a synthetic material that I’ve only ever seen in government offices and never looks clean, even if washed with buckets of sulfuric acid. Some have the audacity to call this travesty a “workplace.”

There are several cures for white-collar office doldrums. Cocaine, nooners in the supply closet with a co-worker, water-cooler office gossip, terrorizing underlings, internet surfing, and eating other people’s lunches in the office fridge seem to be the most popular. For me, chocolate, preferably in a moist, cake-like state is my Shawshank Redemption; my escape from white-collar lock-down. But once I start into it at work, I’m done. It’s like Kryptonite to my self-control, which is why I absolutely never, and I mean ever, pack it in my lunch or have a supply at my desk. If I did, I would be a three-hundred pound zit.

“Now, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bust me outta this here cubicle and eat me some chocolate muffins,” said Morgan Freeman playing me, to Tim Robbins playing my fellow white-collar prison buddy in The Shawshank Redemption.

Instead of chocolate I have stashes of un-consumed herbal tea I’ve been carting around from office-to-office since my first job, along with  granola, and raisins at my desk. I bring a weekly supply of almonds, yogurt and apples in the fridge. I pat myself on my back for being such a well-disciplined, health-conscious guy. That is, until some do-gooder brings a container with two rows of chocolate cupcakes and leaves them on that cabinet just outside my cubicle. Why do people gotta be so fucking nice?

As I walk to the kitchen to get my lunch the delectable scent of sweet cocoa cuts across my face like a sucker punch. Suddenly the nutritious helping of almonds and yogurt I am about to eat mentally mutates into a bunch of cockroaches swimming in a vat of bull jizz. It seems hardly worth the effort to walk all the way to the lunchroom for such a grotesque meal when chocolate muffins are an arm’s reach away.

“No, you shouldn’t have chocolate dainties for lunch. Have your lunch and then have ONE for dessert,” says the asshole adult who weaseled his way into my brain.

He’s been on my case since college, when he honed-in on my predilection for easy stimulation to quell boredom and dread. He knows it left clouds of darkness in my memory that he still fears may lead to a knock on the door from a grown son I didn’t know I had. He only knows how pathetically the story ended, or arrived in the middle to snap the neurotic version of me back to consciousness so he could ruin all the fun. He knows I woke up in a hotel bed fully dressed in my suit, with my shoes still on, with a half-naked woman beside me. Did he make me fall into a deep sleep as she freshened up? Probably. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

He remembers nothing before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1991 when he arrived to find me on the dance floor sharing a champagne bottle, doing the tongue-tango, and dry humping with the ugly-duckling younger sister of a friend who, after I hadn’t seen her for several years, had grown into a beautiful swan and wanted to spread her wings with me. He does not know what magic tricks I must have performed to lure two women into a bedroom at a party and have them start taking my clothes off.

The adult appeared right at the time when the adventures were really about to begin, and said “how the hell did I get here?” His discomfort at having to ask the question compelled me to flee the scene so I could figure it out. Why? Because my consciousness didn’t know how to wield the brush to finish the sublime work of art the uninhibited version of me had so masterfully begun. Once the adult appeared, he returned me to my usual neurotic, dip-shit self; the one who knew no better than to put the paint-brush between his toes and turn a would-be sexual masterpiece into something resembling a finger-painting done by a baby chimpanzee.

That was all when I was young and stupid, when the adult was over-zealous in issuing his warnings. We hadn’t come to a point of trust or agreement on what was in and what was out, ethically-speaking. I immediately amended my moral code to include the following clause: “If – when you are single – for whatever reason, you happen to find yourself in the midst of a threesome, don’t run away.” Of course, I’ve never had another opportunity to put those instructions into practice, but they are waiting on the shelf collecting dust with the library of reports I’ve written for my job, all of them goading me for their total irrelevance.

All that is to spell out why I consider my inner adult a real Cassandra, a spoil-sport who I don’t like, even if he is helpful at times. He makes sure my bills are only a half-month late and intervenes so I only forget about one or two important things in any given week, despite phone, work-email, Outlook, and dozens of sticky notes to remind me. He tells me it’s not okay to let my kids stay up with me until the wee hours watching movies. He locks my jaw shut tightly in those fiery moments when “fuck you!” Is dying to come out of my mouth with disastrous effect. He tells me not to quit my job and become a barista at Starbucks, insisting that reduced-price Cinnamon Dolce lattes aren’t worth losing a regular, upper-middle class paycheque. I wonder.

But he didn’t let me be as young and stupid as I could have been. Now that I am old, I am feeling a little wistful about the good times I could have had. He has kept a veil of fear in front of me, I suspect. He doesn’t seem to trust fun and wanton depravity in small doses. He believes regret is worse than reckless abandon and masterfully intensifies the volume of past regrets to frighten me away from the types of reckless abandon that are actually worth doing.

So when all I want to do is douse my mid-life malaise with a fistful of chocolate muffins, he is there, as usual, to rain on my parade. I am so tired of his logic, his high-minded principles. “Suck it, inner adult! I’m gonna get me some sugar,” I said to myself that day.

I tore the lid off that bin of muffins like a grabby-handed teenager getting the green light to go past second base for the first time. “Why are these bras so hard to unclip?” I thought, with a bizarre look on my face. I grabbed, squeezed, and tugged at the tray of muffins without rhyme or reason. Like Michael Douglas in 1990’s classic Basic Instinct – when it was still considered mainstream and acceptable to depict sexual animus with rapist violence – I lustfully ripped the fancy-pants off those cupcakes exposing their raw, sultry bottoms. Before I knew it, I had three undressed muffins in the palm of my hands, reeling with anticipation. I gritted my teeth and said “I am gonna eat the shit out of you!”

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was lame, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If Gen-X men have doubts about what everyone means by

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was totally lame and douchey, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If men have doubts about what everyone means by “rape culture” this movie, and countless like it of the era are a place to start looking. Cultural criticism aside, I do tear into my cupcakes much like Douglas tore off Tripplehorn’s clothes. At least with cupcakes nobody, other than my waistline, gets hurt.

But then a thought emerged. “Who made these?” I wondered if it was the angry lady from the first floor who hates her job so much the plants in the office wilt a little when she trudges past them, smothering them in her misery. She always smokes at the entrance to the building, forcing everyone to pass through her toxic cloud of negativity and death. I doubt she’d bring cupcakes for people, unless it was a revenge-plot and they were laced with hemlock.

I gave my head a shake and took a deep inhale. Neither the container nor the muffins smelled as though they had been sitting in a whiskey bar the night before. Angry lady didn’t make them. Instead, tidal waves of saliva crashed into the back of my teeth. The twinge between my legs blossomed as my palate readied itself for the rapacious muffilingus it would soon perform to satiate my sugary supplications. Every breath I took suspended all worries or cares about anything woeful in my life. I figuratively stroked my axons and dendrites to the scent of the palate-porn in my hands. I felt like Al Pacino staring at a mountain of cocaine in Scarface.

Tony Montana, thinking this pile of cocaine is as good as a tray of chocolate muffins. Well, Tony,

Tony Montana, slouched before the powdery stuff of his undoing. I know how it is mang. They gonna have to kill me too, if they wanna take my muffins away from me.

“Isn’t it customary when treats are left for everyone to take just one, Edmund?” said that cock-blocking adult in my mind.

“Um, who’s that talking? Sorry, wrong number,” I said, feeling clever.

And then I stuffed those babies in my mouth as if I’d been stranded for three weeks by a plane crash in the Alps and my last meal was my seatmate’s thigh. “Oh. Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Uh-huh. Yep. Oh baby, don’t stop going down. Yeah, like that. Let me show you how …”

Okay, so the adult was partly right. The shame didn’t feel great. I began to wonder if there was a hidden camera. Maybe there was a pen-thief in the office and they’d been been installed to catch the culprit pilfering paper clips and purloining post-it notes. I mused about the things I often do when I’m alone in the office without thinking of the possibility I’m being filmed.

Most days I pretend to kung-fu shit-kick the Director who, usually between 9:53 and 11:22 at night blackberries a tasking for a report so “urgent” it’s due by the end of day – despite the other “urgent” thing due at noon; a decision obviously made on the shitter when his mind is at its best; when path-breaking new ideas that will conflict with previous ideas already set in motion flood out of him, unimpeded by the meddling reason and expertise of others more knowledgeable. Other times I’m plucking my unibrow and marveling at the Chia Pet-like growth of my nose hair, or changing into my cycling gear to ride home for the day.

Sometimes when I am naked while changing at my desk I like to jump around a little. As a man, I want to know what it is like to have my balls really free at the workplace, to have my scrotum momentarily liberated from the iron-fists of big-wigs who get off on squeezing it every day with their arbitrary deadlines. It’s a refreshingly transgressive, if slightly sad way to ennoble an anodyne, powerless white-collar existence. If you want to try it, I recommend you confirm that the mousy, introverted co-worker is not at their desk before stripping down.

“You’re a bad man, Edmund. You need to grow up. You probably would smother a litter of kittens after a bad day, wouldn’t you? You steer your car to run over those cute, fluffy bunnies running across the road. You are a gluttinous child,” says the adult, chastising me again.

To quote Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, “Hey adult, are you bustin’ my balls over here?” You know Joe, I think he is bustin’ my balls. Again. I think he thinks I’m a clown. I think I amuse him. Why don’t you, me, and De Niro grab some shovels and lime, line the trunk of the caddy with some plastic, and take the adult for a “little drive” upstate. I work hard to pig out on muffins, and I want to eat them without that fucking wise guy busting my chops about it.

Stop! Hamster Time!

(Title sung to the tune of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”)

… changes too the organizational structure are beeing made to optimize efficiencies to ensure … *yawn*

… the Devil is blather eclipsed to moat turgid …. *yawn*

… the Division is better equipped to meet target ….. *yawn*

indicators for next fucking *yawn* fiscal year established by  … *yawn* … *yawn* … Headquarters.

“Fuck this,” said my brain, about fifteen minutes ago.

Ah, yes. It’s 2:30. The hamster has been snoozing away, oblivious to the higher-order mental functioning I’ve been doing since this morning. He needs to be away from the office for me to get intellectually-enriched tasks accomplished.

Pre-frontal Cortex. For Edmund K. Saunders Esq., Hours of Operation: 5:30 - 10:30 / 12 - 14:30 / 18:00 - 21:00

Pre-frontal Cortex. For Edmund K. Saunders Esq., Hours of Operation: 5:30 – 10:30 / 12 – 14:30 / 18:00 – 21:00. (Better than the competitors’ 9 – 5!).

But he’s been stirred by the mid-afternoon doldrums. A precipitous decline of dopamine has reduced the surge of mental capacity flowing in the neural pathways to my pre-frontal cortex to a trickle. The sudden imbalance has tweaked the rodent, who craves norepinephrine; in short supply so long as higher-order thinking predominates. Roused from his slumber, he scurries around my mind seeking thrills to keep him fed, the frenetic energy depriving me of the mental capacity to tie my shoes or speak in coherent sentences.

Now that he’s arrived, the banality of my surroundings shrouds my mental clarity in a dense fog; I grow resentful at the task of spewing the high-minded corporate sludge I’m such a whiz at crafting. The hamster compels me to do something that has me fearing for my life, copulating feverishly, or engrossed in consumptive pleasures to satiate his endless cravings for intense, carnal stimulation.

‘There is important work to be done,’ says my inner CEO, Edmund K. Saunders, Esq. from the wing-back chair in his mahogany-paneled corner office in the pre-frontal cortex.

Yosemite Ham, Wasting my F*cking Time Again

‘Nya. What’s up Doc?’ Yosemite wasting Bugs’ time with his idiocy again. I can sympathize, my smarmy, buck-toothed friend.

‘Boo-oooring! Let’s court death! Let’s binge on something! I wanna feel ALIVE!!’ says Yosemite Ham, my idjit inner-hamster, who’s risen from his trailer park bunk in the brain-stem and is holding that no-good, frickin’-frackin’, sassa-frassin’ varmint Edmund K. Saunders, Esq. at gunpoint.

Such are the perils of a desk job for a person with Attention Deficit Disorder. Yosemite Ham sneaks out of his cage unnoticed when I spend too much time in an aesthetically depraved, grotesquely non life-threatening environment like a corporate office.

I need meaningful breaks. I need to be well away from earnest, one-dimensional pests and their putative leaders who reproduce like dim-witted mice in places like this. I want a siesta. Who’s with me?

I want the International Criminal Court to hunt down the evil mastermind behind the creation of the solid 8-hour work day and cubicle dungeons for white-collar professions. I will drop-kick him in the ass before he serves his sentence of five years data-entry and editing other people’s illiterate memos in a six-by-six, grey-carpeted cubicle under fluorescent lights in a room with no windows.

Whoa, whoa. Hold up. Is that Ron sending another snarly e-mail? Nuh-uh, no he di-in’t. Is he dissing my comments on the proposed memorandum? Time to bust an interlocutory cap in a mutha-fucka’s ass.

It sounds like you don’t know what you’re talking about, but your candid comments are well-taken, even if totally irrelevant and completely misinformed.

Those home-boys will get Ron stepping off my grill. Word!

Wait. Are you picking a fight to quell boredom? *e-mail deleted*

Hey, I hear Ginny doing her cockney accent again. I’ll barge in with my over-wrought Scottish-brogue accent. They won’t mind if I cut into their private conversation with humour! ‘Wet are yoo lassie’s dooo-in therrrrre.’

Um, hey, sub-commandante. Yeah, uh, La Revolucion is over. Time to get a job.

Um, hey, sub-commandante. Yeah, uh, La Revolucion is over. Time to get a job.

Ginny is always game for some pointless, office-disrupting lollygagging at this time of day. I do my Jaime Rodriguez Marcos riff. He’s my alter-ego and one-time sub-commandante to Che Guevera who’s been languishing in the Chiapas jungle and still believes La Revolucion is in full swing.

We do our usual back-and-forth banter pretending we’re characters from Coronation Street or conversing as if we were in a musical, like Annie or Rent. ‘Tell me now, Ginny / pray, don’t you be shy / sing your dirty secrets / to this cubicle gu-uy!’

I did Robin Williams’ Mexican penguin accent from Happy Feet as I pretended to be in a meeting to convince the higher-ups they were making another stupid organizational decision. Then of course, there was me being Michael Cain saying whatever, because, Michael Cain. Duh.

Wow. That was twenty-five minutes I’ll never get back. I hope nobody in the nearby cubicles was trying to get some work done, because we were loud. Maybe even a little obnoxious. Oh well, they were definitely entertained. I mean, come on, Michael Cain.

However, in the following fiscal year, without an injection of ..

I have to go to the bathroom again. The bathroom at the end of a really, really long hallway where I  pass the HR folks who usually have cookies and goodies in their common area. They’re so nice they don’t mind people popping in to grab some grub without stopping for conversation. That’s why it’s there right?

Excellent! Someone in my unit brought chips and ju-jubes while I was taking a pee and wandering the hallways. I love chips, so I’ll stand and jib-jab with the assembling crowd as I binge on junk. One cannot put a price on such opportunities for team-building.

I’m not much of a candy guy but I like the red and green ju-jubes. I’m not so crazy about the black and orange ones. Yellow ju-jubes? Pfft. They’re like a comb-over – not fooling anybody. They’re sugar-flavoured nubs of pee. Everybody seemed to agree, and we returned to our cubicles feeling more cohesive than ever.

… additional funding, our ability to continue to meet expected targets will be severely …

Donna just came in the door. Another Manager called she and her all-female group the “tampax club” when they were in a training session yesterday. He’s only a few years older than me but seems to have been plucked from a Leave it to Beaver episode and cast in our office. Gee Beav, Donna sure let him have it, boy oh boy.

So anyway, I lampooned runway models and did the munchkin song ‘We represent the Lollipop Guild’ from the Wizard of Oz. Donna is a tiny woman and it brings her off the ledge when I say she reminds me of an angry munchkin when she’s apoplectic. I recounted the story of when I was a boy-model for the department store my mother worked for when I was three. I did an assortment of underwear modeling poses to demonstrate my technique, which was legendary. It was incredible fun, which is why I’m Donna – my boss’s – favourite employee.

… diminished owing to attrition, increased workload, and anticipated retirements.

Hmmm …  I wonder how many people checked out my Flash Fiction story from last week. Aw, only ten today. It has a surprise ending involving squirrels. Squirrels! Ha ha ha! How zany and clever I am.

We propose a resourcing plan be implemented in mid-year…

Let’s see what’s on facebook. Surprise, surprise, US Republicans are being union-busting, bigoted, poor-people hating, evolution-denying, unconstitutional foreign policy-undermining, assholes again. Amazing! – pictures of people’s dinner last night. Boo hoo, someone’s flight to some amazing, exotic place far, far away from my cubicle-prison is delayed. Poor them. Ooh, another mouth-watering photo of a recipe I’ll never have time to make. I can’t … resist … another lame … article … with the cliched title “You won’t believe what happened!”

I don’t know why I bother. What a fucking waste of time.

… to ensure full operational readiness at the inauguration of FY2016.

I am parched. I need some water …

I am glad I ran into Jody as I fetched my third litre and a half bottle of water for the day. She is into hot yoga, which I don’t do because I am a big sweaty pig who leaves a moat around my yoga mat and requires a drawbridge to cross it at the end of class. That, and mid-way through I feel like I’ve been caught in a rogue wave of perspiration swallowing my body, making it impossible to hold a pose; or breathe, which is the whole point. I made self-deprecating jokes about how shitty I am at the pretzel-like poses of the Ashtanga yoga that is my practice, but attest to how it curbs my seething inner rage and neurosis. It was fifteen minutes of laughter. Serendipity at its finest.

We cannot move forward with certain initiatives without assurances additional funds will be available to staff the positions required to meet our strategic objectives.  

My goodness, it’s 4:30! Where does the time go?

I made it to the end of the day, in spite of Yosemite and his moronic ideas. Report finished. Well done, Edmund. Well. Done.

Ambling Mind, Meet Full Moon

Full Moon ManThis morning I was sitting in quiet meditation as I do most mornings. Well, I was sort of sitting. More like squirming. And cursing under my breath, having another heated argument with myself.

Okay, I wasn’t really squirming as much as bouncing and jerking around as if I’d jumped on the back of an unbroken mustang and it was way pissed I was there. He would not relent, that testosterone-laden young buck, and I could not find that place of stillness despite all my efforts to hang on.

“What the fuck is going on?” I angrily mused. Another one of the Six Perfections I am nowhere near perfecting – Patience.

This is not really the best tone for one’s inner voice when practicing shamatha-bhavana – cultivating calm abiding – when thoughts arrive to invade the mind. If anything the angry reaction just compounds the disruption of a relatively minor thought.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Should I be ashamed that I still have a “beginner’s mind” after almost eight years of meditation? Sigh.

Yeah, yeah. I ain’t Suzuki.

This morning thoughts raced in my consciousness like a meteor hurtling to earth, displacing the still, glass-like waters of my peaceful lake at dawn as it left a massive crater on impact with the ground. A giant cloud of ash and soot sent waves of discomfort throughout my body and mind, leaving them tense, twitchy, and agitated as hell.

You’re supposed to return to the breath when thoughts arrive to draw your focus away. You’re not supposed to suppress the thoughts as they come. It’s okay to notice them, to acknowledge them passing your view. You can even say ‘hello’ as they pass by, as you would in passing sweet elderly people at the park.

What you don’t do is entertain the passing thoughts. You don’t change direction and start walking wherever it is they’re going. You don’t yell at them indignantly as you do at speeding cars racing down your quiet side-street. You don’t say “what the fuck is going on,” that’s for sure.

I know this, dang it. I’ve been doing this stuff for years. Geez.

Mr. Zafu – my meditation cushion. Somedays it’s my saddle, and instead of meditating, I go for a ride on the mustang that is my ADD-infected mind.

But some days it can be really, really difficult. I have ADD. It’s a miracle I can sit at all, let alone abide my breath.

Sometimes, it is calm, exactly what you’d expect when meditating. It feels as though I am sitting at the beach watching my children swimming, on a beautiful summer afternoon. I am reading a favourite book, sitting under the shade of my umbrella, listening to leaves humming as they are grazed by a gentle breeze. Seagulls heckle each other, hovering joyously above the landscape, waiting for a six year old to trip and spill her bucket of French fries in the sand, scavenging an easy meal as she mourns her lunch.

Ahhhhhh. Shamatha-bhavana, indeed. This ain’t so bad.

Suddenly, a bunch of obnoxious hooligans arrives on scene to mess with my bliss. I hear the unmistakable buzzing sound and two-stroke insanity of small watercraft. It’s like twenty-one gun salute of buckshot, instantly killing the chorus of seagulls; a raiding party of lumberjacks cranking up their chainsaws to fell the trees and silence their beautiful hum. The morons, incapable of handling machines they’ve been cavalierly allowed to use in a public swim area, narrowly avoid colliding into children who swim oblivious to the danger lurking in their midst.

Then I secretly wish there were Great White Sharks in the fresh lakes where I live. Those runts wouldn’t be so happily endangering the lives of small children then, would they?

They say I’m not to be so easily pissed off by the douche-bags possessing my thoughts. I have to return to the breath. Just like that. It was such an awesome day at the beach. I have a right to be mad at those jerks on jet-skis, those meteors, those wild, untamed mustangs I deign to ride.

Usually, in spite of myself I am able to do just that. To remain relatively unmoved by the arising thoughts. To re-direct back to the breath. I get a clear mind for about a minute or two, maybe forty-five seconds. That’s the longest spell of peace my ADD-addled mind allows before it gets restless and invites a jungle of macaques promising a year’s supply of bananas to come and throw their shit in my mind.

This morning, the monkeys arrived a little more randy than usual. Their all night binge slapped me in the back of my head, punched me in the gut, and shoved bunches of bananas up my ass. They left me with taut shoulders, a wincing stomach, and clenched hips and butt-cheeks. To add insult to injury, they also dragged their elephant friend along, and he sat on my chest, leaving me nearly breathless.

I was pitching and rolling on my meditation cushion, as if sitting on a white-water raft about to plunge over Niagara Falls. My arse was nominally in contact with my cushion, my ischial tuberosities afraid to fully acquaint themselves with Mr Zafu.

All my tricks to fend off the worst house-guests in history were futile. I tried several Pranayama breaths, as I do hundreds of times in a single Mysore practice. Nope.

Samavritti breathing – equal counts inhale and exhale. To a count of twelve! If I don’t pass out first, it’s bound to get me back on track.

Ha Ha, it is to laugh, little Buddha. Mantras. Nope. Count the damn breaths. Nope, not quite. Tickle the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue. ‘Gawd dang, that feeels weird!’ I’m just wincing, now.

Time to bring out the big guns. Kapalabhati breath. Suck it, rogue-like, ambling mind. You’re going down!

Vanquished again. But my sinuses were clearer than they’ve been in days. You know, the smell of defeat isn’t all that bad.

Then my timer goes off. What?! It’s been twenty-five minutes already?! No way. Let me check that iPhone’s not wonky.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as "sit bones." These are the bones that one is theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. In my case, I'm usually too taut in my shoulders and hips, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Ischial Tuberosities, also known as “sit bones.” These are the bones that are theoretically supposed to make contact with the ground when sitting. I’m usually too taut in my shoulders and hips to do that, so I sit on my hamstrings instead.

Usually, this tango with my mind goes on for about ten minutes before I can settle in to a relatively steady routine of calm meditation and violent distraction. Today, distraction landed a Mike Tyson hook square in my meditation’s temple, thirty-eight seconds into the fight. I remained in the ring only because I lay in unconsciousness for the remaining twenty-four minutes, twenty-two seconds.

What the fuck?!

I went through the items on my post-meditation checklist. I am not stressed about work. Things with my partner are awesome. I am not displaying any symptoms that may be distant early warning signs of cancer, this week. I slept okay, I think. I had some off the wall dreams, actually. I was naked with an erection, the opening scene in my fantasy was looking good. Until I looked around in my dream and realized I was boning in a public place, again, which made the whole thing pervy. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re constantly having a dream that makes you want to turn yourself into to the cops when you wake up. So I just repress it, which usually works.

Wait.

What day is it?

Cripes, it’s a Full Moon.

That’s why I wasn’t rushing off to go to my Mysore class today. Those weirdo Ashtangis don’t practice on full moons, for some arcane reason. I assume the meat-loving schlubs like myself who do Mysore yoga are the only ones totally unaware of why this is.

When people ask about it, I just say something to stem the implied ridicule in the question like, “hey, the tides react with extremes on a full moon, and we ARE, like, ninety per cent water, so …” Usually they shake their head in agreement with something in that statement. It saves me having to give a real answer, which I don’t know.

This is the mantra I typically do. It's the mantra named after Amitabha the bodhisattva of compassion which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

This is the mantra I typically do. It’s the mantra named after Amitabha, the bodhisattva of compassion, which is what I need when I am cursing myself during a lousy meditation session.

Now, I think maybe there’s something to this whole business of a Full Moon not being good for practice. I sit in meditation nearly every day, so I notice when a session is particularly shitty. Today was a side-show, as was my frenetic morning routine.

At one point this morning, I got confused about what to do first – make the coffee, get dressed, or have breakfast. So I did them all at the same time. I almost got into three accidents on my way to work. I had coffee grounds and jam in my underwear, which I didn’t discover until much later on.

Then, instead of immediately getting to work once I sat down at my cubicle, I started writing this blog post. Aha! A Full Moon makes me too frazzled to get my work done. But I procrastinate on a quarter, half and seven-eighths moon. Maybe it’s the moon just being there. I wonder if I could get a doctor’s note for this work-disrupting disease related to the moon’s existence.

This is going nowhere.

I asked my cubicle neighbor if she slept well last night. After shaking off her puzzlement at the question, she did mention her sleep wasn’t great. She then said she was snappy at her son, and extra bitchy in her e-mails this morning. She started talking about her drive to work before I cut her off and said, “I think I’ve got enough, thanks.”

Three people called in sick – on a Wednesday. A Wednesday! It’s cloudy outside, too. Could it be they are really sick? Were they barking at the moon a little well into the wee hours? Hmmm.

Another office colleague returned from her morning coffee having gone on a buying binge, grabbing one of every on-sale “food” item at a drug store chain. She generously shared her bags of sodium, sugar, preservatives and other nominally edible toxins with her appreciative colleagues. There was an explosion of excitement as we stood around stuffing our faces with carcinogens, significantly shortening our life spans. What a care-free breakfast gathering it was!

"You wanna marinate, b*tch?" "No, Mr Tyson - Meditate"  "Marinate on this - " As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

“You wanna marinate, b*tch?”
“No, Mr Tyson – Meditate”
“Marinate on this – “
As his left hook smashes into the temple of my meditation session.

So, it may be there is something to this “Full Moon” business, after all. Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws to find a suitable excuse for another crappy meditation session. The idea there’s no reason at all for my ineptitude, besides the fact my mind is like a six year old tripping out after a gummy-bear binge, sucks. That just leaves me with trepidation at the thought of many more unexpected rides on the mustang when all I want is to sit on Mr Zafu for a pleasant ride in a canoe on a serene lake at dawn. Full moon it is.

Ambling mind, I’d like you to meet full moon. Full moon, meet my mind. Something tells me you two know each other.

Trust Me, You Do Not Want to Know What is Going on In Here

Those four words. Like dogs to a high-pitched whistle and flies to mortally electrifying light, they render the same degree of involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as those words make ruthless contact between our legs.

They come as we are spooning after making love to our partner. Or while we’re hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through botanical gardens; the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air. Or when we’re sipping lattes after a glutinous, ostentatious breakfast sharing the Sunday Times, periodically breaking the comfortable silence to offer musings on the week’s news.

Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss for what they are, for no good reason the four words are unleashed, grazing insensitively at the most tender side of unsuspecting, fully descended testicles.

“What are you thinking?”

Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*

Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?

Sometimes you wish you'd never asked the question.

Sometimes you wish you’d never asked the question.

We’ve just made love. To make sure my role in the affair extended longer than a commercial break, I may have had to deploy radical counter-measures to fend off premature detonation of missile warheads. This possibly involved tapping into childhood memories of larger mammals mating on Jacques Cousteau or  National Geographic. There could have been thoughts of grannies playing Twister in their over-sized underwear, or naked old men juggling puppies.

You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace. Next time, I’m letting my missile blow wherever and whenever the hell it feels like it.

As we have our breakfast, I am reminded of a YouTube video of a dog at the table wearing a hoodie stuffing his breakfast into his face with human hands. Oh god was that funny! He was eating scrambled eggs just like me – but way funnier! Because he was a dog and had hands! Get it! A DOG! HA HA HA!!

I see yellow daffodils and think of Sponge Bob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream and coke floats, then trashing his pineapple home; the fact that Squidward’s face looks a lot like a dude’s package.

That is basically what I am thinking. The thoughts don’t diminish my lapping up of the experience.

So, why you gotta ruin a good moment like that?

“Um, what?” is what I actually say instead.

Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.

But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes.  Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes. Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Do you not know how hard it is to come up with good pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? Or when I’ve just eaten enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to give an Olympian type-2 diabetes in a single meal?

As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem to love black guys more than the horses and cows in the nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught!

You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to paaaah-tay on some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping girly wine coolers from your pint-sized body!

On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or ‘I feel lucky,’ or ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’

Believe me, I think those things. All the time, in fact. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you ask, the thoughts can be a little, well, romantically underwhelming.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I'd known sooner.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I’d known sooner.

“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”

“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”

“No reason. Love you.”

And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. A masterful deflection. Right?

RIGHT !?!?

I bet every dude reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that graze to my nads. But it’s just so, I don’t know, begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.

Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really awesome and romantic-like?

One time after the question I said ‘oh nothing, really.’ Oops. Really? No. Not ‘really.’ Nothing. I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway. After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.

Okay, I had a bad week at the office, and yeah, sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other dudes. Damn! That wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how funny it would be if Sponge Bob and Kermit the Frog were getting fisted by Miss Piggy.

I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho facade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their repressed hiding places.

I will get revenge against the infidel, my brethren. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the romantic comedy for movie night. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I had four as I was lighting the candles.

I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.

I will never forget the jeers I received when I opined over beers and golf that The Notebook wasn’t bad, and another time when I described the colour of eggplant as aubergine. Come on guys, it ain’t purple. So, there will be no Barry White. Sorry, Barry White, it’s not you, it’s me.

So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past ones, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh, smaller. Down there, I mean? (pointing to my penis)”

On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I really can’t handle the truth.

The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have ADD. He’s always running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. But when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random?

Hell breaks loose. He tries to run away the little idiot. But he’s on a wheel, so instead the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. The fleeing hamster is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.

That’s what happens when you ask “so, what are you thinking?” You send hammy running for the hills.

That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent-like mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.

He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.

Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.

So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Sponge Bob, dogs eating breakfast, Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.

“This is phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”

And then I roll over, hoping the hamster will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs the rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Inner Peace. Who Wants a Piece?

In my early-thirties I became increasingly curious about spirituality and other practices that appeared to offer the promise of calm and inner peace. I’d spent most of my life mired in distractions, chasing achievements, self-improving; always fighting the feeling that I was late to the party and came wearing the wrong outfit. If I wasn’t spending late nights on the job to make my mark, I was frantically trying to raise my intellectual bar higher to cultivate an urbane mind to pad my accomplishments. I was a classic Type-A personality of the species hubris overachieveritas academicus. I was bright, clever, and capable, but also chronically unhappy, anxious and agitated. I never felt relaxed and constantly battled the urge to psychologically slip out of my own skin.

This is my old attitude. It's still kinda funny in an asshole-ish kinda way.

Sarcasm is hilarious – so long as it’s not you who’s pissed off enough to be unleashing it all the time.

I was aware of exotic “new-agey things” like yoga and buddhism, and attracted by the sense of calm and groundedness it offered, but was skeptical. I believed people who were outwardly calm were seething cauldrons of rage just waiting to boil over – like me. I was convinced the world was going to shit, that it was ruled by thugs, thieves, and troglodytes, and that all with a conscience were right to be pissed off about it. The idea of “mindfulness” and dubious fitness trends like yoga were soothing antidotes for personal setbacks, but weren’t contributing much to end the insanity I perceived as the undoing of the human race. It never occurred to me then that the locus of my perception of insanity, my grim outlook, was at the heart of the problem.

Today, I accept many things are beyond the grasp of reason, especially in human affairs. I don’t presume my mind is capable of accurately diagnosing the world’s ails or fabricating ideas to fix them. That project is flawed in intention and doomed by its very design. I aim to be one less active part of the problem by taking steps to become more mindful of how I conduct myself; a task which must necessarily begin by banishing a half dozen pathologies from my mind.

In my twenties, I was unknowingly doing my best to soil the planet with well-intentioned, but objectively dodgy ideas and conduct. These days I do my best to apply mindful restraint to prevent the unleashing of my culturally pre-ordained sociopathy on the world. I am aware of habits of mind that influence my perception of things, which leans far too readily to the grim and cynical. I began to let go of trying to fit the world in my mind and force it to unfold according to my plans. It’s made for a much more calm and peaceful existence, and yoga and meditation are what brought me to that place.

Before I took up the practices I would have easily tried to intellectually shake down a Buddhist or a yogi to debate them about the virtues of their “religion.” I mostly thought of spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Desmond Tutu as good people on the whole, but fatally flawed in a way that simply had been well hidden from public view. I gave them props for spreading a positive message – the left-of-centre ideologue in me was attracted to the rebellious, emancipatory spirit of “Free Tibet” – but I wasn’t buying what I they were selling. Christopher Hitchens’ bilious assault on the alleged fraud of Mother Teresa’s crusade against poverty was emblematic of the kind of cynicism I harboured about “spiritual” movements, which I viewed as one of many in a string of dangerous assaults on reason.

As much as I thought sitting on a cushion doing nothing but “relaxing” and putting my legs behind my head was – logically speaking – ridiculous I was still intrigued by the promise of inner peace to fully discount the ideas. By my mid-thirties, when life had handed me a few more disappointments and unexpected turns than I anticipated, the abysmal coping mechanisms of my “reason” had me desperately craving a piece of the Peace I heard was within my grasp but did not really believe. I may have been suspicious of the Dalai Lama, but his happiness and radiance, in spite of living in exile and witnessing the cultural genocide of his people, suggested he was doing something right. It seemed worth a try.

My initial curiousity was piqued by falling into an old habit: I did a lot of reading about buddhism, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. I bought some buddha statues and put them around my home. I bought a couple yoga videos and went to a hot class or two. I even contemplated getting a buddha tattoo. I listened to Dalai Lama talks on CDs. Like a good North American I started the process of spiritual exploration by cultivating an identity around my sense of what it meant to be a peaceful dude without actually being a peaceful dude. However, the same basic message of the books I dug into over pints of beer and bags of chips was unavoidable: practice, practice, practice. Don’t read, don’t ponder, don’t muse and banter about meditation or yoga, they implored. Do a regular, disciplined practice.

I felt initially that this kind of approach was too soft to achieve much. Plus, I was reluctant to fully embrace being nice and mellow as a way to smooth over my abrasive persona. My ego had hardened around the idea that it was me against the world and I was apprehensive about softening the armour I’d put up, especially in my line of work at the time. I didn’t want to be a tree-hugging pushover. I was also an ardent rationalist, genuinely frightened of becoming a blinkered bliss junky. My identity was caught up in the idea that there was virtue in being a skilled, consummate critic. To a degree, maybe there is, but I found that it just dug me deeper and deeper into a pit of negativity that was difficult to crawl out of when I wanted relief; when I wanted to not be angry and indignant, to let loose, just for while.

In spite of my negative, cynical self, in 2006 I gave yoga and meditation a real college-try. I haven’t looked back. Sure, there have been ebbs and flows in the regularity of how I practice. I am a quick-fix Westerner, after all.

Certainly, I’ve slipped into old habits of negativity – they were thirty-some years in the making. But I’ve stuck with it and the practices have changed my life for the better. I am happy to report that I can still reason and judge, I just do so with a more open mind and come away from the exercise without being singed by a seething cauldron of outrage.

This Work is no Walk in the Park

Even now, seven years after exploring a meditation and yoga practice the thought “what

Marichyasana A. At first, me getting into this pose was like trying wrestle a wild boar to the ground. Now it's just like trying to hug a galloping pony.

Marichyasana A. At first, me getting into this pose was like trying wrestle a wild boar to the ground. Now it’s just like trying to hug a galloping pony.

bloody good is all this?” still creeps into my mind. The doubt is especially intense at six in the morning at Mysore, when I am falling over balancing on one leg while holding the other suspended in the air by the toe (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana). My pride is shaken when, from across the room, my instructor catches me stealing a furtive glance at the sublime curves of the down-dogging yogini in front of me and quietly, calmly exclaims “look at your nose, Edmund.” Many mornings as I struggle to get my arms to wrap behind me and around my knee and fold into a forward bend (Marichyasana A) I muse about the relative attractiveness of sleep in my cozy bed and curse myself for the decision to come so early to a room of organic farts, sweaty, unwashed bodies, and the amplified Darth Vader din so characteristic of Mysore class.

Some mornings I fantasize about driving back and forth over my zafu cushion as I sit in the wee hours, the sleep still in my eyes, with feet that have ceased to exist and knees that feel like they’ve been through a New York Yankees batting practice. I feel my frustration starting to build as I obsess about my grocery list, remember bills I have to pay, and re-hash conversations where I wish I’d said something more poignant, more funny to score points (usually with a woman who is much too young for me). I find myself repeatedly humming the same annoying jingle, or realize I am mentally masturbating on the image of the yogini in front of me at yesterday’s Mysore class and feeling embarrassed for having been busted by my teacher.

My timer rings and I have to fight the feeling of failure about the fact that, over the past thirty minutes, I’d had maybe three minutes of darn good focus on my breath and twenty seven in the jungle swinging from tree to tree, beating my chest and throwing shit like the unruly monkey my mind happens to be. The success is that I sat there. I got those three minutes, which is better than nothing. I also became a little more familiar with what makes my little Curious George throw shit and get jumpy. It’s insight I can use later on.

This inner-focused, meditative stuff is maddeningly difficult for me, and I’d bet its probably so for most constantly distracted, perpetually busy North Americans. It was much easier training to run half marathons than it is to sit and focus on the breath and mindfully set the body in various poses. It was hard to keep up a good practice when I was suffering emotionally during the early stages of my separation and sobbing in a perpetual state of semi-catatonia.

This is all to say that sometimes – often, frankly – it isn’t easy work. Yoga isn’t just “stretching” – especially if you choose Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow. Meditation isn’t just “thinking.” Meditation definitely is not as glamourous as the posters of a peaceful saffron-robed monk sitting serenely in front of a giant Buddha statue in an exotic Asian locale. Yoga is not as glitzy as the photo-shoots of air-brushed naked toe-sock-wearing yoginis depict. Both are a lot more gritty than that in reality. There’s pain, and sweat and lots of frustration. There are tears, anger, and eventually, laughter.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose). Okay, I'm an Ashtanga purist in saying this, but she should really be holding her to and looking to her right, but you get the idea, the pose is an ego killer and makes for some fun times in a crowded class. Try it and see.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose). Okay, I’m an Ashtanga purist in saying this, but she should really be holding her toe and looking off her right shoulder, but you get the idea, the pose is an ego killer and makes for some fun times in a crowded class. Try it and see.

I am grateful for the serendipity that got me sun-saluting on the mat and sitting on the cushion; that compelled me to give it a try and to stick with it when at first it really sucked. When I was lamenting the fact that my life had turned to shit back in 2006 and I wanted to hurl myself off a bridge, instead of blanketing myself in booze or addiction I just said, “what do I have to lose with this buddhism and yoga stuff?” I started to regularly roll out my yoga mat at home and practiced to yoga videos from a box set that someone had given as a gift. We didn’t really do yoga and I remembered looking at the DVD box set thinking, “Isn’t Muriel Hemmingway an actress, and who is this Rodney Yee guy with the really long, healthy hair? What are these two waifs going to teach me about fitness?” I gave it a try anyway.

At the same time, I started going to dharma teachings and soon signed up for meditation retreats. I sat for a meditation session daily, no matter how short. For the first time in my life I started to experience genuine calm, even if only ephemerally. Old habits die hard. I wasn’t a walking dove and giving hugs to the homeless, but I could see changes in the way I was coping with things that had, in the past, sent my mind in a cycling frenzy.

I am glad I had the faith to just try it and stick with it, even though “results,” whatever I thought they’d be, were hard to come by. I am able to say without any equivocation that, if I had not spent the previous years cultivating a robust meditation practice before I separated from my wife in late 2011 I would not be writing this article today. I’d be in a pine box, or dust in the wind. I simply did not have a positive outlook or any functional method to bring me out of my tendency to stew in the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions that so easily germinated in my mind. When I first separated from my wife, a woman I’d been with eighteen years, the seeds spawned in my emotional garden were of the hemlock variety.

Negative thoughts and emotions still arise – that will never change – but after I’d taken up yoga and meditation I no longer instinctively repressed them under the din of activity or distraction. Nor did I get so wrapped up in them for as long as I had before. I became more able to confront my strong emotions about things and just let them be without needing to “do something” about them. It was extraordinary progress in my level of self-awareness and emotional growth.

I won’t tell a lie, I’m not even close to being the next buddha. I am still far too enamoured of bacon and the taste of other inhumanely slaughtered flesh tearing to pieces between my teeth; I am still neurotic, slightly compulsive, and just a tad more indulgent than I should be because of my Attention Deficit Disorder. I’d have to bribe someone on high to claim just a sliver of real estate on the spiritual pedestal. I am too flawed to be a sage, and I’m just fine with that. There aren’t any bodhi trees where I live anyway, so I’m out of luck.

At the same time, I am much less a slave to my neuroses and the dysfunction they perpetuate than I used to be. I am not the negative person I used to be, nor am I so easily attracted to other negative people. If I can change, anyone can. The change can occur without over-reliance on anti-depressants and psychotherapy, which leave you with wait gain, a loss in libido, and quite a few bucks lighter in the wallet. The point I want to make here is that there is something else to try. Work at it, and give it time, and see what happens.

Two months of unlimited yoga classes at my studio costs just a little more than one session with a shrink. Meditation is free – other than the one-time cost of a cushion – and a dharma class costs whatever you want to offer in terms of dana. These are modest investments for sake of one’s well-being and much more assured of results than anti-depressants and shrinks alone.

Carve just twenty minutes away from tweeting, facebooking, porn-surfing, gaming or any of the multiple distractions you’re using to titillate your stimulus-craving mind and use the time to sit in meditation. Instead of beating your body into submission at the gym or on the track, try yoga a few times a week; maybe repair some of the damage you’ve done to that vessel of yours because you’ve subjected it to so much stress and mindless activity.

Instead of hiding under the blanket of meds and psychoanalysis, go on a scavenger hunt. Suss out your demons and look them square in the eyes. See how they look when you’re not running away. All you’ve got to do is sit, or hold a pose and attend to your breath; wait for them to make an appearance. When you’ve done your sessions over and over again with your demons trying to spook you out of your practice, the realization that you’re okay, that you’re still in one piece, will diminish the their ability to mess with your mind. You will win, in your own way. Your monkey will be off your back and on your leash, I just know it.

Just Have Faith – In Yourself

What's it gonna be? Mindless distraction or meditation?

What’s gonna be better for ya, Snooki or meditation and yoga? It’s like the choice between heroin and a fruit salad, isn’t it?

Just do the practices and see for yourself, preferably without fettering your experience with a bunch of expectations about what it’s all supposed to be about. Most of us are conditioned to see every thing we do in the world instrumentally, in terms of how it suits our aims. Not everything worthwhile can be quantified and evaluated like a capital investment, and neither can we apprehend everything that is worthwhile in the world from the jumping off point of our own minds. It’s all really about the process, which you have to allow to unfold as it does for you.

It’s difficult to believe this at first because the practices are deceptively simple and yet extremely difficult in the application. They have to be done with energy, effort, and focus – end of story. Yoga and meditation aren’t rightly approached as part of an ego-project to chalk up another achievement – that of enlightenment. They are, simply put, transformative in such a profoundly positive, impactful way for each who practices.

The only faith required for this practice is in yourself and in the process. If you don’t have a clue what that process is, find a teacher and follow their instructions with diligence. A cautionary word of advice for anyone coming to the practice on the promise of a quick fix: that attitude will be the greatest hindrance to your practice. There is nothing to “fix”. You’re lost, not broken, and the rescue mission is going to take time, especially if you’ve been running away from yourself for a long while.

Practice to free your mind from the layers and layers of conditioning you’ve been subjected to your whole life, that have sent you grasping into the world with endless desire in your heart. You are not the sum total of your cravings and reactions to the frenzied drama of modernity; you are not the hungry ghost of your conditioning. The practice of looking closely into your body and mind will gradually unearth the human being you really are. Aren’t you the least bit curious to know who that person is, after all these years?

Dalai Lama on Love and Freedom

It’s wisdom we all feel in our hearts is true, but it takes practice to actually live this wisdom in our lives everyday.

Dreams of Becoming The Six Million Dollar Man

I had some unusual career aspirations when I was a kid. I chalk that up to my having ADD, which I didn’t realize until I was thirty seven. The first career I ever remember trying on for size in my imagination was that of a bus driver, because I thought driving anything with such a big wheel would be way cool. I’d spend countless hours in my basement with a bike wheel in my hand and rows of make-shift seats behind me, driving through my imaginary town blurting over my pretend microphone “Keep it down in the back, hoodlums. Have a good day ma’am. Next stop, 7-11. Vrrooom.”

That love affair ended with a crabby bus driver who kicked me off his bus for being a nuisance. I sat in the seat adjacent to his and talked his ear off, asking repeatedly if I could take the wheel, or give out a transfer, or open the door. Anything to get a taste of the job of my dreams. He got mad when he realized I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I’d be taking the route all the way back to where I got on, which was the beginning of the route, actually. My future as a transit driver was not to be. Those guys were pricks.

I didn’t brood for long, deciding that what I really wanted was to drive a tractor, a front end loader, or one of those rigs with the super-sized shovels that pushed mountains of snow to the curb to create awesome snowbanks. Not only would I be cool for driving such a wicked machine, but I’d also be able to make mammoth snow hills that you could toboggan down, or play “king of the castle” on. Or jump from. Or take a house down in a couple of big scoops. That seemed like shitloads of fun.

For a time I thought it would be neat to be the guy who delivered chips to all the convenience stores, ostensibly because I assumed it would have guaranteed an endless supply of free chips. But I had a friend who was a masterful thief and was routinely able to steal boxes of chips of all varieties, seemingly at will. The idea of more chips at my disposal became passe, and so too did my fleeting career aspiration.

In reality, the keen desire to be a stuntman consumed me for years. My imaginary dalliances as a firefighter, a fighter pilot, a marine, and a cowboy were all passing fancies; insurance careers in case I didn’t make the cut of daredevil super-stardom. They were subsumed well below the ultimate aim of television and movie awesomeness, even if getting to hang off the back of a fire engine at full speed was pretty amazing. The dream of being a stuntman was a constant in the mental mix of endless career hats I wore in my formative years.

Evil Knievel being ridiculously awesome doing a pop-a-wheelie while wearing a cool cape.

I had all the Evil Knievel figurines and filled scrapbooks with costume ideas for my own trademark daredevil suits. I wish I’d kept my prototype cape drawings, because my recollection is they were stunning. My cape ideas and other artifacts of my pre-pubescent youth were obliterated by the onslaught of testosterone, which gave me lots of boners, seething rage, acne, and clouded my mind with macho ideas that led to a purge of all remnants of my dreamy, artistic former self. But it kept the flames of my passion for stuntman-dom burning bright.

As a kid, I knew I had to toughen up my body for the shock of stunt legendariness, or legendrification, or legendiferousness. I knew you had to withstand contusions and broken bones to be a stunt legend like “the Knievel”. I needed a few dates with some papier-mache and crutches to get some stuntman cred.

I took to rolling down stairs. Frequently. It used to drive my mother insane with fear, but I got pretty good at it. I didn’t realize until much later there was actually a method to falling down stairs. Huh. Who knew?

I’d do four-tire ramp bike-jumps over neighborhood kids and knew how to shake off an ass-over-tea-kettle face plant after things went awry in mid-air. My mother and friends could count on being repeatedly shaken from their Saturday afternoon cocktails by the sight of me plunging from the window of my second story bedroom into piles of leaves or snowbanks on the ground. Sometimes, I’d just see if could land from a jump off a high surface like a cat: on both feet. I did land on both feet, but usually then turned on an ankle and ended up in crutches, which did not discourage subsequent “accidents,” by the way. I got a lot of attention with those sticks.

I really, really, expected the falling down and self-destruction would make me a shoo-in to be the stuntman in the 1990’s version of The Six Million Dollar Man, which my eight year old self was absolutely certain was going to exist. I remember vividly, how I believed that, if you willed something badly enough, you could make it happen. I plunged headlong into many six foot fences as I tested this theory, running at full speed while mimicking the sound the bionic man would make as he jumped over a speeding car, or ran in slow motion, bionically, or threw a shoe at bionic speed at a gun-toting criminal. Having severely compromised many poorly-posted fences and being unable to regularly hit a large target in my backyard with dodgeballs I’d stolen from my school, I abandoned the idea of throwing projectiles at any thug brandishing a weapon.

I loved Steve Austin. Lee Majors, on the other hand, not so much. He stole Farah Fawcett away from me, which was only partly forgiven because he was the bionic man. I loved Farah Fawcett very much, or at least as much as an eight year old was capable of loving another human being. I assumed that Lee Majors had a bionic schlong to have landed such an ethereal beauty. It wasn’t fair. He had it all.

When The Fall Guy came to air, all grudges against Lee Majors were forgiven, and my dreams as a knockabout movie stand-in were still in full swing. I took my practice on the gridiron, getting the living shit kicked out of me every practice and every game. I had every confidence in the world that I could withstand the ill-effects of jumping out of a helicopter or plunging off a bridge into the river below, as I remembered happening every week on the Dukes of Hazzard, a show about blue-blooded rednecks that no black kid should have ever had affinities with. The sounds “Heeeee Haaaaaw” shouldn’t evoke fondness in the hearts of most blacks, but it sure as dickens put a smile on my ten year old face! It’s the colour-blindness that happens when you live in a WASP family as I did. I am not sure who I loved more, Daisy Duke or Rosco P. Coltrane. I’d call it a tie, coo, coo, coo.

I never did become a stuntman, in case you were wondering. At some point it occurred to me that Lee Majors was just an actor, and that stuntmen were underpaid adrenaline junkies whose careers were as short-lived as the thrills they sought. Too much grandiose philosophizing in my college days quickly turned me into a chicken-shit, which has taken years of real life, and kung fu, to fully root out.

Still, every time I watch a cheesy action movie with a guy getting his ass blown away by a semi-automatic, crashing through a window, and hurtling to the ground to meet his maker I think: ‘fuck my life, I go to a cubicle every day, when THAT coulda been my job.’ Then I brood for a little while, until the thought occurs that Six Million Dollars ain’t shit to make a bionic man.