Poem problems • 2 May 2010

Last Friday I drank some wine and took the iPod to the arboretum. Malbec and Morrissey: a florid pairing. Overstated. Lewd. Attention-needy. I used them to dull my senses—keep the birdsongs out of my ears and make the mind spacey enough that I wouldn’t get all emotional about the lilt of the magnolia petals and the little sprouting dogwood flowers. Anything to stem the desire to talk about plants in figurative language. (Images of straight jackets. Hip ones, that Morrisey would approve.)

Aesthetically speaking, a part of me despises American transcendentalism, and nature writing, and meditations on the seasons. And I’m supposed to feel all displaced here—that’s been the expectation. But it’s getting so I need little escape devices to stay cool—intravenous infusions of outsider attitude. I’m reminded of the mantras I used to recite when I’d get too caught up in the lifeworlds of my ethnographic fieldwork, when I’ start to go native: participant observation, participant observation, participant observation.

Nevertheless… absorption is happening. For all it is not, Michigan wins. Uncertainty and alienation have gotten so boring that there’s nothing left to do but allow contentment to happen as a kind of natural state—and not just in a honeymoonish way, but in a sane one.

Saturday, eight days from my last walk in the Arb, the leaves were large enough that they change the whole look and feel of the air. It rained hard—summer rain—as a crowd the size of the whole damn town packed in to the stadium for commencement, and the Editor and I stood on the back porch in our bath robes and bare feet. He mentioned our summers in DC, and our bodies remembered that heavy green, mulchy musk. Funny to be in a place where the air is both heavy and fresh (three is no atmosphere in Southern California, in a way that keeps moods light and shallow).

A huge robin hopped through the mint leaves in the yard, chasing a squirrel, and then I went to the farmers’ market, where the destruction was its worst. Flower explosions, barricades of artisanal cuteness, psy-ops in the form of free-sampled tender greens and smiles from old ladies with thick worker-hands. They’d pry your mouth open with those hands if you got too close; force-feed you some scones. In the melee, a military helicopter swooped over, and instead of ducking for cover, the natives threw up their hands and cheered it. Obama en route to the hippodrome.

Anyway, I have found that my contingent sense of sanity needs time-containers even more than it needs grounding in some immediate place. I’d be lost without practice, and probably without the digital devices I use to create routine. For now, I’ve found a few quiet, long-practicing friends. We conspire a couple of times a week, and the other four I practice in my shala at home.

Other important rhythms, new ones, include: sitting, cycling, and pooping.

Meditation every morning. Thirty minutes. Not jhana practice (the happy absorption stuff that I’ve been doing since July) but straightforward Vipassana – intense, fast-paced Shinzenian noting. I’ll do it until the next retreat, and then evaluate. So far, three weeks in to the change, there is a new sense of confidence and stability. I have no idea why the most destabilizing, self-annihilating practice would generate such joy and ease—and this might change tomorrow. But for now, it feels like deconstructing my subjectivity is mellowing out my passionate search or meaning in the world. Who knew that would feed good?

Cycling. I went to spin class with Tim, and loved the way it made my heart work and generated new closeness with L, who is sitting out this summer’s bike racing season for a course of chemo. Somehow I’ve found myself back on the bikes, riding hard two or three times a week, connecting with these fierce athletes who happen to be gen-x and female. What an alluring, powerful generation (or, rather, market segment): hardworking, clear-minded, independent women with extremely refined skills in some obscure sport, with lives of their own, without the buy-in to the messages about consumption, traditional nuclear-family images of success, or the desperation to marry some poor sucker. Explicitly not waiting for someone to come take care of them. They’re different from the “You go, girl!” world of girlfriend groups who have problems with men, do lunch, and tell each other they’re beautiful. Rather, the biking women have men as well as women among their best friends, write books, and date who they want: it’s like The Golden Notebook after a few generations of good therapy. Their discipline and openness kicks my ass, too: my practice has emphasized receptivity and grace in a way that makes me quiet in their presence. These women are savage, sharp and lovely. Full of integrity. They need a better meaning-maker than Nike—the brand of sweatshop labor and sexually creepy heroes. I wonder what would speak to their spirits.

I don’t know. But about pooping. We are talking three times a day. Every day. It’s so good that all of a sudden I’m kind of interested in cultivating radical gut efficiency.

It’s true that organ cleansing can be a neurotic activity used to advance eating disorders, and that at times it may be some kind of attack one’s feelings of impurity and guilt. I will grant that the body works best if you just eat and drink in moderation, and listen to your environment. But after months of dosas and chai, and after a few enthusiastic recommendations, I did send away to Venice for Dr. Schulze’s miracle bowel cleanse.

I read his instructional booklet, in which he grouses about all the “trendy” cleanses out there (trendy cleanses? talk about a cool kids complex), asks himself a string of insane, ill-punctuated rhetorical questions, and brags that his cleans is much more “hardcore” than all the others, which may not get you anything more “than a few good farts.”

Wary of doing anything “hardcore in the pooping realm, I took half the herb dosage he recommended, and stayed on the cleanse for half as long. There was some annoying heaviness in the gut from ingesting dirt and weeds, but three weeks later I’ve settled in to new, responsive digestion. Now tell me, can your sphincter shift on the fly? Can you poo at will within 30 minutes of each meal? Ok… maybe this is not a good marketing tack.

The herbal approach to bowel cleansing is top-down, in contrast to the bottom-up method, which is rather… mechanical. I’ve participated in the device-driven method, thanks to an LA client who gifted me with a course of treatment at a Beverly Hills colonic salon (yes, salon), right on Rodeo Drive. It’s fine, but seems more a spot treatment than an overall wellness thing. What I’m impressed by here is the assimilative-evacuative rhythm that is possible. The karmic symmetry of letting go as often as you take in, the direct connection of what is eaten with what is wasted. Ah! There’s so much to say about it, really. I need to cut myself off. Talk about unwanted poetry!


  • Wombat
    Posted 2 May 2010 at 10:57 pm | #

    Nice to hear that you’re letting yourself settle in to the rhythms of life in Mich. I won’t comment about gut cleanses from either end, but about the cycling: there is a fierceness accessible in cycling and a permissiveness to friendly competition that I have found refreshing. It’s allowed me to access an edge that I put aside when I was 12 and couldn’t distinguish competitiveness from mean-girl-ness. Also, working the high end of my heart rate is more endorphin producing.

    Spring time in Michigan sounds enchanting. Springtime in Hawaii means that the large flying cockroaches are back in force.

  • Posted 2 May 2010 at 11:05 pm | #

    Hello! Good to hear from you, Wombat. Good luck with the mega-roaches.

    Real insecurities and discomfort come up for me around mean girls and really any kind of competitiveness—both in work and in practice. But the play of team performance and individual performance and open, unapologetic pushing of each other… it is so light in an energetic sense. A kind of bonding that men do all the time, but that I’ve either been unable to find in or unable to participate in with women. It’s really good for me to play with that energy… and, anyway, how could I protest when I’m so busy working my ass off and staying in my breath?

  • Wombat
    Posted 2 May 2010 at 11:20 pm | #

    That’s it exactly. But be careful b/c it will tighten your hips. 🙂

  • Posted 3 May 2010 at 1:05 am | #

    It’s so intense in the hips and shoulders. I always find some place to sneak off and take hanumanasana, EPRK and drop-backs afterwards. The cycling women don’t need to see that crazy shit.

    My housework podcast for tonight:

  • joy
    Posted 3 May 2010 at 12:52 pm | #

    Oh. my. GOD! I was laughing and crying from the nature writing bit (I’m missing the city, and so steeping myself in what’s beautiful here), and Obama flying in, and your wonderful women friends (finding the Cevenole people here in this corner of country, Protestant France very different from my bon vivant city-by-the-sea peeps), feeling like an outsider too sometimes, and just sighing sighing and loving your writing… and then it got even better! A most surprising and hilarious bit on poo. I do love you, OvO! Thanks so much xoxo

  • susananda
    Posted 3 May 2010 at 1:15 pm | #

    A passion for pooping sweeps the blogosphere! Regarding the bottom-up method, I find the charm of the Thai ladies helps to desterilise the experience (except for the equipment of course). I doubt it would be the same experience in London. But I’m very very interested in your top-down bit….

    Springtime in humid climes is so delightful, air heavy with something other than smog.

    Glad you are making friends 🙂

  • Posted 3 May 2010 at 2:39 pm | #

    You are quite the muse JS, in your country castle with the shala on the hill. Sigh.

    Susan, thank you for giving me the courage to write about pooping. When I went in for my colonic in Beverly Hills, I had such a hilarious and experience that I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t think readers here would be friendly to my taking it below the belt in a very detailed way.

    On that note, in response to a request, I guess I’m going to write an email for women only, on the topic of greatly increasing the incentives for practicing a strong ut pluthihi. Kind of about intermediate-level bandhas and a practice that can be stupidly tangential if one lets herself go. This email will be NSF the squeamish. It will be funny. Drop me a line if you’re discreet and curious.

  • Posted 3 May 2010 at 2:51 pm | #

    Also, incidentally, a very good manblog

  • fatou2002
    Posted 3 May 2010 at 5:44 pm | #

    Wish there were more women like your ‘biker friends’ around in my town. The ass kicking, book writing kind.

    I am always up for poop story ;-), thought I am even more fond of stories about toilets. Green magma and triphala guggul have being doing wonders for my pooping.

    And please add me to your ut pluthihi e-mail list.

  • joy
    Posted 3 May 2010 at 6:05 pm | #

    me too!

  • Posted 3 May 2010 at 6:25 pm | #

    me, three!

  • sally
    Posted 4 May 2010 at 3:55 am | #

    please sign me up for the ut pluthihi email too!

  • Posted 4 May 2010 at 6:53 am | #

    it is my secret understanding that everyone loves poop.

  • Wombat
    Posted 4 May 2010 at 9:09 am | #

    Why do I feel like all the ladies just got up and went to the powder room together? Well, this wombat wouldn’t want to be left out! Perhaps we’re gathering to discuss uterine prolapse or other mysteries? Oh boy!

  • Posted 4 May 2010 at 2:12 pm | #

    Dr. Shultze’s cleanse? What’s this? And, beware of cycling; you know my hips well enough to know what the bike can do (not that I’ve given it up, mind you).

  • catygay
    Posted 4 May 2010 at 2:47 pm | #

    Ashtanga is not for lazy cunts, as guruji was wont to say.

  • Posted 4 May 2010 at 2:58 pm | #

    But the poop love is secret! How many people realize how much they themselves love doing it? Such a very enjoyable feeling, really.

    Oh K… I do know, yes. In the IT bands and sartorius, the biking is there. In a good way. 🙂 I’ll be careful. But, truly, the durvasasana is less upright these days and I do not give a crap about it.

    I’ll link the cleanse and say more about it tonight. Also, will initiate the powder room discussion tonight or soonish…

    Now Carlos: you know I regard that word, as well as bitch and bastard, to be so aesthetically displeasing as to warrant treatment as obscenities. The sight of these words significantly decreases my quality of life. And my aesthetic environment is something you, of all people, should regard with care. I think, all things considered, that it would be quite right of me to alter your comment to reflect my tastes.

  • catygay
    Posted 4 May 2010 at 3:12 pm | #

    Ashtanga is not for the vaginally indolent, then.

  • KMB
    Posted 5 May 2010 at 10:53 am | #

    I would like to be on the utpluthi email if it isn’t too late! 🙂

    Haven’t commented before ovo, but I really enjoy your blog. And pooping, secretly…

  • LI Ashtangini
    Posted 5 May 2010 at 1:50 pm | #

    Yep, everyone loves pooping. Most people won’t admit it.

    Really, please, let’s not have those words here. SRSLY.

  • Posted 5 May 2010 at 2:42 pm | #

    KMB, how do I know you’re not an investigative reporter for the Yoga Journal? The email is anatomically, and emotionally, and mentally explicit…. No vaginal indolence (hereafter vindolence) here.

    I guess this thread is about the health and high functioning of the lower chakras. They need to be tuned, flushed, and just generally given some loving attention, eh?

    So about the bowel cleanse. The products are at http://www.herbdoc.com. Check out the “action shots” of Dr. Schulze himself, and spend some time in the “about” section, in which he discusses his, er, revolutionary narrative of herb market dominance. He is the perfect, perfect modern mountebank, complete with a raging inferiority complex. I love how that leads him to present his products in a macho, superiorist way, instead of the usual, perhaps overly mellow disposition of homeopathy. Which is, of course, my own disposition. 🙂

    I felt like a sucker for eating bentonite clay, but what can I say? They’re doing something right. Sara noted that this stuff can easily be overdone, and to take a gentle approach. So I backed off even more from the cautionary attitude I took after reading Dr. Schulze’s paperwork.

    The thing is, the product itself is quite high quality. It felt like a good place to start. I am sure experienced herbalists could mix something better, more local, and more personalized. And I’m guessing that five years from now, after I’ve learned a lot more, I’ll look back on this experiment sheepishly… the same way I now view my first “hardcore” experiments with the Master Cleanse (which I loved and repeated three times because it made me so high, but now would never repeat, because over time, it is clearly harmful to the smooth, sattvic functioning of my organism).

    So anyway, I am too ignorant to go recommending courses of treatment. But many hippie friends and two ashtangis I know love this guy’s products in moderation. For me, it’s been an interesting place to start as I start to pay closer attention to radical gut efficiency and harmony.

    If you are a reader who can point me toward subtler, smarter sources, please make mention. Meantime, a general squeeze of the muladhara in salutation.

    ooo ovo

  • Posted 6 May 2010 at 6:58 pm | #

    Tracked down this example of how exercise physiologists are talking these days, recently linked from IOC.

    Basically: oxygen, pooping, adrenaline, blood sugar. The last part of this discussion is about the importance of gut health and some ways of getting a handle on it.

    Parenthetically, it’s funny how disciplined the bodybuilders are about food, though, and how wedded the interviewer is to his ethic of strictly sticking to you dietary “plan.” Most practitioners I know spend a few years disciplining themselves and learning to dislike anything that actually hurts them, and then just let go and trust their better-trained intuitions. The drama about cleansing and diet strictness, and the extremes that are normal to western people struggling with control/comfort around food, seem to go away eventually. I still sometimes skim off the Editor’s snack crackers though. 🙂

  • Posted 6 May 2010 at 7:34 pm | #

    I wish I could teleport back to 1995 & be in my bodybuilding body (diet: whey powder, chicken breasts, broccoli, no salt, repeat, repeat, repeat) for a few hours. I’d be so curious to feel how it feels compared to how Ashtanga body feels.

  • Posted 7 May 2010 at 7:16 am | #

    can you put me on the big U email too?

  • Posted 7 May 2010 at 1:56 pm | #

    … coming right up …

    It is pretty hard for me to remember my previous body-minds. But it would be super useful, and make us better communicators… right?

    Whey protein tastes like freeze dried gasoline. I am kind of glad I’m no longer just looking to science (i.e., chemistry) to decide what to eat.

    I am interested in chemistry, but also blood sugar, and what food does to my emotion (especially the depressive-aggressive scale), and how the mechanics of the G-I tract respond, all the way down. Especially at the level of the taste buds.

  • Posted 8 May 2010 at 12:25 am | #

    add me to the UP email please! and happy pooping.

  • Posted 8 May 2010 at 2:00 am | #

    Oh jeeze… this backstage UP thread is taking on a life of its own…

    Liz2, are you freelancing for the Yoga Journal?

  • Posted 8 May 2010 at 10:53 am | #

    I don’t know about Liz2, but I’m actually the incognito poop expert for YJ— this section is easily missed by those casually perusing because it’s written in invisible ink on the back cover. Look closely with your third eye.

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