Big Fat Queer

February 1, 2011

The Sounds of Silence / Tranquility Tanks

I pluralized the title from the original. I thought of this during my meditation this evening. I don’t have any particular mumbo jumbo for meditating and I don’t see it as anything particularly spiritual. What I do think it does for me is reduce stress and increase concentration. There are studies suggesting actual physiological changes in the brain from meditating, as mentioned in this New York Times article. I sometimes focus on breathing, sometimes I use a mantra (the same one for over 30 years), sometimes I focus on an object, like the flame of a candle, something to keep me in the present and not think too much. Tonight I focused on the random sounds around me when the TV is off, no music is playing, nothing deliberately producing sound in my immediate area. I’ve done this before, often in an isolated part of Central Park. Tonight I heard my own breathing, swallowing, stomach rumbling, the refrigerator motor, the radiator, the security buzzer at the front door of the building, footsteps coming up the stairs, water running in an adjoining apartment, creaking, cracking, settling, a distant jet…

Sometimes I think there really isn’t such a thing as silence. Even in what we think of as silence, there are sounds. The closest I have been to real silence was in an isolation tank. They were a big fad in the 80s after Ken Russel’s film Altered States. There was a New York company called Tranquility Tanks down near The Flatiron Building. I used to float there, perhaps 50 times. Sometimes I paid, but my late friend Steven worked there and sometimes when there was a cancellation he would call me and I’d go down and float for free. There were a couple of enclosed tanks and one open one, like a small pool in a room. The water was 80% Epsom salts so it was completely buoyant. The water and air temperature were heated to body temperature and all light leaks were sealed so when the lights went down (the floater had control of the lights) it was completely dark and pretty quiet. You could have music to start with, or through the entire float (usually an hour, sometimes 90 minutes). Having it for the entire float kind of defeated the purpose, which was sensory deprivation. If all external stimuli were eliminated you were left with only yourself. Floating in the water aligns the body in such a way that you can fully relax. Some people freaked out when left with only themselves. I sometimes hallucinated. But it was very refreshing. I had some great trips without using any drugs. Also, after the float was over when I would go back on the street, everything was so vivid. Traffic lights were beautiful. I miss the tanks. I wish I had room for one at home. (I just googled and found that there is a tank venue in Manhattan. I may have to check it out.)

Back when I used to meditate regularly sometimes I would go for an hour or so. I achieved hallucinatory states sometimes. Once I even fancied that I remembered being born. Who knows? The memories are probably stored in us somewhere. Accessing them is the hard part. I may have remembered it or imagined it. What I recall is that is was very similar to a very abstract recurring dream that I had as a child that was mostly throbbing sounds and vague shapes. Maybe we dream about birth when we’re young but bury it over time.

I had an intense stress moment at work this evening, but I let it go. I didn’t get home until after 9 pm, but I had dinner, meditated and now this blog. It could have been a much worse day. I had no breakfast, steamed vegetables with shrimp and chicken for lunch, with about a quarter cup of brown rice. For dinner I grilled chicken sausages and made a salad of peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and green olives with a red wine vinaigrette. I am within my 1500 calories.

Here’s a video of a YouTuber describing his floatation tank experience.

January 31, 2011

Accepting Limits

I have always had this internal dichotomy regarding my relationship to realism. Intellectually I am very realistic. I tend not to like bullshit, especially when I think I am bullshitting myself. I like to face reality squarely. Then there is the subconscious/behavioral side of me which is often irrational, compulsive, impulsive. Food is one aspect of that dichotomy. There are many others.

In responding to a comment from yesterday’s post I talked about the limitations of age. Sometimes when I comment about age friends and co-workers say “oh, you’re not that old,” as though I am exaggerating my age and its effects. That always irritates me because it implies, at least in my mind, that they are trying to cheer me up or enable some kind of denial. My observations about aging are realistic. It’s not so much whining, as it is facing the reality. I am approaching 60 (less than 2 years away now) and I just don’t have has much stamina as I did when I was younger. There are other factors besides age, I’m sure: general health, weight, diabetes. But still, age has real effects and they have to be dealt with.

Where the dichotomy comes in is that I behave as if I were younger and had energy to waste. And I do waste it. My intellectual side and my behavioral side need to develop a closer relationship. It’s not that my age prevents me from being fully active and productive, but I have to marshal my resources better so that the things that are meaningful get done and the things that waste energy are avoided.

Stress is a huge waste of energy. Some of the stress comes from the fact that I am ready to do other things in my life and I am impatient to get on with it. But the reality is I need a few more years of work for purely financial reasons. The paramount goal should be to manage my health in such a way that I am not burnt out by the time I am in a position to do those things I want. Intellectually I know this, just as intellectually I know how to lose weight. Behavior has always been the hard part for me.

I used to meditate every day for 30 minutes, back in my 30s. I have been trying to do at least 20 minutes a day lately. It helps. I bought a nice iPhone app to time my sessions that ends with Tibetan bowls, much nicer than the ring tone that is on the regular iPhone timer.

Today I had no breakfast, a salad of greens, peppers, beans, peas, walnuts, carrots and craisins for lunch. I ate two pretzels this afternoon. I shouldn’t have but they were in plain sight and free. I did manage to avoid the bagels and muffins that were in the break room for the taking this morning. For dinner I had some roast chicken, spinach and green beans. I am around 1400 calories for today.

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