I’m listening

I went from reading out loud to listening to people speak.

This year I read out loud 10 books, that’s something like 2,000 pages, and never finished two dozen others. I read out loud in German language, English language and beginner level Chinese.

Even though… I seriously start to question my interest in Chinese language. There’s already more than enough good stuff to read from the German and the English speaking. Dante’s Italian might be a language to go for, or Spanish, or French even. I start to forget why I should keep torturing myself with Chinese.

When I started to read out loud sometimes last year, it went completely without effort. I had this inner urge that pushed me forwards. But recently it became harder and harder for me to keep up with my practice. At first I needed to schedule time to read out loud, and then it started to be hard to focus while doing so, and then I needed to motivate myself to continue reading.

But interestingly something else started to present: a deep interest to listen to people. So now I listen to people telling their success stories on Youtube, or their life’s biggest stories, their worries, their discoveries, their stories they want to share with the world. I listen to scientists talking about nutrition, to bakers talking about baking bread, to architects talking about building homes, to lawyers talking about the United States Bill of Rights, to seasoned doctors discussing autopsies and tissue damage they have never seen prior to the new vaccines. I listen to people listening to each other, to people discussing, debating and arguing. I listen to people reading from teleprompters—squinting, stuttering, or powering through it— and I listen to the world’s greatest minds speak out freely, from their hearts.

It seems like that’s all I do these days… listening to people.

Our cardinal need to be understood

Day 107. The lockdown with strict 24h curfew for 35 million people or more, has just been extended for another two weeks, to be ended after the 30th of September 2021—for the two times vaccinated. Rumours has it that „the unvaccinated” might be allowed to participate in public life starting somewhen between January to June 2022. Even though the WHO would rather not have any unvaccinated in Vietnam, as I learn from Vietnamese news.

I watch an interview with Viktor Frankl, the holocaust survivor, doctor, author and teacher. He is asked, „How can a person find meaning in suffering?” Viktor Frankl responds with a formula, he spells out the letters and symbols, „Capital D equals s minus m”: 

  • Despair = suffering – meaning

I think of my fellow human beings: they believe in being threatened by a deadly virus and being saved by a mRNA vaccine. They can accept suffering because things are happening, the vaccine is being distributed and administered. They can endure any suffering for the time it takes to vaccinate any percentage of people 70%, 80%, 90%, 100% with 2, 3, or 4 shots, whatever it takes. Furthermore they have a mission: they can help spread the word, they can help to convince everyone to take the vaccines. For them the formula is 

  • Despair = suffering – (meaning * mission)
  • D = s-m²

From a mathematical point of view this means that for the one’s who believe in the vaccine, their amount of despair is probably negative, which means they have (at least) a fair amount of hope. And maybe they haven’t felt such an amount of hope for a long time. Maybe I’m not even leaning out of the window (too much) by saying: maybe they enjoy feeling hope. Hope for closure and salvation, hope for deliverance from harm, sickness and loss.

Maybe hope is better than despair. Hope helps people to stay home, hope helps people to wear masks, to take the shots, to endure whatever is necessary to beat the virus, to get on top of this crisis. Whatever has the potential to ramp up meaning and mission is perfectly reasonable.

Thinking of it, I wonder what is keeping me afloat? I’m certainly not on any kind of mission. I do accept that there are deadly viruses out there, but I refuse to believe that the China Virus (SARS-CoV-2) is anywhere nearly as deadly for humans as the African Swine Fever Virus is for pigs.

If Viktor Frankl’s formula is true at all, what is my meaning? I must have a meaning that—in size—is exactly equal to my suffering. Why do I neither feel hope nor despair? Why do I endure this lockdown so patiently? I recall the words of John Taylor Gatto, from his book „Dumbing Us Down”:

Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even.

Since having read that paragraph for the first time, months ago, I have been thinking of the „invisible cage” often. „Isolated from my chance at community.” Maybe I have been living in such an invisible cage all my life. Maybe my community is spiritual, not physical. Maybe that’s why this seemingly endless lockdown with curfew doesn’t feel upsetting, but merely evokes a faint bit of sadness. Sometimes. Sometimes I almost feel like crying. But only for a few brief moments.

So that’s not it. Instead, I noticed something far greater, more severe, far more meaningful. Something with the potential to give ME myself salvation, closure, deliverance from harm and loss. Professor of Psycholinguistics Stephen Krashen states that we write to solve problems. Professor of Psychology Jordan B. Peterson says the same thing. There’s something about writing that helps us access ourselves on a level that’s usually inaccessible to the conscious mind. While writing on this last paragraph I found a possible answer to my question,  „Why do I endure social distancing and this seemingly endless lockdown so patiently?” What I’ve found is this: Somewhere deep down, in the darkest of dark pits, in the abyss of my soul, I’m like speaking to the anonymous everyone… „See, this is how it feels like.”

And then I was able to cry properly.

Monkey business

Good news! Today I found a way to quickly get deeper into an Asian squat. It feels splendid! I think I’ll soon be able to wash my veggies in a washing-bowl on the floor. I wonder why I didn’t come up with this earlier. 

Also, I spent the good part of yesterday’s evening (and today’s morning) on my lastest Pecha Kucha slides. I will present as a virtual speaker at the 2021 Dance Studies Association Annual Conference in New York [link], looking forward to it.

Also: Today, exactly 20 years ago, I completed three days and three nights of solitary mediation in the deserts of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA.  My brother and me, we decided to do a so called „Vision Quest”, a ceremony to adulthood. Each on our own did a water fast and sat on a self chosen spot in the beautiful desert—for 3 days and 3 nights and became one with nature. It was magnificent, and turned out to be one of the most significant events in our lives. However, that day when we returned to civilisation the world had come down to pieces.

Oh, actually I wanted to write about another kind of news: Good news! After 104 days of hard lockdown, of which 2 months were spent in self-quarantine, beginning with 16th of September 2021, there will be a gradual opening. The rumours go like this:

The double vaccinated will be allowed to participate in all civil activities—with the mere exception of bars, night clubs, sport facilities, on-site catering services, amusement parks, spa treatments, cinemas, shopping malls etc. There will be more allowances for the once and double vaccinated after the 31st of October 2021, and god bless, there is a slight hint that even the unvaccinated might be granted some more liberties after 15th January 2022. But maybe I misinterpreted that last part.

Therefore it looks like I will spend 4 more months indoors, provided I can take the extreme heat of social pressure and stigmatisation (which isn’t cut-throat yet, but I know where we’re heading from other countries’ news). But nevertheless, IF I would like to stroll the isles of mankind’s achievements and pick pre-packaged beans and greens myself, unlike in other countries, I do have a real option here in Vietnam, China’s Sinopharm vaccine. China doesn’t use mRNA or virus vector-based technologies, they use a classic technology for their own: Aluminium Hydroxide with a 4 µg load of inactivated viruses that were grown in the kidney epithelial cells of African monkeys. It’s a real choice because risks and side-effects are known from other classic vaccines, such as the polio and tetanus vaccines. When push comes to shove I think I would be able to handle two shots (or jabs) of this concoction just fine.

Also: thank you for your support through your prayers, emails, messages and patronage, you help me stay on top of this crisis.

Pelvic Floor Video 2: Diastasis recti

Ok, I don’t want COVID-19 politics to eat into my blog, at least not too much. Therefore, today I will write out the opening speech for my next video. Usually I speak everything completely free from my heart, without teleprompter or script or anything like that. But I figure if I don’t pull myself together (literally) this video will just linger about and the month will pass, and how will I pay my rent then? So here is my writeup for the intro.

I noticed something quite extraordinary about the core and the core muscles:

As you can see a light press against the right side of the belly makes the skin on the same side right next to the belly button bulge up.

This means that even the slightest compression of the right side is pushing so much against the midline, that it causes the skin, the soft tissue, the superficial muscles, and probably even the deeper muscles to be pressed together and being bulged up against the midline.

This made me realise that we can use this to address conditions such as diastasis recti, lower back pain, pelvic alignment, and upright posture.

And even better, I know the perfect exercise just for that. In fact, I will show you an exercise sequence that is so nice, you will feel almost ecstatic.

We will start in side-lying on the left side, and

[On screen bullet points]

  1. Activate the right side
  2. Activate the left side
  3. Buttonhole stitch
  4. Upright posture and walking
  • first activate the right side in a way that uses the full body, including your breathing,
  • then secondly, we will activate the left side with an unusual, surprising, slightly different strategy,
  • then as a third step we will turn around to side-lying on the right side, and improve on what we already did, almost as with the extra loop in a buttonhole stitch to secure fabric more firmly,
  • and lastly we will observe how all this can be used in sitting, standing, and walking.

Alright, so we will start in side-lying, please come to lie on your right side.

Locked down and worried

Seven years ago, when I switched to a whole food plant-based (vegan) diet, I lost most of my friends because of it. Even long term friends were infuriated. They told me to my face that I am on a suicide trip, that I will lack essential nutrients, that I will become very sick, that I am a concern to the system. Even my doctor, a childhood friend, warned me of the dangers of a plant-based diet, including possible death. They were infuriated, not just worried. I stopped getting invitations. In fact, I was not invited to dinners, bbqs or group hangouts anymore. Also, at that time I stopped drinking alcohol, which made things just worse. I became an outcast for choosing compassion over consensus.

Now, seven years and Zero Colds later, with blood work so good it seemed genetically impossible in my family („your family always had high cholesterol”), people have calmed down a bit. Not that they read up on why plant-based diets are reasonable, it’s just that over time they became accustomed to the idea that some people chose to live on plant-based diets. It certainly is not for them, but at the occasional meat and booze heavy bbq usually at least half of the other guests seem to be ok with me eating just potatoes, garlic breads and green salads. And, of course, nowadays there’s enough people on a variety of plant-based diets so that we can enjoy dinner together without getting stern looks and questions like „What would happen to all the cows on the planet if everyone went vegan?” which usually is followed with warning statements like, „They would all die!” In turn, instead of arguing, I became accustomed to switching my brain to a blank stare to match the level of thinking going on in conversations with meat-lovers.

But since I went plant-based the times have become much worse. The long term warnings of scientists and doctors on devastating infectious diseases within livestock and also those originating from animal farming have been largely ignored. Much the opposite is true, intensive farming methods have been heavily subsidised and pushed forwards. We are now living in the age of almost unhindered creation and spreading of infectious diseases on one hand, with a rapid decline of effective antibiotics and medications on the other.

I—just like 35 million people living in Vietnam right now—have been locked up for months to stop the spread of Covid-19. The next step is for governments to „vaccinate the world” in hope that it will stop the spread.

However, I already had my fair share of medical errors and struggles to recover from them. I’m not taking any chances anymore. My tools are social distancing, wearing a mask, washing my hands frequently, and a healthy diet in accordance with various doctors’ recommendations who have specialised in plant-based diets. Sadly, I’m already losing friends over this, again. Even in my own family I’m looking at an infuriated father. He’s not just worried, he’s infuriated. He calls me a martyr. In a last attempt to talk some sense into me he told me to contact my childhood friend and doctor, the one who told me that I might harm myself with a plant-based diet (and the one who was first to administer covid vaccines in his county).

I start to be worried about what will happen to me if I continue to chose not to take the shots. The shots—military metaphors of modern medicine. I don’t know whom to trust or what to believe anymore. I opt for kindness, compassion, respect. I recall the words of the eight-year old girl, who in 1876 wrote:

»I’m a trapper in the Gamer Pit. I have to trap without a light and I’m scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning and come out at five and a half past. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I’ve light, but not in the dark, I dare not sing then.«

Their first duty is to connect

Did I fall away from time, or did I merely become more aware of the time that has passed? It’s morning, then mid-day, then evening. Then suddenly, it’s too late at night, and then it’s morning again. A rhythm of beats as fleeting as breathing.

At 7pm it’s already dark outside here in Ho Chi Minh City, in the South of Vietnam. And it’s silent. O for a muse did I miss the silence. I didn’t know how much I missed the silence until suddenly, at the first day of the total lockdown some weeks ago – or was it months? – I heard the sound of the the wind, and the night resting on the land. In  my mind I heard the absence of daylight, the absence of car horns, of reckless driving, of speeding, of broken mufflers on motorbikes; the absence of the sound people make when they hustle to earn a living at all costs, grinding, grinding.

Silence.

Then usually some reading. „Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own. The artist Richard Long did it once, treading a dead-straight line into desert sand by turning and turning about dozens of times. But this was a footmark not a footpath: it led nowhere except to its own end, and by walking it Long became a tiger pacing its cage or a swimmer doing lengths. With no promise of extension, his line was to a path what a snapped twig is to a tree. Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.” I read in Robert Macfarlane’s „The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot”.

I set the book aside. While reading about the caged-up tiger and the Icknield Way, old routes criss-crossing the British landscapes and waters, I started to think about Kegels and pelvic floor exercises. Isometric contractions of muscles that span from bone to bone without a joint in between. I recalled a short Youtube clip with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he let his pecs dance on their own, one by one. Isometric contractions. His audience was laughing, he was laughing.

„Before my first [swimming] practice, I put swimming in the same category as walking and riding a bike: things one did to get from place to place. I never thought of how well I was doing them.” I read in David Sedaris’ book „Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”, in a story called „Memory Laps.”

These days most of my walking is comprised by walking from the kitchen counter to the kitchen table, or from the kitchen table to the bathroom, or all the way from the kitchen to the living room area. These stations of my small, one bedroom apartment probably do not compare to Inns and B&B’s in the Great Plains or Scottish Highlands, but I still consider my walking as functional. Meaningful walking, real footpaths. But my walking is not long enough, not outdoors enough, to get much of anything from it.

Therefore I think of what’s available to me: my lower arm and my upper arm. They connect over what we call the elbow. A noun. To elbow. A verb. The elbow is not a thing on its own. It’s not a bone, not a muscle. It’s something that is created by using it, through its function: it’s a joint. The elbow joint. It starts to exist when we move the upper arm and lower arm in relation to each other. We also can lean on it.

There’s a big muscle, the Musculus Brachialis. That’s an old name. It’s from Latin, bracchium, and means just „arm” in modern English. So it’s the arm muscle. Interestingly the arm muscle doesn’t own the entire arm: it spans from the middle half of the upper arm down to the beginning of the lower arm, the outside bone of the lower arm to be more specific, the ulna. The arm muscle „is the prime mover of elbow flexion”, says Wikipedia, up to fifty percent more dedicated to elbow flexion than its prominent upstairs neighbours, the biceps.

„The (metaphysical) elbow joint springs into being only when we move through pathways that include arm flexion and extension”, I write, I can see a point, I think, „I’m listening, go on…”

I go on: there must be a whole lot of things in this world that only come into being through movement, through walking meaningful pathways. Friendship, love, like-mindedness come to mind. „It’s hard to create a footpath on your own”, I read Robert Macfarlane one more time. In this sense, for example, it’s hard to create kindness on your own. The possibility for kindness might exist just like a physical elbow might exist, but it must be exercised to actually spring into being. Kindness is only created by being kind—to someone else, or at least, to oneself.

I used to step out of the house at 9am and to walk over to one of the coffee shops that I discovered as my writing places. Mondays through Sundays. And I would return some time after noon, either when my writing was done or when I was feeling hungry, whichever turned up first. Now this rhythm, these pathways, are lost. But as long as I keep moving between places, no matter how close or far apart, new pathways are created. What will they be?

Thank you for reading, my dear.

Hey Siri, Fitness

Two months ago, when the hard lockdown started, I figured I should find a fitness video to hop along with (is it „to hop along with” or „to hop along to”?).

„Hey Siri, Fitness” I spoke into the Youtube search bar, and Youtube threw the big ones right at me: „Here, a big chested blonde woman in bikini and white sneakers, millions of guys like that!”, or „Here, a muscular guy tattooed from neck to toes without T-Shirt, millions of guys like that!”, or „Here, a group of extremely super fit fitness-professionals crushing it with a professional smile!”.

„Hey Siri, Fitness for Beginners”

Eventually I found a channel I felt quite comfortable with, Team Body Project. The instructors seemed passionate about movement and video, professional yet not only about the money. I felt treated like a human, and enjoyed the friendly, fun and light attitude.

I chose „Fat burning Beginner LOW IMPACT home cardio workout – all standing!” [link] , a 40 minutes workout to hop along with. I made it to 13 minutes and 45 seconds. Then I had to stop. Rewind. Watch again. Rewind. Skip back and forth. „Fascinating”, I quoted Lieutenant Commander Spock (USS Enterprise).

Here’s the part that brought me to a halt:

The instructors were demonstrating a simple exercise: a light bit of air boxing. But all three of them were doing the exercise differently! It’s not as if I didn’t know what to do, or as if I had a hard time choosing whom to follow – in fact, I tried all three variations; but the fact alone that such a simple exercise could be done in three, distinct ways threw me off track.

Of course one could argue „Not to worry, just move!” after all it’s just a simple, innocent cardio workout for beginners, and as long as you’re moving you’re doing good.  „And yet, and yet, and yet.” – to quote „The Sea, the Sky, the Birds Between: The Lost Logbook of Marian Graves” as quoted by Maggie Shipstead in her book „Great Circle”.

Now, two months later, I’m still thinking about the three good people who were doing the same exercise, but each differently. I can’t get over this, it seems like. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right fitness channel yet.

In order not to stall myself completely, however, I resorted to a bit of traditional stomping and hopping. Maybe something those old shamans on black and white film would do. I think of the rhythms of Louis Thomas Hardin, an American musician known as Moondog, and listen to the strange sounds of Apple Music’s „Signal to Noise” playlist. And stomp out some cardio to the wild workings of a heart beating in the 21st century.