The Rarefied Few

I overshot yesterday based on what I thought was fast returning vim and vigor. After barely eating for days I prepared a “normal” lunch- scrambled eggs with blue cheese. Ate it with relative ease (remember it was agony to swallow water two days ago). Topped things off with two glasses of ice water. This is more food and water than I ate all three days previous.

I felt pretty good! Took a shower, changed my clothes, got my three year old bundled up so we could fetch his older sisters from school. Then… a proverbial truck hit me. I was suddenly shaky, weak, horribly nauseous. I managed to get the two of us into the car and preemptively brought along a metal bowl.

I sat in the parking lot watching the minutes tick by like molasses; normally I enjoy this small hiatus, waiting for the doors to open. I pressed my face against the cold window willing myself not to throw up. When the kids began to trickle out I walked back and forth in the courtyard, found my older daughter and whispered (I have completely lost my voice) in her ear I was sick, could she bring her sisters to the car? I made a beeline back to the car and started puking my guts into that metal bowl.

As all this unfolded I reflected I was joining the rarefied few of humanity who have vomited in church parking lots. Really, how often could this happen? People don’t use church reception halls for weddings like they used to. It couldn’t be many of us.

I kept puking and puking and puking. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my daughter’s friend’s mother- I dearly hoped she couldn’t see what was going on. When all was said and done I had three girls plus my three year old staring at me aghast.

Mommy… asked my oldest daughter. Are you okay? 

Uh not really I managed in hoarse whisper, staring at the bowl brimming with vomit. I looked around blinking. Where to dispose of it? To my right was the grotto of the virgin mary; people leave roses and other flowers there. Nope. To my left was the backyard of the convent, modest snowbanks abutting the chain link fence. That might be a good spot? I’m sure the nuns would understand.

Bowl in hand I made my way through the exiting cars and neatly poured my stomach contents into the snowbank. I was surprised how watery it was; I must chew my food really well.

Back at the car I wiped my face with a towel, then wrapped the bowl in that towel, carefully placing it in the trunk. We drove home in silence… I guess the girls were in a state of shell shocked disgust.

Once home I dragged/ carried the uncooperative three year old up the stairs, asked my older daughter to man the ship and I collapsed into bed. Three hours later I woke with the song “Anthem” from Chess in my head.

So what happened? The penicillin doesn’t make me nauseous, I’ve repeatedly taken it on an empty stomach with no ill effect. Did I experience a mild version of refeeding syndrome? When a person goes a long period not eating, food must be reintroduced gradually or they can experience a nasty assortment of symptoms ranging from vomiting to edema. Or maybe I drank too much water after days of dehydration?

I guess it doesn’t matter because today I AM on the up and up! I can swallow food and water with minimal pain. Thank god for antibiotics.

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The Lesson From St. Paisios Is…

…get thee to urgent care!

Shortly after writing my last post I realized the pain was so excruciating, this couldn’t be a run of the mill sore throat. I imagined St. Paisios standing before me with a look of exasperation.

You crazy girl? Go to urgent care!

When my husband got back from errands I whispered (since my voice is totally awol) I need to go to urgent care. He was kind enough to drive me, and thankfully the waiting room was not packed. I was triaged right away which included a brutally painful strep test (I’m not exaggerating- the pain, when triggered, is on par with labor contractions). I saw white and recoiled into my seat.

Then we waited, and waited… took forever even though it wasn’t crowded. Two russian families poured in and waited with us, chatting in russian and watching the flat screen doling out healthy living tips. Do yoga. Eat fruits and vegetables. Avoid potato chips!

Finally we were called in; a tired but friendly doctor confirmed I do indeed have strep and he would give me penicillin. I wrote on a piece of paper- can you give me anything for pain? Nope, he said. Take advil and tylenol. Ugghhhh.

How is it junkies manage to procure bottles of pills but non-junkies like me are relegated to advil? I was already taking double doses of advil and it didn’t touch the pain. Oh well. Time to suffer.

I spent the rest of the day watching TV, popping penicillin, advil, forcing down what little food or water I could manage- I’ve lost four pounds in three days- perhaps strep throat should be marketed as a weight loss program!

This morning and four doses of penicillin in, the pain is downgraded from 10 to 8, I still have a fever and can barely eat or drink, but by all appearances am on the mend. I had no idea strep throat is so painful! And it can turn into rheumatic/ scarlet fever! How did anyone survive this back in the day? I remember how the entire family fell to scarlet fever in Little House on the Prairie– it’s how Mary lost her vision and went blind at age 14.

Really Extremely Sick

I can’t remember the last time I was sick. Back in march I broke my toe and a rib. That sucked. It took eight weeks for me to walk somewhat normally and more months where turning side to side while sleeping didn’t send a shockwave of pain through my torso. But I don’t think I came down with a cold, since… not sure. A long time!

A few weeks ago my kids started dropping like dominoes with a nasty cold. My 20 year old puking and passed out in bed for days. My 6 year old had a fever for five days! Then the 12 and 8 year olds succumbed. My 14 year old faked succumbing (she’s sneaky like that) then my 15 year old was hit. Even my husband who never gets sick has a nagging cough.

I’m now on day three of the most nightmarishly painful sore throat I’ve EVER had in four decades of existence. It’s like an invisible sadist is jamming needles into my tissue and god forbid I have to actually cough or swallow something. Add to this persistent fever and body aches. Oi vey! How much is a skinny housewife supposed to endure? What did I do to deserve this cosmic torture?

St. Paisios is known to have said his greatest lessons were learned from his illnesses. I kept reciting that to myself last night between 20 minute patches of sleep and countdowns to the next dose of advil, an avalanche of tissues piling up beside the bed. Not sure what the lesson is here, although once I’m well I’ll treasure my health in a way I neglected previously. Like when my toe was sufficiently healed so that I could walk. Wow!! I forgot how much fun walking is!

Perhaps the moral is to appreciate the small things in life. I’ll let you know once I’ve rejoined the world of the living.

Extraordinary Cover of Lucy in the Sky

The other day I heard an extraordinary cover of ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ on the old fashioned contraption known as the radio.

Wow… I thought to myself. This is better than the original!

Turns out it kind of was the original. Way back in 1974 before the poor guy was murdered, John Lennon performed his last public appearance with none other than Elton John. There is no video of the performance, but thank god they had audio rolling.

More Thoughts on Game of Thrones

[spoilers seasons 1-7]

I finished all seven seasons of Game of Thrones in the fall, catching up to and watching season 7 shortly after it aired. I am now slowly rewatching the series, presently on season 2. While I still find the series amazing, it also still gives me a feeling after viewing like I just ate a huge piece of chocolate cake. I hesitate to use the word pornography, but just as food porn can be, well, food porn, likewise is game of thrones cinematic porn (and no I don’t mean that in the sexual sense). The sets, scenery, costumes and effects are so visually luscious that I often feel blinded by prettiness.

Things that made no sense to me last time still make no sense this time. Why does the witch kill khal drogo’s horse to save his life, only to let daenerys’ baby die? Surely the khal would have given his life for his child. How do we know the baby is really dead? Daenerys has no memory of the birth and we never see a body. When daenerys ‘projects’ and sees her husband and child, the child is not deformed as the witch describes.

Why does daenerys kill the witch to hatch her baby dragons? Do they need a sacrificial victim or something?

If jon snow is targaryen, why does he burn his hand when throwing a lamp at the zombie? Or is his hand otherwise hurt?

Why does jon snow sharpen targaryen steel with a rock? Targaryen steel is strong enough to break zombie swords, but a rock is going to sharpen it?

Why isn’t samwell tarly executed for abandoning his post when he leaves the citadel?

Why does the sexy priestess lady randomly sacrifice people… or just need a drop of blood? What is the decision making process here?

If the sexy priestess lady has the ability to give birth to assassin demon babies, why hasn’t she simply taken over the seven kingdoms on her own?

The most annoying characters for me are Sansa, Littlefinger, sexy priestess lady, Stannis (although my 15 year old loves him, she calls him STANNIS THE MANNIS), Missandei, Varys, all the Sand sisters and their evil mom, Catelyn Stark, Meera and her brother (seriously she’s whining that the one eyed raven isn’t affectionate enough??), High Sparrow, and Mance Raydar.

My favorite characters are Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya, Bronn (Bronn may in fact be my all time favorite!), Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Ygritte, Jorah, Tormund, Gilly and her cute baby, Bran, Samwell (LOVE Samwell!), and Olenna.

All the other characters I’m kind of neutral on, even the evil ones like Ramsey and Cersei. Yes Ramsey is a terrifying sadist, and Cersei is a bitch, but they are both intrinsically watchable and believable in terms of character development.

I always wonder which Game of Thrones characters fans identify with. I identify with all the mothers, whether they be Gilly or Cersei; they all want what they believe is best for their children. But I would say I most identify with Bran. While I can’t enter the minds of animals, I do have the ability to project outside my body and see what is beyond this world. Of course, unlike Bran, I cannot control it nor can I gather perfect information (though I have had a few solid validations). But people like me who can easily astral project are, in a sense, real life wargs.

What about you? Which characters do you identify with?

Do Not Try This At Home

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware must be reading my blog, because he too is contemplating the corollaries between hinduism and christianity. The article’s tl;dr is that the hesychasm tradition in orthodox christianity is similar to meditative techniques in hinduism, mystical judaism (the so called ‘chariot mysteries‘) and the muslim dhikr (repetitive recitation of god’s names and attributes). In short, all four traditions teach repetitive prayer techniques geared toward ‘touching god.’

Hesychasm is something of a guarded tradition within orthodoxy, tagged with caution that if improperly practiced, or if practiced without the supervision of a spiritual father, great spiritual harm shall ensue. It’s pretty much slapped with a “do not try this at home!” warning. This is something I’ve noted about orthodox christianity in general: have a question or spiritual venture? Ask a priest.

My interest in the jesus prayer was piqued after reading The Way of the Pilgrim some years ago (I blogged about it here). Despite the supposed danger I began reciting the prayer off and on, usually aiming for ‘loops’ of 100. I would recite it during obstinate stretches of late-night insomnia. This was less to obtain enlightenment than to bore myself back to sleep, and along the way I memorized a few sanskrit mantras off youtube. These too I recited in 100-loops but I never really thought of it as “meditation.” For instance, I never utilized a particular posture or breathing technique (still don’t).

In my post about astral projection I mentioned I have no idea why this phenomena is hitting me with such frequency. What was once a rare and bizarre experience is now commonplace for me. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve projected just this month, and last night was in a state of near-constant projection.

Looking back to last year when I began projecting frequently, I realize it was around this time I began reciting the jesus prayer in force, using prayer beads to make sure I was getting those “100 loops” and not doing it solely to bore myself back to sleep- I just somehow felt compelled to do it. It was also around this time I memorized and recited those sanskrit mantras in earnest.

If I were to approach this from a non-partisan perspective, my guess is that repetitive prayer- regardless of the religion- “wakes up” spiritual points in the body and energizes- for lack of a better term- one’s spiritual capacities. This is something that has, apparently, been well known to ascetics from religious cultures ranging from east to west, indigenous to sophisticated. Keep in mind these ascetics practice not just repetitive prayer but deliberate starvation and sleep deprivation (amazonian shamans will starve and isolate themselves to achieve greater spiritual heights). Starvation (fasting) and interrupted sleep also likely trigger “spiritual points” within and without the body.

As for what’s happening to me I know orthodox christians would say I’m in a state of prelest– spiritual delusion- because 1) I ventured into repetitive prayer without permission or guidance of a religious authority and 2) my experiences and beliefs do not match orthodox christian doctrine. My use of sanskrit mantras, belief in reincarnation, and involuntary astral projections would be considered heretical (if not downright satanic) and even disqualify me as a christian. That all being said, I have no clue if repetitive prayer and astral projection are linked. I mean it’s not like I spend all day praying, and there have been many times I projected without having recently prayed.

Either way I’m not too worried about it- I’m not pretending to be in a place of spiritual authority here- I’m just sharing my experience. If someone asked me for advice I would do my best to give it, but that advice would be, at best, imperfect. I also don’t expect or even particularly want anyone to believe me. I share this information in case someone might take an interest in it, or perhaps someone in a similar plight might garner a little help from my words.

Sometimes when asked what I do, I have to stop myself from saying- “I’m a praying person.” Prayer is like a sport. It takes practice, endurance, determination. Just as it’s difficult to run x number of miles, it can be difficult to pray x prayer x number of times. Furthermore it takes practice to “navigate” prayers. Hard to explain what “navigate” means here, but it’s one thing to look at a map- it’s another thing entirely to TRAVEL what that map represents. Likewise you can recite a prayer rote (which still serves a purpose) or you can “travel” that prayer within yourself. This is why orthodox christians call it “interior prayer.”

Yet More on Gold Farming

Since my last posts on warcraft tips for casual players (here, here and here) blizzard has introduced the concept of game time tokens that can be sold for gold on the AH. A player purchases a token from blizzard for $20. This token buys one month of game time. Said player then lists the token on the AH and it’s sold to the highest bidder. These tokens generally sell (as of this writing) in the 150,000 gold vicinity. In other words, there is now a legal way to buy gold. No more chinese gold sellers spamming their wares in trade chat.

But where’s the fun in that? Sure I could spend $20 for a ton of gold, but did I really earn it? (I understand the concept of “earning” here is ephemeral as the only one really earning is blizzard.)

So I tried an experiment to see if my old-fashioned techniques would still hold. I (1) rolled an alliance character on a full population server (full servers are better these days since fewer people play WoW); (2) chose gathering professions; (3) undercut all AH prices by 20-30%; (4) sold recipes and limited vendor items. This latter part is where the real money is.

Here is a screenshot of the results: by level 12 I have 2804 gold. Remember this is with very casual play and limited time investment; some days I simply listed auctions. I spent about 200 gold on bags so the real number is in the 3000 vicinity.

I did try “investing” in AH items trying to buy low and sell high. As has been my experience it didn’t really work. I made barely a 10% profit. Compare this to 10 silver recipes that sell for 200+ gold. It’s easy “money.”

I’m curious what the classic server economies will be like. Will they allow the sale of game tokens? If so the AHs will resemble current servers as so much “free money” will be floating around. Otherwise it will sure be interesting, as everyone entering the classic game will be starting out with nothing- remember the days when 3 gold was a LOT?

Cats Are Useless

Earlier this year I watched a documentary about cats. At one point a scientist type is interviewed and he explains that the concept of cats as rodent control devices is inaccurate. During times of severe rat and mouse infestations, specially trained dogs- not cats- have historically been used. This then poses the question: exactly what purpose do cats serve as part of human society? The answer, apparently, is none. Cats may be cute, funny, devious, cuddly, but in utilitarian terms… they’re completely useless. They’re not even good garbage disposals as they tend to eat only carnivore-friendly scraps. Even worse, cats can be notoriously picky and will refuse even the choicest meat scraps!

Case in point regarding rats is an odd video I came across courtesy of the Staten Island Advance (or as it’s called around here “the ADD-vance”). Apparently there is a group of NYC dog owners who in true historical fashion have trained their dogs- mostly terriers from the looks of it- to hunt rats. They are summoned to infested areas of the city and the rat hunt begins. Take a look for yourself:

Looks like a fun way to spend the evening. Rats weighing more than five pounds are termed trophy rats. There’s a joke somewhere in there about trophy wives, but I can’t find it.

I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E

Yesterday I was watching TV with my husband- or rather I was re-re-rewatching Game of Thrones while he was buried in his iPad, periodically giving gleeful play by plays of the latest sex scandals plaguing hollywood- when my 6 year old daughter trotted into the room.

Her: Mommy, I just fell in the lava.

Me: Can you talk to the angel? (running back to her body is, as of yet, too complicated)

Her: But I didn’t die.

Me: Oh… [pondering advice. Find the ramp to climb out? is there a ramp? I’ve never fallen in Ironforge lava. But Undercity has ramps and steps to climb out of sludge. Jump? Jump really, really high (slamming the space bar)?]

Uh… I finally said, Just click your hearthstone.

Okay! she said brightly, and trotted off.

My husband looked up from the iPad, blinking. That has to be the strangest conversation I’ve EVER heard.

I laughed because you know what? He’s right. Say what you will about the game, but once within the warm embrace of World of Warcraft, no matter how amateur or deep your involvement, you have migrated to a different dimension with its own lingo.

And don’t knock video games for little kids! My now 18 year old learned to read playing WoW. As a young child she struggled for years with reading. Despite our coaching she could barely sound out words, much less understand what she was struggling to pronounce.

Anyway… I think she was 8 or 9… World of Warcraft entered our house. She was transfixed!  Mesmerized! And absolutely desperate to read those darn quests.

It took a while but within 6 months she was, for the first time in her life, able to read with meaning. By age 10 she could read with complete fluency and tore through books as though they were going out of style. She read through the entire young adult section of one library branch (just as my son read through the entire adult history section) necessitating that we switch to a different library branch.

All my kids learned to read at different ages. My oldest son could read before he could speak, and could read fluently by age 5. We caught him reading Money Magazine over my husband’s shoulder at that tender age of 6.

My two next youngest daughters learned to read around age 5 with fluency. Then the next daughter- she struggled terribly and couldn’t read at all until age 9 or so (Minecraft, not WoW was her inspiration) but once up and running she too burned through books with alarming speed. The next daughter after that struggled, not quite as much as her older sister. She prefers graphic novels and draws her own snarky comics depicting the horrors of math class.

This 6 year old appears to be in the “struggle group.” She developed an aversion to books and refused to let us to read to her.

Recently I decided to renew my subscription to WoW. Not sure why- I mean I’m two expansions behind, don’t have much free time, and I occasionally find the game tedious. But the 6 year old took an instant liking to the game- as her sister before her, she was absolutely mesmerized and desperate to understand what exactly was going on.

She can now read and spell a number of emotes- you know, /sleep, /dance, /sit- meticulously typing them out at the keyboard. She listens intently as we read the quests, copies down server names (imagine I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E penciled in cute little girl handwriting) and has learn to navigate the maps. She began asking about other words outside the game. How do you spell “look?” What does c-l-i-c-k spell? She no longer has that aversion to books, spelling, or even her homework. Yesterday she was pestering me midday to hit the books- usually homework with her is a last minute, teeth pulling enterprise.

So if your kids love video games, don’t panic. Look for games that are language heavy, require map navigation, and make sure to have a little faith. As far as my WoW subscription, can you say CLASSIC SERVERS??? I’ll gladly hand over my non-existent paycheck for that.

A Hindu and a Christian Walk Into a Bar

In high school I had a history teacher who spent time in India teaching at a private school for children of diplomats. More than once he related funny stories of Christian missionaries enthusiastically received by would-be converts. Of course they believed in Jesus’ message! They would be thrilled to worship him! Then they set the statue of Jesus on the shelf next to Ganesha and Krishna.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi I noted with interest mention of a book that supposedly illustrates absolute synchronicity between Christianity and Hinduism. Huh? This I had to read. It was written by Yogananda’s guru Yukteswar Giri.

I ordered The Holy Science from amazon and it promptly arrived on my doorstep. I cracked open the slim volume- read it cover to cover- read it cover to cover again- and it made absolutely no sense. It’s not that I disagreed with anything it claimed, because I couldn’t tell what it was claiming! No joke: this book might as well be written in Klingon. There is one semi-coherent passage about how humans, based on the length of their intestines, are meant to be fruitarians. But didn’t Jesus eat fish?

As it turns out Yogananda also wrote on the supposed synchronicity between Hinduism and Christianity. I ordered The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels, read *it* cover to cover, and unlike The Holy Science it was coherently written. Paramhansa’s writing style is eminently accessible and adroit.

I thought I might give you the cliff notes of Yogananda’s theories, in case you’re curious, but don’t want to bother buying or reading the book.

The notion of “god incarnate” is a familiar one to Hinduism. In fact, according to Hinduism, there are any number of living saints walking the earth who essentially “channel” god and can act, teach, and be worshiped as divine entities. Mata Amritanandamayi (“Amma”) is a good example of this. So right off the bat we have a deep commonality between the two faiths. Of course Christians believe Jesus was the ONLY living incarnation of god, but this is a moot point for Yogananda.

The purpose of religion, according to Yogananda, is not to dictate morality, make a person righteous, nor to grant association with a particular group. Rather the point of religion is to expand one’s consciousness. He calls this “Christ consciousness-” what Jesus alludes to when he says “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” As to how one achieves expanded consciousness, Yogananda recommends meditation and yoga (the spiritual kind, not the exercise kind). While this may sound kooky, in the gospels Jesus does engage in a brand of meditation when he “withdraws” to the desert; the Hebrew term for this is hitbodedut and has its roots in Jewish mysticism.

Yogananda’s next assertion will sound even more far fetched to mainstream Christians. He is adamant Jesus’ “lost years” were spent studying with Hindu rishis (holy men) in the Himalayas.

A small detail in the gospels lends credence to the assertion: remember those “wise men from the east” who are “led by stars” to Jesus’ birthplace? Well east of Palestine is the Indian subcontinent. It is entirely plausible these men were in fact Hindu.

Yogananda further interprets “being born again” as a literal reference to reincarnation. One must be “born again” (and again, and again) to better calibrate one’s soul. In fact the end goal of Hinduism is to escape further incarnations by achieving “god consciousness” and merging back with the divine- remember how Jesus says “I and the father are one?” This is exactly what Yogananda is talking about. His term for it is “self-realization.”

As I have stated in previous posts, mystical Judaism holds a tenet of reincarnation, gilgul– literally “recycling” or “wheel.” When Jesus asks if a man is born blind because he sinned, or if his parents sinned, this implies a belief in reincarnation. Since a baby can’t sin, the sin could only have transpired in a previous life. According to Hinduism negative karma caused by sin can be “burned off” in subsequent incarnations, eventually refining the human soul to the point of perfection, i.e. god consciousness.

One of the more fascinating assertions in this book is that the seven seals of revelation are in fact the seven chakras. Chakras are the “seals” in the physical body wherein the soul can enter and exit. I have experienced this firsthand with my projections, and have otherwise felt chakras “light up” with a sort of burning energy. Sounds crazy, but I can (subjectively) attest to the reality of these portals on the human body.

I’ve only touched the surface here but if your interest is piqued I highly recommend the book- it is well written and sheds a compelling if bizarre light on christianity. There are other topics covered, for instance the concept of Satan is linked to maya– the illusion of the physical world- which doesn’t entirely make sense to me but perhaps I’m missing something.

In closing, has Yogananda revealed hidden truths here or is this the result of a wild culture clash between east and west? I suppose the answer depends on your beliefs. Hinduism describes existence as a game of hide and seek god plays against himself; he “hides” himself in creation and then must be discovered, kind of like easter eggs in a video game. The Sanskrit term for this is lila- “divine play.” If we as humans are emanations of god’s consciousness, then our “job” in life is to play the seeker in the game.