Tag Archives: life

Life throws curves

In this case, the curve took the form of my wife, who mixed up the dates that she had booked a week at Virginia Beach for her periodic treatment for living without the ocean next door by getting exposure to ocean waves, sea breeze and warm sands. So yesterday, we threw our swim suits, beach chairs and toothbrushes in the car trunk and drove down to where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Last night when we arrived at our hotel, we were given free tickets to a Cirquesa Dreamquest, a circus-like show more modestly scaled than Cirque du Soleil but still fun to watch. I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil as I wrote here before, so I can appreciate the story-telling ambition and the affinities with yoga that were displayed last night. Of course, the show was targeted at harried parents trying to find things for their kids to do when not on the beach. Virginia Beach is not Las Vegas or Broadway, but imagination and inventiveness reinvigorate circus traditions anywhere.

So I will be here until Friday, following my wife’s recipe for re-energization, using the isolation and slower pace to work my way through some reading, tasks and planning. I guess this is what happens when you get pitched a hanging curve ball.

What I miss from my old job

… and it ain’t what you think.

It’s now been four weeks since I left my position at the Organization of American States. I can’t say that I’ve had less work or shifted into semi-retirement. Even though today is a holiday (Memorial Day for those tuning from from outside the United States), it seems like every other day of the week. I have paperwork, house upkeep, dirty laundry and writing tasks cluttering up my mind and work space. I am as occupied as I was when working full-time.

So what do I miss?

  • I have yet to find a replacement for the two miles (or more) of walking to and from the DC Metro, and climbing eight-nine flights of stairs three-to-five  times a day. This type of activity spread out during the day keeps my juices flowing.
  • I have not re-engineered my life to get in the reading time that I had on the Metro. This may in part be due to the kind of daily activities I have now.
  • At my job, I had filing cabinets that came up to just below my arm pits, the perfect height for reading, proofreading and writing while standing. That allowed me to not spend all my time in front of a keyboard in front of a monitor. That may seem a minor difference, but I find myself moving out of my study for a change and it ends up shifting my attention.
  • I miss the casual smiles and acknowledgements of my colleagues and friends sprinkled through the routine of the day.

Even though I’ve been getting to my yoga classes four or five times a week, I can’t rely on my classes alone to provide a minimum of physical activity to maintain my stamina and  health. A change as simple as no longer commuting or injecting spurts of exercise into my day can alter the formula for controlling weight or preventing disease.

On leaving the OAS and CICAD

After 15 years, my services at the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) in Washington, DC, have ended.  I leave with lots of questions since this change is a milestone in my life.  After all, this job was where I lasted the longest, and it has served as the scaffolding for my self-identity.

Each day working in an international organization is both a privilege and a blessing, in part because the job comes with excellent pay, benefits, colleagues and other perks, as well as  a challenging mission. The OAS was really the bridge that allowed me to make the transition back to the United States from living abroad for 18 years. When I started working there in 1998 as a temporary hire in the information technology division, I could feel the shift in my mindset because I felt at home:  it had an institutional framework that combined Latin American culture  and social relations. In 2005, I joined CICAD (actually the Executive Secretariat of CICAD since the Commission is made up of member states), which is a front-line catalyst for drug policy at a dynamic time. Technically, I was  the bilingual writer-editor for the web site, reports, proposals and other documents, but I was really a kind of information asset manager and institutional memory.

Photo: portrait of Michael Smith, taken by Javier Sagredo
On my last day at the OAS. My friend Javier Sagredo snapped a shot of me.

Continue reading On leaving the OAS and CICAD

Bad week for mind-body connection

I’ve been dealing with a cold all this week. I spend Wednesday in bed, and today I tried to get up for work, but my body gave out as I was preparing breakfast. I went to work on Tuesday, and spent most of the day feeling brain dead. All of my faculties were focused on how bad my body was feeling so I could not concentrate on my work. This is a case of where the body’s feedback to the brain is dominant. With so much time spent nursing my cold I can feel some of the gains of my 40-day renewal slipping away.

What made matters worse was that Monday evening and Tuesday morning, I found myself confined in a Red Line Metro train (or waiting) for 90 minutes  each time because of technical difficulties that disrupted my commute. Monday, I did not get back in time for a yoga class (I wasn’t feeling sick yet).

Coda: I went back to work on Friday and felt as if I was dragging my body around the whole day. I dread my next class on the mat because I am definitely depleted.

Crunk time in my 40-day yoga challenge

I’ve noticed that it’s getting a lot harder to fit in all the components of the 40-day challenge, especially the 20-minute meditation twice a day. It’s just harder to bite off that slice of time and block out all other activities until I come out of it. The 20-minute length is also pumping against the limits of my attention span.

The other issue is that I’ve found that I’ve been putting some tasks on the back-burner to meet my challenge targets. The first couple of weeks, I let things slide. Now I find that the backlog is demanding for my attention. And then, there are the unforeseen emergencies that throw everything out the window (too many of those have been happening recently) — but that precisely when I need a mindfulness practice.

Missing my class, but learning discipline

I got off work at 5:40, walked briskly through the rain to the Metro station, and caught the first train to Rockville. I thought I had plenty of time to make it home in time for yoga class at 7:30. At the next station, we were ordered off the train (no explanation that I could hear). I had to wait as two packed trains passed before finding one that had enough room for me to slip in. I arrived in Rockville too late to make yoga class at 7:30. So that ends my streak at five classes in a row.

I’ve been trying to change my body clock: in the past, if I didn’t get work early, it was hard for me to leave the office at 5:30. I tended to linger longer finishing off one more task, sending another e-mail. That made it really hard to arrive at 7:30 classes, especially if there was trouble on the Metro. In order to hit my goals for the 40-day yoga challenge, I have to give my work a full eight hours, but starting at 9:00 or earlier, so that I have no excuses for stalling.

In order to do the 9-to-5:30 cycle, there are other modifications that have to happen. I need to wake up at 6:30 am, which in turn means that I have to start my bed time routine early so that I can get my minimum seven hours of sleep.The routine includes some restorative yoga, stretching routines for my neuropathy and meditation. Having suffered through an extended period of insomnia and sleep deprivation, I have come to appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep.

Why the silence?

What have I been up to the past six weeks (OMG, has it been that long?) ?

My job has consumed my work hours and a lot of my free time. My organization, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) has just commemorated the 25th anniversary of its founding, and I’ve been involved in the preparations, which required a lot of writing, editing and problem solving. This past week, I’ve been in Buenos Aires (Argentina) where we held a meeting that including some exhausting, long hours and hard work. In addition to celebrating the anniversary, there was a lot of talking,  pondering and arguing about where the organization should be going in the next 25 years (we all know that drug abuse is not going away). My new boss decided he would put his stamp on the proceedings by delivering a “draft” final report by the last session. Of course, I am who has to write it.

Photo: author seated with lap top in a meeting
Palacio San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Thank God I had my personal practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation to hold me together during these times. I am not a university student who can do all -night cram sessions so there were moments when I thought that I was going to flame out. Thankfully, my colleagues and our partners here in BA “manned up” and ensured that we pulled off the event and we delivered a draft final report, English and Spanish versions, to the delegates as they were about to end the meeting.

Last night I got the first full eight hours of sleep in more than two weeks. Today, I am just mellowing out, eating well and recharging my prana batteries. This evening, I will be getting on a flight back to Washington so I hope to be able to resume posting to my blog, reflecting on the stream of life and digging deeper into mind-body continuum.