Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 8: Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' ....

Yesterday was hectic. Lots of Polyphasic group admin hassles dragging me down. Some ryokan business to attend to. An enervating dispute with another Polyphasic moderator over issue not related to policy about minors on the lsit (since settled). Also (oh, yeah, blame computers), an uncooperative blogger.com -- their startup page would never load enough for me to log in. Have I told you I'm going to blog about Why I Hate Blogspot? I think I have. For now, you can read someone else's rant.

It's been over a week on the On-Ramp. It's time for a summary of progress toward Uberman and the lack of it. Overall, I'm encouraged. Some things haven't gone as planned, creating new problems and new opportunities. Some things haven't happened at all. But you can't break some old habits and set a bunch of new habits all at once, much less practice them well.

This blog entry is organized as follows:

DEFINITE PROGRESS -- where I'm forging ahead nicely
PREPARING FOR PROGRESS -- steps I'm still mulling or studying
DEAD IN THE WATER -- where I've been a Bad Boy
THE ROAD AHEAD -- what I must work on next
... AND WHERE IT GETS ME -- thoughts on success and on the right kind of failure

Comments encouraged, and any encouragement gratefully received.

DEFINITE PROGRESS

Caffeine Withdrawal-- I'm way down. Today was half a can of weakish tea, and one cup of Starbucks decaf. (Decaf is hard to get in Japanese cafes, by the way, and at Starbucks they ask you to wait an extra five minutes while they make it special.) I'm still having withdrawal symptoms -- a little more drowsiness than usual, headaches in the morning, sometimes stretching through the day. However, there's still cherry blossom pollen in the air in Tokyo, which aside from its respiratory effects, often gives me the same trouble. I might be farther along than I feel.

Dream Journal -- this has gone surprisingly well. My main block is fear of writer's cramp -- how much I'm going to have to write down every day, especially with naps adding to the number of remembered dreams. At some point, detailed records will become redundant, a waste of time -- to those who say they don't dream, or seldom remember their dreams, it may come as some surprise that you can fill pages and pages from just a single night, with practiced recall.

[Skippable Note: To those not caught up on what I'm trying to do here -- I hope to have more lucid dreams while on Uberman, including a type called WILD where you go almost straight from pre-sleep states to lucidity. I've read encouraging anecdotal reports that Uberman facilitates WILD. I also hope to become adept at dream interpretation using Eugene Gendlin's technique described in Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. If that goes well, I want to try a Tibetan (?) dream yoga technique: interpreting a (previous? on-going) dream while lucid. I had a lucid dream last night, but I'm not counting it as major progress just yet, for two reasons. (1) It's very common to have a lucid dream shortly after becoming (re-)excited about LDs, only to face frustration for weeks afterward. (2) I was woken at about the 4-hour point last night when my wife got home, I got up, fiddled around briefly, and went back to bed thinking that what I'd just done was similar to the Wake-Back-to-Bed (WBTB) technique, which yields lucidity perhaps 40% of the time (cf. maybe 5% for other techniques) but which is incompatible with polyphasic unless it could be considered as part of a variant on Everyman somehow. I guess I'll find out soon enough.]

Start Everyman - I'm doing well here, I think, considering caffeine withdrawal and pollen allergies. Yesterday I thought I'd have trouble napping, but I got in several naps. Today I thought the same, but had a mid-morning nap (with vivid dream, on top of two vivd dreams, one lucid, during the early morning hours) only about 4 hours after waking. Not sure if 2pm or 6pm will work out.

Breakfast Every Morning - good and getting better. I've been skipping breakfast far more often than not, for several years now, and it's been dragging me down. Often I'm not hungry. Often maybe I am, but caffeine suppresses my appetite, as does smoking -- and I've been doing both for so long that my body is probably confused about what it's craving: food, caffeine, nicotine or sleep. Being up more hours, I'm getting hungrier more, and more often. Being down to a bare-bones dose of caffeine, I'm getting my appetite back. This good habit of getting breakfast isn't strictly Uberman-related except insofar as eating small but nourishing meals frequently is recommended. Breakfast is one of the more important ones, at least until I'm on Uberman, when the whole category becomes fuzzy. (Is it breakfast when you eat at 4am, or at 8am?)

Blogging Daily - this wasn't on the original list, but it should have been. It's more committing to go public with an intent, and to keep going public. This way, I at least have to try Uberman, or lose face. ("That flake Michael, always dispensing all kinds of advice and 'wisdom' on the Polyphasic group, but has he got any game himself? Nah.") It also helps me track my own progress, it might help provide a framework for preparation for other attempters, and maybe it will help others to help me more.

PREPARING FOR PROGRESS

Start Meditating - well ... I do something like this sometimes when I'm settling down to naps. I'm very out of practice, and I should be practicing when not settling down to naps. Meditation will be probably be critical to quitting smoking -- it seems to have helped me a lot when I've quit before. And maybe I would never have started again had I continued.

Focusing - I've been working through Gendlin's book of the same name, taking it slow, re-reading passages when my attention wanders. I had good experiences with this technique in the past, but at that time I had a partner, I wasn't trying to do it on my own. Now, I'm reminded of one of two kindergarten report-card remarks that my mother never let me forget: "Doesn't always follow instructions." [The other remark was "Good Rester." Yeah. I got a star for that.] Gendlin's instructions are quite detailed. Some are hard to understand until you've gotten a handle on what he's talking about, and there's some learning-by-doing in getting those handles. He speaks of experienced Focusers being able to move smoothly and quickly through the steps (or Movements as he calls them -- as if they were symphonic sections, and given the steps within the steps, maybe that metaphor isn't as pompous as it sounds.) I can't even remember all the steps. I don't own a copy of Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams anymore. I'm hoping other sources (such as the PDF linked above) suffice. I'm considering writing a longish blog entry about Focusing, the scientific underpinnings, and the problems I'm encountering with practice.

CRON-ish diet - The sausage-cheese English muffin sandwich I had this morning with my Starbucks decaf doesn't exactly count. More like the opposite, except that it was well aligned with Japanese (i.e., small) portion sizes; few calories, but way too many calories from (bad) fat. I've written recently to the Polyphasic group asking about fasting, which in animal studies appears to have much the same life-extending benefits as CRON. I've got to clean up my diet a little more toward the Optimal Nutrition part, but I'm not sure I'm up to the complications of CRON.

Wakeup Call Network - I'm still ambivalent about this one. Then again, I've never been good about asking for help with anything, and maybe it'll turn out to be one of my better ideas. I think by contributing to the Polyphasic group and moderating diligently (maybe a little too diligently, but still), I'm establishing the good will that will lead to some reliable helpers -- people who will call me at appointed times to make sure I'm up, and to help wake me up by talking a little, during the harder parts of the Uberman adjustment period.

DEAD IN THE WATER

Quitting Smoking - As noted earlier, I'm in some trouble here. I'm moving unexpectedly quickly toward Everyman, which gives me more hours of the day to smoke. I had hoped to be sleeping more by now because of caffeine withdrawal, and that sleeping more would buffer nicotine withdrawal effects, but I'm actually sleeping less. I'm not meditating yet. I still haven't set up any hands-occupying habits. I'll tell you how bad it is: this is a two-ciggie blog entry so far, and about to become a three-ciggie. (Go ahead -- hate me. Does it help to say that I always smoke outside? That I have a no-smoking rule at the ryokan? That I think all government taxes on tobacco should go toward public nicotine-addiction treatment programs, free to all?)

Exercising More - This is also helpful in quitting smoking. First, you can't smoke while you're exercising (though I like to imagine puffing away while doing backstroke in the pool.) Second, it releases endorphins (opioids), which nicotine also does -- you're substituting for one of the things you're addicted to, from a healthier source, not just getting rid of what you're addicted to. Not to mention that exercise is good for body and soul, which can't help but improve the Uberman experience? Right now, I'm an exemplar of the old joke: Whenever I get the urge to excercise, I lie down until it goes away.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In the next 7 days or so, I think the concentration has to be on getting into habits that will help me quit smoking. Maybe I could do Uberman without quitting, but ... jeez, it's such an unhealthy, disgusting habit. To think of it as a mere Uberman risk factor trivializes it. An old friend from college died of lung cancer last month. A friend collapsed in a series of strokes (not a smoker, but drinking while also being diabetic). A brother-in-law is dying of cancer that started in his throat (not a smoker, but his wife is). Health catastrophes happen, and with little warning. Then there's me: a little shorter of breath than ten years ago, and with what might be warning signs of macular degeneration in my left eye. It's time to retire Marlboro Man. (Actually, I smoke a Japanese brand called Hope. "Hope Man"? Before that, it was an even deadlier Japanese brand called Peace. It comes in a dark blue pack emblazoned with -- could I make this up? -- the Dove of Peace plunging downward.)

The habits that I beliee will help the most to quit smoking are, in order, meditation, some busywork hobby, exercise and Focusing. Meditation calms me--something I use cigarrettes to do currently. Some occupation for my hands substitutes for fiddling with fire and tobacco, and distracts me from cravings. Exercise -- see endorphins, another substitute. Where Focusing fits in here: quitting smoking is an emotional experience. You start figuring out what you're using nicotine to self-medicate for, and it's not pretty. Focusing while quitting might help me get to the bottom of those conflicts (which are ofen with other people, not just myself), and maybe help me root them out more effectively than in the past. There is the simple fact of physical habituation, of course -- that, being an addict, I now smoke just to get normal. But there is always more to an addiction than that.

... AND WHERE IT GETS ME

If I succeed at Uberman, with all this preparation, the benefits go beyond me. First, I will have helped make a case that you don't have to be anything special to do Uberman -- except perhaps in having near-total control over your own time. I'm not a great candidate, after all: I'm an Owl, I've always slept a lot, I've never been terribly self-disciplined (except when athletic), I'm 51 and am having many of the usual problems with achieving positive personal change in middle age. Maybe I have some points in my favor: I think I'm as open-minded as anyone with a scientific-rationalist outlook can be, and I think any doctor (one who didn't look down into my lungs, anyway) would say I'm physically closer to late 30s than early 50s. But for the most part, if I can do Uberman, it's more likely that almost any reasonably healthy person with enough self-discipline to clean up their lifestyle can do it, too.

OK, but what if I fail? What if I do everything right in preparation, and still can't get to Uberman from Everyman, nor from any other angle of attack? That could also be good: it would tell people not too different from me that it's going to be much harder for them. If, as a result my experience, they don't try, that might be all to the good, too. We don't need more Uberman failure stories out there. Failed attempts are hardly risk-free anyway. It's reported that a large contributing factor to injury accidents (for monophasics) is sleep deprivation. Why add yet another sleep-related factor to further boost that casualty rate? Maybe, in failure, I could save some other people more than just some frustration.

Finally, if I fail, the whole exercise of preparation still have cleaned up my life a lot, and laid a foundation of habits for keeping it clean. Now that's a keeper, you have to admit.

19 Comments:

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Laurence said...

Keep at it Michael! and keep us posted ; though I'm sure you don't need encouragement for that.

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger Michael Turner said...

Thanks, laurence, but actually I do. The last few days have been a Return to Slackerdom.

 
At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dream journal is a really great idea that helps to interpret dreams, I'll add it to my post:)

 
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