Saturday, September 7, 2019

Crazy dreams

(This is a  brain dumping, quick information look up and document entry)
Sleeping serves to regulate our metabolism, blood pressure, brain functions (cleaning brain waste, memory sorting, and learning integration) . Apparently, the role dreaming is more controversial around scientists. Some theories for the purpose of dreams include: 

Dreams as therapist

Dreams seem to operate from an emotional regions of the brain, where the logical region is shut off. The brain may be trying to make connections regarding feelings that the conscious self wouldn't make.

Dreams as fight-or-flight training

The amygdala, associated with survival and fight or flight response, is one of the most active part of the brain while dreaming. One theory suggests that dreaming is how the brain trains to deal with threats.

Dreams as muse

Dreams may serve to facilitate our creative tendencies. Many artists credit their dreams for inspiring their creative work.

Dreams as memory aides

Dreams may help the brain to integrate what you learned during the day and sort through complicated thoughts and feelings, to integrate your interpretation of what happened during the day, and to store important memories.

Factors that influence dreaming include daily activities, food taken that day, and health conditions. Sleep deprivation seems to induce more vivid dreams when you do eventually go to sleep. Pregnancy also induces intense dreaming due to increased hormone production. Mental health conditions can cause intense dreams. Antidepressant and antipsychotics have been associated with higher risk of nightmares.

(sources 12)

Why do I suddenly look up a summary of what is known about dreams? I woke up from a night of crazy dreams, one involving my mother owning a giant draw of bras of all sizes. She claimed that she "won" them as a prize). Another was about the mother of a friend who has passed away in real life. In my dream she came back to life to teach me about meridian lines on my body.

Sometimes my dreams are about stuff I encountered or thoughts I have been thinking about during the day, but I haven't been thinking about my mother or my friend or her mom. So where the hell did those thoughts come from (from the unconscious mind of course). Some people like to do dream interpretations, and they are basically creative endeavours which can go in any direction. I just want to know at a higher level what mine are trying to tell me. I think I have my crazy dreams because I am too stressed during the day (why? I have no clue). Yesterday in the afternoon while shopping with boyfriend I suddenly got sleepy and wanted to sit down, even though I have been doing next to nothing all day.

I have tried to read up on dreams before and wasn't satisfied with what I read. The scientific interpretations are very dry, because not all scientists studying dreams and sleep have crazy dreams themselves. But I think I should look up more about dreaming and how to take measures to resolve some of the issues so I don't dream about them any more.  Healthline.com suggests exercising in the morning and reducing stress in daily life in general. I suspect I need to do more meditations and a few more things.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Climbing progress post

Normally, when I go climbing, I climb until my body is not able to do the big power moves any more. So my muscles are tired and I have to go on easier routes. I stop when even the easier routes start to feel tiring; the skin on my hands feel tender, and my toes are in pain.

Last weekend, I managed to climb until the hand skin and toes were in pain, but my muscles, tendons and bones felt like they could handle more. Specifically, with my big toes: the climbing shoes push the big toe towards the center of my foot, so my bunion (base of big toe) experiences too much pressure from my body weight. The proper technique is to push on the big toe to hoist myself up the wall and I couldn't really do it. The hand skin was from a bit too much bouldering before the sport climbing session started.

In general, this means my body has gotten stronger, since I can boulder more in the beginning. Just when I feel my body is ready for bigger power moves, my toes say no. I'm not exactly sure how to continue. If I just ignore it, I think my bunions will get worse (one is starting to develop on the left foot, which didn't have much of a bunion before).

I think I have to see a podiatrist who understands climbing for some advice before I dare to push harder. It's probably okay for me to climb at the level that I climb (~6a+/6b) and stop when my feet start hurting. It's just frustrating that my endurance is improving but my feet don't allow me to climb for longer or push the feet harder for propelling the body up the wall. That's how life is, I guess. I will probably stay at this level for the rest of the year. Will try to focus more on aspects other than foot pushing, such as body positioning, breathing, and stronger hands. I'm not too concerned about hand skin.. I have no gaping holes on my hand so far. The indoor holds are nowhere as bad as outdoor rocks, which I have yet to try this or last year. I really hope to be able to get to try outdoor climbing before the end of this year.

Reference for foot problems for climbers: http://thomasbondphysio.blogspot.com/2013/08/feet-and-rock-climbing.html

Monday, August 26, 2019

What beginner meditation is like

I used to only do guided meditations. I would find my mind wandering whenever the speak stops speaking for a period of time. Lately, I have been doing 10-15 minute meditations with an app that makes a dinging bell sound every 5 minutes. Boy, seems like it takes forever for 5 minutes to arrive. I find myself pondering "Is it 5 minutes yet?" when only 3 minutes have passed.

So at this stage, I definitely don't achieve the "meditative state" (ie. a mind free of thoughts) all that frequently. I'm basically sitting for 15 minutes, letting my mind wander for 90% of the time, and being able to stop it a few times for maybe 10 seconds or so each time.

What's important to note is that:

1. It is not super easy to catch myself lost in thoughts, but when I do, I do have the capability to temporarily stop the string thoughts, as least for a few seconds, until my mind wanders again and I'm not aware it is happening.

2. Sometimes the thoughts are quite persistent, so I have to listen to the train of thoughts to see what issues are nagging at me.

3. Instead of some one line  verbal mantra, I try to pay attention to different body parts internally to see how they feel. I'm not sure if this is the right way to meditate, but I feel like the body scan is useful for me as I often hold unnoticed tensions in the neck or in the back. When there are local discomforts, sometimes if I pay attention to it and "breath into it", I can get the discomfort to ease away (probably some sort of tension or blockage).

4. The "meditation", or more accurately, a self-examination session, allows me to check in with my breathing as well. It seems to be always too shallow. I understand that sitting still does not require deep breathing, but I do notice that the rhythm of my breathing is not smooth most of the time.

5. With a million thoughts going through my mind, if I pay attention to my thoughts, the unimportant ones disappear. The ones that bother me would persist, urging me to write them down. When I start writing, they would morph into something different. Sometimes they disappear again, and sometimes something completely different comes out.

I really hope I can extend this into a daily 30 minutes session. I need to be better with time in order to do this.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The psychology of climbing grades

Climbing is a graded sport. Every wall or piece of rock can be assigned a level of difficulty, based on the several factors: the distance between the handholds and footholds (for easier routes you can effortlessly reach the next handhold without reaching very much), the size/shape of handholds/footholds (for easier routes the handholds are easier to hold on and feel secure), the strength/power required to reach the next hold (for harder routes, it might take a gymnast/ninja move to reach the next hold), and the angle of the wall (walls that lean towards the climber, where the climber have to fight harder against gravity are harder).

There are also style preferences. A strong but not flexible person might not mind the power pull ups but hate routes that require one to lift one's foot super high or far out to reach the next foot hold, while a super light person might have less trouble with crimpy handholds (holds that barely fits a finger knuckle) than heavier person.

While there is logic to the grading of a route, there is also a lot of mental games involved. The other day, my boyfriend struggled through a 7/6b/5.10c lead climbing route, but told me to try it. While I have top roped many routes at this level before, I have never lead climbed at that level. I was sure I couldn't do it, but he said to just give it a shot and come down when I have hit my limit. So I went up, and with several hanging rests (I tend to rest when I have trouble reading the next section or think the next section will be challenging), I made it to the top with no problems (cheated on one foothold).  I was super (pleasantly) surprised. So then I tried another route, graded 7-/6a+/5.10b, which my boyfriend also struggled on. Because I could do the harder route, when I struggled on the 7-, I told myself that since I just did the 7, my body must be able to handle this route. And so, even when the hands felt like they were burning, I just shook them out and kept going. I kept expecting the burning hands to fail me while I clipped in the rope with the other hand, they hung on with no problems. So I managed to onsight this 7- with no hanging rests. But I know for certain that I would have taken hanging rests had I not just attempted a 7 before this route, because: hands and forearms felt like they were on fire.

As I have mentioned before, sensations are not good indicators of how much stress my body can handle. A lot of the on fire feeling may have been generated by the head to protect my body (and my mental security). In my case, maybe my brain is a bit overprotective. But maybe not, because every time I come home my body is sore for 3+ days. So while the body could perform at that intensity in the moment, it basically tells me afterwards to take it easy for a few days.

I hope I can keep pushing the limits of my body and my mind for many more years to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Why do I climb?

I just purchased a book called "Why We Climb" by Chris Nobel, which includes a compilation of answers from world famous climbers, along with amazing photos of these climbers performing their wall gymnastic in gorgeous places all over the world.

I look at how people around me spend their free time. People sunbathe, go to cafes, hang out with friends, play sports, go shopping, watch TV, go to the movies, play video games, surf the internet, hike, travel, you name it. To me, climbing isn't any more or less pointless than these activities. In Vancouver, my Canadian friends are super active. They ski, surf, run marathons, participate in the Iron Man, hike, go to CrossFit, you name it, they do it. I used to be in awe of how active they are. I could do yoga 3 times a week and go hiking occasionally on the weekend and that was about it. Once I moved to to Europe, I was among people that were much less active.  People will try activities, but all have trouble sticking to a regular routine (me included). We are all older and busier. It is extremely difficult to get together to do any sort of sporty activity together. Many with kids would consider 30minute post-dinner walk with their children to be all they can muster to give their muscles and hearts/lungs a work out.

Climbing... it's a fun, meditative, addictive, intense, exhilarating activity, so why not. It works the muscles, the tendons, and is pretty cardio-intensive as well. The other day, I found out that I am unable to try hard moves if my heart rates are too high. This solves the question that I always had for myself: when I am running, is the heart rate or the muscle soreness more limiting for me? Answer: heart rate -- my cardio can definitely use some improvements.

So how did the author manage to fill an entire book with answers to why people climb? According to him, he set out to write this book to find out more about answers as to why this activity brings him more joy than anything else in life. He wishes he could be young again so he could spend even more time climbing. I guess I haven't personally come across people who live in a van next to a mountain range so they can spend most of their waking lives climbing. For them, this question is more profound than for the recreational hobby climber.

I think a large part of climbing has to do with the desire to be closer to nature, to conquer a big wall,  to reach for the top, and to challenge oneself physically and mentally. I think a lot of business workaholics have the same desire, but they want to be closer to big fortune, and to overpower other people. Climbing seems so much healthier and less harmful compare to making billions of dollars.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Meditation: checking-in with what bothers me the most

I have been feeling extremely scatter brained and have been having trouble forcing myself to sit still for 10 minutes a day. Today I managed to do it. I realized that the feeling of having 1 million thoughts going through my brain is just the overstimulation of substances like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or even carbonated water. My hypersensitivity really means I should just drink more still water instead.

I also still feel like my mother would pop out at any time to criticize and nag. I have left home for >6 years now. I don't think the feeling will ever go away completely. It is really terrible I internalized her anxieties. I feel like I would go a lot further in life if she didn't nag so excessively. I did leave home for 2 years after I got my uni degree, but the masochist in me returned home, because at the bottom of my heart, I am really attached to the idea of home and family. For all of my life I wished for a mentor who would guide me through life, help me understand how to navigate through society. I never had that mentor. I learned through just placing myself in foreign situations.

I don't really know why I get so scared about the possibility of being hurt emotionally. I seem to think that if I don't get hired for a job, if the boss doesn't like me, if I made a big mistake at work,  if I get fired, if I get rejected by a man, then gasp, my world would crumble. The floor below me would disappear and I would fall eternally towards and beyond hell, or something dramatic like that. This is why I am so scared to try anything involving interacting with other human beings. I'm trying to figure out why I feel this way. I'm guessing it's because my mother used to react so dramatically when I made any small mistakes. Her response to my toddler misdemeanours felt like how a more normal person would react to her child setting the house on fire, or shooting someone in the face with a gun. It really seems like her melodramatic reactions over the years have caused long lasting trauma in me.  I recently read that emotionally immature parents are simply unable to feel empathy towards their children's distress. I guess all these years I had been wishing for mother to become a bit better at sympathy is like wishing a blind person could recover his/her sight.

When I meditate I feel a lot of jitter. I am unable to focus with all these jitter going on, so I try to cover them up by drinking sugary/caffeinated drinks. I go climbing, because the intensity of the sport justifies for the jitters that I feel. Actually, climbing brings out a lot of feelings of fear, anger and hatred. When positioned on an inclined, overhang wall, with wind blowing at me, feeling extremely insecure, the sensations feel extremely familiar. It feels just like when I'm about to make a mistake, or when someone is screaming in my face. In these situations, I feel like I'm about to fall. I never actually "fall", but I feel like if I dare to go as far as actually letting myself fall, then my life, as I know it, will be over. And it's not just my life. The Earth itself will explode spectacularly right after I die (cue some glorious Hollywood explosion scene).

It's not just my mother. My aunts, my cousins, sometimes my sister, also let me feel that my mere existence is one big mistake. Everything I do is wrong. I say the phrases that are negative and hurtful to them, I don't perform certain cultural formalities that are expected of me at the appropriate times. Whenever I return home, I feel like I say all the things and shouldn't say and don't say all the things I am supposed to say. I actively bring unhappiness to those who are around me.

Is this true? I have been examining myself. It's partly true. I do tend to point out the negative aspects of what I observe and fail to mention the positive aspects. Why do I do it? I want things to CHANGE FOR THE BETTER, to IMPROVE. But I am the only person in the family who feels that way. The others in the family maintain the status quo by just saying niceties. Floral wishes. They perpetuate old wives' tales and pretend the ongoing conflicts do not exist. By faking a celebratory ambience every time the family meets up, the conflicts are never actually resolved. Everyone still secretly hates each other. People's lives do not improve. Marriages fall apart. People's healths deteriorate (due to wrong beliefs regarding what is good for health). Meanwhile they become more and more intentionally psychologically delusional in order to maintain the mirage.

The last paragraph came out of nowhere. But it did point how how I have felt for a long time. I want to point out things that are wrong (with the intention to fix the problems). They point out I am (one of the) problem instead. If everyone says I am wrong, then who am I to argue with the majority? So something must be wrong with me. It is true that I am wrecking the harmony and the celebratory mood of the family gathering. But indeed their lives are progressively doing worse. The intention of my family (and most organizations) is to sound positive and maintain the status quo. I have a desire to diagnose problems and resolve them, which is not welcomed. For my own sake, it would be better to go along with whatever they say, ignore the errors, try focus on the positive aspects of the interaction/relationship.

It took me nearly 40 years to understand that that most people have zero interest in truths. They are not interested exploration, or finding the best path towards getting what they want. They want shortcuts. They would rather pretend to have gotten what they want than to spend time to find the right strategies / correct paths. They take turns boasted about their limited knowledge, even though they sound clownish in front of anyone with actual knowledge on the topics. It seems wildly absurd to me, but I suppose this type of chest puffing probably was effective before the Internet was invented.

I should try to participate in their charade next time, and see if I get a different outcome than my normal yearly visit.

[p.s. This post definitely needs major rewrite, but I just wanted to get the ideas down into some written form first]

Monday, August 5, 2019

Regarding desires for achievement

When I was practicing Ashtanga yoga regularly, I was trying super hard to learn to do every pose in the primary series as perfectly as I could. My deep desire at the time was to finish 1st series, zip through 2nd series (back bends are naturally easy for me), and then spend some years working on the advanced 3rd series.

When I started climbing, I progressed much faster than anticipated, from not being able to move to very much on the wall at all, to being able to hold on to some pretty bad hand holds with locked bent arms. I thought I would be able to keep progressing at a linear rate and hit the advanced grades at a steady pace.

This mentality makes sense in the 20s and early because the body can handle a lot of training and adapt to the intensity when one is young. I am very glad I exercised my body as much as I did in my 20s despite my culture (most of my relatives and many of my friends do not exercise much at all besides occasional walking).

Now that I start yoga again a little after many years of not doing it, the primary series Ashtanga feels hard again. There are very strong feelings in the hamstrings. I'm not sure if climbing tightens my hamstrings or is it simply from lack of hamstring-specific stretching exercises. I no longer feel the desires to perfect my poses again. I'm just happy to lightly practice yoga occasionally to get some stretching in. I'm still super motivated to continue hard climbing training, but I don't really expect to hit a high grade any more. If I were 25 years old, I would totally aim for an advanced grade, and get disappointed when my improvement levels off.

However, my mind still feels pretty unsettled even though I don't mentally chase high achievements any more. The formerly achievement-addicted mind still wants something else to obsess about. I will keep searching for "it" I guess, hoping to calm my mind and achieve equanimity.