Noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!

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So much noise right now.

There’s always something to read or watch or click, and most of it adds no real value while taking up precious space in our brain and often adding unnecessary worry and stress.

Information overload is a thing, for me at least.

Here comes the weekend, though, and a chance to step away from the stream of chatter that is hard to escape during the week.

Put the phone down, EJ.

Be quiet. Be bored.

Let your “streams” and “feeds” go untended.

These glowing screens are a modern miracle, but they can too easily divert our focus from what is right here, right now.

The world will go on just fine without your sharing or liking or commenting on whatever combination of one’s and zeroes might fly by in your absence.

Play. Breathe. See. Listen. Feel.

Step away from the noise. Step into real life.

Have a happy analog, tactile, unplugged weekend.

Don’t wobble

Sit, sit. Walk, walk. Don’t wobble. –Zen proverb

Kevin Kelly shared this wisdom in his most recent interview on Tim Ferriss’s podcast.

When you sit, fully sit.

When you walk, make walking the thing.

When you’re in conversation with another human being, let all else fall away except for that conversation.

Don’t wobble. Don’t drift from the thing you’re doing to give your attention to something else.

I’m not going to pull this off with any kind of consistency. I wobble. A lot.

But keeping aware of the intention to be present with where I am and what I’m doing is a start.

The best gift: Your attention

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I’m heading out today on a weekend getaway with my wife and daughters, trapped in the car for several hours together.

This will be a good time to practice giving my complete attention to the people I love most.

The aim is to turn off my mental autopilot that is great at creating the illusion that I’m paying attention. Our close confines will at least help eliminate many of the usual distractions.

Being genuinely present with others takes effort and practice.

When someone offers you their full attention, though, it’s a bit startling. It’s such a rare and wonderful experience and such a generous gift.

Imagine if that was what you were known for. It would be like having a kind of superpower.

 

The transformative power of deep practice

Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years. He explores “talent hotbeds”, places that produce a disproportionate amount of talented people in various fields—sports, the arts, and academics. And he comes up with key factors that separate the best from all others.

His follow-up book, The Little Book of Talent, condenses the lessons he learned about talent into very direct, transferable and applicable insights.

And this is the key insight:

“If I had to sum up the difference between people in the talent hotbeds and people everywhere else in one sentence, it would be this:

People in the hotbeds have a different
relationship with practicing.

Many of us view practice as necessary drudgery, the equivalent of being forced to eat your vegetables, far less important or interesting than the big game or the big performance. But in the talent hotbeds I visited, practice was the big game, the center of their world, the main focus of their daily lives. This approach succeeds because over time, practice is transformative, if it’s the right kind of practice. Deep practice.

The key to deep practice is to reach. This means to stretch yourself slightly beyond your current ability, spending time in the zone of difficulty called the sweet spot. It means embracing the power of repetition, so the action becomes fast and automatic. It means creating a practice space that enables you to reach and repeat, stay engaged, and improve your skills over time.”

Everything changes when you see practice as not just a means to an end, but a worthy end in itself.

This applies to all of life, actually. Every moment is a chance to practice intention and focus and mindfulness.

Practice, then, is not merely preparation for something else, but is rather the act of honoring the only place your life ever is—here and now.

Taking your mind for a walk

  

Our dog Mosley is “spirited”.

Taking him on a walk when he was a puppy was an ordeal. He would pull at the leash, stop suddenly, veer off course constantly, sniff everything he came upon, get agitated if we came across any other dogs, and totally freak out if he saw a cat anywhere. (Cats… they drive him to barking fits like nothing else does.)

But, over time, he began to settle down for our walks. He still gets a little frantic at the start of a walk, but he quickly calms himself and gets into a smooth flow with me. Unless he spies a cat, of course.

I’ve been meditating somewhat regularly over the past year. Some weeks I sit for ten to twenty minutes every day. Other weeks I may sit only once or twice. 

But I’m not very good at it when I do make the time to sit. My mind is like the puppy version of Mosley. It won’t stay still and pulls and veers and gets so easily distracted. Some days it settles enough to flow smoothly along with my breath for at least a few minutes. Most days it tugs at the leash the whole time. 

I’m sticking with it, though. I’m clearly still in the puppy phase of my mindfulness practice. But I know my mind and my emotional well-being need at least a portion of the attention and discipline I focus on my physical body and my work.

I’m even more aware lately that humans “were built to be effective animals, not happy ones”, and it’s on me to upgrade my own operating system if I want more happiness and peace and wholeheartedness. Mindful calm is not our default state. 

Tim Ferriss recently interviewed the meditation teacher Tara Brach. It’s an interesting conversation which included this big statement:

“Meditation is evolution’s strategy to bring out our full potential.” –Tara Brach

Certainly, if more humans were better able to master their minds and their emotions, we would be a lot further along as a species.

This is a hard practice, but if even a little of the benefits spill over into my life and the way I interact with my family, my friends, and anyone I encounter, it will be worth persisting in the effort. 

I want to see reality more clearly and embrace whatever comes without resistance.

Maybe I’m a slow learner with this—even a perpetual puppy. I will keep giving it a go and just see how often my mind will let the leash draw some slack and flow along.

Even if there are cats. 

Unsatisfactory

From Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up:

“The Buddha taught mindfulness as the appropriate response to the truth of dukkha, usually translated from the Pali, somewhat misleadingly, as ‘suffering.’ A better translation would be ‘unsatisfactoriness.’ Suffering may not be inherent in life, but unsatisfactoriness is. We crave lasting happiness in the midst of change: Our bodies age, cherished objects break, pleasures fade, relationships fail. Our attachment to the good things in life and our aversion to the bad amount to a denial of these realities, and this inevitably leads to feelings of dissatisfaction. Mindfulness is a technique for achieving equanimity amid the flux, allowing us to simply be aware of the quality of experience in each moment, whether pleasant or unpleasant. This may seem like a recipe for apathy, but it needn’t be. It is actually possible to be mindful—and, therefore, to be at peace with the present moment—even while working to change the world for the better.”


I want to see it for myself

I read this today in Mindfulness in Plain English as a recommendation for the attitude to take when pursuing a mindfulness practice:

“Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes. I want to understand the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true and deepest qualities of life, and I don’t want to just accept somebody else’s explanation. I want to see it for myself.”

This is good advice no matter the approach to living an authentic, wholehearted life.

We tend to live on automatic pilot, programmed by others – often well-meaning others – and plodding along a path we didn’t choose.

Why not have your own experience of life? Why not see for yourself what is real? Not virtual reality or someone else’s formula for meaning. Live your life.

Merry freaking Christmas!

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One Thanksgiving morning years ago when our oldest child was a newborn, my wife and I were struggling to get our act together and get out the door for a drive across the state to a family gathering. We were late. Really late. And figuring out how to get things done with a baby in our life complicated everything.

As we finally got in the car and started down the driveway, my wife, with her frustration finally spilling out at the end our frantic scrambling, looked at me and said, with some intensity: “Happy FREAKING Thanksgiving!” She wasn’t smiling.

I didn’t laugh. On the outside. Until about an hour into the drive.

And then, after a safe time for cooling off had passed, we had a good laugh together. Yes, we were really late to the family Thanksgiving gathering. But the dinner ended up being delayed by a faulty oven (for a very long time, actually), so we didn’t miss anything.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of love and joy and peace on Earth. A time for family and friends to reconnect and annoy each other. And spend money. And travel and decorate and undecorate and toil in the kitchen and spend more money on things that often bring little delight to the recipient or the giver.

Humbug, you say?

No. Me, neither. I mostly love this time of year. But as I count down the final weeks of the year I’ve come to the point where plans for Christmas have swallowed almost everything else in our lives. There is little down time without a to-do list occupying actual attention or tugging subconsciously and invisibly leaking life energy drip by drip.

I will end up loving the season, though the only holiday music I’m tuning in willingly at the moment is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a delight no matter the season.

The year ends in a rush of activity and distraction unlike any period in the previous eleven months. It takes some effort to maintain discipline and stick with your habits. But I’ve been keeping at it. So far. (I’m about to go take a 10 p.m. walk just to check off my daily mile habit. I don’t want to break the string.)

What if we embraced the chaos of the season, the good and bad deviations from routine, and found opportunities to grow and get stronger. Sticking to a habit when you’re tempted to use the excuse of the busyness of the season to ditch it will give you greater strength for the rest of the year when routines are more consistent.

This holiday season, why not face your family and friends as you never have before? Be as present as you can. Engage in meaningful conversations. Sit at the kids’ table. Ask great questions of the often ignored senior citizens in the family. Try to get the hipster teenager to crack a smile.

Stress will come. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Just try to observe and notice it and bring yourself back to the present moment, to some perspective about the stillness of the enduring now, where all is always merry and bright.

Stay strong in these final two weeks of the year. Stick to your good habits. Keep bringing your focus back to how you want to finish this year.

And if you’re on the verge of a George Bailey-esque meltdown. Don’t even think about jumping off a bridge.

“Merry freaking Christmas!” to you all.

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Blue sky every day

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I have been following Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace meditation program for two weeks now, and I can see how beneficial this practice is. Andy regular refers to meditation as “training the mind”, and I’m getting that sense of it, of training and practice and skill development, from just my two week habit.

I have already found myself occasionally directing my attention during daily activities to what I experience when I meditate, noticing the busy-ness and distraction of my mind and bringing the focus back to my body and my breath.

Mindfulness teachers talk about the blue sky always being there even when obstructed by clouds. If you were in a plane you could fly above the clouds and see that the blue sky is there and unaffected by whatever clouds are below it.

Even when your mind is full or anxious or clouded with discouraging thoughts, the blue sky is still there. Wait and watch. The clouds will pass, if even for a moment, and you can see the blue sky. There it is, every day.

Mindfulness in ten minutes: Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk and meditation app

My friend Jill came by my office yesterday. She reads this site and often sends me an encouraging message. I’m kind of freaked out when anyone lets me know they read this. It’s still in my head that I’m writing this just for my own benefit. Thanks to anyone who spares a moment for anything I’ve shared here.

Jill was telling me that she’s been using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app for a daily meditation practice. (And there, over on that Headspace link, you’ll find Hermione herself giving it a thumbs up. Brilliant!)

I’ve downloaded the app, and it’s impressively designed. I’m going to give it a go. Meditation has been on my to-do list for a while, but I just haven’t made it a habit. I’ve even got a couple of mindfulness books lined up in iBooks waiting on me. But this app just might be the tipping point for me. It literally talks you through the practice. I might have room for one more daily habit to track.

And here is Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk advocating taking just ten minutes each day for intentional mindfulness (and there’s juggling, which is a fun bonus).