Sunday, November 3, 2019

The power of meditation and the silliness of serendipity

Today while waiting in line at Sprouts to buy my lunch I decided to be mindful - to focus on the present moment, kindly, nonjudgmentally taking note of my feelings and thoughts, and do a little walking (standing in line) meditation. As I took my first deep breath and allowed my focus to set in on my state of being I could feel anxiety rising in my belly.  I had looked over at the other line that I didn't get into and noticed that it was shorter.  I looked over again and the person I would have been behind was being rung up while I still had two people in front of me.  I heard the thought, I should have gotten into the other line. I focused on my breath and the anxiety; I noticed jealousy, jealous of the few extra minutes that my alternate-reality self would have had. Thoughts and feelings swam around, thought, I had made a mistake, I was missing out.  These feelings and thoughts were powerful reminders of how often I operate outside of the present moment.  I focused in on the present moment noticing the clerk at the register in front of me checking a $100 bill she had been given for authenticity. Then the person in front of me was being served. I stayed focused on my breath. And now I am here present with the clerk.

As I turned to leave I was looking down at my wallet and I had to stop as I almost ran into the person leaving from the other register.  It was the woman I would have been behind, the one that had gotten to the register while I was still waiting in my line.  I left her pass in front of me and a smile burst across my face. How silly of me to have worried in the first place, I had chosen the faster line (and missed out on an extra minute or two of meditation).

Friday, September 6, 2019

The perils of online education and the dopamine rabbit hole: is it 2 in the morning already?

I'm not saying I think that online education is the reason I stayed up past 2 am today.  But if I wasn't taking an online class that pointed me to a clip of the Carmichael Show, which I had never heard of, which led me to IMDB, and then Jerrod Carmichael and his stand up on YouTube, and then clips of Gaffigan and then Whose Line Is It Anyway, would I have been up until 2 am today?

Is it my lack of will power or discipline?  Or maybe the computer itself and the internet and how my brain interacts with the ideas, images, and perceived social interactions?  The muse of my amusement, the traction of my distraction.  Maybe it's the dopamine hit and the attention getting YouTube logrhythm that has me hooked?

So what can I do to limit my exposure, to hone my tool, the computer, the browser, so that I can stay focused on my academic endeavor, and get some sleep?

Use an instance of Chrome that opens with the sites I need for my class, University website, University email, blackboard (or other LMS - learning management system), and a Google drive folder with class documents.  Keep it simple, less distraction, an empty desk, a clean slate. But isn't part of the beauty and power of education and intellectual stimulation traversing rabbit holes? (Just maybe not YouTube rabbit holes?)

I mean maybe it's my ADD baby?  Really though, maybe not necessarily ADD, but I have to admit even before computers were my fix, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, reading, playing chess, talking with friends, or on some other inner trip.  I wonder what keeps me up like this at night? Is it any different, typing away on this draft in front of this luminous screen, than writing in a notepad? Reading this article on a tablet versus holding a physical book? I'm still not sleeping.
The title of this post is misleading. I'm missing the point, or rather, I'm mixing two messages. We need to be careful how we interact with any tool, any medium. When books/novels first became popular in the 1800s there was an outcry of concern: all of these people indoors for hours reading, immobile, daydreaming, distracted from the real world work to be done.

Computers are not necessarily a problem (although my cellphone might be...damn Blogger and Blackboard apps handy on my nightstand I still haven't slept tonight at all. It's 4:33 in the am).

Learning is exhilarating. I'm enthralled, excited in the most literal sense as my intellect has been turned on and it's not turning off. I'm exuberant about the prospect of learning and growing and teaching and contributing to our body of knowledge.

My favorite quote from Professor Joi Spencer so far is, "All knowledge is political and shaped by power." So simple and so true. My father confidently and emphatically stated that teaching is political, that all action (and inaction) is political in nature as it speaks to our power and culture.  I have the beautiful opportunity within my community to facilitate the creation of new knowledge, to love each other in public, to create more social justice to transform our society together.

Monday, September 3, 2018

How often do you . . . on Pexels

How often do you take a bite of food and masticate intentionally, slowly, deliberately?

How often do you put another bite of food in your mouth before the first bite is finished?

How often do you deliberate on what finished means? Are you done when there's no more chewing? Are you done when you swallow the last morsel? And how long do you wait before taking the next bite? How often are you present in that moment, as you swallow, feeling the food move down your esophagus while savoring the aftertaste?

How often do you lick your lips? How often are you present in the moment, focused attentively on chewing, tasting, savoring, and swallowing?

I encourage you to get a glass (or bottle) of cool (or cold) and take a big sip, and close your eyes as the water runs down your esophagus and into your stomach, and focus on the sensation of the cool liquid. In every moment there is beauty, uniqueness, a lesson. In every moment. How many lessons do we miss every minute, every hour, every day?

How often do you eat, chewing unconsciously, swallowing bite after bite, shoveling food into your mouth while your mind is on other tasks? How often do you ignore your present moment? How often do you ignore your body and its needs and its experience? How often do your mind and body act in unison?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Embrace the Eternity
Sometimes during the first few moments of meditation I get a feeling of overwhelming eternity — this moment, these seconds, feel like they are lasting forever, as my thoughts race and my mind keeps telling me that I need to be doing other things, anything, something else other than sitting here breathing.

How long did I set my timer for? How many minutes will I be sitting here, doing nothing? If these first few seconds feel so long and unendurable, how is the rest of this meditation going to feel? Is this really the most important thing for me to be doing right now!?!

Embrace the eternity — the empty space that our mind fills with thoughts and worries. The pain that rises out of the darkness. Embrace it. As unbearably long as it may feel, this moment is fleeting. Every moment, every group of moments, will pass, eventually, inevitably.

Turn into it, lean into your discomfort. Like an empty desk, a mind with a sense of never ending time is key to creation and ideation — it is a precursor to the deep work that will lead to breakthroughs.

Embrace the space, with no phone calls, no checking of emails or statuses, no comments or likes; embrace the space where thoughts will rush in and where we can embrace and accept each thought, and clear out our cache, clear a space in our mind for deep work.

Embrace the eternity of the moment.

Friday, September 22, 2017

They're just words

"They're just words," my father told me.  I don't remember how old I was but it stuck.  My father didn't care if I cussed - he dropped f-bombs on the regular.  He didn't do it carelessly, but it was most certainly effortless.

My dad was adamant about it too - they are words like any others, with purpose, function, and beauty.  Fuck, for instance, can be a noun, "I gives no fucks," a verb, "fuck off," turned easily into an adjective, "That's a fucking apple," and used to enhance adjectives too, "That's fucking crazy," just to name a few of its many uses.

As a teenager I took it to the extreme, fuck being one of the most common words I used on the daily.  My best friend had had enough one night and interjected in the middle of one of my fuck-infused rants. "It looses its meaning when you over use it like that.  It looses its power."  I had not heard this kind of criticism before, not admonishing me for using the word itself, but for misusing it.

Fast forward to about a year ago, when my boys, at age six and nine, starting cussing in the back seat while I was driving.  I thought, why not break it to them, these are just words.  "Papa didn't say anything," one of them whispered to the other, as I was contemplating my response. "Papa did you hear what he said?" I responded that I did.  "Why didn't you tell him anything?" And so I broke it to them.

They are just words.  "What do you mean Papi?"  They are words like any other, with specific meanings, and nuance, with so many creative functions and uses.  You simply have to know how and when to use them - the proper contexts and situations.

My boys thought this was the best news ever! They started cussing and cussing in the back seat. I explained again to them, there are proper places and situations to cuss, and improper ones.  School is not a proper place. With your brother in the back seat, that's fine. I explained all of this, still thinking as we got home, that this was somehow going to work out for my six and nine year old.

I have talked to my kids like they are adults since they were born, spoken to them without dumbing anything down, no baby-talk, no nonsense (actually lots of nonsense, nonsense is fun).  Expecting my children to behave like adults based on what I told them - that was expecting too much.

It took them almost two days to figure out that in front of their mom was not the right context.  The first time they dropped a bomb and their mom laid into them they said I had told them that it was okay to cuss.  I had to explain to them again, and to my wife, what I had said - they're just words.  This did not go so well with my wife, not that she didn't agree, but she knew better than I did at the time, that our boys were not ready for this knowledge, this freedom.

My boys are still in the process of realizing the power of their words.  They see that they have power, they witness the results of their words in action.  Through experience hopefully they will come to understand how and why choosing their words carefully and intentionally is vital to the impact and outcomes of their interactions.

Knowledge is power. And words can be powerful too, if we use them effectively, nuanced, in the right context, with the right timing and inflection.  The classic school yard saying that sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me is bullshit - baloney - poppycock (and not the sweet crunchy poppycock).  Words can and do hurt - we hurt each other all of the time with what we say and how we say it.

Once you learn something, it cannot be taken away.  And once you say something, most of the time you cannot take it back.  You have given life to your voice and your energy, putting your ideas, thoughts, and emotions out into the world. Be careful what you say, how you say it, to whom, and in what context.  Be thoughtful and intentional. Words are beautifully powerful and as with any power we can uplift and heal or we can tear down and destroy.  The choice is yours.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notifications — huh—yeah — what are they good for?

Notifications, not as serious as war, which is absolutely good for nothing, are good for something; to notify you of note-worthy things, hopefully.

I remember when my phone would incessantly take control of my attention at random moments in the middle of conversations, while I was focused on other things — interrupting my focus to notify me of responses to tweets, Facebook posts, virtual buildings being constructed, and signing monsters who needed to be tended. Was any of this by choice? Sure, I had downloaded apps and allowed their automatic notifications to remain active. Was it intentional and deliberate. Most certainly not.

We should not be subservient to our phones — it should be the other way around. Our phones should do exactly what we want them to do. I have turned off all notifications on my phone except for: texts, chats, phone calls, and my calendar app. Simple. I also put my phone away at various times of the day, when I am not willing to be interrupted by any of these functions.

I have turned off all notifications on my except for: texts, chats, phone calls, and my calendar app. Simple. I also put my phone away at various times of the day, when I am not willing to be interrupted by any of these functions.

If we are going to be interrupted by our phones it should be for a good reason. It should be planned out and intentional on our part. I am using the new Google calendar “Reminder” function as a means to turn my phone into a reminding device — to remind me to meditate, journal, and complete my workouts and Tai Chi. 

If you are going to be interrupted by your phone, it should be because there is an urgent matter in your family or at work, because an old friend is looking to get a hold of you, or because you have decided that this interruption is important and is part of the intention you have for yourself for today, for your life. If your phone is interrupting you simply because you’ve installed a new app and it’s notifications are on, and this isn’t a deliberate choice on your part — I think you’ve lost control of the device. Make it intentional. Make your phone enhance your life not distract from it. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Digital Hygiene

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash
I am struck by how much time and energy, how much focus and productivity I have gained by following a few simple steps in digital hygiene; (steps inspired by Seth Godin’s Five steps to digital hygiene and by my interactions with my altMBA alumni in the 30 Day Challenge alumni channel). 

There are three main ideas I have put in place that I have found to be instrumental in freeing up time and mental energy:
  1. Turn off all notifications except for calls, texts, chats, and calendar notifications.
  2. Quit social media and gaming on your phone — no more Facebook or Twitter, no more Signing Monsters or Bomb Beach.
  3. Ignore all of the negative energy — quit reading negative comments and exchanges on the internet.
It took me a while to follow Seth’s first step — turning off email and social media notifications on my phone. At first when I turned it off, I found myself jonesing for a fix of attention, looking at my phone wanting to “check-in,” to “interact,” longing for the constant stimulus I had grown so accustomed to.

Even after turning these notifications off, I still found myself checking in on Twitter and Facebook, often; I found myself spending hours enthralled in emotional battles with people I have never met and never will — battling back and forth with no real result other then more and more virtually inspired vitriol. 

Fast forward a few months, I am interacting with the altMBA alumni community, expressing my desire to make time for writing, time to interact in positive manners online, and in person with my family. So I decided in November of 2017, a few weeks after the presidential election, to quit social media. I uninstalled Twitter and Facebook from my cell phone. I stopped checking in online all together.

At first, as with the notifications being turned off, I still was looking to fill the space left by the absence of these interactions. I found myself spending more time on slack and LinkedIn. After a while though I felt satisfied without these interactions. I found more time in my hands. I started writing more and spending more time present with my family.

The difference now in how I interpret notifications on my phone is striking. I don’t feel a need to constantly be interacting, to be connected to any virtual stimulus. Emotionally I feel lighter and clearer. I am no longer embroiled in online battles of “wit” or anger infused tweets and comments. My digital hygiene is much improved.

I encourage you to examine your digital hygiene. Are your online interactions as fruitful and emotionally balanced as you would like them to be? What need or part of you are the conversations and interactions you are involved with satisfying? Is your cell phone enhancing your life or interrupting it? Or both? It’s up to you. It’s your turn to decide and act.