Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mindful Driving

A few months ago I started to practice mindful driving.  I turn off the radio, no music, no podcasts, just the sound of the air rushing over the car, the engine, the tires gliding over the road, and the other cars around me.  I focus in on my breathing, slowly and naturally breathing in, starting deep in my belly, and slowly exhaling.

Please note that the goal of mindful driving is not to go inward, it is not a replacement for daily meditation practice, but is instead a practice of applied mindfulness.  As said in one of my sons' favorite books, Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda, "Mindful, like your mind is full of the present."  While practicing mindful driving I am more acutely aware; I focus on scanning the road and surroundings.  I can maintain a mindful observation of my experience, rather than getting caught up personally in other drivers' actions or other uncontrollable conditions (like traffic).

I practice mindful driving most often while on the way to work, and I find my thoughts roaming around my work day, around my goals and tasks for the day.  As with my other mindfulness practices, once I realize I am dwelling on any one thought I allow it to flow away so that I can refocus fully on the present.  I find that I gain a greater sense of clarity for the day, without the distraction of the radio.  I have also found myself feeling calmer and my breathing practice fortified.

At first inspired by trying to squeeze mindfulness practice into any small corner of time I could find, driving mindfully has become a daily practice of mine.  Again, this is not a replacement of daily mediation practice; focused meditation practices are like exercises for your mind - attuning to the present moment and being open and flexible, maintaining a sense of observation rather than attachment.  Mindful driving is an application of mindfulness outside of a closed/controlled environment, with the goal of being present in each moment, fully attuned and immersed in the flow of action while maintaining a sense of calm observation.

I encourage you to experiment with applying mindfulness to different realms in your life, remembering that the goal is to improve you ability to focus on the present moment, to be aware and observant, to maintain calm.  Apply your mindfulness muscle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Writing Everyday

I write everyday. Emails (way too many), texts, letters, and angry tweets (well I used to, haven’t been on Twitter since November of last year). After my month long journey through altMBA7, after interacting with amazingly generous and inspiring people, and after watching this 30 minute interview with Seth Godin — I am reinvigorated to write more publicly, to express myself with the intent to inspire impactful change in others — in you!

As a part of my writing habit I have recently started daily journaling again, a habit I maintained as a teenager. As I teen I stuck to mainly diary entries and stream of consciousness ramblings. Now I write in my journal with four main foci: gratitude, brain-dump, observations of interesting things, and bullet journaling.

  • Gratitude: I write a list every night and every morning to amplify the positivity in my life. So many positive healthy benefits to activating gratitude. I find the humility that I embolden with acknowledging the privileges I have and the gratitude I feel for my life to be priceless.
  • Brain-dump, stream of consciousness, free write; whatever you want to call it. Everyday I write for at least ten minutes with no clear aim or goal other than to clear my mind, to work my writing muscle. Sometimes there are creative pieces that come streaming out. Other times it’s meandering rambles clearing out the noise. Prune diligently.
  • Observations of interesting things, thoughts, questions, inspirations. Review these notes often and you will be rewarded.
  • Bullet journaling is a form of organization of lists than can be kept very simple and straight forward or be leveled up in countlessly creative manners. The flexibility of the format has allowed me to be creatively organized.

Writing everyday. Shipping, everyday as long as I count emails.

PS A wise man told me (as he was told by a wise woman with whom he worked) that you should consider every email you send public, as being shipped out to the world. Imagine every email you send on the front page (at least for a few minutes) of the New York Times or Washington Post (or Yahoo! News). Don’t send anything out that you wouldn’t be comfortable standing behind in the public sphere. Clicking the send button relinquishes any control you have over who else it reaches.

PSS If you are interested in more on journaling, check out the following two more in depth pieces on journaling, writing, and habits of the mind:
The Life Changing Habit of Journaling
Why Successful People Spend 10 Hours a Week on “Compound Time”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Empty Your Cup

During the most recent altMBA meet-up, Mark Guay and I met at Trilogy Sanctuary - a beautifully vibrant locale.  Mark brought two books to give to me based on his inspiration after reading my blog (this blog) and having visited Chicano Park.  I am touched.  So thoughtful and heartfelt.

Once we got into the meat of the meeting, as I was sipping a cup of cold brew coffee after weeks without coffee, I found myself feeling a bit unhinged, excited, talking and talking, organizing my thoughts as I explained my feelings of being overwhelmed, of feeling like a hamster running in a wheel.  Mark jotted notes on sticky notes as I spoke.  He interjected, even interrupted me at one point, and I am glad that he did.  I had started my spiel with the premise that I felt unorganized.

"It's not that you are unorganized," he told me, "you seem very organized, using two digital calendars and a self-made journal organizer.  You aren't prioritizing effectively."  He asked a few key questions, like, "How many people do you have that you can delegate to?"  I have at least four that I can consistently delegate to, and with some of my plans for added staff roles, even more.  Am I effectively delegating though.  Not yet.  Mark brought up mindfulness, and I explained that I practice various forms of mindfulness on a regular basis.

And then the it hit him.  "Do you journal?  Not like this bullet journal, but write, just to get thoughts out and onto the page?" he asked.  "Not recently, no."  "Try five minute brain dumps every morning, or at night," he suggested, "write whatever comes to mind. It will help clear your mind." It didn't strike me at first as potentially the key to my de-stressing, the throwing off of the hamster wheel blanket; until we went downstairs and while heading to our cars Mark mentioned one of his favorite Buddhist Koans (and one of my favorites as well):

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. 
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. 
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” 
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
How can I possibly focus on any one thing when my cup is overflowing?  I must first empty my cup.

Bullet journaling is key and I have noticed benefits to clarity and focus when I commit the time to fully engage and work on my journal daily - at least 15 minutes every day to clear my cache, check on upcoming tasks and events, and set my intentions for the day.  What I have not been engaging in is brain dump journaling, stream of consciousness writing for the sake of writing and clearing my mind.  I used to write in a journal everyday in my youth.  Maybe the hamster wheel of achievement and career accomplishment, of family obligations and commitments, got in the way?  No matter what the reason was that I stopped - I will start a daily writing journal today.  (And I look forward to the mental health benefits of my writing).

I will empty my cup, and when I pour too much in, I will empty it again.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Let it go

When someone is hurt by my actions or when my actions cause a loss of opportunity for myself or others, I dwell on my mistakes. I wallow in my guilt and shame. I get stuck in the past. Sometimes this lasts days and it stops me from being productive, from being able to be my full self and from having my full capabilities.

Two monks were walking together when they came upon a river. At the river’s edge was a woman, two small to cross the roaring river on her own. The monks had vowed never to touch a woman again. One monk began to cross the river, leaving his companion and the woman on the bank. The other monk approached the woman and motioned for her to climb onto his back. She did, and he helped her across the river. After they crossed, she got down and they parted ways. The two monks walked together again, away from the river for some time before either of them spoke. The monk who first crossed the river spoke, “Brother, you broke your vow. In order to help that woman you touched her.” The second monk responded, “Yes, I did. But I put her down at the edge of the other bank, and you, you are still carrying her after all this time.”

Learning to let go will help me stay in the present moment. And what about worry?

My therapist asked me a question years ago, when I was worrying and asking what if this happens, or that happens. He asked me, “Where did you just go now?” I was dumbfounded for a second, “huh?” He repeated himself, “Where did you go while you were worrying, contemplating all of the negative what ifs?” And it struck me. I was going into the future. Just as with the dwelling on mistakes takes me to the past, worry and anxiety take me into the future. One that I cannot predict.

Mindfulness is a practice that can help us stay in the present moment.  Not caught dwelling on the past nor worrying about an unpredictable future.  The Buddhist koan I relayed above speaks to this mindfulness, to staying in the present moment.  I still struggle with what this present mindedness means for planning, and in the case of the koan and my first mention of mistakes and errors, what that means for broken commitments and damage done.

My papi was not a fan of religion.  He quoted Karl Marx's "Religion is the opiate of the masses" on various occasions to me.  My father was a materialist and did not believe in anything science couldn't prove.

Let's look at Marx's whole quote though, as the one above is taken slightly out of context.  "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."  Here we can see that although the basic element is still in place at the end of these phrases, Marx does acknowledge the soulful and heartfelt role that religion plays in people's lives.

I am not a Buddhist but I have found that I can learn a great deal from all religions, from any and all cultures.  At the base of most religions are very simple values: love, selflessness, service.  And in this case, mindfulness, another form of selflessness.

In the thralls of mindfulness one can part from their body and see the present situation almost as if from third person.  One can detach from the need to be right, or to feel wrong.  One can release the need to take the situation personal, and can breath and be present in the cortex before reacting; when mindful we can make decisions rather than react.

When I am effectively mindful I still feel emotions, I still have thoughts, but I do not get as caught up in them as when I am not mindful.  I can accept that they exist and I can let them be without having to identify myself with each thought and emotion.  I do not have to act until I am ready.  I can simply be.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Yelling, yelling, yelling - the middle way

We yell a lot in our family.  My papi yelled a lot.  I learned it from him.  To bottle my rage.  And mijos, you learn it from me.  Last week, while your mother was away, I had to apologize to you boys for my yelling, for my rage spilling over, for my low threshold and tolerance of your exuberance and silly playfulness.

I have been struggling with setting boundaries, with where to be firm, and where to be soft, and where to be permissive.  I need to stop yelling, to listen to each of you and your voice.  And most times your silly mode is acceptable.  But sometimes it is not.

To be silly and light hearted.  (I have written about this before, and pretty sure I will again).  I know that I will live a much more rewarding and longer life by softening my heart by embracing silly playfulness.

Keep in mind the middle way.  Let's consider the guitar and its strings as an example.  If I tighten the strings too tight, they will give off shrill sounds when played.  They will not last; they will be too brittle when plucked and eventually snap before their time.  If I loosen the strings too much, they will not produce a lasting sound at all and what they do produce will be low and garbled, clanging haphazardly against the body and neck of the guitar.  When I tune the guitar strings just right, in the middle, not loose and not tight, that is when they produce honey sweet sounds for our hearts and ears.  Keep in mind the middle way.