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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

  1. Presence: Awareness Times Infinity

    March 17, 2019 by Diane

    Over one-third of the way through the LIFE XT program, I failed.

    I had started the program with high hopes after reviewing the book it’s based on, and agreeing to dive in and record my progress on the suggestion of one of the readers of this blog. I started with meditation in week one, added exercise in week two, questioned stressful thoughts in week three, and embarked on week four with these instructions:

    Add Presence: Use showering as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire to Presence.

    To build a new habit, the authors suggest anchoring it to a cue. In a perfect world, you Notice the cue, Shift your awareness to the new habit, and Rewire your brain by allowing the experience to sink in. Do this 21 times, or whatever magic number it takes, and you’ve developed a new habit.

    The only problem: I couldn’t remember the cue.

    Every night as I showered, I sang with gusto. Or worked through plot flaws. Or edited blog posts in my head. The only thing I noticed was that it was bloody cold with the overhead fan on, and the water was too hot.

    I was not present.

    I was failing week four.

    Friday rolled around, and I took my lunch outside to a picnic table on a rare sunny afternoon. My mind journeyed back to a time before funeral parlors, when the body of a loved-one was embalmed in the kitchen, which is why kitchens in the early 1900s had a big drain in the floor. Not an appetizing thought, but I was sitting across from the history house at the museum which triggered the image, and my thinking would have continued in that vein if I hadn’t dropped a chunk of barbecued tempeh on the table, right in the path of an ant.

    The tempeh, from an ant’s perspective, was the dimension of a two-story building. The ant seemed confused at first, then interested, then excited in the way ants get when they’ve found the Mother Lode of sustenance, and after navigating around the base of the object, the little guy climbed up and over and down and around and hurried off to summon the troops.

    I picked up the tempeh to toss in the garbage, thinking how disappointed the troops would be when they arrived to find nothing but the lingering scent of barbecue and fermented tofu. Would they send stressful ant-thoughts to the scout, labeling him stupid-stupid? No. Ants don’t have the capacity to judge. Their brains are ant-sized. They would inspect the area throughly and then march onward, looking for food elsewhere.

    Watching that ant brought me back to the present moment. It’s probably why children spend hours hunkered down over an anthill. You can’t get more present than watching ants. Or being a three-year-old. I finished the rest of my lunch, feeling the warmth of the sun, appreciating the birdsong, admiring the dusty blue cowboy sky. Time expanded. My body relaxed.

    This is what it meant to take my meditation off the mat.

    I wondered: if being present felt so expansive, why did I spend so much time opting out instead of in?

    Three reasons came to mind.

    One: I was preparing for the future with what-ifs. As long as I explored every possibility, like the ant examining the cube of tempeh, I’d survive whatever came next. It was a form of magical thinking, believing I could prevent bad things from happening just by dwelling on them. That was the kind of trouble my human-sized brain got me into.

    Two: I was attempting to reclaim my past self with coulda-beens. I visualized where I’d be now if I’d acted differently then, even though what I knew then was a fraction of what I know now so my choices, good or bad, were based on limited experience and could not have been otherwise.

    Three: I was avoiding whatever might be lacking in my own life by focusing on things outside myself. Like whether The Bachelor would lose his virginity. And did anybody really care? Wasn’t Bachelor Nation tuning in to see if he’d crash and burn, along with the snippy women who fawned over him, so our own lives would look pretty close to perfect?

    I pondered that possibility—and the awful realization that I had referred to myself and Bachelor Nation in the same sentence—while showering. And then I remembered: oh yeah, this is my cue to Notice, Shift and Rewire to Presence.

    Which I did.


  2. Book Review: The Productivity Project

    July 9, 2017 by Diane

    The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and EnergyThe Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A guy takes a year off from work to experiment with ways to be more productive, but experimenting to the extreme. Like meditating for 35 hours a week. Or taking in no nourishment (because it’s too time-consuming!) other than a powdered drink called Soylent, which sounds like something made from humans, but isn’t. And isolating himself in a basement for 10 days. Is this guy a monk yearning for a cave? No. He’s Chris Bailey, and he’s come up with a whole new way of looking at time management, procrastination, and being more productive which, to my mind, is refreshing.

    For starters: evidently, it’s human nature to procrastinate. Chris looks at this bad habit as, basically, putting something off for your future self to deal with. Personally, I never thought of it that way. And he offers suggestions for connecting to that future self. Like a nifty website called FutureMe.org, where you can send yourself an email that arrives days, weeks, months, or years from today. How cool is that!?

    Time management gets a new spin with Chris, too. He talks about scheduling three things a day, releasing the unimportant, plowing through chores on a “Maintenance Day,” rather than getting sidetracked with them throughout the week, and working on projects in less time to force yourself to focus.

    To be productive, we need to manage more than our time. We need to harness our energy, too. We need to track our most energetic times of the day and schedule important tasks during those times, and unimportant tasks when we’re brain-dead (like at 3:00 in the afternoon). We need to eat, exercise, and sleep well, and Chris covers tips on how to do all three (which doesn’t involve Soylent).

    The third ingredient of productivity, along with managing time and energy, is managing attention. Here, Chris brings up the benefits of a meditation practice, and reassures the reader that meditation doesn’t require sitting in a lotus position for hours. He talks about working slowly and mindfully to work more deliberately, and introduces the twenty-second rule for avoiding distractions. He busts the myth that multi-tasking makes us more efficient, and hails the art of doing one thing at a time.

    This is the best book on productivity I’ve read, and I’ve read many. Not only does the author shine new light on the subject, but through his year-long experiment and the knowledge gained through interviewing productivity experts, he’s put together a program that’s imminently doable. As a bonus? He starts each chapter with an estimated reading time, down to the second. And it was spot-on, for me.


  3. Squirrels in the Doohickey

    March 12, 2017 by Diane

    A subscriber to this blog encouraged her fellow bloggers to repost the first piece they ever posted. (Yeah, you, Sarah Brentyn.) So without further ado, here is my first ever post, from way back in April of 2013. And for those of you who’ve followed this blog since its inception, you deserve a medal. (Yeah, you, auntie Joan.)

    old-fashioned-tv

    It all started with the radio.

    We were doing fine, dwelling in the same living space, enjoying the same music. A little country, a little classical, a whole lot of evening jazz. We were relaxing to Beethoven and cooling off to Chris Botti and singing along with Blake Shelton and then, when I wandered over to the Big Band station, the radio turned itself off. A little Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman….click. Every time.

    The TV got wind of this. The TV decided to do its own brand of censoring.

    When I first hooked up the television I had a smorgasbord of stations. I was hooked. It saw that I was hooked. It knew that I could be spending my time on more productive endeavors, like rewriting my novel. So it started eliminating the stations one by one until I was left with one station.

    One station that aired the original Star Trek series and the old Dick Van Dyke show.

    Night after night I watched Bones and Spock and Kirk “…boldly go where no man has gone before,” and then I watched Dick come home from the office in his suit and tie, tumble over the hassock and get the wind knocked out of him.

    I checked the connections.

    I jiggled the cord.

    I called the people who are dedicated to fixing these problems, and a man wearing a hard hat drove up in a white van.

    He strapped on his tool belt.

    He clanked through the neighbors’ back yard.

    He clattered up the telephone pole.

    Twenty minutes later he was unstrapping his tool belt, flinging it into the back of the van and telling me I’ve got squirrels in the doohickey.

    “They’re building condos up there,” he said. “Sharpening their teeth on the wires. AT and T will want to replace all those wires running to the house. You can spring this on your landlady now,” he said, “or wait.”

    I opted to wait.

    Because I knew, I knew it had nothing to do with the wires; it had to do with the fact that my radio and TV were in cahoots. They were trying to control me.

    Okay…this is dysfunctional thinking. This is the kind of logic Bones might manufacture. Luckily, I had a Spock-like rational self who pointed out that the sensible thing to do was replace the radio and deal with the faulty wiring. Luckier still, I had a wise self, a Zen-like Captain Kirk, who suggested that the radio and TV were doing me a favor. They were telling me to spend less time tuning into them, and more time tuning into myself.

    So I did the mindful thing.

    I turned off the television.

    I pulled out the meditation bench.

    I settled down and straightened up and focused on my breathing and two minutes later I was channel-surfing in my head, my thoughts scampering around like squirrels in a doohickey, and I found myself wondering, what’s next? Will the blender regurgitate my breakfast smoothie? Will the vacuum cleaner suck up my faux fur slippers?

    It could happen.