8.17.2017

Respite

I took a little hiatus from studying for grad school today, other than a brief look at the section on Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM-5. Yep...the symptoms totally describe a certain occupant of the Executive Branch who shall remain unnamed. To a tee!

Harry Shearer dialogued with me personally on Twitter today. That guy is funny and sharp as a tack. I don't talk to celebrities directly that much, but he's a good one.

Today was a cool and rainy day on the lake. My folks split for Eau Claire for a few hours today, for doctors appointments. While they were gone, I vaccuumed the floors of the cottage, at my dad's request. The floors weren't that dirty, but we're having visitors this weekend. I get to see my beautiful wife Deborah too after a week apart, and our doggies. Her parents are coming up as well.

Tomorrow, the main attraction is my performance on rhythm guitar with YOUR MOM (the band) at Red's in Chetek WI. I spent some time rehearsing songs today and will give them a quick run through again tomorrow afternoon before I head down to the venue about 7 PM. I'm super solid on them. My folks are planning to spectate the show for at least a little while, and some of the band may stay overnight at the cabin so they don't have to drive back to Madison in the wee hours of pre-dawn (although, truth be told, in all honesty, I actually think that time of night is the best and only time to drive...the roads are deserted and there's a contemplative quietude about being on the open roads while the world slumbers).

I am feeling pretty strong on my schoolwork. The hard stuff starts tomorrow when I begin working on my written assignments due when classes start around August 24th. I am geeked to get into the hardcore learning, even though I am well aware that it will be intense. It's my path though. I know this deep in my heart, and passion is 85% of successful DOING. Exactly 85%. #Fact.

Off to bed.

Ciao.

In Meditation, Failing is Succeeding

I recommend daily meditation of 10-30 minutes to all of my lifestyle coaching clients, but interestingly, only a very small number of them commit to doing it semi-regularly, much less daily. When I ask them why they don't do it more often, I expect them to say things like "I don't have time," or "I don't have a quiet place to do it," or something along these lines. But that's hardly ever the response I get. The most common response is "I tried it a few times, but I kept failing at it" (this is a summarized aggregate response from several clients). Failing? When I ask them what they mean by failing, they say things like, "I can never seem to quiet my thoughts" or, "I can't stay focused on my breathing." I try to explain to them that this is not failure, it's actually success, or more precisely, any time you make time to attempt meditation, it's a success. It does not matter how busy or unfocused your mind is during meditation. It is the DOING that matters, or as Zen Buddhists say, the important thing is the PRACTICE of meditation (aka, DOING it). Failing at meditation is when you don't even try.

Here's the thing: You are supposed to fail at meditation, by design. That's actually kind of the whole point. It's an exercise (practice) of trying to be present and in the moment that has failure purposefully cooked right into it. You go into meditation with the goal of completely clearing your mind of extraneous thoughts while focusing on your breathing (or sometimes your five senses or even light music, but for beginners, breathing is the best thing to focus on). That's the goal, but reaching the goal does not define success. It is pretty much impossible to obtain and maintain that goal for the duration of your meditation. Everyone, I surmise, fails repeatedly to achieve this centered state continuously throughout a meditation (maybe there are Zen Buddhists somewhere who can clear their minds of all thought for 30 minutes, so I don't want to overstate the facts). The best you can hope for is to be aware (present) of when extraneous thoughts have wandered into your mind and then push them out by refocusing on your center (breath, senses, music, or whatever you have chosen to center on). That's the exercise...transcending your own thoughts so you can recenter on being in the present moment. However, many people, when they first start meditating, realize that their minds wander frequently and they view this as a failure and become discouraged. In fact, it is kind of paradoxical: The more frequently you notice your mind wandering and re-center it, the better you are at meditating, not worse.

I think this misunderstanding about meditation stems from Western culture's goal oriented collective mentality. Achieving the goal of a quiet mind, centered in the moment, is not the metric of successful meditation. It merely points you in the right direction. A good analogy is travel. When you take a trip to a cool, new place, your goal is not really just getting to the place...it's all the experiences you have during the trip. The journey, not the destination, is what matters. The destination just gives you a direction of travel, but the value lies in the act of traveling and experiencing new things. Similarly, the metric of meditation is not achieving "enlightenment" (the destination) but rather the process of trying to get there. With practice, over time, you become more attuned to your mental state and being able to quickly re-center in the moment. When I first sit or lie down to meditate, which I do almost every day, my mind is all over the place, thinking about my TO DO list, worrying about getting my school work done, thinking of things that happened yesterday or last week. I go into it knowing full well that there will be this onslaught of thoughts and I have to willfully direct my mind back to my center many times in a given meditation session. Wash, rinse, repeat. By the end of my 25 minute (usually) meditation, my mind is often still wandering some, but it is much more calm and centered as a result of the practice of meditation. That's success. The ability to re-center has practical applications in daily life too, allowing a person to better handle stress and anxiety by taking a couple deep breaths and re-centering on the fly.

So, to conclude, it is not deemed failure to be bad at meditation. Everyone is pretty bad at it, to varying degrees. Success is in the act of doing it and realizing how awful you are at being in the moment and calming your mind. Over time, you get a little better (rarely awesome) at it, which has mental health benefits in your daily life. True failure at meditation is not doing it at all.

8.16.2017

Prolific

When I'm up at the cabin, I'm far more prolific and productive. I write about twice as many blog posts and they are usually of higher quality as well, though that might be debatable. I also conquer a lot more reading material. I hypothesize that I have fewer distractions and less mental anxiety when I am up here. I wish I could channel that ability when I am at home. Sometimes I can, but I usually have to go to a neutral place like a coffee shoppe or library. In short, I need escapism to do deep work.

Speaking of escapism, in a little over a fortnight, I'll be hosting my annual Labor Day weekend bike ride, BIKE WITH JOE, up here. Everything is in place for the event. The only variable is weather. Most years we've lucked out. Occasionally it's stormy. Rarely it's cold and/or rainy. I'm ready for anything, but sunny and mild would be optimal.

I practiced guitar songs today, after meditating, in anticipation of Friday's show at Red's in Chetek WI with cover band YOUR MOM. I'll be singing a few numbers, including the Fountains of Wayne hit song "Stacy's Mom." I haven't played that tune in a while, so it was good to refresh it. I got through most of the first set of tunes and the "floaters" (songs we float into the set at random times by way of audibles). Most of them I knew well, but it never hurts to hone. I'll hit set two tomorrow and set three Friday before the show, unless I am feeling really ambitious and plow through everything tomorrow.

I am getting to the stage in my reading for grad school now where I need to start thinking about and completing the associated written assigments. I want to allow ample time to hit that before this weekend, when my lovely wife Deborah and her parents are coming up to visit for the weekend and I will have no personal time to sequester myself with school work. This is an issue I have when I'm at home, which is why I came up to the cabin this week for some focused deep work. I have been rocking it hard and hitting my goals, so I am feeling pretty fulfilled and accomplished at the moment. I know once I start classes, I will be humbled by the sheer intensity and volume of work, like having an information firehose inserted in my mouth and turned on, but for now I will wallow in the brief period of perceived contentedness.