Thursday, April 30, 2009

Water Meditation

I am a lake.

I sit here molding myself to my bed, adapting to every nook. Around me the birds are singing, animals running, and people striving everywhere, but I am calm, just sitting and existing.

A child comes, throwing pebbles out of curiosity. An adult, larger rocks in anger. They splash, create some ripples, but soon I am again at peace, having grown a little larger for having the rocks in my bed.

The wind blows, a mighty torrent, and my surface is rocked with turmoil. Life is like that sometimes. But underneath I am calm, tranquil, sitting in my bed, and sheltering the fish and other beings within my reach.

I am a lake.

Thank you to Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn for the meditation idea.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Improving Productivity beyond 1 Dish at a Time: Timeboxing

My wife and I discovered the 1 dish at a time trick for getting ourselves to do things a couple of years ago. Since then, I've worked at applying it to a number of areas in my life, and have gotten somewhat better (though far from perfect) at getting the dishes done, keeping up with mail, and making progress on some of my personal goals.

However, one thing that has continued to stump me is how to apply 1 dish at a time to things like getting myself to meditate regularly, write blog posts, or other things without an easily definable first step or chunk of work. Getting myself going in these areas seems to be much more of an act of will, as I don't have access to my usual trick of doing just one compact unit.

This morning, I was reading a personal development blog I've recently discovered by Steve Pavlina, and I think I've found the answer in what he calls timeboxing.
Timeboxing is a great way to deal with tasks where you’d otherwise procrastinate. With timeboxing you only commit to working on a task or project for a fixed length of time, normally 30-90 minutes. 10-15 minutes is perfectly acceptable.

Once you get past the first 15 minutes, you’ll often want to stick with the task. Timeboxing is a good way of coaxing yourself through the initial task resistance. You tell yourself, “It’s only 30 minutes. How bad could it be? I can handle anything for 30 minutes.” But then when you get through that first 30 minutes, it’s easy to keep going.

Like doing things one dish at a time, this technique works by making the cost of starting seem smaller ('It's only 30 minutes...') but then more often than not once you pass the activation energy you're ready to keep going. And just like doing things one dish at a time, its important to actually give yourself permission to stop if you don't feel like you're ready to keep going. If you don't do that, it won't actually be easier to get started because you'll know in the back of your head that you're going to have to make yourself keep going.

The great thing about timeboxing over doing the dishes is that it is much more flexible; it doesn't depend on picking out a unit that you're going to get done. This means that it's applicable to everything, including the areas that have been giving me problems. The downside is that it doesn't have as catchy of a name. :P Any ideas for a better one? If so, let me know in the comments!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The importance of starting where you are

Do you have any pieces of yourself you wish you could just hide under the bed? Habits or character traits that you'd like to get rid of and replace something better? I sure do. I'm terrified of heights, claustrophobic, not very disciplined, and often more proud than I'd like to admit. The pride in particular is something I'd like to be rid of. Humility is a very important quality to me, and I can often see the problems being insufficiently humble cause me.

In order to start working on fixing these things about myself, I need to fully accept that they are part of me. If that seems counterintuitive to you, you're not alone. While its pretty common in Buddhist literature, its a very strange viewpoint for most Americans, and I'm still coming to grips with it. I think this is an area where American culture has really hurt us. Accepting our negative pieces has been spun as a way to not work on them; similarly, if there are ugly pieces in ourselves we're supposed to paper over them and hide them away from ourselves and others. Does this make sense?

Other Disciplines

How would you react to an architect designing a building in San Francisco without putting in hours studying earthquakes and how to deal with them? Or a couch potato signing up for the Boston Marathon and giving himself a week to train? I would probably ridicule them! How can they expect to succeed without recognizing the realities of their situations and accounting for them?

And yet in our personal lives, we resist the idea that acknowledging our faults as parts of ourselves is a prerequisite for working on them. Admitting to faults is kind of like airing out dirty laundry. Nobody likes doing it, but doing so not only lets you get to work on washing it, but your house smells better too!

Start where you are

When you're building in San Francisco, you need to know a lot about earthquakes. Any work you put in before doing that research is liable to be wasted. You can't just visualize where you want to get to, you need to also know where you're starting.

Similarly, when trying to work on yourself, you need to have a firm grasp on where you're starting from. I can't really start working on humility until I fully acknowledge that I'm overly proud. Without doing that, I'll keep running in the wrong direction. When I started this post, I spent a long time agonizing over whether or not I should include pride on my list of things I dislike about myself. I was almost too proud to do it... until I realized the irony, laughed at my ego, and put it in.

That's who I am. I'm an acrophobic, claustrophobic, undisciplined, overly proud, and generally neurotic person. And all of that makes me... human. And ready to keep working on being who I am, and becoming who I want to be.

Note: I had the idea for this post after a comment discussion with Havi Brooks, who is one of the most eloquent writers in this area I've found. If you aren't already reading her blog, I highly recommend you check it out.

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Fighting my Internet Addiction

As I talked about yesterday, I recently decided to break a bad habit of spending hours reading political blogs. As this started to reveal to me the incredible amount of time I've been wasting online, I started working on trimming back other sources of unnecessary time.


I've never had good email hygiene. In fact, when I looked at my inbox yesterday morning I had 7153 unread messages. Most of those email messages I had skimmed the title, felt it was not worth my time, and let it drift back into the ether of my inbox, buried by incoming mail, while some smaller but still significant portion I missed completely and have never seen. I'd spent some time a few months ago creating filters to reduce the amount of stuff coming straight to my inbox, and have been mostly keeping up since, but in general it was still a mess.

Today my inbox looks like this:

I declared email bankruptcy. Conceding that I would never go through all of those emails, I glanced through the first page to make sure I didn't have any pending responses, and then archived everything. Luckily, since it's Gmail, they're still all searchable so if I need anything I'll be able to find it. I've also been going through and systematically unsubscribing to email lists that I don't get much value from.

What I didn't realize was how big of a difference having an empty inbox would make in the feel of checking email. It not only makes email seem less frantic and cluttered, but it makes it way easier to check quickly if there is anything new, and then go away again if there isn't. I don't know why, but it also seems to make the act of looking at and processing every incoming email immediately easier as well.

RSS Feeds

I've also been going through and removing some of the RSS feeds that I've gotten behind on. Certainly not all of them; there are feeds that I'm behind on that I love to read, and would by no means stop following. The criterion has become: Does the idea of reading all of these posts excite me or discourage me? If the answer is discourage, I'm getting past my aversion to getting rid of things and stopping following them.


Reducing the amount of time I need to keep up with my life online is really important for my trip to Guatemala, because we're not bringing laptops and will be completely dependent on Internet cafes for online access. Since I'm planning on trying to maintain this blog at roughly a post a day throughout that time, any extra time I can trim away is extremely valuable.

Longer term, I think that this sort of adjustment will be tremendously beneficial for my personal productivity and wellbeing. This morning, when I got up, I took 10 minutes to check my email and all of my RSS feeds. That process (when including the political blogs that I'm in the process of kicking entirely) used to take between 30 minutes and an hour! Since I do this roughly twice a day, and adding in all of the small time savings when checking email, no longer flipping to political blogs, etc, I'm saving somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of time a day!

This morning, this was actually a little uncomfortable! I had a moment of feeling something like "That's it? What do I do now?", but after a few minutes of unease I realized that this was now almost an entire hour extra that I could use for writing, thinking, meditating, or exercising at the beginning of my day. In other words, things that are actually productive rather than passive intakes of information. As my friend Brad recently wrote: Consume Less, Learn More, Create Most.

I'm not confident in my ability to stick to this reduced-information-consumption diet; as I mentioned, it's actually a pretty uncomfortable adjustment. Hopefully the shock therapy of having 3 months in Guatemala without an at-home internet connection will help me form the habit, and the increased productivity and free time will give me plenty of motivation to learn to adjust.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nine Ideas for Breaking Bad Habits

Do you have any bad habits you'd like to break? You know the ones, where you know you really shouldn't be doing it, but it feels good so you do it anyway. Or it doesn't even feel good, but you don't notice you're doing it until your fingernails are down to nubs, or you've just spent the last 5 hours watching YouTube clips.

I realized when reading a blog post about productivity-killing habits that one of my biggest unproductive time sucks is reading political blogs. With a lot of the blogs I read, I feel like I'm learning something useful, but while that may have been true once with political blogs, it no longer is. I read them now purely as a spectator sport, and it wastes a lot of time. I've decided to break the habit.

Breaking habits is hard! And like dealing with procrastination, it's less a matter of brute force than of figuring out the right tricks. Here are nine ideas I've come up with for trying to break bad habits.

  1. Notice and acknowledge that you have a bad habit.
  2. This is an important first step. Until I'd realized how much time I was spending reading things that add essentially no value to my life, I didn't even know there was something I'd want to stop.
  3. Don't blame yourself.
  4. If you blame yourself for your habit, failing to break it becomes a personal failure. This can be demoralizing, and lead to giving up after the first sign of a problem. Instead, give yourself permission to start where you are. Its okay to have bad habits; everyone does. Like everything else about being human, working with them is a gradual process replete with setbacks. That's okay.
  5. Start noticing when you're engaging in your habit.
  6. Trying to stop doing something is impossible if you don't even notice when you're doing it. Make a goal just to notice every time you're engaging in your habit. You don't have to try to stop yet, just noticing will be a big step forward. In my case, I already knew I read political blogs on my train rides, but what I've started to notice is how I flip to them all the time (similar to checking email), and how that shuts down my thinking.
  7. Quantify the short and long term consequences.
  8. Understanding both the positive and negative impacts the habit has can make it clearer both why you do it and why you want to stop. Biting nails is a great example of this. Short term, it feels satisfying and can reduce stress. However, longer term it makes you more likely to get sick, your hands look bad, and there's a lot of things you can't open.
  9. Change contexts.
  10. For many habits, there are external environmental cues that trigger them and can be removed or reduced to great effect. If you always read political blogs while sitting on the couch, go to a different room when you're working from home. Or if you always eat too much junk food when you watch football with your buddies, try inviting them to go hiking instead.
  11. Raise the barriers.
  12. Its a lot easier to exert will power to reduce your habit when you're energized and thinking about it than later when the urge strikes. If you have a bad habit of eating whole bags of potato chips, you can go a long way towards curing it by getting rid of potato chips in your household and not buying more. Then when you have the urge to munch, the barrier of having to go to the store will reduce your likelihood of giving in.
  13. Find alternatives.
  14. This is one of the classic ways of fighting a habit. Instead of eating chips, chew some gum. Instead of biting your nails, buy a toy to fiddle with. Yes, you need to be careful not to create a new bad habit in place of the old, but substituting in less problematic things for your habit is a good stepping point. For me, I'm trying to substitute for some of my blog reading with writing, and also reading a wider range of blogs that I find 'useful' instead of hopping over to the political sphere.
  15. Celebrate small victories.
  16. If you've been biting your nails for years, you shouldn't expect to be able to stop cold turkey. Instead, celebrate holding off an extra five minutes before lighting up, or reducing your daily quota each week. A great place to look for small victories is in some of the other ideas on this list. Still biting your fingers to nubs, but starting to notice more when you're doing it? Celebrate that! Don't wait for improvements in the habit itself, just paying attention and being motivated to work on it is a victory.
  17. Recruit friends and family.
  18. You don't have to go it alone. Especially in the early stages of habit-breaking when you don't even notice when you're doing it, having friends to help point it out can be extremely helpful. Later, when your energy starts to flag, they can encourage you and remind you why you're breaking the habit. The best thing is that they can help celebrate the victories; the more the merrier!

We'll see how it goes breaking my political blogs habit. I've been trying for the last three days or so, and while have been doing pretty well at avoiding them, I gave in a little yesterday morning. Do you have any other tricks I might try? Write them down in the comments!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Start Arbitrarily, Edit Relentlessly

Looking at a blank page, trying to figure out what to write on it has to be one of the most frustrating experiences in the world. When I can do anything at all, the most likely result is doing nothing. A dozen possibilities stream through my head, and none of them makes it onto the page. Trying to pick the best, I'm paralyzed and close the notebook.

Start Arbitrarily

I take a sip of my cappuccino, reopen the notebook, and write down a topic at random. A few words, a line or two... the pen picks up speed, and I'm off.

For many creative tasks, trying to optimize too much up front is not just doing more work than needed, it's actually inhibitory. Instead of trying to come up with the perfect idea ahead of time, I remind myself to just get started and get the thoughts moving. Don't worry about the quality of the writing; that comes later. Just go!

There's an activation energy to any activity, even one I enjoy. No matter how excited I am about writing, until the pen hits the paper there's still resistance. Once I've started, keeping going takes much less energy, and usually before long the ideas start pouring out.

Edit Relentlessly

Once I've got a lot of things written, now it's time to worry about quality. I try to not be afraid to change around something I've written, rewrite it completely, or even throw it away. As I work on something, I get more and more comfortable with it as I go. This is actually one of the reasons starting is hard: when I'm deciding what to write, I usually don't feel very confident about any of my possible subjects. By the time I've thrown away my first draft, I'm halfway to feeling like an expert.

This method for creative work is actually one of the core insights behind a programming methodology known as Agile Development. By planning less and focusing instead on making it easy to continually revise and iterate code, Agile developers not only end writing software faster but the result is often higher quality.

So the next time you've got a project where you don't know where to begin, try flipping a coin, or otherwise starting arbitrarily. Let me know how it goes!

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Friday, April 24, 2009

KBall's Second Law of Simplicity

Have you ever spent hours agonizing over which airplane ticket to buy, only to find when you finally decide that your first choice costs $100 more than when you started? How about spending days planning out exactly how you were going to explain yourself over the phone only to rediscover that sales reps don't need much explanation to sell you their product?

The first one is my wife; the second one is me. We each have our neuroses and places where we over-optimize, and thinking about them has led me to propose KBall's Second Law of Simplicity:

Good enough now is almost always better than perfect eventually.

Sometimes known as satisficing, this law indicates that in most circumstances, you're better off taking the first result that is good enough, instead of exhaustively trying to find the best answer. Instead of trying to perfectly optimize your layover while minimizing your cost, figure out the bounds of your comfort, and buy the first tickets that satisfy those restraints.

The inclusion of 'almost always' in the law probably clued you in that there are caveats.

  1. Some things it really matters to get right.
  2. When we were planning our wedding, we spent forever working on our wedding vows and trying to find the right readings. Those decisions were core to what we wanted out of our wedding, and coming back to them day after day was worth it. On the other hand, for decisions like which event rental company to use, where to hold the pre-wedding party, and what the text of the invitations would be, all that mattered was that the result was 'good enough'.
  3. Watch out for interactions with the first law.
  4. If you're buying stuff for your home, following the second law can lead to a build up of extra junk, because its simpler to buy another bookcase than to figure out which books you really need. The second law is most useful for things that are transitory, like airplane tickets, rather than things that are going to be more durable and lasting. In building a product, the same holds true. Some parts will be core to your product vision for years to come, while others cease to be important by the next meeting. Often, it's hard to tell in advance which is which. My rule of thumb is that unless you know something is going to be mission critical, build it first as simply as possible (satisficing), if comes up again try to make it a bit better, and on the third time take the time to rework it into a fully optimized and general solution.
Like the first law of simplicity, this is not something to follow unthinkingly, but rather a good thing to keep in mind against our natural tendency to over optimize.

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  • Thursday, April 23, 2009

    Bring me that horizon

    Thats what a ship is, you know. Its not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails... thats what a ship needs. But what a ship is ... is freedom. -Captain Jack Sparrow

    We bought backpacks yesterday. Real, heavy-duty, go camping with, can-carry-everything-we're-taking-to-Guatemala style backpacks. The ones we bought are large and sturdy enough to carry 30 pounds of stuff, but strap down small enough to be taken as carry-on when flying. They were pretty expensive, but as we were buying them, I started thinking about the implications, and got really excited.

    The next time someone invites us to go backpacking, the barriers to doing so will be so much smaller. Instead of having to figure out where to rent, borrow, or maybe buy a backpack, we'll have them already. We know they fit, and that they remain comfortable, and we'll already know how to pack them.

    Every time I go traveling in the future, instead of having to deal with an awkward and unwieldy suitcase, I'll be able to just pack up my backpack and carry everything on my back. This means that upon arrival I'll be less dependent on wheeled transport, less dependent on having a place immediately to drop off my bags, and more free to wing it and explore.


    I've been getting more and more interested in other cultures and history for several years now, but I've had difficulty actually getting myself to leave my comfort zone and travel abroad. You no longer need a ship to see the world, travelling to almost anywhere on earth now costs less than a year's savings.

    Unfortunately, there are still numerous barriers to the freedom of exploring it, most of them self imposed. My trip to Israel last summer (first international travel since I was leaving High School) started to break down the internal barriers, and as I've gotten more comfortable with our planned Guatemala trip I've also started daydreaming more and more about additional trips to locations around the globe. Owning a backpack is one more barrier down.

    We'll see how things go. I'm sure this trip will stretch me not only in the ways I'm anticipating, but in others I have yet to imagine. But I'm starting to lose more and more of my internally created barriers to freedom, and more and more eager to travel beyond my current horizons.

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    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Five tricks for jogging your productivity

    Ever had one of those days when you can't even get yourself out of bed? Where every time you try to do work, you end up checking your email? It's really easy to get sucked down into a spiral of less and less productivity. What's harder is how to get yourself out of it and going again. I used to think that this was a personality trait; I've always been a procrastinator, so it must be something inherent in me that I've got to learn a way around. More recently, however, I've started to think that procrastination is part of being human, and becoming more productive is less about changing your inclinations and more about learning a set of tricks. Here's a list of 5 tricks I've learned to help job productivity:
    1. One Dish at a Time
    2. One of the first tricks I learned (and wrote about) is the one dish at a time method. The name comes from doing dishes, and the trick is really about only committing to do one tiny thing. This makes it easier to do, but once you're started and have gotten past the inertia that was keeping you still, its usually easy to keep going.
    3. Go for a Walk
    4. Sometimes this is a long walk, especially if I've been feeling really stuck and it's nice out, but it can often be just a walk to the kitchen to boil water for tea. Somehow by getting up and moving, whatever sense of stuckness I'm feeling seems to drift away and be replaced with thoughts. By the time I get back, I'm activated and ready to make progress on whatever I'd been procrastinating.
    5. Do a Mind Map
    6. Mind Mapping is one of those techniques that seems a little silly in theory, but in practice makes a world of difference. Start by writing the topic you're thinking about in the middle of a big sheet of paper. Now start writing any fragment you can think of even vaguely connected to it, and connecting it. For each of these fragments, write down new fragments, and look for ways in which they connect. Don't worry if the first few things you jot down seem worthless or inane, keep going! Pretty soon you'll be generating new ideas, seeing new connections, and getting past your block. I've used these to get a better grasp on a subject area, to explore a new way of looking at an old idea, and to kickstart myself writing when I'm feeling uninspired.
    7. Switch to Editing
    8. Generating new content is hard. Really hard. Editing existing content, on the other hand, is much easier to do gradually and get going with. So you to write a new paper, and you don't know where to begin? Copy an old one and start hacking it apart. This trick works well for programming as well; cutting and pasting code is bad practice, but using existing code as a starting place and reference works strikingly well.
    9. Talk to a Friend
    10. Most programmers have experienced the embarrassment of spending hours debugging a particularly difficult problem, finally interrupting a coworker to get help, and in the midst of explaining suddenly seeing the solution, allowing your friend to walk away having helped you without saying a word. This has led to a form of debugging known as rubber-ducking... explaining the problem to a rubber ducky. This technique is useful not just for programming, but any time you're stuck on difficult problem. Havi Brooks, one of my favorite productivity bloggers, has taken this to an extreme. The power of relating why you're stuck to a second point of view, even imaginary, is not to be underestimated.
    None of these tricks works all of the time, but its rare that I by going through my series of tricks I can't get out of a funk. What tricks do you use to get yourself going? Let me know in the comments! Liked this? Looking for more like this? You might likeOr subscribe by RSS using the links on the right.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    KBall's First Law of Simplicity

    There's an asymmetry between simplicity and complexity. Simplicity seems easy, its straightforward to comprehend and interact with, but its devilishly hard to create. Complexity on the other hand, is hard, intimidating, and bogs you down to interact with. However, its incredibly easy to add to any process. Can't decide between feature a and feature b? Build both! That should resolve the problem... and yet... somehow the resulting product is worse than it was before, because it is more complex and harder to understand.

    This happens in everyday life as well. Packing stuff up to move has made it abundantly clear to me; stuff just kind of accumulates. Its wayyyy easier for me to buy a new book than to donate an old one (I might want to read it again!), and the same goes for clothing, gadgets, and a variety of other household items. Before you know it, you're bogged down in stuff and doing things like moving or packing up to go to Guatemala for 3 months are downright intimidating.

    This leads me to posit a rule which seems to apply to just about anything related to human behavior. KBall's First Law of Simplicity:

    Without outside influence, things always get more complex.

    Though the text of the law has no mention of simplicity, I named it as I did because I'm much more interested in how to make things simple than how to make them complex, and it has major implications for simplicity. If things naturally tend towards complexity, that means that not only is creating simplicity something that requires effort, but maintaining it is as well!

    When structuring your home, or considering a purchase, the idea of maintaining simplicity should be an active part of the decision making process. When making a life decision about what to study, where to live, or how to travel, simplicity should be something that is assigned a value and used when measuring tradeofs.

    Similarly, within a business organization, an advocate for simplicity is a crucial piece of the product making process. Such advocation is likely to be difficult: Its an unpopular position to advocate for cutting features, or not building them in the first place. However, without such a balance the first law will assert itself and the product will gradually come to resemble a hydra: multiheaded, difficult to maintain, and intimidating to those crucial new users/customers you are trying to attract.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    A travel philosophy

    One of my new favorite bloggers, Chris Guillebeau, posted a list of recommendations for international travel on Not all of the recommendations apply to our coming trip, but one that my wife and I really liked is to come up with a travel philosophy for our time in Guatemala.

    There's never enough time to do everything in any location, and while a 3 month stay makes it easier than a lightning vacation, its still a problem. It makes sense to figure out ahead of time what you really want out of the trip, and use that to guide you.

    So while we were running other errands trying to prepare, T and I talked out our priorities for our time in Guatemala; luckily we had a very similar set in mind.

    Our number one priority is to get to know the people and the culture. To get a feel for how people in this very different place view the world and live life. This was our big reason for choosing to go to one city and stay there for three months, rather than traveling through a number of places.

    Beyond this priority, we have a few others: improving our skills in Spanish, stretching ourselves by being outside of our comfort zones a little, and of course having fun!

    While we've both spent some time in Europe, and Israel, neither of us has been outside of the US for any length of time, especially not in a third world country. Living abroad for three months is a definite stretch, and I think that having decided to do it has already changed my perspective on traveling and living simply. I am looking forward a lot to the experience.

    One final thing that doing this exercise made clear: While Guatemala has amazing Mayan temples, incredible volcanos and hotsprings, and some fascinating jungles, pushing to see all of them is not a priority for us. I certainly hope we'll have the chance to see some, but if we don't I won't be too disappointed. We'll have another chance, and for this trip the focus is on living in Xela, not in touring Guatemala.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Hard meditation days

    Some days its really hard to meditate. Days like today when my mind jumps like a frog in a griddle from subject to subject, planning this or worrying about that. Its all I can do to sit still and focus on my breathing.

    What happens if my big project at work doesn't pan out? We're having problems with some of the open source tools we've built it on, and I'm leaving so soon...

    Focus on the out breath.

    What if I wrote a bunch of blog posts today so when I'm feeling less energy, I can get away without writing at all?

    Breath in, breath out.

    How can I bottle all of this energy up and let it out some other time when I need it?

    Focus on the out breath.

    Breath out...

    Breath out...

    Nonstriving is the hardest part of meditation for me. Not trying to achieve anything, accepting days like today as just as valid as the days that feel successful, where I could sit forever just being, and where I spend the rest of the day feeling what my wife calls 'blissed out'.

    That probably makes nonstriving the most important part of meditation for me. Reminding myself that not everything I do has to be part of a plan, or progress towards a goal, or building something. Some things can just be.

    Thus I can practice meditation as a way to learn how to do things without always needing reasons or goals. Ironic, no? One of my reasons for meditating is to learn how to not always need reasons for doing things. I guess I still need practice.

    Transitions and Groundlessness

    My wife T and I are in the process of packing up our entire apartment in preparation for 3 months in Guatemala, followed by moving to San Diego. T is starting graduate school in the fall, and we decided to take the transition as an opportunity to live abroad for a while. We'll be in the city of Quetzaltenango (commonly known as Xela), first taking language classes and then volunteering with a women and children's shelter.

    Thus, for the month of April, I am working only two days a week, and we're going through everything in our household deciding whether to put it into a storage box or a donation box. This has me feeling somewhat groundless, and as I tend to whenever I'm at loose ends, I'm now thinking about all of the various business and nonprofit ideas I'd like to try starting. The problem with this is that most of them are programming related, and we're about to spend 3 months in a 3rd world country with intermittent internet access and no computers of our own. This makes it slightly less than the ideal time to start a web business or major project.

    It is a relief, though, that the burned out feeling where I was no longer having energy for my own side projects, thinking about startup ideas, or writing is starting to go away. It turns out working 9+ hours a day at a startup, commuting 3 hours a day on public transit, and trying to plan a wedding and a trip to Guatemala all at once reduces my ability for spontaneous creativity. With the commuting and working happening only twice a week, the wedding behind us (it went wonderfully!), and the trip close to happening, now I'm itching to start working on new projects.

    The one thing I think I can start now that I should be able to keep going is regular blogging. Quetzaltenango has a fairly good supply of internet cafes, so while I won't have a development environment for programming projects, I should be able to regularly check email and blog.

    I'll use this extra time and pent up energy as an opportunity to start a habit of blogging, so check in regularly (or subscribe using the links on the left) for updates on life in Guatemala, musings on productivity, mindfulness, and other random thoughts.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    The domains of head and heart

    As I ride the BART in to work, I feel like I am transiting from the domain of heart to the domain of head.

    At home, I have been learning to sit, to breath, to live, and to love in the moment. I have been practicing patience, appreciating the world as it is right now, breathing in the scent of the flowers in spring, the sounds of music, and the endless moments of now.

    At work, I reside primarily in my head. This is the domain of solving problems, where we are creating the world as we would would have it. We continuously construct the future, thought by thought and line by line. Instead of casually passing across the surface of experience, thoughts are the edifice of our day to day.

    I am happy in both places, but to date they feel like two parts of me, not yetknowing how to coexist, and each somewhat fearful of the other. The train ride between has become a time of uncertainty and transition, with the domain of heart resisting and the domain of head eagerly pressing forward.

    At least now I am aware of both, and perhaps by noticing them together they will begin to learn about each other and make peace.

    Saturday, April 11, 2009

    Waiting for the Train

    From under the overhang
    of the space-age dome
    of the Millbrae BART station

    which some days seems so ordinary
    so every day
    so normal
    but today seems like
    something out of a science fiction novel

    From under that overhang
    I sit here

    listening for the screeching
    of the train
    and hearing only the rattle
    of the escalator, the whirring
    of the air vents, the whine
    of the lights, and the chattering
    of the voices behind me.

    The clouds continue their
    majestic march
    across the sky as I sit here,
    waiting for the 7:54 southbound
    that is just arriving.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    Barting to my last day at work

    I sit here
    watching a year of frozen moments
    every day the same
    every day unique.

    The abuelita sitting sideways
    is knitting a story about
    the young couple caressing
    in the middle seats.

    There is a girl looking sad
    just like every day
    one more soul pondering
    what has been lost.

    Today is like every day
    lasting forever
    yet ending before I
    know it has begun.

    Like life, like love,
    like working in Berkeley.