I was sitting in a cafe yesterday writing in my handwritten journal, having dumped coffee on it 10 minutes earlier in my haste to start eating my breakfast.
The older man asked me, “are you a dedicated journalist?”
I responded, “I do enjoy writing. And I do it every day, or nearly so.”
“Wow,” he said, “I write often but sometimes not for months.”
Then he told me a story of some notes he’d taken last November while his wife was sick and in the hospital for 2 weeks with a mysterious illness. She asked him to record some of the things that happened, and the symptoms. He said it was hard to go back and write that up, even though he had a lot of notes.
I commented on writing about times that are difficult in our lives. It can be difficult, when the event or period was emotionally charged in some way. It requires us to relive that time, and sometimes we re-experience those emotions. But at the same time the writing is therapeutic, and it releases something, like therapy when the story is told and “witnessed” by ourselves or a compassionate person.
We talked for a couple minutes and he apologized for the interruption but I went back to think about his question, “are you a dedicated journalist?”
I love the act of writing, so much so that I lose myself in it at times.
It occurs to me that Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert have written about this concept at times, the sad fact that we only value things that we get paid for in this society.
But some of us create art, writing, music, poetry because we must. Not because we expect to get paid. I mean, certainly making a living is important. In fact, I need to dig up some consulting work in the next couple of months or I’ll be looking for a “regular” job again. But sometimes we must release something in us onto a page. Brene Brown said once in the Magic Lessons podcast “unused creativity metastasizes.” I believe it.
Maybe I’ll add “dedicated journalist” to my Linked In profile and see what comes of it.
It seems a bit strange but I noticed last week that my overall views of my blog plummeted rather precipitously and suddenly around August 11th after some steady climbing in the last few weeks. At first I did not take it too hard – people are on summer vacations, after all. They have important things to do, and since I write for myself, I did not worry about it.
Then I thought: is this related to the policy change on Facebook, where there is no longer auto-posting enabled for our blog posts?
Being the stats-oriented person that I am and curious about this change, I opted to do a little research on this issue. I looked as the “referrers” to the page and realized that the number coming from FB is actually quite a bit smaller than from WordPress.
I also realize that when I am around more (and not traveling) I like to engage in more reading and commenting on others’ blogs. This is great for connecting with others with whom we share interests and passions. It also helps us discover new sources of knowledge and writers we respect.
I discovered that when I write short and concise pieces (less than 500 words), I get more views and likes. This is obviously related to our short attention spans and our expectation that blogs are short and to the point. It is part of this medium that we do not want to spend large amounts of time on any one “read.” I get that.
I know there are algorithms used by various sites in order to “serve up” content based on search terms and other sophisticated uses of SEO. So I am patiently deciding whether to put any thought into this, or just to let go. It may be that I discontinued the WordAds for a few weeks as an experiment. Maybe that affects view stats as well.
Seasons change, and priorities change. I love this medium for helping me hone the discipline to produce writing regularly, quickly and efficiently. And I love the connections I have made here and the community I have found. I shall let go of any “ego trip” around this blog and let it be what it is.
To those of you who comment regularly, thanks so much! You keep me motivated, and I am grateful for your support of my work.
This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.
I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”
I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.
Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.
I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.
This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.
What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.
I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young. It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.
As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.
During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.
After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.
It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us?
I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.
I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.
Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.
What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.
I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).
I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.
When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.
There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.
As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.
What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?
This question can strike fear into the hearts of some people. If it has been some time since you experienced either spontaneous or cultivated joy, you may feel scarcity or grief.
If you have been living someone else’s idea of a “good life” but not your own, you probably feel a lack of joy. Or if things seem to be not going as planned in your life, and you feel a sense of numbness or sadness, joy seems far away. You may be like a poor kid looking through the windows of the candy store, knowing that joy exists (not in the form of candy, actually) but believing you cannot have it.
However, joy can be a daily practice as much as a feeling or an experience. I first learned about this from Martha Beck in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I pulled out her book from my shelves last summer and started cultivating joy more intentionally when I realized my work life was no longer bringing me joy. For years, it had provided me with growth, challenge and satisfaction.
Then it seemed the minor annoyances I was tolerating started to grow into major annoyances. The bureaucrazy (yes, this is Freudian slip, and also deliberate) felt more overwhelming. On balance, the joy did not outweigh the suffering anymore. I no longer felt I belonged in that place, in that position.
I started finding joy in doing art projects at home, meditating, writing, doing yoga, reading books, and listening to podcasts that fed my brain new ideas. I started taking more joy in my relationship, planning my wedding (which took place last September). Instead of working late, I left the office early, enjoyed evenings on the patio, which is quite lovely in Minnesota this time of year.
My focus on finding and appreciating joy daily led me to the place where I am now. I feel healthy and more balanced than I have in years. My sleep has improved considerably, with much less insomnia than before. My eating habits have improved, and I struggle less with fighting cravings for sugar and junk food. Those things had been a “buffer” to my feelings and did not allow for me to sit with the reality of the change my soul was calling forth.
Joy is always not in the big, bright moments of happiness. These can be a part of a joyful life. However, it is often in the small, quiet moments of gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. Joy exists in moments of internal peace and in finding our center. Sometimes there is suffering embedded in joy, and it is an almost bittersweet experience. I would not trade it for any material thing.
For the last couple of days I had the privilege to observe a “culture transformation” facilitation 2-day session with a colleague who is a professional consultant. It was an intense but productive couple of days. In my usual fashion, I am still processing internally the lessons I observed about the group and about myself.
This was unlike other sessions I have personally conducted, but many of the issues were similar. My goal was to learn as much as possible, be of help when I could to the facilitator, and consider how I may apply these lessons to my future work.
I realized during the process that I would have to lean into my discomfort, meeting 15 leaders of R&D and business cross-functional partners gathered for this meeting. Only 1 of the leaders was a woman, along with the admin and the HR director, and the rest were men. (With the facilitator and myself, there were 5 women total, less than a third of the room).
The first day I was a bit overwhelmed by it, actually. I pick up on the emotional states of others quite easily, and it felt like my empathy channels were flooded with input. By the end of the day, though I was invited to the happy hour and dinner that followed, I was desperately in need of a break from the action to quiet my mind. Fortunately I had this, about 40 minutes between others leaving the room, and joining them for the informal portion of that day’s events.
It reminded me of how I typically feel after attending one of my own team meetings where I am fully engaged and “on” the whole day. But since Latin America teams rarely re-convene before 7 or 8pm to have dinner, the break in between is typically longer. Usually that has meant I sacrifice sleep, since we return to the hotel around 11 and it takes me an hour or two to calm my jangled nervous system after all the people interaction.
As a morning person, I seldom sleep past 5am, so a 3-day meeting leaves me exhausted and depleted, even if it was a productive event. So I plan for this, and I ensure that before and after these meetings, I have plenty of solitude, writing time, meditation. I go on walks, do yoga, sit with my cat on my lap when possible, and allow for the impressions to seep and filter into consciousness.
Leaning into discomfort is possible because I know myself. I realize it does not indicate anything has gone wrong. These preferences may be hard-wired or habitual, and I am aware of when I must step into it. The observations of interactions between people fascinate me, and this particular group had a few real characters. The “lab” of human interaction is at play, and while it can be challenging, my curiosity typically redeems the discomfort involved.
I typically enjoy interactions 1:1 with people and in small groups, where I feel I am able to focus my sensory “data collection” if you will. I am curious about how my comfort level may evolve over time and with practice. Right now I am allowing for the learning, as challenging as it is, and being patient with my discomfort. It is all part of the growth process, and for that I am grateful.
It is not easy for me to cut back on this blog. I tried it before: taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off so I can focus on some other projects. But I enjoy writing my daily post, and it can give me an energy boost to spend 30 minutes writing in the morning before I move on to the other business of the day.
Now I am setting my sights toward working on a new professional endeavor, so I will have to honor this commitment to myself. How strange that it is a commitment NOT to post a couple of days a week rather than the opposite.
When I started this blog back in September, I had no intention of posting daily. In October I challenged myself to see what I could do, if a daily post were possible for a month. It turned out to be 6 months of daily posts before I first tried to cut back. Now I have a long list of topics I want to write about. It has been hard to limit myself to daily. I will be up to 300 posts by the end of July. I find no shortage of topics on which I want to write.
As someone who is mastering her struggle with attention, I have many interests that cross fields. I am in a constant thirst for new information, new ways to think about problems, ways to feed my creativity. I believe focus can and is important at certain times. But I can also pair myself with others who have this focus, and allow my associative, creative mind out to play more often.
I used to wish I had more focus, wish my mind were easier to “discipline” and could be more concrete, sequential. At times this is useful. But I have many people around me who are really good at concrete, sequential tasks. Might it be better for me to partner with their great gifts and strengths while fully exploring my own?
True, I am cultivating my focus through meditation daily, and this helps greatly in my ability to single-task more work-wise. I turn off social media, and minimize the distractions. Thus I am able to finish things more quickly. But most of that advice is directed toward more “neuro-typical” people, and my brain is not wired that way.
Sometimes in total silence it is difficult for me to work. I actually have MORE internal thought distractions when it is too quiet. Music playing in the background can help, or even going to a coffee shop with a little quiet conversation around me can help. I often get quality work done on airplanes despite the distraction of food service every two hours.
A.D.D. is more about variable focus, which is why it is a misnomer. When something fascinates me I can literally spend hours focused, forgetting to eat meals, get dressed for work, etc. I have all kinds of little alarms and reminders to help me get to work on time, get to yoga class, and generally do what life requires.
So I will try gradually cutting back on this blog, taking Thursdays off. Maybe I’ll do a “throwback Thursday” and revise some earlier posts. I want to submit more writing to magazines and journals. So maybe I’ll take my “B minus” versions and polish them up a bit for fun.
I write this blog to discover: What do I love? What do I most care about? How can I share and connect with others during the process?
When was the last time you took yourself truly “off the grid”?
This means: no computer, no internet, no phone. Just fresh air, big sky, and lovely space all around you?
Remember when phones used to be objects mounted on a wall of our house somewhere? When they didn’t constantly go everywhere that you do, like digital leashes?
I do. But for the 16-18 years (?) I have carried a mobile phone with me. It has become indispensable. I sometimes ask: What did people do before having cell phones? Where did they get their information before Google?
Sometimes it is good for us to allow our minds a little boredom, a break from the constant stimulation. This Wednesday, I am recommending you try that, for 12 hours or maybe 24 hours if you are really brave. Power it all off. If your work is dependent on being online, you may have to save this for a weekend.
Then: observe what happens to your thinking, your emotions, your conversations.
Phone addiction is a real thing. It works on a principle called intermittent reinforcement. You may not even realize how those little pings and dings affect you until you turn them all off.
But it can be cured. The answer is to go without, and to have regular breaks from all of that stimulation. In the same way most of us get a 11-12 hour fast each night after dinner and before breakfast, we can “fast” from technology. And it has distinct benefits for your concentration, energy and relationships.
I encourage you to give it a try. While I am on my break this week, I am trying it as well. Given that my favorite meditation app is on my phone, this is tricky. But I can always record my meditations in my trusty little notebook, pen and paper old-fashioned style, and then log the sessions later.
Please let me know if you try this and what you discover in the comments.