Tag Archives: mindfulness

What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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What the Monkey Would Have Missed

So. Sunday, and the great “social media sabbath” experiment.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs (*glares at husband*), I made it through Sunday without social media… almost completely. That is to say that from 9:00 Saturday evening until about 10:00 PM on Sunday, I sent exactly one work-related e-mail. We’ll come back to that.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. Going a day without being “connected” is probably a regular thing for a lot of you, but for me, it’s really not. I’m on Facebook doing word sprints with writer friends, taking part in discussions on group pages relating to my work or my husband’s, talking to friends through chat, tweeting amusing things (okay, I find them amusing), and scrolling any time I have a spare moment, just in case something interesting/amusing pops up. I’m reading posts on KBoards and learning from other people’s publishing experiences, or reading blogs to keep up with news and friends.

Actually, we should talk more about that some day, because that last habit has been helpful to me, and finding a balance will be interesting.

But today we’re going to look at what I gained from taking a day off.

I put my phone away on Saturday after supper. I did allow myself one quick check at nine, just in case any last-minute messages came in from friends (nope), but for the most part it was a quiet evening. Since it was a Saturday, the kids had no homework, and we hung out. Normally I would have had my phone and been looking at that from time to time. This time, I sat on the couch, and my six-year-old brushed my hair while he sang me the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Kind of nice to just be present for that.

On Sunday morning I did my 20 minutes of breathing, I had coffee, and I read a book. Not a whole book. I read another chapter or two of Mistborn, though, and it was good. I still got the urge to be distracted, and still wasn’t truly immersed in the story, but that’s totally my distracted brain’s fault. It turns out that Brandon Sanderson is, in fact, as amazing a writer as I had been led to believe. Though the length of the book still intimidates me (let’s just not discuss how messed up my reading attitudes and habits are right now, okay?), I started to relax and enjoy it. Progress!

After that I did some other reading for a friend, made notes and answered her questions, and fired those off without so much as glancing at other messages (really!). And while I was doing that, I focused on it, and I feel like I did a better and more insightful job because of it.

So the morning was pleasant, and reasonably quiet. Quiet as it can be with two kids running around (not to mention the dog wanting out, the cats needing the litter box cleaned out, the TV on, and someone playing something on the iPad), anyway.

I think I’d have gone a little crazy on Sunday if we’d been stuck at home all day. As it was, my husband was working and we needed groceries, so the kids and I headed out to the “big city” (45 minutes away) to take care of that.

We went to McDonald’s for lunch. I almost pulled my phone out while I was in line and waiting for the food to be ready. It’s a habit, right? But I went without, and it wasn’t at all painful. Good lesson.

Instead of using my phone while the kids went off to play after we ate, I read that book. A high stool in McDonald’s is not the most comfortable place to sit, but I read a few chapters, and the kids were happy to have extra time to play.

Grocery store, Walmart, dollar store, Tim Horton’s… Not to dazzle you all with the glamor of my lifestyle, but we made some stops. And then we came home.

I couldn’t work with the kids around. I’m not watching any TV shows right now that I could throw on while they were awake. Couldn’t sit and read blogs, or look at KBoards, because that would count as social media distractions under my rules.

So I listened to podcasts, and the house got cleaned.

It burns me to admit this, but with the phone and work put away, I found that I did, in fact, have time to do housework. I didn’t have an urgent chat going on that I had to stop to respond to. My hands weren’t busy typing. I didn’t feel like I was doing something important for my job by reading up on writing/publishing.

The house got tidied, the floors got washed, I threw in some laundry (not so unusual here– it NEVER STOPS), cleaned out the front hall closet and the messy corner in the dining room, and remembered to put a nice supper in the oven early enough that it was ready at supper time.

For the record, I would go bananas if this were my life every day. For that to happen, for me to even come close to approaching June Cleaverdom, I would have to stop writing.

The horror.

But I will grudgingly admit that laying off of the mindless distractions (and even the demonstrably valuable chats with friends who I love), as well as not working for one day, did give me some breathing space to focus on other things that I’d been meaning to do and never seemed to have time for.

What else would my monkey mind have missed if I’d been too distracted to just be present at home? A couple of rounds of Candy Land with the kids, which I actually focused on. More hair brushing and serenading. An evening of TV with my husband during which I didn’t pick up my phone once.

And a reasonable bedtime. Because guys, cleaning is exhausting.

I let myself check Facebook right before bed so that I wouldn’t be tempted to check it in the morning–I wanted to get straight to work as soon as the boys were out the door.

Know what I missed while I was away?

Two friends saying they hoped I was having a wonderful day and that we’d talk on Monday. A metric crap-ton of notifications, most of which were noise. One non-critical post about *mumble mumble*. Two notifications from people who thought I’d cheated when they saw a new post on my author page, and who were fully prepared to slap me for it.

I love my friends.

(But for the record, it was a scheduled post that I set up the night before, just to keep in touch. Ha HA! Don’t think I’ll bother with that again, though. I’d rather post when I’m around to respond to people’s lovely comments. I want to be authentic, not automated.)

Yes, I felt a little lonely without the people I’m used to chatting with every day. Yes, my brain had trouble focusing on just one thing at a time, and I itched to pick up the phone instead of washing the floors.

But I gained so much from taking a “social media sabbath.” I was more present with my kids and my husband. I got stuff done around the house that I don’t normally have time for. I was less tempted to try to get some work done, for some reason. I read a bit more than I normally would have. And miracle of miracles, I found that on Monday, I reached for my phone less. I focused on my work more. I was better able to separate computer/work time out from “taking care of the house” time.

That’s not to say I’m cured. But I’m definitely a work in progress.

 


Chill, Monkey Brain

 

Distraction.

We’ve talked about it here before, specifically in terms of me craving it. I can’t help it, you know? My brain doesn’t like to focus. Even when I’m working on something I’m excited about, it’s irresistably tempting to click over to Facebook every five minutes (no exaggeration), or to answer the ping of the e-mail notification just in case it’s a message that will grant me a hit of some feel-good brain chemical, or perhaps give me a novel (ha) distraction.

It’s not just a will-power issue, either. People joke about internet and social media addiction, but it’s not far off. I get anxious and irritable when I’m disconnected, even though I know on a rational level that I’m missing absolutely nothing of consequence.

Seriously, the pictures of my mom’s kitten can wait. He’s adorable… but will still be adorable after I finish working.

But even though giving in to temptation isn’t rewarding 99% of the time, I keep doing it, like it’s a compulsion. An addiction. I scroll through Facebook posts I’ve seen three times already, waiting to see whether something new will pop up. I read Cracked articles that are interesting or amusing, but make absolutely no difference to me in any practical way. My life is not better for looking.

It’s all distraction.

Well, I’m done complaining about it.

This morning I picked up a book called The Distraction Addiction [insert REALLY long subtitle here], by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. $14.99, more than I’ve ever spent on an e-book before, but as of 50% through the book, I think it was money well-spent.

It talks about a lot of things, in a semi-Gladwellian tone: Multitasking (good) vs. stitch-tasking (not at all good), the ways technology shapes culture, mindfulness, meditation, using technology instead of being used by it…

…and Monkey Brain.

From the introduction, emphasis mine:

The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of consciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

 

Sound like anyone you know? Not a flattering comparison, but an unfortunately accurate one for me.

So as I read, I’m making some decisions. I want to chill my monkey brain. I want to use social media as a tool, not let it capture more of my attention than is healthy.

I want to change the way my mind works, not just fight distraction.

I want to use e-mail as a way to communicate with people who are important to me, not as a means to be fed more distractions.

I want Facebook to allow me to catch up with everyone… maybe twice a day, not every five minutes or when I’m in line at the grocery store.

I want to focus on my work for hours at a time, not in ten-minute bursts.

It’s not going to be easy, but here’s the plan as I see it so far:

  • Remove Facebook app from my phone. I can still access it via the internet, but it’ll be a little more difficult, and I’ll have time to think about why I’m looking. (Also, I can access my pages here and messages without a separate app. HA.)
  • Turn off the WiFi when I’m working.
  • I’m going to *deep breaths* not check e-mails until lunch time, giving me a chance to work without being side-tracked before I even get started. And no Facebook before getting out of bed.
  • Turn off e-mail and WordPress notifications on my phone. I’ll respond to them, but on my time, not my phone’s.
  • Get up early every day and try meditation. I expect I’ll be horrible at it, but it sounds like even a little practice at it really helps calm the need for distraction and helps with focus on practical and creative tasks. Ding ding! Just what I need, and this might be the key to the whole problem. And wasn’t mindfulness one of my goals for this round of ROW80? Hmm.
  • Stop carrying the phone around the house with me.
  • Stop notifications on Facebook groups that are just distracting me or (occasionally) stressing me out.
  • Put the phone/computer away when I’m with my family… and take a full break from the internet on Sundays.

 

  • And… okay, this might take a while. I’m going to break my habit of checking for reviews on Amazon, and I’m going to not check sales numbers every day. I’m turning my focus back on the work, on bringing my visions to life and putting my stories out in the best way I can, and I’m going to try to let go of the world’s reactions to it.

Whew. That’s going to be rough.

That’s not to say I don’t care whether readers are happy. I do, and I love it when readers are happy. It’s kind of why I publish, and why I do silly things like having an editor. But I don’t think basing my mood or my self-esteem on how people feel about my work (a thing that is not me) is healthy. Sure, good reviews make me feel good, but I can’t accept that boost without also allowing bad ones to make me feel crappy. I’d rather have good feelings come from flow, from focusing on something challenging and overcoming those challenges, from creating something worthwhile and beautiful, and then letting it go.

And also, it’s just another distraction from my actual work and life.

Know what this means for you guys? Nothing, unless you care to join me.

Okay, that’s a lie. It might mean a few, hopefully interesting posts here on how things are going with this. It might mean less angst from me over not being able to focus for crap (YAY!).

It will mean that when you e-mail me with a question, or comment on a post here, or say something wicked on my Facebook page (I do love when you do those things), that it might be a few hours before I respond.

And I hope (God willing) that it will make me a happier, less-distracted, more productive person. I hope it will mean better blog posts and better stories for you all. I hope it will mean a nicer, more focused mom for my kids, and my husband getting a wife whose mind is actually in the same room as him.

Because I’m going to be the boss of my technological extensions*, not the other way around.

Big dreams.

Let the experiment begin.

 

—-

*You’ll have to read the book for more on that.


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