Musings

Brain Dump

What’s on my mind?

There’s a misconception that the practice of meditation involves clearing your mind of thoughts. There are amazing resources to learn all about it, but in short: the aim is to remain aware of thoughts as they come and go like clouds and not grab on to one and get lost in a train of thought.

Perhaps that’s not the best definition, but I think it explains how I’ve been this week. I used to meditate once a week at this place in Manhattan for about a year straight, and for whatever reason I lost the habit. Last Tuesday I returned and I’m already excited for next Tuesday’s sitting.

I’m definitely feeling more aware of so many thoughts passing by, but I’m very out of practice in letting them go. I feel some mental arms flailing around as I want to keep each one and nurture it into some nice, grand thought.

I heard something interested on a podcast recently about letting go of identifying with your thoughts. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, think of the House of Black & White where Arya is training to become “a girl” and lose her identity.
Jaqen-Hghar
A girl may think a thing, but Arya does not. If you have a blog, podcast, or just love to talk a lot, you might notice how the further you elaborate a thought, the more you’re trying to inject your identity into the idea as though it is your own. At least that’s the case for me.

Of course, a specific thought at a specific time can only happen inside your head, so in that regard you are the owner of the thought. The idea however is likely to be shared by thousands. There’s a point where I disagree with the above however: I think sharing ideas is the most important thing humans can do. We developed the ability to communicate and that’s probably our best attribute.

So, on a personal note, I hope to put things here in a spirit of sharing, not identifying or owning, or to be an expert or visionary, but for the sake of the same ideas that reside in so many others to light up and become connected; which is how great philosophies can be born. Also, fully knowing that all of this can happen without me entirely, but for my entertainment at least, I’d like to learn and to listen.

Now that the meta is taken care of…

Minimalism and Wabi-Sabi

I’ve been reading Kenya Hara, and John Maeda lately. I also started getting into Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts, which hasn’t expanded much of what I learned from his first book, but has definitely rekindled my interested in thinking of this aesthetic applied to digital interfaces.

Just yesterday I saw this beautiful phone interface designed by Kenya Hara, for an elderly population, but something that I would love to use!

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Now I have this crazy desire to make such an operating system in English, and include the sensibilities of Wabi-Sabi that I’m always talking about. I have no idea where to start in such an ambitious project and would probably need a whole design studio to be honest, but I think it’s going to be a fun concept to explore for myself.

Podcasting

For a guy that starts out a blog post about not identifying with thoughts, and letting them pass by, I’m really anxious to create more things. What can I say, humans are complicated.

I’ve had this idea for quite a while now, but I’ve set a deadline to complete a first episode by the end of January. The recording and editing will be done by then, and depending on the technicalities of publishing it, you may not see it until February.

In short, I’m trying this new style where I record a Voice Mail for a person, send it to that other person and wait for a response. With a few responses, or a few people, I hope to have something interesting that can be stitched together into a short episode.

This is inspired by old-timey hand written correspondence, but we’ll see how it really plays out. Recorded conversation is most interesting because it can have unexpected turns, and people can quickly adjust their stance on something and arrive at a natural conclusion. I’m afraid this won’t be as interesting to listen to, but I have a hunch that I could be different enough to still be interesting.

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Musings, writing

Thoughtsplosion

Having a thought explosion right now. Instead of shying away from it (as I wrote about before), I’m going to ramble on and see where it leads.

In no particular order

I really want my friend Mike to move to New York. After some thought, I realize that it’s ironic for me to hope that he takes on an “adventurous” move, when my selfish motivations are rooted in nostalgia for the place I have left. A genius friend once told me “people are places.” So when I say place, I think I really mean the group of people and things we did together. A geographic place is just a location.

I catch myself constantly trying to optimize my life. I recognize this is a cultural tendency (mostly American), but it’s hard to get my head out of it! Optimal=best, and optimizing is making better, right? I wrote before about feeling distracted, and noticing that my habits often have to do with escaping or occluding my own thoughts. I resolved to measure how often I do this mostly out of curiosity, but also in a hope to stop doing it as much. There’s nothing wrong with improving something, especially yourself, but now I’m wondering what’s behind that desire to improve? My background of Eastern Philosophy is poking at me from another direction, reminding me to “just be.” The core of Buddhist philosophy and some other eastern thinking is basically: we’re covering up the world around us with each thought, and we will continue to encounter unhappiness as long as we form expectations of how a thing (or yourself) should really be; to escape this, the best strategy is to calm yourself before acting or judging, and attempt to see a thing as it really is. I hinted at this in my rambling about emotions and taking a note of “I’m feeling emotion X” without claiming it as good or bad, just acknowledging the thought or feeling has value in itself. To cut this part short, maybe I shouldn’t stress so much optimizing myself or my life and spend a little more time observing it. You can see amazing things if you begin to learn how to observe.

Tangent example on the above:
With the help from some outside observations, I have a conflicting behavioral pattern where I tend to become very quiet and withdrawn in the face of conflict or difficulty expressing myself. Very recently at work for example, there are multiple people on my project that tend to talk over each other and as a group we re-visit the same topics ad nauseam. I only just realized today that it’s for this exact reason that I’ve felt very withdrawn from our meetings; physically I’ll sit or stand further away, and vocally I’m participating a lot less than I normally would. This is not a judgement against any of the individuals I’m working with – important to note – but merely an observation on my typical behavior within the right conditions. Now, I said that I’ve only realized this (many days into the project), so I am usually oblivious to this kind of self-awareness, but I feel so good knowing that about myself and hope to be better on top of recognizing some pre-conditioned behaviors while they arise. Lots of practice to be done there.

Another piece on my mind: dwelling and collecting.
That’s pretty vague, yes, but I think it’s the most basic way to break apart a couple of things I’m trying to resolve with myself.

Dwelling

Where and how do I want to live? Right now I can’t see myself leaving New York City any time soon because that’s also connected to my livelihood – mainly work – but I also have a lot of personal connections for once in my life. I had some close friends throughout college, of course, but college by its very nature is temporary, so I consider that location to be a phase in life, and keep my dearest friendships alive no matter where we end up. Then after college I moved to Barcelona where I found it very hard to build up a social circle (too long to get into now). New York is really the second place I’ve decided to “settle” as an adult, and the first that has been a success.

There are a few other cities, and even rural locations that I can imagine myself in, which I plan to revisit within a few years. For now, I’m also wondering about a more focused dilemma. How do I want to live? I like the apartment that my girlfriend and I have currently, but renting isn’t permanent. I wonder if I want something permanent. When I think about owning a house (or apartment), the actual reason is to have the freedom to install the appliances that I want, do some custom things with technology, and all these kinds of things I can’t really invest into a place if I have to return it in original condition at some point. So, I want more control, more liberty, more ownership. On the other hand, I’ve observed my personality to be quite nomadic, and as I just mentioned, I can picture myself in other cities or even a cute cabin on a mountain with a view (as long as there’s internet)! Buying property feels terribly permanent.

Tangent: Why am I so bad with committing to something? If you had to ask me to summarize my main belief about life it would be: Nothing is permanent. There are some aspects of life that I see expanding indefinitely into my future (my relationship with my girlfriend for example), but there are so many that will always have question marks hanging above them (job, dwelling, possessions, etc.). I don’t know how to resolve that.

Collecting

This is a much more brief issue, but I think it ties in to the question of where and how I want to live. Most of why I want more ownership or control of where I live is the freedom to choose what I “collect.” Meaning: what kind of light fixtures do I want; what kind of intelligent wireless locks, thermostats, and other smart things I might want? A lot of what’s driving my thinking behind Dwelling relates to all the Things I want in my life. Taking a step back on that… do I really need these things? Why do I feel like I need them? Quick answer: they are cool. Longer answer: discussion about materialism vs crafting your own space and making a home more of a sanctuary than a dwelling.

I haven’t listened to this podcast in a year (fixing that), but it was the best dose of mental health/exercise during a long commute. If you’re interested in a more distilled approach to some Buddhist philosophy (and you like podcasts) this is a great place to start: AudioDharma.

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Musings, writing

Thoughts are clouds

There was a really nice metaphor that I heard from a Buddhist teacher once. It sounds like one of those things that was passed down a chain of ‘telephone’ so who knows where it really comes from. Paraphrasing a bit: your thoughts are clouds, and like the weather, you cannot change them, but know that they will pass over; learn to observe them.

Learning to observe your thoughts is really challenging, but I find that I’m barely giving them room to exist lately. To stick with the cloud metaphor, I’ve just realized that I walk around with an umbrella of distractions. Learning to do nothing, to not escape from my own thoughts sounds like an interesting task. I’m not sure what I’ll find. So I’ve decided to task myself with keeping track of the parts of day that I’m tuning out (music, podcast, tv, reading, etc.) and parts of day that I’m not absorbing some kind of stimulus.

As I’ve learned from meditation, you can’t exactly set a goal and get there (anytime soon at least), but the attempt to observe something in yourself changes the very thing you observe. [I just saved you from a long tangent about Quantum Physics.]

Think of being afflicted excessive anger. Telling yourself to “stop being angry” won’t help much, but taking a mental note of “it feels like I’m getting angry again” each time you’re angry will reduce the length of that emotion and even the frequency that it bubbles up inside of you. I’m sure this maps well to some kind of behavioral therapy, but you get the idea.

So… my experiment: observe my distractions during one Saturday and one Monday (weekend and work days have different routines). Then lay this timeline out in some kind of visual and write another blog post postulating what all of this could mean.

Hey I really like endlessly scrolling through this blog of (micro)interaction GIFs, useryourinterface.

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benefits of mindfulness infographic
Source: healthcentral.com

Reblog

Mindfulness

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Musings

Once we have a firm practice of compassion our state of mind becomes stronger which leads to inner peace, giving rise to self-confidence, which reduces fear. This makes for constructive members of the community. Self-centredness on the other hand leads to distance, suspicion, mistrust and loneliness, with unhappiness as the result.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Compassion

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