Could It Be That Simple?

Three days have elapsed, and I went to bed when I was tired without much fuss or friction. Why did I ever make a problem out of going to bed? Could the tentative experience of observing what was going on in mind when I was on the point to go to bed have worked so readily?

It is, of course too early to say, but let me share two patterns I have observed. The primary one is that before going to bed, I have a strong feeling that something is missing and I have a strong draw to seek the comfort of social interaction. Probably related, the second pattern is that I am attracted to the dopamine boosts provided by the virtual world of social networks or online entertainment. Lastly, there is the feeling that I have not managed to do enough during the day and that I would feel much better if I could cross an extra item from my to-do list.

On Friday, my partner wanted to watch a drama episode of a series that we have started following – something we enjoy doing together. Even though I had not moved much during the day, I was already tired and was apprehensive that it might stimulate me and give me a second wind. I know that sometimes watching a film or TV programme before going to bed switches my thinking on! But I decided to go with it and remained curious to see what would happen if I was more conscious about the process. Once the show was over, I took a cold shower and did not think about the show I had just seen. I went to bed at around ten o’clock but tossed for a little while. After resisting the urge to get up, I somehow found a balance between observing what was happening in my head and letting go of the day.

On Saturday, something similar happened. I had a conference call which I was committed to attending. Because of different time zones, the call went on until quarter past ten, and I was anxious that it would interfere with my experiment. I relaxed into the call and stayed tune to my body – I could have left the call before the end, but chose to finish with everyone else. Once the meeting was over, I went to bed pretty much straight away – without taking a cold shower this time. I fell asleep quite soon after hitting the pillow.

Was it just luck? The critical step has been to ignore the draw for mind stimulation, to listen instead to my body and to retire quite quickly when I felt ripe for bed. Not sure if I have gained new insights about how my mind works – but I may have dislodged a problem I had built over many years about not going to bed when I was tired.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Cris Saur

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Three Days to Drop A Habit


Ok, I am giving myself three days to drop a simple habit.

Why three days, you may ask? Well, because it is a piece of homework I was given when I was fourteen and I never really acted upon it. The teacher in question was J. Krishnamurti.

When I was a student at Brockwood Park in the eighties, we would meet with him quite regularly in September, February, and June, and on one of these occasions, he set us some homework! That day, he was speaking about habits and suggested that we could understand how minds work by actively dropping a habit.

It did not matter what habit we chose to drop; the important thing was to observe the workings of the mind seriously. What was most surprising is that he specifically mentioned that one could lose a habit in three days. This was unusual for him, as he rarely ever gave specific advice.

It was a long time ago and, if I remember correctly, he instructed us that the first day we needed to carefully observe the habit without any interference. The second day, we needed to observe what would happen if we stopped performing the habit and notice the movements of thought, the sensations in the body, the resistance, etc. On the third day, we could let go of it entirely and wave it goodbye.

I could not really come up with a habit at the time, and it seemed a little magical, so I ignored the exercise and never really gave it a go. 

Today, some thirty-four years later, I decided to act upon it and give myself three days to drop one habit. The habit I chose to work on is NOT GOING TO BED WHEN I FEEL TIRED. It is a habit I have been struggling with since I was a child. I have tried so many things to encourage myself to go to bed early over the years that I have nearly given up on it. Yet, I have nothing to lose and intend to focus on it diligently for the next few days and use this writing challenge to write a little about the process in the next three days.

Finally, it would be nice if you could join me with the challenge or attempt to drop a habit or your own – in three days!

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Darius Bashar

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Succinctly

To be succinct, takes time for the writer, but saves time for the reader. The exercise now is to reduce, behind the scene, the time it takes to compose succinctly. 
(2 mins)

This series of short posts are part of Incrementally – a 366 day writing challenge.

Photo by Josh Applegate 

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51st Revolution

Having completed my fiftieth revolution around the sun, I have decided to recommit to daily incremental writing. Today I am writing for just one minute, tomorrow for two, then three, and so on.

Sundays, I will lay fallow.

By next August, as I follow this challenge through, I will be writing an average of four hours a day – by then, I hope that stringing words together meaningfully will become a more flowing skill.

Day One:
The only viable evolution is the inner revolution – let writing be another doorway to self-knowledge and insight sharing.

To read all the entries check out: incrementally
(as the challenge unfolds)

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Begin Fearlessly

Can one have commitment and freedom at the same time?
This is what I am going to explore during the next six weeks.

On one hand, I am committing to complete two specific challenges. On the other, I want to investigate the more subtle relationship between doing and being. In other words, I am going to focus on the quality of the journey with a playful, fearless, carefree approach while keeping an eye on the final destination.

The first challenge I have set myself is to finish developing – an 8-week course in Yoga, breath work & health awareness that I am planning to run in the New Year. The second,  is to write a short blog post everyday  to document the learning that comes from consciously exploring fearlessness while moving out of my comfort zone.

Now that I have set this intention, the aim is to enjoy the process form moment to moment regardless of what comes my way. Today is a little special in that it is the very beginning and things have the quality of an exciting engagement – everything seems new and there is clarity. Showing up everyday without judgement is possibly the surest way to make progress, but above all it is essential: to begin.

Let me finish with a quote which is widely misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe but is in fact extracted from W. H. Murray’s book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951) [4]

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

(The “couplet” referred to here is from an extremely loose translation of Goethe’s Faust lines 214-30 made by John Anster in 1835)[5]

Learning about fearlessness, commitment and freedom is what seems to matter most to me now. Therefore, I am beginning the process of facing it head-on with a playful and effortless attitude.

L.

Photo: Matt Duncan

PS: I invite you to do the same, find out what currently matters most to you and begin playfully and fearlessly to do something about it.

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Write the Change

Writing can be transformative. The core intention of writing on Breangelo.net is to explore what helps us “Breathe the change we want to see in the world”.

This blog started two and a half years ago with a seven-week writing challenge and, after a few months of regular posting, it petered out. Writing came to a stand still after a powerful ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in  December 2016. It is not often that one gets radical insights and sometimes these can be derailing. Two year later, after an enriching fallow stretch, where I have been mostly writing by hand in diaries, there is a wish to share some of these insights on this pratform. Three themes thread them together:

  • everything is in constant flux,
  • important changes have to come from within before they can manifest externally
  • and thought is at the core of almost everything we struggle with.

Writing is a special mirror that can uncover our understanding and help us grow. Stay tuned if, like me, you are interested in discovering more meaningful ways to challenge yourself and contribute to making our earth great again.

This quote by the 13th-century poet, Rumi, particularly resonates with the current phase of enquiry :

“Yesterday I was clever,
so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The intention is there, now let us write the change…

Breathfully yours,

L*

 

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If only I could have more time

More time

Today, almost symbolically, I am writing by hand. Gandhi is remembered to have once said: “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.” By taking the time to redraft this post with my ink pen on paper (and having to type it up later) I am becoming more aware of my thoughts and it is forcing me to slow down. I would prefer being outside in the sun, but I am trying to catch up. It has been nearly ten days since I last posted something on this blog and although it is a tiny thing in the scheme of things- it feels like I am carrying a burden on my shoulders.

This, historically, seems to be my relationship to writing. Ever since I can remember, writing has been a slow, time-consuming, process for me. At school, it took me a long time to learn how to form my letters, and I remember always being the last one to finish whenever we were asked to write down something. Having a tendency towards perfectionism did not help; so I would continue writing while the other children would go to the playground. When we stopped simply to copy from the board or a book and had to write from our imagination things became ever more complicated for me. Spelling, grammar, logic and having to filter all the different ideas that came to me, not to mention having to ignore all the possible distractions of the world around me, was a painful process.

Lastly, when writing felt too agonizing, I would ask my teacher for an extension: “Can I finish this at home” and this made matters even worse. This pattern carried on throughout my studies and even in the workplace, where I would constantly be battling with deadlines when it came to writing essays, reports, thesis and even minutes of meetings.

Although they are related, there are two separate issues: firstly, the challenge of writing something of quality and secondly, the tendency to think that having more time would help me.

The first issue is by far the most difficult to address. The search for excellence is commendable, but it can be gruelling. Usually, the more time and energy one puts into a piece of work the better it ends up being. Then, once one has raised the bar, it is hard to live up to it. Perseverance and grit are required. Finally, as the adage goes: “Practice makes perfect”. However, I have also learned that: “perfectionism kills practice! Like with everything else, one needs to find balance.

The second issue is the one that I need to dismantle, for extensions have always made the matter worse. There is a strange psychological process that happens when we pass a deadline: it is like being both a dead man walking and a hero at the same time. A part of us feels like we have failed, and another part feels that the assignment now needs to be even better, and both feelings make continuing more difficult. In the end, it is so much better to stick to deadlines and hand in or send the work even if it not to our liking.

The 42-day writing challenge was great because it forced me to face these two issues on a daily basis. But now that it has stopped I feel so tempted to revert to the “if only I had more time” excuse and put it off to the infinite tomorrow. Regularity is very useful to writers, and maybe I should not allow myself extensions any longer and fix the days of the week I publish this blog. How about Mondays and Fridays?  I am running out of ink…

See you at the end of the week then.

Breather* 

Image credit: Freddie Marriage

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The Writing Mirror

Self-portrait 12-04-18

A while back, I met with a fellow writer and when I told her that I was not writing – she said: “You are. You are writing your journal every day!” Although I considered the process to be more like washing my dirty laundry, I had to agree. On arriving back at home, I opened up my journal and saw my reflection in it. It was like a mirror of my days. I would not want to share them, but they offered some light.

Scribbles filled the pages, the style was rough, content was either unpalatable or plain boring, yet I could not help noticing some tiny gems in between the lines. When I flipped through the weeks and the months, pictures emerged – mostly self-portraits. Most of us don’t like to look at ourselves in the mirror or, for that matter, see some pictures of ourselves. We often like to look at pictures of others, though; noticing the changes, seeing the ageing process, recognising the timeless features of a person.

self-portraits2

I then read a chapter of Zen Habits, which talked about the value of writing a regular blog, not as a finished creation but rather as a learning process. The author suggests a daily practice of journal writing. As usual, his advice is to start small: only one sentence a day.

We may not like to read what we have written either, but perhaps someone out there will. The trick, perhaps, is to be concise and remain authentic. So, here it is, my second attempt at journaling – minimally:

“My morning through verbs: cleansing, drinking, reviewing, lightening, stretching, bending, breathing, cuddling, meditating, dreaming, driving, weeding, writing, running, handling (a slow worm), wishing, forecasting, talking, eating, shaving, washing, editing, and posting.”

The shorter it is, the more time it gives me to work on the novel – which is in fact what my writing friend urged me to do.

Breather*

Photos: self-portraits (2012-2015)

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.

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Struggling mindfully

IMG_2103

In some ways, mindfulness is the most powerful tool we have, yet, it is not easy to be mindful when we struggle. Most often when we are not in a right place, we want to escape. Instead, can we watch what is happening with our full attention? As it has become the lens of my exploration, I would like to explore the struggle I face when I write.

For some reasons, writing has always been a battleground for me. At times, I totally shy away from it, at others, I pursue it like a one-way love affair. Four years ago, I embarked on the project to write a novel and what a struggle it has been! Now, I am committed to this blog for at least the next three weeks. The idea here is to create a new opportunity to change my relation to writing. Yesterday was a struggle and today I feel a bitter taste in my mouth. Instead of finding new tricks to entice me to fill the page, I want to meet the struggle in the eye – to come face to face with it.

Mindfulness is our full potential. We may experience it at times but on the whole, we are too preoccupied with a multitude of concerns and thoughts that we forget to be aware of the present moment. It is relatively easy to be mindful when one is Sitting quietly or walking in nature; it is much harder when one is involved in a complex activity that relies on the mind, and that may bring out emotions.

I am sitting at the desk, and the thoughts come to me: I have already taken too much time mulling over this. There are a lot of distractions outside. I would rather relate to people in the real world. I am not sure who I am writing to. Too many ideas come to my head, and I cannot seem to be able to reconcile them. How do I know the truth of what I am writing?  I wish I could find a formula that would make the process of writing this blog more effortless. How authentic am I?Perception looks so fragmented when one stops to observe it. It feels uncomfortable to meet the circular movement of the mind. The sun is shining outside, and the lushness of the vegetation outside my window is inviting me to go out.

Back at the desk. A feeling of gratefulness is descending on me. I breathe. The air is clear. I scan the body; my posture is straighter. Watching the thoughts has created calm, or was it the shades of the copper beaches that did it? Am I starting to enjoy the activity? I understand that there will be urges for me to want to run away, to escape as soon as it becomes unpleasant. I can choose to let go of them. When the struggle comes, the challenge is not to chase it, not to feed it, but to let it be. Look at it with kindness. Is it a genuine fear? Is it a ghost of the past?

Mindfulness is effortless. It dissolves the false and lets us meet reality. The truth may be uncomfortable and even unpleasant. One day we may have little to share, the next too much. Our writing may feel pompous or contrived. The critic will often come uninvited. We can tell him to come back during the rewriting stage or while proof-reading. The struggle is worse when we let it take over. The struggle may never disappear, but if we meet it, mindfully, it may bring some insightful learning. We cannot mindfully struggle, but can we struggle mindfully?

Breather*

Photo: Loic Lopez

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.

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