When do you stop?

I’m away at a parkour event this weekend, lots of walking and playing and jumping. One session was a discussion of fear, and of consequences. And one particular question for discussion was, “When do you stop?” People raised lots of ideas—good ideas, wise ideas… lots of things I was in agreement about.

But I was also thinking, “Wait. Why do I have to decide that?”

I know I’ve certainly faced decisions about stopping. Work, play, relationships, sports, parkour practices (ask me about the time I climbed across a train station outside of Paris,) … yes, deciding if, when and why to stop is an obvious question.

If I think about two paths—perhaps diverging in the woods, if you like that imagery—an hour’s hike along the path of one choice, I might decide I’m going the wrong way. There’s one of those when-to-stop decisions. But the mistake was an hour before, where the paths diverged.

This business venture: what if I had truly been committed, and had planned clearly the way we’d know when to stop? The question is gone. This relationship: could it be planned, or could two people be so honest, that the question doesn’t appear? This parkour jump, at the end of an exhausting day of training: why am I standing here, right now? If I’d planned better, could I have gotten all the same benefit, but a few minutes before right-now, I’d have moved to something else?

Might it be possible to still have challenge, commitment, growth, love, spontaneity, and humor… without ever having to decide, “should I stop this now?”

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Meditations

It would be for me, what Tyler Cowen would call a “a quake book,” shaking everything I thought I knew about the world (however little that actually was). I would also become what Stephen Marche has referred to as a “centireader,” reading Marcus Aurelius well over 100 times across multiple editions and copies.

~ Ryan Holiday, from https://ryanholiday.net/100-things-learned-10-years-100-reads-marcus-aureliuss-meditations/

There is an insane amount of anecdotes, (his memories of his experience upon, or around, reading some part of the book,) tangential knowledge, take-aways, lessons learned, nuances of translations, … You can skim Holiday’s post and learn a lot about Aurelius’s Meditations. You can read more carefully and it will tip you over into deciding to read it yourself. If you’ve already read it once, (or thrice even,) you can read Holiday’s post and find a number of new avenues of exploration within Aurelius’s Meditations.

I did the latter. It took me three separate sittings with his article until I was all the way through. I bought one new book, re-read several pieces from Meditations on-the-spot to see what I thought [based on what I did to my book,] and what I thought [staring at it in that new moment.] But mostly I thought: “It’s impressive that he was able to write so many thoughts and recount so many inspirations and connections, from one book.” What would it be like to spend enought time with a book . . .

At which point I was reminded of my study of, Parkour & Art du Deplacement by V Thibault.

And then I realized it’s been over a year since I added a part to that series… (pause here) And I’m back after fetching the book from the book shelf and moving it to my small pile of books that lie directly on my desk. Actually, I think I’ll snap photos of all the pages and turn it into a daily reader/study like I did with The Daily Stoic.

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Two thousand nine hundred and six

Arbitrary milestones are just as useful as nice round numbers. This morning I decided I’d take some time to reflect on blogging.

I love grammar. I wonder if you thought that I meant this blog post would be my reflections on blogging? No, I took some time to reflect on my own. Today I’m yet again beating one of my favorite drums: It is life-critical to intentionally take time to reflect on the things one is doing.

What am I actually doing with my time? What is doing me benefit? What, harm? What things do I believe I must do? Why do I believe those are necessary? What promises have I made? …to myself, to others? What actually happens if I break one of those promises? …would anyone even notice? What could I do if I stopped everything and did some other thing with incredible focus? Why does that other some thing interest me? Could I more simply change what I’m doing to make a little room for it now? If I awoke to find all the things in my head, and on my lists, were done what would I do? …would I rush to add more things to do? …would I work on something new? …would I want to re-do something I’ve done before?

Discovery. Reflection. And then, go be efficacious.

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Sometimes I look stuff up

Have you seen this quote?

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

~ Homer

Honestly, that’s pretty sharp! There’s good wisdom about a few things packed in there: Picking your battles, perhaps; Knowing the seasons of things, the ages of Man and so forth; Setting managable goals or not tackling more than you can do in a day. That Homer guy with the wisdom!

Until you look it up, and it turns out to be just a throwaway phrase in a transition. Here, read the full paragraphs, XI.35-6 from the Oddyssey:

And Alcinous answered him, saying: ‘Odysseus, in no wise do we deem thee, we that look on thee, to be a knave or a cheat, even as the dark earth rears many such broadcast, fashioning lies whence none can even see his way therein. But beauty crowns thy words, and wisdom is within thee; and thy tale, as when a minstrel sings, thou hast told with skill, the weary woes of all the Argives and of thine own self. But come, declare me this and plainly tell it all. Didst thou see any of thy godlike company who went up at the same time with thee to Ilios and there met their doom? Behold, the night is of great length, unspeakable, and the time for sleep in the hall is not yet; tell me therefore of those wondrous deeds. I could abide even till the bright dawn, so long as thou couldst endure to rehearse me these woes of thine in the hall.’ (35)

And Odysseus of many counsels answered him, saying: ‘My lord Alcinous, most notable of all the people, there is a time for many words and there is a time for sleep. But if thou art eager still to listen, I would not for my part grudge to tell thee of other things more pitiful still, even the woes of my comrades, those that perished afterward, for they had escaped with their lives from the dread warcry of the Trojans, but perished in returning by the will of an evil woman. (36)

~ Homer

It’s basically, “sure bro’, if you’re up for it, I’m game to stay up and tell you the story of . . .”

Question: Is the quote at the top better, or worse now that you know what Homer actually wrote? (Yes, fine, he was actually writing in ancient Greek, but my point stands.)

It’s a cliché that our favorite quotes say more about us, then they do about who we’re quoting. (Left unconsidered is what it says about me if I collect thousands of quotes.) But that cliché is the entire point of being intentionally reflective: I’m searching out new things, (quotes in this discussion,) and I’m thinking about what they might mean; What the original author or speaker might have meant; How that meaning might change over time from original source to my time, and how it might change for me during my life.

See? There is a time for many words, and a time for sleep!

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slip:4a123.

Our journey of small steps

Meditation is intermittent fasting for the mind. Too much sugar leads to a heavy body, and too many distractions lead to a heavy mind. Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit.

~ Naval Ravikant

Today’s message is not really a prompt like the previous 60. Alas, we’ve reached the terminus of our journey of small steps practicing reflection.

Thank you for being awesome!

I created this series by taking my personal collection of self-reflection prompts and forming them into these blog posts. Next, I wrote the three getting-started posts to ease you into the daily routine. Finally, I came up with a theme for each of the 8 weeks and wrote short additions that appeared below the main sequence of prompts. These additions carry the through-line of teaching self-reflection. (…or at least, I hope they did.)

Here are all the additional parts in one place:

Creating space

Remember: 2 minutes. Pause life. Read. Think. Resume life.

Many of the prompts I’m sharing have been chosen from the generous gifts given me by others. When I’m explicitly quoting, they are attributed (as above.)

2 minutes: Pause life. Read. Think. Resume life.

Perhaps you’ve already begun to look forward to your two minutes of reflection?

2 minutes: Pause life. Read. Think. Resume life.

Have you considered adding some physical ritual to your reflection? Perhaps taking three deep, slow breaths before the reading, or … If you decide to try something, don’t go crazy; just something very small and easy. Or not. That’s fine too.

2 minutes: Pause life. Read. Think. Resume life.

Habit

Everything you do is initiated by triggers. “X” happens to me, so then I do “Y.” Creating a new habit is difficult because we don’t realize we need to attach it to a trigger.

Trigger. New habit.

You’re using the arrival of this email as your trigger. Do you recall that I mentioned on day one that I was introducing you to being reflective upon being prompted?

Trigger. New habit.

Today’s a good day to look closely at the trigger you’re experiencing. There are always ways you can change a trigger. Tinker—if not for real, then at least as a thought experiment—with changing the daily trigger for this journey.

Trigger. New habit.

One day, these triggers from me will end. To what trigger under your control could you attach this nascent habit of self-reflection?

Reflection

Reflection is about self-focus. Each day you’re practicing holding up a mirror. Specifically, you’re observing your thoughts, in response to a prompt.

It’s not necessary to move beyond simply observing our thoughts. Simply practicing _observing_ your thoughts will make you more aware of your thoughts.

Our practice of reflection is an explicitly inward-facing activity. We’re repeatedly, intentionally being aware.

Reflection. Inward-facing. Intentional awareness of our own thoughts.

A good mirror shows an accurate image. A fun-house mirror shows a distorted image. How is your reflection on your own thoughts?

Having now spent at least 46 minutes in self-reflection and practicing awareness of your own thoughts— …any change in daily lived life? …any change in your relationships? No right answers, simply awareness.

Are you surprised by your thoughts’, and your mind’s, complexity? Are you amazed? Are you empowered?

Awareness

We’ve been developing our awareness via self-reflection. What happens if we turn our awareness outward?

Were there any moments yesterday when you suddenly—it can be quite jarring the first few times—became aware that you were _aware_ of your own thoughts?

You are using a trigger to practice reflection. Is there anything in your day that resembles the reflection trigger? Opportunities where you could reflect spontaneously?

We’re about halfway. Poke your head out of your private journey of practicing reflection and quietly take some guesses about how reflective are the people around you. No judging; recall day one’s message about self-improvement not being zero-sum.

If you encountered even one moment yesterday where you realized someone else could be more reflective: Visualize that moment you experienced… and imagine slowly raising a hand mirror into that perspective—so you see your own reflection appear on top of that person.

Are there moments in your day when you realize you are aware that you are observing something outside yourself? If so— If you are aware you are observing, can you use that as a trigger to look inward and reflect on your own thinking?

Awareness of our inward experience, and our outward experience, is the same. It’s the same awareness. These past few days, we’ve taken our awareness on a brief field trip outside ourselves. For the rest of our little journey here, we’ll remain looking inward.

Journaling

How good is your memory? What’s the first food you had after waking eleven days ago? Perhaps, your memory isn’t _that_ good. How about something you are currently interested in: 11 days ago, did you have any insights from your morning reflection?

Everything about this journey is, of course, optional. But I want you to find paper and pencil/pen. Don’t over-think that, and don’t try to use something digital. Grab any paper and any pen, and have them handy for tomorrow’s reflection.

Remember that paper? Write the first thought that comes to mind, when I say, write the first thought that comes to mind. You’re done.

Today, write the first and second thought. It really, truly, does not matter what the thoughts are. Please try writing them down. Put the paper away until tomorrow.

I’m not even asking that look back at what you’ve written. Simply write a couple thoughts, (or more than a couple, if you wish.)

And write _several_ thoughts down today…

Now look back through your week of notes. Maybe write a few notes about your observations of your notes? Maybe, you want to look more into journaling? (Today is the last time I’ll mention journaling in our journey, but I highly recommend continuing.)

Simply being

You’ve put a lot of effort so far into practicing reflection. It’s important that we don’t lose the trees for the forest. The focus of daily reflection is the _tree_; the forest will take care of itself.

One can bring self-judgement into reflection practice, but it is not necessary. Simply practicing being aware will pay dividends. I’m recommending you do the reflection without the judgement.

A human being. Not a human doing.

My martial arts teacher, Sensei Wirth, turned the phrase: No this. No that. No delay.

Many arts teach the lesson of simply being. Zen, for example provide koans: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Different styles of Yoga teach variosly about sound, light, and breathing.

The sublime experiences of life can be found anywhere. I’m hoping you find it within this small space you’ve created for reflection.

Make it yours

My intention for this series is to bootstrap your practice of reflection. For me to have suceeded, you must end up being self-sustaining in your practice.

The skeleton of this journey is the 57 prompts which appear at the top of each of these posts. I wasn’t born with those. What will be your prompt, or prompts?

How are you going to continue to trigger yourself to do your morning reflection?

I like to read, and daily-study/daily-devotional books is an entire Genre. But there are also web sites, software, flip cards, … what calls to you?

The best choice for medium and method—for prompts, for journaling, for reflection—is whatever reliably triggers you to reflect. Make it yours; change it whenever you wish.

Do you recall the beginning of this journey? While I created the prompts and the system which you are now enjoying, how will you continue it yourself? 

It’s time for the student to become the teacher. What prompts and triggers are you going to create for yourself as you go through your life being your own teacher?

Recap

We’re in our final week together. The first week was about creating space. 2 minutes: Pause life. Read. Think. Resume life.

Our second week was focused on creating a new habit. Do you have your new habit attached to a trigger?

Week three was about the practice itself of reflection; becoming aware explicitly that we are— well, practicing being aware.

Awareness occupied our practice during our fourth week. Inward. Outward. Simply being aware is awesome.

In week five we tried the tiniest taste of capturing our thoughts. Reflection is a power tool for self-improvement. Journaling—and there are many kinds—is another.

Simply being is easy to understand but difficult to embody. In week six I tried to point at the moon, while hoping my pointing finger didn’t draw your attention instead.

Last week we began looking beyond this small, introductory journey and talking about ways you could continue on your own.

Digestif

When will the rhetorical questions end?

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As a PDF — You can download Practicing Reflection as a single e-book.

Reflection: Day 60

LOOK BACK — Look back at some of the things you’ve accomplished or experienced and think… — “Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut — “One never notices what has been done; One can only see what remains to be done.” ~ Marie Curie


One day, tomorrow in fact, there won’t be any more of these prompts. But having read this far, I hope you’ll believe me when I say: You’ll like tomorrow’s post too.

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Arrived in the middle? Visit the first post, Where to begin?
(The entire series is available to download as a PDF ebook.)

Reflection: Day 59

FESTINA LENTE — Make haste, slowly. Or, unrestrained moderation. — “The worker must be stronger than his project; loads larger than the bearer must necessarily crush him. Certain careers, moreover, are not so demanding in themselves as they are prolific in begetting a mass of other activities. Enterprises which give rise to new and multifarious activities should be avoided; you must not commit yourself to a task from which there is no free egress. Put your hand to one you can finish or at least hope to finish; leave alone those that expand as you work at them and do not stop where you intended they should.” ~ Seneca, On Tranquility


Last week we began looking beyond this small, introductory journey and talking about ways you could continue on your own.

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Reflection: Day 58

HUMILITY — Imitate Socrates.


Simply being is easy to understand but difficult to embody. In week six I tried to point at the moon, while hoping my pointing finger didn’t draw your attention instead.

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Arrived in the middle? Visit the first post, Where to begin?
(The entire series is available to download as a PDF ebook.)

Reflection: Day 57

WE CREATE OUR OWN STRUGGLES — “All the stress, all the frustrations and disappointments, all the busyness and rushing … we create these with attachments in our heads. By letting go, we can relax and live more simply.” ~ Leo Babauta


In week five we tried the tiniest taste of capturing our thoughts. Reflection is a power tool for self-improvement. Journaling—and there are many kinds—is another.

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Arrived in the middle? Visit the first post, Where to begin?
(The entire series is available to download as a PDF ebook.)

Reflection: Day 56

WHAT IS MY TALK-TO-LISTEN RATIO? — It’s better to listen to understand, rather than to, (for example,) listen to refute. Silence is fine provided one’s own thoughts are pleasant company. When speaking, think first about why you are about to say whatever it is you’re about to say.


Awareness occupied our practice during our fourth week. Inward. Outward. Simply being aware is awesome.

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Arrived in the middle? Visit the first post, Where to begin?
(The entire series is available to download as a PDF ebook.)