Looking back

I’ve started thinking about a touch phrase for 2021. (2020’s was the superbly helpful, “Get less done.”) As part of the thinking, I was browsing the old blog, and wondered when I last missed a daily post. That turns out to be November 18, 2019. It’s simply a random day with nothing posted.

For a few weeks leading up to that 18th, there’s a post on each day. But October of 2019 is Swiss cheese—actually, it’s more hole than cheese. But early to mid 2019 things look mostly solidly-posted. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I also know that in the very beginning of this blog I wasn’t even intending to post daily; In the beginning it was just a place for me to put things that I felt I needed some place to put. Unsurprisingly, character by character this blog was built like a drifting sand dune. In 2021 this blog will turn 10. Hello World was posted on August 13, 2011. If I continue, and I see no reason to stop, post number 3,000 should appear in late December 2021.

I bring this up because this time of year is traditionally a time for wrapping things up, and striking out anew, perhaps with a fresh start or a new commitment, into the new year. meh. That never works for me. But you know what has been working well—year-round, not just during this completely arbitrary calendar roll-over point—

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.” Seriously. I’m not going to end this post on a, “but if you don’t like what you see…”. No.

Take some time during the arbitrary end-of-the-year machinations to look back and think:

Well if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

ɕ

On knowledge systems

Caution: This post is long-ish but does not have a denouement. ;)

As I commonly do, I went to the mental well this morning to see what I’d find to add to the ‘ol blog. I hauled the bucket, and found two ideas which have been sitting there for months. Every time I go to the well, these two come up on top. Time to try to do something with them.

I’ve been actively thinking for years about getting a handle on learning. There’s a huge amount of things I’m delighted to simply learn from by osmosis. I read something, or experience something, and it affects me to some degree. I’ve had countless experiences where long after, I can clearly see the influence has percolated. I know this type of learning works well, and it’s effortless; I’ve mastered this type of learning and in so far as I can relax about trusting the process, it just works.

But there’s a type of learning which I haven’t been doing at all for years: Organized learning directed at a particular goal. I’ve not even been attempting to make any progress on that. Here’s an example of a specific thing I’d like to learn about:

Psychoactivity is a particular kind of relationship between a person, their body, what they perceive and the context of that perception. Psychoactivity occurs when a person’s thoughts, emotions and body sensations take on symbolic significance in response to what they are perceiving.

Space becomes psychoactive once a person’s mind-body starts to react symbolically to their physical surroundings and/or to their imaginative mind-space. David Grove coined the term ‘psychoactive space’ because it seems as if our perceptions are causing us to react and that we have little choice in the matter — which is true to some extent. When our perception of a space and the spatial relations contained therein have an independence from us, we are effectively living in the symbolism of the space moment by moment. Although I am referring to the space as psychoactive, I want to emphasise that psychoactivity is a relationship between the perceiver and the perceived (and/or the perceiver and the context).

~ James Lawley from, https://cleanlanguage.co.uk/articles/articles/29/1/When-Where-Matters-How-psychoactive-space-is-created-and-utilised/Page1.html

slip:8d.

I stumbled over that article a while back, skimmed it, read it, read it carefully, … and realized I need to spend a lot more time on the topic of psychoactive space. That site itself is large and I’ve not stuffed it through my usual website serialize tools because it deserves more than to be simply “read through.” Also, it is clearly going to point me off to other books, journals, and articles. I feel like I’m standing on a hilltop looking at a vast landscape thinking, “I need to make a map, or something, while I have this perspective because once I descend from this hill it’s going to be rabbit holes all the way across this landscape.”

So that leaves me with my original, (at the top of this post,) general quest for a knowledge system, and this intriguing, specific example in need of a knowledge system. It’s time to start thinking about knowledge systems. (Which, one might realize, unfortunately presents me with the need for some sort of knowledge system to learn enough about knowledge systems to decide which . . . )

When it doubt, I deploy the familiar tools which are at hand. One of my favorite tools is to ask the right questions, in particular these three questions:

Is this a problem I really need/want to solve? Srsly bro’? Yes. Next question please.

Is the scale of the problem sane/do I have sufficient resources? I’m not asking for a knowledge system (time for an acronym! “KS”) to track all human knowledge. I don’t even need it to be collaborative. It doesn’t have to be complete—in the sense that if I’m using this KS to learn “psychoactive space,” it doesn’t have to also store all my knowledge about “architecture” and “bio-mechanics.” I want a KS that’s a power tool—better than a manual screwdriver. I’m not wanting a KS that outsources the driving of screws. I want a KS that one person (me!) can build and use. Glancing out at the universe I can see lots of things which could be a solution. (Things like “Evernote” spring to mind in case you’re eyes are popping out of your head from all this stratospheric cogitation and you just want me to shut up and get to the punchline but sorry this post doesn’t end with me telling you what KS I’m now using.)

So far, so good. Final question:

What would a solution look like? The KS would be easy to get started. I don’t want to spend months figuring it out. I want to start building the house by tossing a sofa in the bare lot and calling it a first approximation. I’ll erect a tarp when the weather threatens, walls in the fall, etc. It’s not important that it be easy to add to—no, some effort should be required to sift and summarize or filter or whatever as the knowledge is built. Stateful: meaning every time I climb back to that metaphorical hilltop to survey the landscape, I don’t want to have to redo any of my thinking from the last time I was there; duck up to the hilltop, achieve instant perspective and return to the landscape. online is also not a requisite: Sure a lot of the material I’d be learning from would be online, but some won’t be… and importantly, I’m a human not a computer so while I use online tools… well, paper and all works fine too. Plus anything online has maintenance. …but it does need to acknowledge and deal with stuff that’s online.

I have ideas. But as I cautioned at the top, this post is just a place where I wanted to think through all of the above.

ɕ

§13 – Time for reflection

(Part 13 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

My title refers both to my doing of such, and is a suggestion that you should as well. It’s been a long time since I added a post to this beloved series, Changes and Results. But, today just happens to be—meaning I’ve been waiting for many months for this date :) —exactly nine years from my first daily journal entry.

What would you wish to be doing, then, when death finds you? For my part, I would wish it to be something that befits a human being, some beneficient, public-spririted, noble action. But if I cannot be found doing such great things as these I should like at least to be doing that which cannot be impeded and is given me to do, namely, correcting myself, improving the faculty that deals with impressions, toiling to achieve tranquillity, and rendering to the several relationships of life their due; and, if I am so fortunate, advancing to the third area of study, that which deals with the attainment of secure judgements.

~ Epictetus, 4.10.12-3

Each morning I spend significant time in reflection. Without going too deeply into specifics, I don’t get up at precisely the same time, and I do take the occasional day off from my morning reflection. But beginning my day by reflecting—not on my yesterday, nor recent events per se, but generally reflecting on my self—is second in importance to me only to getting a good night’s sleep.

My process is, well, mine. I use software synced across multiple computers and mobile devices and so on… I also have physical books, and journals, and paper and pen… I’ve some 3×5 cards, physical boxes, etc.… The specific “how” is unimportant. You’ll find your own methods. But, simply to give you some ideas, here’s an outline of my morning reflection as of late 2020:

  • Reading previous journal entries — I have marks in my journals making it simple for me to open historical entries; Each morning I read my entry (if any) from 9, 6, 3 and 1 year ago.
  • Today’s Daily Stoic entry — Stoic with a capital-S, which is not closely related to the English word “stoic.”
  • An item prompting specific self-reflection — From a series of self-reflection prompts I’ve accumulated over the years.
  • An item of inspiration — These come from a second series of prompts which I’ve developed, and are meant to get me to keep my shit in order. The quote at the top of this post from Epictetus is one of these prompts. They’re not sunny platitudes, but rather they are I’m-not-kidding-around-here-serious prompts to get me focused in what I’ve assessed to be the right direction.
  • Reading — I have a stack of books which are specifically Philosophical. Not simply non-fiction, but works by Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism and Philosophy in general. Some mornings I’ll study just one page from one of these books. Some mornings I’ll spend over an hour in this reading.
  • Journalling — After thus limbering up my brain and exposing it to that carefully curated collection of ideas, I pick up my pen and open my journal.

Exactly how much time does that take? It varies, but usually hours. This morning, I stopped short to do this writing. I was about 2 hours into this morning’s reflection when I switched to working on this post. Unusually, this morning I have a hard stop for something that has a specific time. (I’ve cleared from my entire life anyone’s ability to interrupt me, summon me, demand my attention, etc..) If you are aghast at this arrangement of my life… If you are thinking, “I could never do that,” I can only say:

How can you afford not to?

ɕ

Time for reflection

Imagine that you were to sign up for a retreat this month … you put aside your daily life, all your busywork, all your projects and errands and emails and messages … and you travel to another place. In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/december-retreat/

Today, a rare two-fer’…

Not only does hyper-connection alter our social relationships, it also makes us dumber, as pointed out as early as 2005. It threatens our health too. Twenty-first-century afflictions include digital fatigue, social media burnout or compulsive internet use. Cures for these rising internet-related disorders include such radical solutions as rehab centers, or disconnection.

~ Antoine Lefeuvre from, https://alistapart.com/column/designing-for-post-connected-users-part-1/

Babauta’s take is from the Zen perspective of simply—as in: this is the only thing you have to do, and don’t overcomplicate it in the doing—creating space in your life. Lefeuvre’s is from a nuts-and-bolts perspective of facts and tactics.

I feel called quite often to take more time to reflect. I was going to write, “sit and reflect,” but it’s not quite always sitting. I believe this is also true for everyone else; some people are early on in their journeys and their need for reflection is small in total, but it is more than they are currently doing. With precious few exceptions, we could all use more time for reflection.

Do you have time for reflection built into your life?

ɕ

The writing is easy

The hard part is deciding what to share.

At no point am I at a loss for something to write. Instead, I’m at a loss to decide what is worth sharing. This is true for this web site, conversations I have with podcast guests, and my personal journal. The way I sort out whether something is worth sharing is to think about who is it for. I read my personal journals in an ongoing way—each morning, (give or take,) I read that day’s entry from various numbers of years ago. So in my journalling I know that capturing my struggles and frustrations will serve me well; 9 years later, I read those entries and am relieved to see how that story turned out.

Other things—this web site, the podcast conversations—are not meant primarily for me. And so with pieces like this I try to have a point. Today it’s: Language, writing, conversation, reading, etc. are tools. As with any tool, it’s the intention of the user which matters most. You can break things or build things up using any tool you care to consider.

But first you have to ask yourself are you using your tools intentionally?

ɕ

Creating space in the morning for reflection

“The pleasure in thinking and doing things well is…deep-wired.” I think this is absolutely true. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond, in part, to do nothing — to just observe and live deliberately — but he also wrote a first draft of a book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, while in his cabin. He then left the pond to move in with Emerson, where he wrote another book, this one about his experience at the pond, then another soon after, Civil Disobedience. Thoreau found peace observing nature; but his real pleasure was in producing enduring work.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/04/01/on-productivity-and-the-deep-life/

I’ve long ago lost any real sense of which life changes have had the most benefit. But if I were to pick one, it would be making time to reflect. I’m often making adjustments here and there to my life, and those changes are always based on a period of reflection. What have I been doing that has been making me feel well? What have I been doing that has been making me feel unwell? …and so on.

For a while—three years to be specific—I’ve been trying to begin each day with some basic movement/stretching and then some sort of physical activity. I’m talking about first thing each morning. Get out of bed, deal with necessities (eg, coffee :) and then begin with movement and activity. 3 and 2 years ago, that activity was running. For the past year, the physical activity has been a sort-of-like-Olympic-weight-lifting program called Happy Body.

This is not working for me. Sure, when I manage to start with activity then I’m awake and moving and it’s good for my health and I get lots of what I want done each day. But it’s a struggle every. damn. day. blech! What I really want, first thing in the morning, is to NOT be physically active, but rather to be mentally active.

Starting today, I’m overhauling my first-thing-each-day routine to be:

  1. Reflect on the day’s self-assessment reminder
  2. Reflect on the day’s entry from Holiday’s, The Daily Stoic
  3. Read my previous journal entries and write in my current journal
  4. Spend some time in philosophical reading

I encourage you to build a reflection habit. It can be first-thing each morning or whenever works for you. (Many people allocate time for reflection as the last thing each day before going to sleep.) You should intentionally choose what to do as your reflection practice. I’ll go so far as to suggest you perform a few weeks experimentation with each idea you come up with, until you find a reflection practice that works for you. The more you reflect the more you’ll want to iterate and improve creating a virtuous feedback loop.

That’s the plan anyway. It’s certainly the best plan I’ve come up with for me, so far.

ɕ

‘Think’ breaks

Conduct shorter think breaks. Even a few hours can be extraordinarily helpful. This can be as simple as leaving the office at lunch in order to have a phone-free reflection period at a nearby coffee shop.

~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/how-to-take-a-think-break/

The quote is a from a list of “Do’s,” so it may feel a bit odd. If you don’t immediately know what a think-break is, stop and go read that short article. (Which also contains a link to a longer article. :)

Some people famously take week-long, totally-disconnected (from people, technology, routine, everything,) think-breaks. I suppose I could do that—I mean I know it would be possible, but I feel that I don’t need an entire week to think.

All I do is come to a stop and start thinking. After a few minutes I’ve 11 new ideas—or worse, ideas that have been rattling around in my head—that I can either decide to outright kill immediately, or work into things that need to be done. I don’t need to spend more time thinking, I need to spend more time anti-doing things. Do one thing, cross off two, or better yet, three things from my literal or ephemeral lists.

ɕ

Retreat and reflection

In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.

You might meditate, relax, read, journal. You might take a walk in nature, or find solitude. You might just mindfully enjoy the space.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/december-retreat/

What I like about this prompting from Babauta is that it’s about creating space for retreat and reflection; it’s not about necessarily going to some specific, special place. I’ve spent several years arranging and rearranging my life to create space for retreat and reflection in my daily life. It’s not easy. It hasn’t been easy. …on me or on those around me. I had gotten to the place I was gradually by taking small steps, day after day, in the wrong direction. So turning around was difficult, and beginning to walk back was close to impossible.

But it was possible. It is possible.

Do you have 5 minutes every day where you can retreat and reflect? If you don’t, try it for a few days. Set aside a specific time and work to arrange your life (including the people in your life) to make that small space sacred.

ɕ

Leverage

In sum, there isn’t a clear ladder of actions a person can progress through, with easy unimportant ones at the bottom, and hard important ones at the top. There will be hard-for-you unimportant actions, and easy-for-you important actions. The last thing you should do if you come across a hard-for-you unimportant action is stop looking for other things to do.

~ Katja Grace, from https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pmifMjht6Y4dBPhqF/skill-and-leverage

One variation of this is, “a messy desk shows an organized mind.” It’s not important that I do everything perfectly, have everything organized, and have no loose ends. In fact, that’s patently impossible. What matters is that I figure out what should be done perfectly, what should be organized and which loose ends should be tied up. Got it.

I’m currently spending a lot of time reflecting on being comfortable with some imperfectly done things, some disorganized things, and some loose ends. Not trying to complete nor eliminate those things, but rather, simply being comfortable with those things, in those states.

ɕ

Reflection

What makes this moment so precarious is that most of us are unconscious, in the event, both of our aspiration and of our Resistance. We’re asleep. We know only that we feel bad. Something’s wrong. We’re restless, we’re bored, we’re angry; we’re seeking something grand but don’t know where to look 

~ Steven Pressfield, from https://stevenpressfield.com/2011/05/resistance-and-addiction/

These days, the skill of reflection is on my mind. I’ve become convinced that discovery, reflection, and efficacy are the three stepping stones to self-actualization. It seems to me that the way out of the Gordian knot presented by Pressfield is via reflection.

ɕ