FYI

I’m going to be stopping my regular blog posts for a while.

I miss doing more long-form writing, and writing where I spend more time thinking, so I’m going to focus on that for a while.

I’ve also been reflecting on why I’ve been blogging, and trying to navigate that space as well.

In any case, I’ll definitely be posting pieces again in the future. It just won’t be as regular as it has been.

Routinized

You might notice yourself checking things, picking at things, thinking obsessive thoughts, or fiddling with your own body in a routinized kind of way. These are signs that the stress has overwhelmed your brain’s ability to cope rationally with the stressor.

“Burnout” by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

Not much has been happening besides work.

It’s funny how bad my sense of time is right now.

By Monday afternoon, I could barely believe it was only Monday. Today, I’m surprised it’s Thursday, but not because the week feels short.

My sleep hasn’t been great with all this overtime either. Sometimes I’m working and then I realize it’s almost midnight, so I go to bed. But then because my body doesn’t like to sleep in, I’m usually up again early regardless.

Usually I use physical activity to regain energy, but this week I passed out in the middle of a workout. Initially on my run today, I was worried I was gonna need to sit down and nap along the way (fortunately, the run eventually woke me up).

Anyhow, already this week is one extra week of overtime I wasn’t expecting. I’m really hoping it doesn’t get extended to next week as well.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • 8 hour workdays. If it was normal for the average person to work this much all the time, I’m pretty sure my mood would take quite a big hit.
  • Weekends. I’m looking forward to taking some time off this weekend to recharge a bit. Also, catching up on workouts because I think I’ve only worked out twice so far this week.
  • Breaks. My company gives me pretty generous flexibility with my hours, so I’ve been taking off for a run in the early afternoon each day. This helps me to wake up, though maybe I should use that time to try to nap while I’m tired instead. (Plus, if I run before/after work instead, I can also avoid worrying about sunburn. It’s getting hotter outside already.)

Frenzy

On our last day, a few hours before we were to leave Munnar, I hurried up the hill on the left. It strikes me now as a typically Christian scene. Christianity is a religion in a rush. Look at the world created in seven days. Even on a symbolic level, that’s creation in a frenzy. To one born in a religion where the battle for a single soul can be a relay race run over many centuries, with innumerable generations passing along the baton, the quick resolution of Christianity has a dizzying effect. If Hinduism flows placidly like the Ganges, then Christianity bustles like Toronto at rush hour. It is a religion as swift as a swallow, as urgent as an ambulance. It turns on a dime, expresses itself in the instant. In a moment you are lost or saved. Christianity stretches back through the ages, but in essence it exists only at one time: right now.

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Right now, I’m super present to how I’m pulling myself in two directions.

On the one hand, I seem to push myself to always be doing something.

Work right now is a bit crazy. For a couple weeks, my team has been doing a lot of overtime as we draw close to a project deadline. I was really hoping today was going to be the last day of overtime, but it looks like it’s going to carry on at least throughout the week.

I have my bouncy ball jars as an indicator of some of my goals sitting in my living room. Whenever I take a break from work, I’ve been trying to get those jars under control. I say under control because progress stopped for a while when I had my migraine. Fortunately my running jar is completely under control again–I somehow managed to pull off almost 60km last week. But now my workout jar is getting out of control. There’s always something more to do.

Then I just have my to-do list in general that I always try to keep my eye on. It’s not everyday I’m making good progress on that, either. Like, right now looking at my kitchen, I’ve got a bunch of boxes sitting on the counters, clean dishes that need to be put away, and dirty dishes that need to be loaded into the dishwasher. It’s very visible that there’s always something else to be done.

And on the other hand, I want to allow myself to slow down and be with things as they are.

Something I’ve noticed recently is that during meditation, my mind has been darting all over the place recently. It’s not even related to the things I have to do that I mentioned above. I’m just catching myself day-dreaming more often right now. I suspect it’s just a symptom of my mind having too much going on right now.

Sleep has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. Usually in the early afternoon, I start to get really sleepy. When I’m at work, I try to take a gym break around that time because doing something physical keeps me awake. Now that I’m working from home, I’m still keeping the same pattern. I try to work towards my goals–whether it be going for a run or working out–instead of taking a break to catch up on sleep. Though, I’m really torn on whether it would be better to just sleep.

Recharging has been difficult without sports. I suspect it’s because with sports, I don’t have the freedom for my mind to wander on so many things. So I wonder if continuing meditation will help (if my mind doesn’t continue racing as it does)? Or I wonder if I just need some do nothing time? Or reading time? In any case, I really should experiment to figure out recharging. I think it’s gonna be a while before I can use my old tactics.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • My family is safe and healthy. Instant messaging allows us to stay in touch throughout the week, and once a week we have a video call where we catch up and do something like play online games or watch a movie.
  • A bunch of things I ordered online about a month ago all arrived yesterday and today. I got a bunch of stuff that should make working out more easier, relaxing at home more comfortable, and eating semi-healthy more convenient.
  • I’ve been having some good catch up with friends through online hang outs and book clubs. A lot of these people I haven’t talked to in many years, and a lot of the conversations I haven’t had since university.
  • Despite COVID-19, I’m still working and we’re still allowed to go outside for exercise and shopping. When I was on a run, I was thinking about how grateful I am that COVID-19 didn’t hit when I was finishing up my schooling (especially if this happened during my thesis) and that we don’t have to deal with anything like the Hong Kong protests or social distancing protests at this time.

Real

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling

I’ve been meditating every day with Jenny, Fabian, and Angela for the past little while. I’ve also started seeing a new therapist for about a month now. And our book club for The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön has recently wrapped up.

It’s definitely not a new topic for me, but it’s been interesting having all of these different avenues pointing to my lack of self-awareness.

It’s been something I’ve been working on since at least the latter half of university.

I have definitely made some progress. I’m getting better at identifying body sensations, differentiating thoughts and judgements, and recognizing some emotions.

The self can be quite puzzling. I mean, intuitively, I can’t be separate from my self, so I should be well aware of my self.

But at the same time, I can see that doesn’t seem to be true.

Furthermore, in practicing meditation and reflecting on ideas from several authors, it makes me wonder if the self is really the thinker of thoughts and feeler of feelings. Perhaps instead the self is simply the one observing/experiencing those things.

I mean, I guess that makes sense given these ideas I’ve heard before (I don’t know who to attribute them to of the top of my head) :

  • You are not your thoughts
  • You are not your feelings
  • You cannot control your thoughts
  • You cannot control your feelings

But then, what is the self?

Another odd thing I’ve noticed about my thoughts and feelings is that am best at noticing them once they’ve already passed. (Meta thought: I was going to initially talk about how I usually relate to my self in the past. Managed to catch my self, at least.)

It’s almost like my self doesn’t really exist in the present, and I’m just carried by the momentum of my thoughts and emotions. Except my self does exist in the present, it just happens to be reflecting on thoughts and emotions in the past. (Maybe it’s time I read me some Descartes.)

But maybe I’m slowing getting closer to knowing my experience in the present. A couple of times in recent days/weeks (I can’t remember exactly when I had these thoughts, or in what context, just that I had them), I’ve mid-thought asked myself if I was doing something to prove that I was worthy of attention, or to prove that I was right about something. I mean, I didn’t change my behaviour, but I think the fact that I was able to question my self in the moment is forward progress, right?

Anyhow, this will be an on-going thing for me–getting better acquainted with my self. Bundled with the self-compassion idea I wrote about recently, I think this will be an adventure. For one, I hate contradictions, but I’m sure that I’m full of them. This came to mind because I’m about to workout, but I hate working out and watching what I eat, but I want to stay healthy, I want to look good, and I don’t want to be fat. And just like that, I’m already rolling my eyes at my self.

It’s a practice.

Anywho, something else I’m planning on trying is ending each of these blog posts with a short gratitude practice inspired by Kenn, who has been posting daily uplifting gratitude posts for what seems to be at least a year now.

I am grateful for:

  • Amazon notified me today that they’ve shipped out my hand blender. I’m looking forward to using it to make palak chicken because I don’t think I can eat another oven roasted chicken breast on steamed vegetables.
  • Gyroscope showed me how to correct a syncing issue for my body fat and sleep data today. Additionally, my coach was giving me some tips on improving my diet while also making it more cost effective.
  • The surprise when I discovered that a choreography I recently fell in love with (Galen Hook’s choreography to “River” by Bishop Briggs) was featured in Meteor Garden (a show on Netflix I finished this week). I did I double take when I realized it looked familiar, and then I was super excited to see that they paid that tribute.
  • My legs and feet have been holding out as I get my running jar back under control. It was overflowing this week because I took some time off running recently due to a migraine, but it’s looking like I may be back on schedule by the end of the week. I’m going to be taking a hot epsom salt bath later tonight for my legs, and I’m grateful that I’m able to take this luxury tonight.

Forgotten

When a nun asked how he was doing, Seuse replied that things were going quite badly because it had been a month since he’d known pain and he was afraid that God had forgotten him.

“The Gargoyle” by Andrew Davidson

My migraine still hasn’t completely disappeared. It’s not bad at all, but it is constantly lingering there in the back of my head. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much. I’m happy it hasn’t gotten worse again.

My jar of bouncy balls has been overflowing for my running jar because of my break back when I migraine was really bad. Last week I managed to pull off 40km which was pretty good.

I think I jumped back into running too quickly, though.

I’m breaking in a new pair of shoes (sort of–I’ve started using the shoes I’ve been walking in to run in because I’ve worn through my old runners), and the arch support isn’t as good as I hoped. My arches have been sore, especially when going up hill.

Additionally, my blisters are back (no surprise there). The biggest one under the pad of my foot popped on its own. When the skin started to peel, I made the mistake of thinking it would be helpful if I removed the rest of the dead skin. Well, as it turned out, this just led to the surrounding skin getting really hard. So now that hurts even more when I go running now, and there’s already another blister that’s formed and popped under where the old one was.

I’m also taking care of some skin chafing. It fortunately hasn’t been getting worse, but it’s annoying that I didn’t notice it until after it became a problem.

Right now, my strategy has been to allow myself to walk more often on my runs. I still want to get the kilometers in, especially because I’ve already fallen so far behind on my goal. I hope that doing so is sufficient to prevent further injury.

Part of me really wishes I was better at moderation. I mean, I’ve clearly been getting away without it, but it would be nice if I had another option.

Straightforward Advice

The most straightforward advice on awakening bodhichitta is this: practice not causing harm to anyone–yourself or others–and every day, do what you can to be helpful.

“The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön

I recognize that I recently posted a quote from this book already, but I have since finished the book and this quote has been on my mind today.

Emily, Jenny, and I discussed this idea yesterday in book club. And Jenny and I talked about it earlier this week when we tried a loving-kindness meditation as part of our daily meditation practice.

Not causing harm seems like a very simple idea, but it’s amazing how often I caught myself failing to do so this week.

I’ve talked a bit recently about how I’ve noticed my lack of self-compassion when my attention wanders during meditation. I quickly jump into judgements about myself and what good meditation practice looks like. (This would be causing harm to myself.)

At work today, a coworker challenged a choice I made in a code review. I caught myself getting defensive and frustrated at them. (This would be causing harm to others.) I managed to stop myself and look at what was going on, and I saw the fear that I was being seen as incompetent in my job. Fortunately, I was able to let go of that anger fairly quickly.

But at the same time, another coworker dismissed something I said, citing it as irrelevant. I caught myself shutting down, and thinking of them as being dismissive and hypocritical. (This would be causing harm to myself and others.) I was not able to take action on this, but at least the conversation changed direction so I stopped thinking about it at the time.

Then this evening, I took an epsom salt bath after going for a run. I was reading Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino and something triggered some memories for me.

I recalled three stories I’d heard from people who had hooked up with their professor, with a nurse during a medical examination, and with a massage therapist during a massage. I don’t think I hate these people (the professor, nurse, and massage therapist), but the emotion may be the closest I currently feel in that direction. Every time I recall these stories, my anger gets stirred very quickly (like, I feel it fresh again now just writing this).

This is causing harm to others, and it’s not something I feel like I’m currently capable of accepting.

But today was the first time I saw it in the light of causing harm to others. I now know what I can bring to the later portions of the loving-kindness meditation where you reflect on people whom you don’t like. And maybe this is an opportunity for me to soften and practice compassion; perhaps I can reflect on alternative possibilities rather than assuming that these people are simply irresponsible and immoral.

Built-In Alarm System

Attachment theory teaches us that our loved one is our shelter in life. When that person is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive, we face being out in the cold, alone and helpless. We are assailed by emotions — anger, sadness, hurt, and above all, fear. This is not so surprising when we remember that fear is our built-in alarm system; it turns on when our survival is threatened. Losing connection with our loved one jeopardizes our sense of security.

“Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson

My migraine is pretty much gone–finally. I was able to go on a slow jog today without making things worse.

I made the mistake of starting Meteor Garden on Netflix recently. It’s a 50 episode romance/drama, and each episode runs for about 45 minutes. And I’m somehow already almost half-way through the series.

This is why I really shouldn’t have Netflix. Especially while we’re at home full time for social distancing. Stopping to remind myself to practice self-compassion and balance.

In any case, I’ve been totally fan-girling over this series the past couple of days. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a romantic drama. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s a good escape.

Throw Ourselves Away

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.

“The Wisdom of No Escape” by Pema Chödrön

I’ve had a migraine for the past several days. Yesterday it got bad enough to take me out. I put on some aromatherapy, took a lot of naproxen, and went to bed in the early afternoon. Part of me is grieving the loss of my long weekend, especially because work has asked me to put in extra hours the rest of the month.

Anyhow, I’m getting back into meditation. I’ve got a bit of catching up to do because it’s one of my 2020 goals that I fell behind on. I did not practice it consistently in January through March.

One of the things I’ve learned recently is that I lack self-compassion in various areas of my life. I’ve also learned that meditation actually offers a place to practice that.

Usually when I do meditation right now, I’m doing guided meditations. Something I’ve noticed is that sometimes the guide will say something, and then my mind will go off on an adventure that somehow started with that prompt. Sometimes I catch myself fairly quickly, but sometimes I seem to follow those daydreams for several minutes before I catch myself.

When I do catch myself, I usually think something along the lines of “Dang. I got distracted,” “You should have caught that earlier,” or “You’re not meditating well/properly.” I didn’t realize until recently that I was using judgements to bring myself back to my breath. I also didn’t realize that this was an example of where I lack self-compassion, and therefore an opportunity for me to practice it.

What I’m trying instead is when I catch myself following my thoughts, I’m trying to tell myself that it’s okay. I’m trying to remind myself to observe the thought, and if I can return to my breath, but if my mind still wants to follow that thought, that’s okay too.

It’s definitely still a practice.

Vacation

Most people feel best about their work the week before they go on vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, organize, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. You do this so you can relax and be present on the beach, on the golf course, or on the slopes, with nothing else on your mind. I suggest you do this weekly instead of yearly, so you can bring this kind of “being present” to your everyday life.

“Getting Things Done” by David Allen

I recently realized I’ve let myself get too busy despite COVID-19. But that’s a story for another time.

I finished re-reading Getting Things Done tonight. I realized there were a bunch of changes I need to make to my system that I had let get stale over the years.

First, I have a lot of things in my next action lists that really should either be removed or moved to my someday/maybe list. There’s too many things just sitting there that I keep putting off or ignoring because they aren’t something that warrant my attention right now.

I’m curious whether this has any role to play in my daily stress levels. I never get through my to-do list every day. Usually when I go to bed, there’s still about 200 items waiting there to be crossed off. (And then even more in the morning when I wake up as the repeating tasks regenerate.)

If I remove some of these items that just haven’t moved in months, perhaps it will reduce some of my stress because my count of outstanding items won’t be so big. At the very least, it will de-clutter my to-do list and make it easier to parse out the things I actually do want to do right now.

Second, I haven’t always been treating projects properly. A project, according to Getting Things Done, is anything that will take 2 or more next actions to complete. I realized in looking through my to-do list that I had a bunch of projects that were hidden as next actions.

The impact of this is that when I look at my to-do list and I see this project disguised as a next action, I have to pause to think about how I can action on it. Part of the goal of the to-do list is to eliminate that processing need so that it should be an efficient grab and go when doing a to-do list item.

For instance, something I’ve had in my to-do list for a while has been “Add key book notes to Anki.” I later realized that this was a project because there are several next actions associated with it:

  1. Decide which books from Kindle website to add notes to Anki
  2. (For each of those books) Review notes and decide which notes to be added to Anki
  3. (For each of those notes) Create an Anki card to review the note

Without breaking that action item down, I have to stop and think “What notes do I want to add to Anki? Where will I find those notes?” This was making my to-do list more of an inbox or dumping ground than a to-do list.

Third, I realized that some things are better stored outside of my to-do list. I had a bad habit of putting everything into my to-do list, but I realized that there were a couple things I could move out of it.

Things that have to happen on specific days or at specific times belong on my calendar, not my to-do list. So some things on my to-do list like “Text Bob to remind them about X” have been cluttering my to-do list and I’m planning on moving them to my calendar instead.

Relatedly, I realized that, especially while my to-do list is still so cluttered, it was hard to keep track of how I was progressing on my annual goals. Today I decided to try something new to make this more visual.

I’m going to try making my weekly progress super easy to visualize. This way I don’t have to stop and think about how much I’ve already completed this week, and how much I have to do to stay on track. Plus the bouncy balls are colourful and easy to see, so I’m hoping it will be a quick reminder for me to see my progress. (Also curious to see if removing the bouncy balls as I complete the tasks will serve as some sort of positive mental feedback for me.)

Bodhichitta

When we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, these are the times that we connect with bodhichitta. Tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect. Being in this place may feel uncertain and edgy but it’s also a big relief. Just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it’s what we need to do.

“The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön

I had book club tonight with Emily and Jenny. We’re reading Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You. I figured I’d use this opportunity to gather my thoughts and notes before the meeting.

One of the themes of the reading this week I thought about as control, security, and impermanence.

There is the idea that everybody seeks security. Often we do this in the form of trying to control things. But much of what we think we can control, we don’t actually have control over.

I recall in a session with my therapist last year, I realized that I don’t have control over my attention. And I’ve talked to a couple people recently who think we can control our thoughts and emotions, but I’m not convinced they’re right. (Otherwise, there would be no such thing as random thoughts or unhappiness, non?)

A related idea that I’m trying to pay more attention to now is the idea that frustration may be an indicator that we’ve failed to control (or to find security in) something. I’m sure in the moment, I’m not consciously trying to control something.

For instance, if a coworker starts questioning a choice I’ve made, I may get frustrated. However, if I can slow myself down and look for where I’ve been seeking security, I may realize what’s really going on. Perhaps I’m worried that I’m not doing the right thing, or that my coworker doesn’t trust me, or that I’m disliked by my coworker. I’m curious whether the frustration will change if I can become present to that belief that I’m subconsciously holding.

Another big theme this week is what I think about as shields.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Suzuki Roshi

I caught myself reflecting on shields last night when I was on my evening run. As I was running down the sidewalk, I looked up and saw somebody in the distance on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They moved to the other side of the sidewalk as we approached each other, but I realized (shortly after the fact) that I was already preparing to fight (a metaphorical mood) the second I saw them on the wrong side of the sidewalk.

Reflecting on this, I saw that I follow these rules because it keeps me safe (related to the control/security I mentioned earlier). If I follow the rules, I won’t get in trouble. And if I stay out of trouble, no one has any reason to cast me out.

So when I saw this other person on the sidewalk, potentially preventing me from following the rules that I had become well-acquainted with, I felt threatened. I got frustrated because I was forced to confront the impermanence of my security.

Indeed, one of the repeated metaphors in the book is this idea that there is some Bodhichitta–an enlightened soul–inside of each of us. This represents our vulnerability, our true existence as humans. But because people avoid discomfort, we harden a protective shield around the Bodhichitta. We develop several strategies to avoid experiencing the discomfort. As was revealed last night on my run, one of my strategies is to follow the rules.

But I have other shields as well.

I have a belief that if I find a life partner, I will have found happiness and succeeded in life; I also have a belief that hook-up culture is a bad thing, probably because it impedes me in trying to find a life partner. I find myself eating whenever I experience any discomfort in my body. And I also realized while doing this reading that I also use sports as a mechanism to escape–when I’m focused on the game, it means I’m unable to think about anything else.

Another interesting thought I gained from the reading was the idea that the problem isn’t any of these beliefs or actions–the problem is that I use them to feel grounded and avoid feeling discomfort.

A fresh attitude starts to happen when we look to see that yesterday was yesterday, and now it is gone; today is today and now it is new. It is like that—every hour, every minute is changing. If we stop observing change, then we stop seeing everything as new.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

Interestingly, one of the things in the reading that I realized I really struggle with is self-compassion.

When I catch myself in one of these patterns (or after running one of these patterns), or if I catch myself being afraid of something, I’ll usually try to convince myself that what I’m doing is stupid.

Why would you be afraid of that? What harm can it really do to you? You’re still safe right now, aren’t you?

Why are you getting angry about that? Can’t you see that you actually have this insecurity because of something that happened to you years ago? Do you really think that what’s happening now is remotely related to that?

And because I resist those patterns, those patterns persist. When I go to war with myself, I just reinforce those habits.

Meditation practice is regarded as a good and in fact excellent way to overcome warfare in the world: our own warfare as well as greater warfare.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In reading this book and chatting with my therapist yesterday, I realized I need to change some things up about how I’ve been meditating. In addition to changing how I relate to myself, I also need the emotional component of my meditation. I tend to look at my emotions during meditation almost like from an out-of-body perspective–I go into cognitive mode and just look at the emotion I’ve identified. Instead of doing this, I need to learn how to sit with the emotion and experience the emotion without pushing it away or trying to run away to somewhere more familiar. I haven’t exactly figured out how I’m going to do that yet, but one step at a time.

Another thing from the reading that I also talked with my therapist about is the idea of being able to trust our experiences as valid, while at the same time being able to move on and live harmoniously with the people in our lives. I haven’t quite figured this out, either. I know I tend to either hold my experience as truth and lash out at the people who I identify as threats, or I am able to get along with other people by trying to convince myself that my experience isn’t real.

So something I need to start practicing is accepting myself where I am, as I am. Once I do that and acknowledge my habits (and observe my shields), I can choose whether to continue to behave in accordance with that habit, or to try something different. This way, I’m not resisting myself, and at the same time, I’m allowing myself to soften–to see other possibilities of being or acting.

Finally, a last thought I had was some interesting parallels between the reading and stoicism.

The first has to do with the stoic notion of “the obstacle is the way.” Often with stoicism, I interpret this to mean “I have a goal, and there’s something preventing me from reaching my goal. I must address that something in order to move forward.” In the case of the reading, I find it similar. But instead of something informing the direction, it is an emotion or body sensation that informs the direction. External versus internal, I guess. I actually experienced this first hand with my therapist where a churning sensation in my gut tipped us off that I needed more structure when it came to a meditation practice that she had initially suggested; because of that, we were able to address that concern that I had.

The second has to do with the stoic notion of “sympatheia.” The idea in the reading that struck me as being parallel is the notion of “egolessness.” The idea that we are all part of the greater whole, and that it causes us great suffering that we go through life perceiving that we are each the centre of our own universe. I’m curious to see if Chödrön will talk more about this later because often my interpretation of the reading is that much of Buddhism is very solitary, and I’m interested to seeing how these two things come together.