Reading “Digital Minimalism”

Walking with Stella

Yesterday, out on the bike path, there was a new slant of light. A spring slant. It was still blowing in the 20s in my face, but there was a definite shift in the angle of the sun. Stella and I both felt it. 

This new light and the cold on my face reminded me of when I used to be a runner. I ran everyday. Rain or shine. I trained up and down the hills. 

 My walks with Stella are taking on this same kind of regularity.

I like it.

Reading Digital Minimalism

Newport On Walking:

I just got finished reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. He too, highly recommends taking long walks alone. He calls walking “a high-quality source of solitude.” (p.119)

He quotes Nietzsche, “Only thoughts reached by walking have value.” 

I, personally, have always liked the Latin phrase, solvitur ambulando which means: All is solved through walking.

Pretty much my experience. If I have a problem, I take it for a walk. The bigger the problem, the longer the walk.

Newport takes his problems on walks sometimes, too, he says, but he also goes on what he calls “gratitude walks” where he just appreciates the environment.

That’s what I try to do when I take Stella. I try to get out of my head and just notice nature and the sky, and do what Thoreau did: spend a lot of time staring at ice.

 One of our walks takes us across a beaver dam. There’s ice on both sides of the path. It’s getting thinner.

Beavers soon.

On a regular basis, go for long walks, preferably somewhere scenic. Take these walks alone, which means not just by yourself, but also, if possible, without your phone. If you’re wearing headphones, or monitoring a text message chain, or, God forbid narrating the stroll on Instagram—you’re not really walking, and therefore you’re not going to experience this practice’s greatest benefits.” P. 121

And what are the benefits? Clearer thinking, time to clarify values, time to connect to nature, and as a high quality source of solitude.

Newport On Leisure:

He makes a lot of distinctions in this book between high quality and low quality things.

 Things like leisure.

He says there are high quality leisure activities and low quality ones. If it’s passive, it’s low-quality: video games, watching sports, web-surfing and long evenings at the bar.

High quality leisure activities involve making things in the world, either that, or being super-social.

High quality leisure activities are often done outside and always without screens, unless it’s using a YouTube tutorial to learn how to fix something.

Ever since I read this I’ve been trying to think of something I do that results in something physical in the world.  I can’t think of a thing.

I have lots of low-quality leisure activities though, but no high-quality ones. Someone I follow on FB just posted pictures of a table she made from a slab of wood she found in the woods. It’s gorgeous. It’s amazing. That’s what Newport would call a high-quality leisure activity.

What do I do that’s comparable to that? Nothing. I need a thing like that to do. I need to make something. What, though?

This is what I’m thinking about on my walks these days, in between staring at ice, and trying not to think at all.

Reconciliation after a long estrangement

One of the things on my “Things I Love” list are movies that end with reconciliations after long estrangements.

I feel like I am living one of those movies now. I have been holding a grudge towards a person in my town for a long time, and only recently, thanks in part to Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and to the power of metta meditation, and to this person’s generosity of spirit, have I been able to soften my heart and just let all the armoring and hate in my heart go.

Tonight I had such a deeply satisfying conversation with my old “grudge buddy” that all vestiges of this old hurt is now totally gone.

It feels good.

I probably should say more about this, go into it more deeply and philosophically, and maybe I will at some later date, but tonight it is late and I am tired and just need to sleep.

Namaste, friends.

What are you reading these days?

One of the things I love most about G’s dad, Owen, is his love of reading. He always has a book going and when he is not out fishing, or fixing something in our house, or making a run to the dump with G (all things that happened this morning) he is on the couch engrossed in a book (he loves thrillers and mysteries). I think he must go through a book a week.

When I see him reading, I feel like it gives me permission to curl up with my own book for awhile. And I just love that.

As I child, I was an avid reader, but reading wasn’t encouraged. When my mother “caught” me reading, she would yell about all the stuff I should be doing instead: cleaning my room, washing the dishes, vacuuming, mowing the lawn.

Reading was goofing off, being idle, doing nothing. So I had to fit my reading in at night or when she wasn’t around.

(My mother was an idiot. Clearly.)

My daughter is a reader. So is my son-in-law. If I give them a Powell’s gift card for their birthdays, they are in heaven.

These days I see more people messing on computers or phones than reading books. When I mention the books I am reading, no one tells me about the books they are reading. I just have to assume that they don’t have a book going. It’s okay I guess, but I really miss talking about books.

I should start a book group. I have seriously thought about it. It would be have to be a group that likes to read the same kind of stuff I do, though, which is mainly non-fiction about finding your passion, peak performance, the search for self, navigating uncertainties, developing focus, and inspired leadership.

I should really do that. Put something out on Facebook. See who responds. In the fall, maybe.

When summer comes though, I like to take a break from all the non-fiction and lose myself in novels. So I am asking for some recommendations. What should I read this summer? No junky fiction, please. Last summer I read The Goldfinch, The Bees, and The Signature of All Things. I am looking for fiction of that ilk. Great fiction. The new Haruki Murakami isn’t coming out until August, so I need something NOW.

Suggestions? Please?

The First Day of Spring

Today it snowed. Two inches of heavy wet snow on this astronomical “first day of spring.”

I got up, made coffee and raisin toast, filled the bird feeders, then headed up to my cozy lair, turned on the space heater and settled in for a long write.

Yesterday a book I had ordered called, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donahue came.

I had come across a poem from this collection recently,  and fell in love with it, so I ordered the volume.

And today, while the snow fell softly, and my room filled with warmth, I sat and read it from cover to cover.

And wept.

And underlined.

And wrote notes to myself so I would not t forget this.

And stared out the window. And thought about my life, and my death, and time and love.

And as the snow continued to fall, I got up and checked the mail, and for the first time in many years there was no letter. And I was sad.

Every year for the past 6 or 7, I have led a Yoga Nidra class on New Year’s Eve and at the end, I offer the people who come the opportunity to write a letter to themselves.

I write one, too. And it always starts like this, “Dear Kath, I have been waiting for you to get really quiet and listen to me because I have so many things I need to talk to you about, darling.”

This is a letter from my soul, my heart, inner wisdom guide. And after yoga nidra, I am so deeply dialed in, that I don’t even write it. I just surrender the pen to her, and she tells me what I really need to know.

When the letter is done, I seal it in an envelope, and collect all the similar sealed, self-addressed letters of the participants, and then mail them all to arrive in mailboxes on the first day of spring.

But this year, I didn’t have the Yoga Nidra class. This year I didn’t write my letter, and so today, there was no letter from my soul.

Maybe that is why the universe sent me the astonishingly beautiful Blessings from John O’Donahue.

Spring has always been my favorite season. From this day until the Summer Solstice, I have always felt, since early childhood, a quickening and a coming to life at this time of year.

Spring does not always have the best weather here where I live in northern Pennsylvania. It is a fickle season of rain and snow. It is a season that teases, then withdraws.

It is often muddy and cold and sullen. But every day is a bit longer than the one before. Every day a new bird arrives at the feeder, a new flower pierces the snow crust.

Tomorrow I think I will write a letter to myself and give it to G to mail to me on the Summer Solstice. I like getting letters from my  spirit in the mail.

But for today I would ask that if you are so inclined, order this John O’Donahue book, and read it in your cozy lair.  I think you will be amazed. I will leave you with this excerpt from his poem ,A Morning Offering:

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers.

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

4 Goals For The Next 12 Weeks

This morning during my meditation, I was forced to confront the fact that my project has slowed down. (Who am I kidding? It has come to a halt. Not a screeching halt. Just a quiet, rubbery thud of a halt. Which is the worst kind: a thud can go unnoticed, but a screech gets your attention.

Ever since I took those 12 people through the exercises in the book to see if they really worked, I never got back to it.

I let the fire go out. Okay, not entirely. There is still a soft bed of glowing ash that could easily be coaxed back to a roaring blaze with a few pumps of a bellows, but I need to blow on that sucker!  I need to get back to it and finish it, and SHIP IT

It is all sitting in Scrivener but it is a holy mess. I keep wondering if I should take the time and go back to the LearnScrivenerFast videos and figure out how to bring this beast of a manuscript into some kind of order? Or is that just a procrastination project?

Am I just using Scrivener to distract myself from the discomfort of having to deal with an unwieldy piece of writing?

Or,  would time spent reacquainting myself with some of the features of Scrivener be time well invested because I would then have mastery over this amazing piece of writing software for the duration of my writing career? (i.e. the rest of my life.)

So I sat on my chair with my Insight Timer on my lap, and quote, unquote “meditated.”

I watched the panic surge up. I watched my confusion. I focused on the sound of the space heater’s fan, my own breathing, and the high-pitched tone of my tinnitis.

When the gong sounded, I slowly opened my eyes and the first thing I noticed was the pile of Pick 4 books on the bed.

I had gotten them out thinking I would send one to my new health coaching client, but as it turns out, I am not going to be working with her after all.

This Pick 4 book is a “goal setting” tool. I bought these for myself, but also to give to my clients at the recommendation of Seth Godin, who re-packaged this Zig Ziglar piece of magic, and wrote a new introductory  “reframe” for it. I tried it myself way back when, and although I had high hopes, I never kept up with it.

Today though, it gave me a mega-jolt of inspiration.

So I sat down and recommitted to 4 new goals for the next 12 weeks:

Number 1: Finish and Ship this book.

Number 2: Become an expert in Scrivener.

Number 3: Get really, really, really strong. 

Number 4: Express gratitude daily.

Every morning, Monday through Friday from 7 AM to 9 AM: Work on the book.

I will work on Scrivener on the weekends.

I will talk to Vince on Tuesday and we will set some SMART goals for the next 12 weeks of strength training.

And I have hatched a Thank-you note scheme for my loyal yoga students to fulfill the Gratitude goal.

I worked a long time in Scrivener today, and now it is time for bed because my 12 week plan starts tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?

The Return to Interiority

The Return to Interiority

Even though I get melancholy when the season changes from summer to fall, and even more so when it changes from fall to winter, I have to admit that I really do love the return to interiority.

I just read a piece in Elephant Journal by a woman who went to a retreat at Kripalu and decided that she didn’t want to be alone with her “Self” after all.

That’s not me. Not at all. Me? I need solitude, a strong daily dose of it. When I am too much the “social butterfly” I become lost and scattered and my “self” starts pixelating beyond recognition.

In the Stephen Cope book I am reading now, I underlined this: (he is talking about Robert Frost here.)

“He intuited that he needed a life set close to nature–nature, which had always been his muse. Frost was intuitively aware of an important principle: In the cultivation of dharma, there is nothing more important than understanding what conditions are needed, and relentlessly creating them.” (p.81-2)

This has made me think about what conditions I need, and to try to actively create them. Do you know what conditions make you feel like you are living like your True Self?

As a result of reading this, I have instituted a new morning routine. I now get up a little earlier and make myself a cup of decaf . But instead of sitting down at the computer and checking email and Facebook, which was my usual habit, I now take my cup up to my Space Chair, turn on the little heater, and settle in with my book for an hour.

Winterized Space Chair

I can’t tell you how cozy and delightful this is! It seems like I’ve been whining forever about how I need  more time to read, and here it is. Now, instead of leaving my book to the end of the day, when I am toast, I am reading in the front part of the day, when I am rested, alert and receptive.

After an hour’s read, I go and make myself some amaranth cereal and bring it back up into my cozy lair and start alternately scribbling in my journal and shoveling cereal into my mouth.

When another hour has passed, I am good to go: ready to be physically active and socially engaged.

These may not be all my “conditions” but they are certainly key: solitude, reading, and writing.

Do you know what yours are? Care to share?