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.

Do You Need A Digital Declutter?

Hand reach out from laptop screen, isolated on black background

The other day I got an email from Cal Newport. He’s proposing to his email list the idea of doing a “digital declutter” in the month of January. It’s part of a study for his next book.

Here’s how he defines a digital declutter:

…you take a 30-day break from optional technologies in your personal life (social media, web browsing, etc). During this period, you clarify what you really value and experiment with how best to serve these values. At the end of the 30 days, you then add back technologies to your life in an intentional way with the goal of supporting these values.”

I signed up for it.

I don’t know all the fine print yet, but there goes Facebook, Twitter, and  Instagram for sure.

I don’t know about online newspapers, or podcasts yet either, but for sure he’ll paint bright lines around “constant email-checking”.

I am a little terrified of this.

That’s because I am currently under the zombie spell of media. Particularly political stuff.

I read my Twitter feed first thing.

I scroll Instagram.

I’m on Facebook.

I read the online versions of both the New York Times and the The Washington Post daily. I don’t watch Morning Joe, but I listen to the show’s 30-40 minute podcast every day.


And what do I get out of this?

Thousands and thousands of micro-hits of dopamine. All. Day. Long.

And I’m totally addicted. Rage and indignation are powerful and exciting drugs. A dark force inside me eats this stuff. And this force is hungry.

So I’m going cold-turkey for a month. The month of January.

It’s gonna be hard.  That kind of “giving up sugar” hard.

But the hope is by month’s end I’ll  have learned how to align my values to my social media habits, and not just use them to distract or enrage me. I want to learn how to be conscious in my use of it, not just get dopamine hits all day long.

I don’t want to get riled up, either good or bad, by media. I want to use it to support, collaborate, or connect with other people– not do whatever it is I’m doing with it now.

It’s very clear I need to take charge of my own eyeballs again. And also full responsibility for how I spend my time. I can’t let Twitter and Facebook, and Morning Joe hijack my attention, which is to say, my life, anymore.

I think this will be a good way to start the new year.

G says she want to do this, too. I’ll  be nice having a fellow sufferer. But even if she doesn’t do it, she understands why I need to, and will be there to root me on.

And this is not just me. From what I’m picking up from the people I talk to in real life, and follow on Facebook (hah), I’m not the only one feeling the need for this.

A lot of people struggle with social media..  If this “digital declutter” in January sounds interesting to you, here’s what you do: just follow this blog, and I’ll pass along any instructions and tips Cal passes on to me. We can do  this together if you want.

We can share stories and struggles in the comments.

(Now I just hope writing and reading blogs is allowed.)


Stay tuned.

How to Motivate… Everyone

See people the way they want to be seen.


It’s magical. All you have to do is see people, but nobody sees anyone anymore. We all live in a narcissistic, ego-centric bubble in which we want to be seen but no one wants to do the seeing.


So, if you can climb out of your own bubble once in a while and actually see another person, they will be astonished. And inspired. And energized. And motivated.

Probe a bit and find out just how they want to be seen. Talk to them about their dreams and aspirations. Do they want to be a leader, a role-model, a hard worker? Do they want to be known for their kindness, their sense of humor, their brilliance? Who do they want to be? What do they want to be known for?

(This might take a little time –and a bit of beer.)

But if you can get a person to describe his vision for you, you will have found motivational gold.

Think about how YOU feel when someone talks to you, relates to you, and treats you like the person you really want to be?

Don’t you feel optimistic and energized? Don’t you want to validate that person’s vision of you in how you work, and behave? Don’t you feel charged and optimistic and energized around that person?

Don’t you want to question that person further, figure out what they’re seeing that you’re not?

This person is going to inspire you to be your best self.

And we all can be this person for somebody. And we probably should.

Try it as a little experiment. Find out the personal aspirations of someone you know, and then just start relating to them as if they already possess those qualities.

Tell them, “You’re an inspiration.” Tell them, “You’re amazing.”

Don’t lie. Just talk to that vision you’re holding of them being their best self.

They’ll be astonished and energized and motivated and inspired.

It’s an art, this kind of seeing.. A skill honed with practice and attention.

But if you can do it, even a little, if you can really see another person, your seeing them will amplify their goodness and change them.

It’s magic.




A Sunday Brunch Meditation

Over gluten-free waffles, green juice and coffee Misty, Vince and I talked about role models, and how if it weren’t for our friends’ families, we would never have imagined that parents could be nice to one another, and to their children.

So if you have a half-way decent family situation, you should open your home to your children’s friends. You should let them see how you operate.

If I had not seen my friends’ parents, I would have never believed that it was possible to live in a calm, sane, rational, loving  environment, and I learned this morning that I’m not the only one.

Misty, too, studied the families of her friends, just like I did.

Vince said that the people he hangs around with now  are astounded that he cooks.

He is baffled by this.

I said, “Nobody cooks anymore, let alone buff, single, 32 year-old personal trainers. So that’s why you need to continue to invite people over for waffles.”

(A lame bid to be asked over for waffles again.)

We are all watching each other. That’s why we read blogs, and FaceBook and are entranced by “Reality TV.” I used to love to walk around my neighborhood at night and look into the lit homes that hadn’t closed their curtains yet.

I saw Mr. Ross reading the newspaper. (Nobody read in my house.)

I heard Mrs. Lynn crashing around in her kitchen. (I grew up eating TV dinners.)

My friend Glenn had to come home and practice the piano for an hour every day before he was allowed to go out and shoot baskets in the driveway. (I didn’t take lessons of any kind.)

Joanne Harrigan had a strict curfew on weekends. (My mother always got home way after me on weekends no matter how late I stayed out.)

I took a lot of comfort from these families.

I wanted my friends’ lives.

Everything I learned about being responsible and caring and intellectual, I learned from the parents of my friends.

So if you are sane, and loving, and rational, invite a kid over for waffles. It could change everything.

A Few Thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Post

Yesterday Elizabeth Gilbert posted a piece about Tribal Shame on her Facebook page. It’s about tribal affiliations and how when you don’t fit in with your tribe, this can cause a lot of pain and suffering until you are able to make a clean break with them. This is something I did a long time ago and never regretted. When the pain of affiliation is greater than the pain of being outcast, that is a good sign that you need to get out.

I never, ever fit in with my family. This fact caused me a lot of pain as a child, and the wounds from that, still, to this day, infect my operating system and cause my system to crash occasionally.

In her piece Gilbert says to say to your tribe as you leave them: “I am going to abandon you now. I am going to betray you now.”

I know the exact moment when I said this to my mother. Not in those words, exactly. Not in any words.

I had been planning my escape from her my whole life. My adolescence was particularly tumultuous. We’d have these rip-roaring scream-fests, in which   I would shout, “Someday I am going to leave you and never look back. And you will be all alone. And it will be the happiest day of my life.”

She would just laugh at me.

I plotted my escape for years. I applied to college without her knowledge, made my financial arrangements without her help or knowledge, got accepted, sent my deposit, and then, one late summer day, out of the blue, I asked her to drive me 5 hours upstate and drop me at a school I had never even seen. And, she did. I think she thought I was bluffing.

I took my stereo, my box of albums and a footlocker of clothes. I kissed her in the parking lot, and then watched as it suddenly dawned on her what was really happening: She wasn’t just dropping me off at school. This was it. This was the promised moment. Game over.

I saw it hit her. Her face went to ash. I was abandoning her.I was betraying her. She realized in that moment that I was never coming home again. I was leaving the tribe I was never a part of to begin with.

In that kiss, she knew it and I knew it.

She was devastated.

But I was finally free.

It was the best day of my life up until that point. We still kept in touch and she tried some lame shenanigans to get me back to the tribe, but of course they didn’t work. She knew I knew her game. She knew I wasn’t going to play anymore.

Some people think even being part of a dysfunctional tribe is better than outcast status, but I disagree. There is nothing worse than pretending to fit into a tribe you hate. It sucks your soul. It robs you of your integrity and your dignity. Far better to sleep alone, than with the enemy.

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.

The Unlived Dream

Everyone has an unlived dream inside them.  Everyone. 

I have never met a single person who did not have an unlived dream. 

Most people spend the majority of their time trying to distract themselves from their unlived dream because they believe that they can’t live it, and that thought gives them a lot of pain so why do that to themselves?  Why not settle for the livable dream. 

There are lots of dreams, after all.  We live some of them and other ones, well, they’re just not practical or realistic, or possible.  So we go through life distracting ourselves from them.

But what would happen if we didn’t?  What if we gave ourselves a few minutes every day to look at our unlived dream? 

We don’t have to DO anything about this dream. At least not right now. But what if we could just muster up the courage to look it in the face. Stare it down. Get to know it. Let it know us.

What if we gave ourselves permission to fantasize about teaching yoga in Costa Rica every winter, or owning our own business, or writing that book, or sailing to Fiji, or building a big addition onto our house, or having a kid, or acting like a kid, or owning a beach house, or reaching our ideal weight and staying there for the rest of our lives?

What if we made it a habit to think about this stuff every day?

What if we devoted 10 minutes a day to this stare-down and called it “meditation”?

What if we faced down these unlived dreams and did not flinch under their accusations of “impractical” or “unrealistic”?

What if instead of dismissing them we bowed to them? What if we acknowledged them? Lit a candle to them and built a little shrine to them inside our hearts?

Can we afford this risk? Can we even entertain the possibility that this small, seemingly inconsequential act might enliven us?

And worse. Can we risk the fallout of igniting these unlived dreams? How could we possibly endure the inevitable fallout of failure and disappointment and exhaustion?

Your unlived dream is the light in you. It gives you your glow, your luster, your sparkle. It’s the light I see and bow to when I say, “Namaste” to you.

It’s my scary, impractical, impossible unlived dream you bow to when you say it back.

Namaste.Mardi Gras Buddha Dog