The shape of a day

After a decade of working from home, I have no daily routine to speak of.

I have always wanted to have a routine, but I have never managed to keep one up. The main reason is because of the way my mind works. At least this is how I have come to justify my, in the eyes of an outsider, rather haphazard way of life at home.

I need inspiration in order to spring into action, whether it’s for work or for mundane things like cooking or drinking tea. I can’t keep to a strict timetable because if I’m not feeling it, then I don’t want to be doing it. This is especially so for my work, which is creative in nature. And also for writing — if I’m not feeling it, I can’t write it.

Having said that, I do have a list of things I want to make sure I do throughout the day. I have a document titled “The Shape of A Day” in my Evernote that outlines how a good day at home looks like. It serves as a reminder for me, a constant point of reference.

A good day is when I wake up early, drink plenty of warm water, find time to meditate, exercise, read and do work that needs to be done. A good day must also allow for exploratory, non-essential creative work. In other words, I must have my play time. I must have the freedom to let my thoughts meander, to feel bored, to learn new things, etc. A strict timetable will not allow for this sort of flexibility and anything-can-happen-ness.

Often I cannot check all the items on this list, but as long as I can hit 75% I consider the day a win. (Sometimes I cut myself some slack and ignore this list entirely.)

One thing that’s really important for working at home successfully is the ability to focus. It’s really hard to get meaningful work done at home if we can’t focus. So sometimes I resort to deleting my social media apps. And I like to switch on the airplane mode on my phone. It’s crucial that I work in a state of utter disconnection.

What role does discipline play in all these then? The truth is that to have a reasonable amount of creative output, we must also be reasonably disciplined. As much as I love the freedom of doing things only when I’m inspired to do them, I don’t think I can produce anything meaningful without a measure of discipline.

So yes, I navigate daily that tricky territory between inspiration and discipline. Writing is a good example. I am not always inspired to write, but I do have a desire to do it. This is where discipline comes in. I make myself sit down and write, and this often leads, miraculously, to moments of inspiration and flow.

I don’t think I can ever hit peak productivity with my haphazard way of working, but then I also think we have to stick with what works best for our individual personalities and inclinations. For now this is what works for me. But who knows, things can change on a dime. I’ll update when they do.

Reading challenge & Anthony Bourdain

My reading challenge of 2020 is to read 50 books. I’m only two down. Need to buck up!

Halfway through Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” and Rachel Cusk’s “Outline”. Nowadays my practice is to abandon books quickly. I don’t have enough life to read bad books. Definitely going to finish reading “Kitchen Confidential” but I haven’t decided if Rachel Cusk’s book is good or bad (feels over-written and too literary, which is not a bad thing but not to my taste these days).

But Anthony Bourdain… Reading the book made me want to go back to watching Parts Unknown. As much as I love him I haven’t seen every single episode yet. It really is a beautiful and wonderfully made show, with a special something that you cannot put your finger to. Heart? Guts? Honesty? I don’t know. But I love it. His blog in particular is a thing of beauty. I go back to it every once and awhile, just to savor his words. The guy really was a born writer.

The world misses him.

Learn to meditate

If there’s a good time to learn to meditate it would be now, thick in the woods of a global pandemic. This is THE moment to start noticing your monkey brain and the misadventures it can get up to.

If you’re a total beginner it can be hard to really grasp what meditation is and whether you’re doing it “right” (you can’t really do it “wrong”, by the way — more on that in a future post). One of the books that really helped me gain a better understanding was 10% Happier by Dan Harris. But feel free to grab any book about meditation that appeals to you. It will take a while for all the different information to coalesce and for the ideas to really sink in (it took quite a few years for me actually).

In a nutshell — and this is my own crude definition — to meditate is to notice that you are thinking.

Most of us spend our entire lives walking around thinking we are our thoughts. When you learn to meditate, you learn to discover the you behind the thinker. You learn to notice the incessant thinking that goes on in your head. And you learn, in the process, that if you can sit back and observe your thoughts, then your thoughts are not you, and therefore you don’t always need to be yanked around (like a fool, I must add) by them.

A quick way to start:

Sit down somewhere.

A couch, on your yoga mat. Anywhere is fine.

Sit up if you can and keep your spine straight. This is so you can maintain a sort of alertness / awakeness and not fall off into sleep (that’s why we don’t usually try to meditate lying down).

Relax your eyes and eyelids. You can look down without focusing on anything in particular. Or you can close your eyes. It’s up to you. (I prefer the former.)

Start by noticing your breathing. You don’t have to breathe in any particular way. Just notice how you are breathing.

Inevitably, thoughts will arise. An angry or anxious thought. Or thoughts about the errands you need to do later. Trivial thoughts. Serious thoughts. It’s easy to go with them, to get carried away.

The work of meditation is to notice that you’re getting carried away by your thoughts.

The moment you notice that you’re thinking of this and that again, come back to noticing your breath.

It has been said that every time you do that (remembering to come back to your breath), you are doing a bicep curl for the brain.

(Our brain has plasticity. That is the basis of why meditation works — the idea is that our brains can be trained to change over time.)

Continue to sit. Start with one minute if you cannot sit for long. Or you can do ten minutes, twenty. Whatever is comfortable for you.

(You can use a meditation timer like the one on the Plum Village app or any other app you like.)

Sit. Think. Notice. Come back to your breath. Repeat.

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That’s one way to start meditating. There are lots of different ways and traditions, but the core idea is the same, which is to train your brain to better notice your thoughts and therefore gain a larger awareness of your true self — the observer of the thoughts.

Meditation is not a quick fix solution to our problems. A lot of times, all we achieve while meditating is that we get to sit with our suffering. The pain doesn’t go away every time you practice.

But the ultimate promise of meditation is that there is a constant blue sky behind the clouds. Your thoughts are the clouds. The blue sky is your natural state of mind, one that is healthy and clear and calm and that just is.

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Another book that is really helpful and delightful to read is Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s “The Joy of Living”. He writes a lot about the science behind why this all works. Check it out!

Thou art mortal

“There is no amount of fleeing or quarantining we can do to insulate ourselves from the reality of human existence: memento mori—thou art mortal. No one, no country, no planet is as safe or as special as we like to think we are. We are all at the mercy of enormous events outside our control, even (or especially) when that enormity arrives on a wave of invisible, infinitesimally small microbes. You can go at any moment, Marcus was constantly reminding himself and being reminded of the events swirling around him. He made sure this fact shaped every choice and action and thought.

Be good to each other, that was the prevailing belief of Marcus’s life. A disease like the plague, “can only threaten your life,” he said in Meditations, but evil, selfishness, pride, hypocrisy, fear—these things “attack our humanity.”

Which is why we must use this terrible crisis as an opportunity to learn, to remember the core virtues that Marcus Aurelius tried to live by: Humility. Kindness. Service. Wisdom. We can’t waste time. We can’t take people or things or our health for granted.”

Daily Stoic

Not redesigning

I made a decision this morning to not redesign my blog/website. Partially to swallow my own pill of accepting that most things in my life are imperfect but good enough, but also because I thought I should focus on what I really want to do, which is to write and publish more.

I don’t have much of a talent for web design anyway — even if I end up using Webflow to redesign my blog/website, the design is still going to end up as minimalist as it is right now, which is the way I like it.

So for now, no more wavering over whether I should redesign my blog/website. Case closed!

The definition of slothhood

I’m beginning to understand “slothing” not as doing nothing but as doing things at a comfortable and relaxed pace, without feeling like you’re “chased after” by the world.

We actually do go soft and lazy if we do nothing for long periods of time. Our willpower goes to mush. Inertia builds. In the end we’re too lazy to do things and we’re rolling around in our beds mindlessly for days on end and before we know it, precious time has passed us by.

There can be no relaxation without first experiencing stress. There is no happiness that can feel like happiness if you haven’t first experienced sadness. The concept of things don’t stand on themselves in this world; they exist only in contrast to their opposite value. Light is not light if we cannot grasp the idea of darkness. And so life itself is not life if death is not real. That’s just the way things are.

But let’s come back to the idea of being a sloth. The central idea of slothhood, to me at least, is living life on your own terms and not the world’s. A sloth does whatever the hell she wants to do whenever she wants to do it, with zero guilt. But it doesn’t mean a sloth simply sits on her armchair and does nothing all day.

Doing nothing is nice. We should never be afraid to do nothing. In fact we should do nothing fearlessly and whenever we want to, to hell with what the world thinks. We are not obliged to do anything at all in this world. But doing things feels good too and makes the days of doing nothing feel even better. In Buddhism they talk about the Middle Way — taking the path between two extremes, we find virtue and enlightenment. I’m a believer of this truth.

There is joy to be found in both doing nothing and doing something. When you do nothing, you meet yourself. When you do something, you meet with the world. Whether it’s yourself or the world, there is a whole universe to explore and take delight in.

So do or not do, it’s up to you. But always tread the middle way and always be true and kind to yourself.

(The problem only arrives when we do things for the wrong reason — to impress, to invite compliments, to ignore the real issues that are at the bottom of our psychological distress, to avoid confronting ourselves, to run away from life, to fill that unfillable hole in our heart.)

The above are just some of my evolving thoughts on life as a sloth.

Happy

I woke up all warm and fuzzy and excited to do things. I don’t know if it’s the weather (looks like it’s about to rain, which is my favorite kind of weather) or because I just came out of a crazy 4-day shoot and all the stress is now finally just melting away, resulting in a happy burst of endorphins… but I’m feeling good.

Going to spend the day cleaning the house (which is in a mess) and… I don’t know, doing whatever the fuck I wanna do, now that my sabbatical has kind of started.

Yeah!

On another note, I’m thinking of rebuilding my blog now that I have so much free time. But first I need to finish my Webflow course!