Wednesday Sway: Taking flight

Three bikes on the canal bridge in Amsterdam, by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

Three bikes on the canal bridge in Amsterdam, by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

I’m going out of town at the end of this week, and I’m not going to be super-available by email or phone between July 25 and August 8. I’m thrilled to report that I will be traveling in Europe, for the first time in 20 years, and most of the places I will visit will be for the first time, period.

This trip in particular has got me moving with the idea of spontaneity. If there’s a single kind of movement I’d like to restore in my life, spontaneity is it. I’ve come to recognize that, especially when planning a trip, I can get very caught up in the little details, and very anxious that everything be planned in advance.

A long walk and talk with my partner in this journey helped me unpack, as it were, some of what is going on for me here. Raised in an atmosphere of uncertainty and lacking a sense of security, I often didn’t know what I would be doing or where I would be living next. Vacations, when I had them, seemed to pop up out of nowhere, suddenly, and holidays – which became very important to me – were often chaotic. In my teenage years, I often felt like plans could change on a dime, and things I was looking forward to could get randomly cancelled and changed without notice. I often felt left in “wait and see” mode, in a kind of suspended animation until decisions I had no part in were made around me. The message I took from this was: if you don’t do it yourself, it won’t happen.

As I became an adult, I tried everything I could to make special occasions special, and to make trips worthwhile. This resulted in a lot of nitpicky planning, especially since money was also often tight. I tended to get more and more stressed out with every event, trip or occasion, worried that we wouldn’t get to see everything, do everything, make everything perfect.

Naturally, this way of being isn’t easeful for anyone around me, and it also keeps me from having as good a time as I could.

My partner, in contrast, grew up traveling the world with his small family. They went everywhere – cycling across Europe, diving in Fiji – and they traveled lightly. They would find places to stay as they went, take the less beaten path when something interesting presented itself, have guidebooks on hand but go without a strict itinerary in mind. This left a sweet taste in my partner’s mouth: not planning too much means I can relax, and that I’m secure enough to do things on the fly.

So as I prepare to take this trip, I notice myself getting anxious, shoulders tightening, breath short, as I peer at my packing lists and things to do and stress over things like whether we have time to visit Alsace or not, because it runs parallel to the route we’re taking through the Black Forest.

And then I think of my partner, take a breath, and think about what it’s going to be like to be in a tiny European car with him, tooling through gorgeous countryside and seeing what kinds of adventures we stumble upon. And then my breath lengthens, my shoulders descend, and I can almost feel the warm summer breeze off the Rhine on my face.

I look forward to seeing you all when I return.

Cuddling FTW

The research on touch continues to mount.  Fact is, the more loving touch you get, the healthier you are.

I’m going out of town tomorrow for a week with a couple of loved ones, to visit one of my favorite cities in the world and then to attend a conference about magic, pagan spirituality, and connection.  I’m looking forward to concentrated time with said loved ones, as well as ritual, connection, touch, music, and yes, cuddling with the brothers and sisters of my tradition.  Days of learning, of craft, and of ecstasy.

I’ll be running some repeats while I’m away, and I look forward to getting back to you beautiful people when I return.

Love, and plenty of touch, to you all.

[Re-run] Cultivating attention

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Sierra Mountains in northern California, and to spend a week in a little mountain resort community called Pinecrest.  While the amenities available at the site are lovely, our experience was reasonably rustic: my girlfriend and I holed up in the cabin her family owns, made of old beams, some of which have the bark still on.  A bat named Bob lives in the rafters of the living room, and sometimes swoops down at dusk for a test flight before leaving for the hunt through an unseen hole in the roof.  We spent our days hiking around the lake or up to mountaintops, swimming, reading to each other on the deck, cooking and eating.  Nights were about wine and the fireplace and more reading and looking at some of the clearest stars I’ve ever seen; they reflected in the glassy lake surface like an inverse world.

Our cell phones didn’t work, and we had no internet access.  I brought my computer in case I wanted to write; I opened it twice to load photos onto it from a camera, and wrote longhand in my paper journal.

From the first day I arrived, still adjusting to being a mile or so above sea level, I started thinking about the quality of attention I have for my day to day activities.  So many people are writing about attention these days: if the media are to be believed, our current society doesn’t have any.  Starting with my childhood and the so-called “MTV generation,” right up through today’s endless barrage of trivia from social media sites and bite-sized Twitter updates, the rise of ADD diagnoses has been matched by a rise of ADD culture, a world where supposedly, none of us has the focus or stamina anymore to give our attention to anything longer than two minutes or 140 characters.

I’d like to call bullshit on this assertion, if only because I think that aside from those people who legitimately suffer from ADD, attention is a skill that can be cultivated.  And that week in the mountains alerted me to how vitally important a skill it is: not just for maintaining productivity, but for self-knowledge, for living an embodied life, for happiness.

At this very moment, I am sitting in a cafe, doing my work away from home and its myriad distractions.  However, I’m also aware that I’m cold, that Gary Puckett is pouring from the cafe speakers (he sings, ironically, “Willpower, it’s now or never…”), I’m getting emails and texts all the time, and I have no fewer than 11 tabs open in my browser.  I am definitely not working in an environment free of distraction, nor am I successfully avoiding engaging them.  (For reference: I meant to do this post about two hours ago.)  Often I will go to a cafe where I don’t have internet access, just to focus my mind better.  But especially because I keep my own schedule, I am terribly prone to distraction.

But Pinecrest didn’t allow for that.  We didn’t even really have TV, just a giant ancient Sanyo we could play from a selection of 20 old VHS tapes on.  (One night we watched Legend of Drunken Master.)  At any given moment, I could:

1. Read

2. Write

3. Read aloud

4. Sit and look at things

5. Do some physical activity

6. Cook, eat, wash or some other basic human activity

My girlfriend also cross-stitched.  During the week she finished her pattern and I finished reading her an entire novel.  I wrote three highly creative letters to a boyfriend, two of them filled with flowers I’d collected along the mountainside and pressed in a journal.  I stared at weird butterflies and well-adapted succulents and gorgeous trees and a sky a color I can barely describe (we called it, alternately, “cerulean” and “bluetiful”).  And something happened to me during that time.

I stopped looking at my phone.  I didn’t open my computer.  And my mind slowed.  Colors are more vivid up there anyway, but things gained in dimension.  My capacity for doing “nothing” – which is to say, to watch, listen, pay attention and breathe – increased day by day.  I found myself listening to the messages of my body – I’d like to exercise today, I need more rest, I’m hungry, please stretch me out, drink some water – with much greater ease.  My mind was as usual full of thoughts and ideas, but they seemed to move at a reasonable pace, without the fog that often characterizes my days in the city.

I don’t think that the entirety of this effect had to do with not having the internet at my fingertips constantly, though it certainly helped.  I know that part of it was being on vacation, giving myself permission to do nothing, being surrounded by mountain air and its attendant clarity of mind.  But what I’m now trying to figure out is how to translate some of that energy to my home life.  What kinds of things can I do, on a day to day basis, to make my focus more pure, my mind more sharp and serene, my distractions less compelling, my attunement to myself more profound?

What would you do?

Cultivating attention

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Sierra Mountains in northern California, and to spend a week in a little mountain resort community called Pinecrest.  While the amenities available at the site are lovely, our experience was reasonably rustic: my girlfriend and I holed up in the cabin her family owns, made of old beams, some of which have the bark still on.  A bat named Bob lives in the rafters of the living room, and sometimes swoops down at dusk for a test flight before leaving for the hunt through an unseen hole in the roof.  We spent our days hiking around the lake or up to mountaintops, swimming, reading to each other on the deck, cooking and eating.  Nights were about wine and the fireplace and more reading and looking at some of the clearest stars I’ve ever seen; they reflected in the glassy lake surface like an inverse world.

Our cell phones didn’t work, and we had no internet access.  I brought my computer in case I wanted to write; I opened it twice to load photos onto it from a camera, and wrote longhand in my paper journal.

From the first day I arrived, still adjusting to being a mile or so above sea level, I started thinking about the quality of attention I have for my day to day activities.  So many people are writing about attention these days: if the media are to be believed, our current society doesn’t have any.  Starting with my childhood and the so-called “MTV generation,” right up through today’s endless barrage of trivia from social media sites and bite-sized Twitter updates, the rise of ADD diagnoses has been matched by a rise of ADD culture, a world where supposedly, none of us has the focus or stamina anymore to give our attention to anything longer than two minutes or 140 characters.

I’d like to call bullshit on this assertion, if only because I think that aside from those people who legitimately suffer from ADD, attention is a skill that can be cultivated.  And that week in the mountains alerted me to how vitally important a skill it is: not just for maintaining productivity, but for self-knowledge, for living an embodied life, for happiness.

At this very moment, I am sitting in a cafe, doing my work away from home and its myriad distractions.  However, I’m also aware that I’m cold, that Gary Puckett is pouring from the cafe speakers (he sings, ironically, “Willpower, it’s now or never…”), I’m getting emails and texts all the time, and I have no fewer than 11 tabs open in my browser.  I am definitely not working in an environment free of distraction, nor am I successfully avoiding engaging them.  (For reference: I meant to do this post about two hours ago.)  Often I will go to a cafe where I don’t have internet access, just to focus my mind better.  But especially because I keep my own schedule, I am terribly prone to distraction.

But Pinecrest didn’t allow for that.  We didn’t even really have TV, just a giant ancient Sanyo we could play from a selection of 20 old VHS tapes on.  (One night we watched Legend of Drunken Master.)  At any given moment, I could:

1. Read

2. Write

3. Read aloud

4. Sit and look at things

5. Do some physical activity

6. Cook, eat, wash or some other basic human activity

My girlfriend also cross-stitched.  During the week she finished her pattern and I finished reading her an entire novel.  I wrote three highly creative letters to a boyfriend, two of them filled with flowers I’d collected along the mountainside and pressed in a journal.  I stared at weird butterflies and well-adapted succulents and gorgeous trees and a sky a color I can barely describe (we called it, alternately, “cerulean” and “bluetiful”).  And something happened to me during that time.

I stopped looking at my phone.  I didn’t open my computer.  And my mind slowed.  Colors are more vivid up there anyway, but things gained in dimension.  My capacity for doing “nothing” – which is to say, to watch, listen, pay attention and breathe – increased day by day.  I found myself listening to the messages of my body – I’d like to exercise today, I need more rest, I’m hungry, please stretch me out, drink some water – with much greater ease.  My mind was as usual full of thoughts and ideas, but they seemed to move at a reasonable pace, without the fog that often characterizes my days in the city.

I don’t think that the entirety of this effect had to do with not having the internet at my fingertips constantly, though it certainly helped.  I know that part of it was being on vacation, giving myself permission to do nothing, being surrounded by mountain air and its attendant clarity of mind.  But what I’m now trying to figure out is how to translate some of that energy to my home life.  What kinds of things can I do, on a day to day basis, to make my focus more pure, my mind more sharp and serene, my distractions less compelling, my attunement to myself more profound?

What would you do?

Off to refresh and revive

Folks, I’m leaving Monday morning early on a week-and-change odyssey to the wilds of Northern California, to spend time in wine country and in the ancestral mountain cabin belonging to my girlfriend’s family.  Very excited about this, and also very aware that for the majority of it, I will be out of cell reception and Internet-land.  I’m excited to see what happens to me when my phone is not yelling at me every five seconds.

This also means that I won’t be blogging here again until probably Friday the 29th (I return Wednesday the 27th after a redeye).  I’m going to set up the blog to auto-repeat some key posts, in case people missed them.

Meantime, if you know anybody whom you think might enjoy this blog or benefit from Rubenfeld Synergy, please send them my way; I am still in the process of building my practice, and that process is long and slow and I need all the help I can get.  As always, if you have any questions, let me know.

Happy summer to you all.