A Train Without Rails

One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?

Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):

 

11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)

 

My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.

Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!

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getting the ball rolling

or, How to Turn Gloomy Nothingness into Motivation**

  1. Focus
  2. Set a sleep schedule. Stick to the sleep schedule.
  3. If all seems lost, do 100 jumping jacks and 10 push-ups
  4. Eat. Eat well.
  5. Write, but don’t write aimlessly. Don’t. Write. Aimlessly. This is not time to let loose with the pen & paper (or keyboard), or to journal about your fucking feelings, or to think up how you haven’t thought up anything yet. This is time to get regular. Write at scheduled times each day: within a few minutes after waking up, after meals, before bed.There are two genres of writing you must commit to in order to go from a state of gloomy nothingness to one of healthy motivation.5a) Write down the time you wake up (to the minute: e.g. what time exactly you stand up), what you eat/drink/ingest/intoxicate yourself with, what medications you take, and the forms of exercise you get. Writing these down each day will give you the first clear and undeniable suggestion of any bullshit you’ve been allowing yourself to get up to: sleeping in, enjoying 4 boxes of Milk Duds for breakfast several days a week, etc.
    5b) Write about your most extreme moods and prevalent thoughts. Don’t write whatever the fuck you want about them, though: don’t write aimlessly. When you write about your most extreme moods and prevalent thoughts do so in a detached way, with your intent being only to offer a memorable record to a future version of you who will be reading your day’s notes. Write about how the mood or thought came on, the content of your conscious awareness during that time, and any other relevant information. Then stop writing. Though unrewarding in the moment and tedious (combined with the genre you’ve already mastered in part 5a it will seem like you are just churning out streams of data) this style of bookkeeping will eventually form a long list of your experiences during your shittiest moments.You now have 2 small books about yourself. The first small book (writing style described in 5a), for those of us who frequently stray from our regular schedule and needs, can offer a simple and brutally honest assessment of one’s daily habits, and therefore the first steps on a route to a more motivated state of being. But when all systems are go and the vehicle is still stuck, meaning that one’s lifestyle is relatively clean but one’s outlook is still relatively filthy, the second small book (writing style described in 5b) becomes more valuable. This description of extreme experiences will offer the second, third, fourth, and fifth steps on a route towards a more specific understanding of the barriers to a more motivated state of being.

    It is extremely important for depressed people to become Writers of these two documents and to also review their writings daily.  These ever-growing documents will give you your one and only chance to more simply articulate your patterns of being and find the weak points at which to strike remaining controllable causes of your depressed mood. Should you choose to sit there and word-vomit with your writing during a depressive phase that is up to you. As for me, the mere sight and smell of my acidic unfiltered feelings spilling onto the floor, only to dry out and be-revisited over and over, doesn’t do much good. You can make your writing fun and creative in other ways: keep a journal for writing type 5a, and a separate journal for writing type 5b. Type them up into cute .pdfs and see if the extreme moods correlate with any lifestyle habits. Go buy yourself a trophy when you discover the basics. Use a special pen to write about your gloomy thoughts. Throw some stickers on that shit. Whatever floats your boat.

  6. Laugh ten times a day. No subject is off limits, just get yourself an ab workout via the giggles.
  7. Chill
  8. Meditate with supervision. Real-life human supervision.
  9. You’ve gotten this far and still feel shitty, so let me ask you this: have you told anyone that your ball has stopped rolling? Find someone to give you a push.

 

**the suggested application of these tactics comes with the assumption that you are under regular supervision and treatment by a competent psychiatric care professional who can write prescriptions. if you aren’t doing that there’s a good reason you still feel shitty.

it must be done physically

“It is as though we had an uncut diamond. We could not really say that it was worthless, or say it was something other than a diamond. But unless skillfully cut and meticulously polished, its diamond-nature might not be visible. The beautiful color and clarity which make it so highly prized would remain in the realm of potential. Of course, we might sincerely believe it to be a diamond. We might even tell others, “This is a diamond and worth a lot.” Yet it would seem peculiar to say, “I don’t need to cut and polish this diamond. I know that it is a diamond, and that’s good enough for me.” Rather, we must cut that diamond and polish its many facets carefully in order that its lovely nature might be shared and enjoyed by all who see it. So it is with our practice. We don’t wish to make diamonds out of mud – we wish to properly appreciate what is already inherent.

But it must be done physically. Our whole practice rests upon a physical base, just as our lives begin physically. First we learn to bring our bodies into harmony – we learn to sit physically. Once that happens, we stop panting and gasping, and start to breathe easily, smoothly, and naturally. And as body and breath settle down and no longer create disturbances for us, we find that the mind itself is given the opportunity to settle into its own smooth and natural functioning. The racket and babble of our noisy minds give way to the clarity and naturalness of our true selves. In this way we come to know who we really are, and what our life and death really is. ”

Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Why Practice?

field notes (06/19/2017) [*50th entry*]

Had the crow experience of a lifetime this morning. Will try to recount it in the fullest detail possible.

Last night I didn’t sleep well. For a week or two I’ve been without much coffee but during the day yesterday had a few cups – normally these many cells process that caffeine quickly but it seems likely that was why I tossed and turned. At 4:41 a.m. I gingerly crawled out of bed to meditate – felt pretty distracted, with lots of intrusive thoughts – and then at 5:00 kept hearing crows. Sounding close but not necessarily outside of the house – at least 2 or 3 of them.

After a while they broke my attempt at a meditative trance and I had to go see them. Grabbed my bag of snacks (corn) and went out onto Selby. Thought I was hearing them a block west and ventured out – expecting to see them in the tall roost-spot past Pierce on the north side of the street. No luck. Turned left down Pierce and quickly realized there were about 3 or 4 crows a block in past Augustine’s. Walked up the street- their cacophony was remarkable and chattery almost to the point of annoyance. The thick, lush green trees – and dark-ish sky, perhaps on a 2.9/10 brightness setting – made it hard to see the little avian monkeys. Their caws were in bursts of three or four and extremely consistent. As I approached I made a few ‘kawwwhhh, kawwhhh’ noises and shook my keys. Then I walked directly beneath the trees, over a manhole cover next to a basketball hoop (east side of the street). I grabbed handfuls of corn and poured them onto the manhole cover. They clicked and clacked and rained their clattery sound onto the ground and to my surprise the crows were rather responsive. It seemed clear as I did this handful after handful – at least 5 or 6 of them – that the birds were watching, and one rearranged itself (seemingly to get a better view).

I continued to alert them with noise and the 4-or-so crows quickly became 10. The most I could count (as they were moving) was 10, but I believe a few were in my periphery. Continued south to the middle-end of the block and laid down a few noticeable ‘lines’ of corn – perhaps 12-18 inches long, 3 or 4 inches thick, and just about 1 layer of corn tall or heightwise. Yellow enough to be bright and visible but not voluminous enough to deplete my entire supply. I laid out one or two of these on the ground and another on a blue recycling can – the crows were extremely loud at this point, and many more were flying in (primarily from the west end of Pierce, above the trees).

Wow – it was exciting. Always I am hoping that they are comfortable or at least unalarmed by my presence, which is to some obvious extent intrusive and loud, and if they are not unalarmed or comfortable my second hope is that they will comfortably leave. Or fly away. What sucks is the possibility that crows needing rest, or really just trying to roost in one spot, or that are otherwise unwilling to take off and fly away from me, are irritated by my presence. So this morning as they screamed and gathered I kept wondering if I was bothering them – scaring them – enraging them – etc. But as they were summoning one another (within a matter of 5 minutes there were 2 dozen large birds) and screaming together over my head, which has certainly never happened in the absence of food before, I must think there was some positive reward response associated with their screams. (Later tomorrow I’ll get back over there to see if they snacked on any of it – do crows even eat corn? Don’t ask me!)

Waving my keys on my carabiner (this is a sort of Pavlovian stimulus that I introduce when I feed the crows anywhere) I walked south into the intersection of Pierce and Hague. Wave wave wave keys, drop drop drop some food, caw caw caw, sing sing sing. A common and monotonous attempt at engagement – and, for my neighbors, probably a sickening morning regularity. There were so many crows (or corvids? Ravens? Hm.) above me that I didn’t know what to do or think. Just black mass after black mass, dipping and swooping like planes, but never getting close or suggesting outward aggression. Unless I am completely ignorant to their own aggressive strategies. Together they could have shredded my scalp (or worse) and instead they simply screamed like an avian chorus and made me super duper happy. I kept laying out seeds and lovingly cooing “hello, babies!!!”

Walked back northward after a while. Those few moments with a zillion birds around me felt like a zillion years. Really admired the big fat one that was atop the roof on the NE intersection of Pierce & Hague. It was short, squat, and had the same inward neck-thrust (head upwards, body fat) as a few ravens on youtube – at least, that was what my memory suggested. For some reason this one bird (on a roof instead of trees or in the air) caught my attention as I was walking through the crowstorm back towards Selby. I walked past Selby and onto Dayton a bit, seeing yet another fatty (maybe the same one from the roof) doing the inward-neck-thrust-guttural-call from atop a tree. NE end of Dayton & Pierce. Hm.

Went home. Scattered corn around the house as I arrived – also put a few round masses of the yellow stuff onto the roof. Then crawled back into bed with a cute girl as the crows kept hollering outside.

field notes pt. 2 (05/06/2017)

“haha Ian I love being in public with you it’s so funny and weird”

“what’s THAT supposed to mean”

“the way you just yell up at crows and talk to them”

“i talk AT them I do not talk TO them”

“uh huh”

“i’m serious. i talk AT them. i can’t talk to animals”

“uh huh. i’m suspicious”