Becoming Aware

meditate photoDuring meditation, beginners are often taught to be aware of their thoughts. To watch them arise, follow their course, and then fall away again. It's a very tough practice to get into and that's one of the reasons meditation is so hard. There shouldn't be any judgement when you come up with these thoughts, just watching them like you're floating above the thought.The first time I heard that, I thought it was crazy but when I tried doing it, when I tried watching my thoughts, instead of being active in them, it's really interesting. I still think it's a bit crazy to think about watching your thoughts in third person. I've thought many things were crazy until I saw proof so I don't really think too much is that crazy any more.What are you doing with this practice is becoming aware. You become aware of what your thoughts are doing and not participating in them but just watching them flow by like in a river. I try to meditate as often as I can (which isn't very much) and the little I have done has shown me that you can watch your thoughts at any time during the day. The more involved you are in something, the less you can step back and watch your thoughts. It takes you out of what you are doing.Watching your thoughts can take you out of flow. If flow is your goal then watching your thoughts can prevent that all-in engagement that you are looking for. Instead of highlighting yourself and watching your thoughts, you'll want to be in within your thoughts 100%. Being in flow has it's own benefits and so does meditation but they seem to be opposite in how they operate.While it's hard to be self-aware while you're in flow in those thoughts, it can be useful to come back to awareness during the day. Brendan Burchard uses a trigger during the day to tip himself into self-awareness and do a mental and physical checkin. How's your breathing? How's your posture? How's your positive thinking? That checkin requires awareness of what's happening with your thoughts. Burchard's use of the trigger of being in a line-up brings him out of his thoughts. Line-up, checkin. Line-up, checkin.These moments of awareness are great for every kind of self-improvement metric. You could create a trigger during the day to ask what you just at and how healthy was it? Or how much have you moved in the last 30 minutes? Or are you sitting up straight with proper back position.I'm a computer programmer during the day and it's extremely difficult to maintain proper posture the whole time. When you're deep in the code, the last thing you are thinking about is what your body is doing aside from your fingers. As long as you're fingers can type as fast as they can go, then who cares what the rest of the body is doing, even if it's bent out of shape and creating long term join and back issues. I'm becoming more aware of my posture while I work as well as while I walk or drive or play. My trigger has been other people's posture.One look at another person's posture now and what used to send a list of "shoulds" for that other person through my mind, now sends a trigger to my awareness HQ about my own posture. How is mine doing. Am I perfect posture right now? Probably not. Straighten up.You'd be a mess if you sat watching your thoughts all day long though. There needs to be a balance of being in your thoughts and watching them.Just don't start worrying about what happens when you become aware of becoming aware.

Meditation Challenge Wrap-Up and December's Challenge

I've just wrapped up a month of meditating almost every day. My intention was to do it every day of the month but between other work and long days, I didn't feel up to it some sessions. The goal was to learn as much as I could and see what it was like. I've read so much about meditation and the benefits to anyone doing anything so I decided to give it a try.One of the biggest encouragements to try was through Jonathon Fields book Uncertainty. After reading through the examples of people using meditation as an anchor in their hectic lives to keep them grounded and live a creative life, I was convinced. I had to try it.Initially I had a few questions, I'll answer them here as best I can but I don't claim to be any sort of expert on meditation. I did it for 30 days and that's about it. I will say right now that I like the practice very much if for nothing else than the relaxing few minutes of the day I could look forward too.What do I think about?I'm not sure which style I was focused more on while I was meditating. Vipassana or "insight meditation" is about just sitting, there is no thinking or focus involved just sitting. I read a bit about Zazen as well or the focus on the breath. I found this to be the easiest to do because it gave me something to focus on. I count to 10 and then start back at one. When you reach 20 or 30 you know you've been thinking about something else and can restart your count.What time of day should I meditate?I tended to sit and meditate when I got home after work. That was the time that worked best for me. Sometimes I would have too much coffee or my brain would be spinning from everything that happened that day and it was hard to slow everything down. I guess that's one of the benefits of meditation is it can help you relax and organize your thoughts from the day. I've heard many good things about meditating early in the morning soon after you wake up. This helps you be present and mindful for the rest of the day instead of focusing on it near the end of the day. Early morning can be a peaceful and quiet time to sit as well.How long do I sit for?I used a recording from Blissitations and sat for 15 minutes each day. I found some days I couldn't go a second longer than that, and some I took my time and ended up doing 25 or 30 minutes. I've read that anything more than 5 minutes can give you some benefit in terms of relaxation and starting to organize your mind but many say that 15 minutes would be he bare minimum you'd need to actually meditate.Do I listen to anything?I didn't plan to listen to anything while meditating but sometimes it's helpful to screen out sounds from around me. I'd get listening to something in my house and start thinking about the things I had to do around the house. I've read that listening to soothing sounds and counting at the same time splits your attention and that's not really the point of the exercise. I found that I'd either be actively listening to the Blissitation or I'd be counting and not really both anyways.Did I listen to music? I didn't listen to any music while I was doing it. The Blissitation I was using was 15 minutes long and a relaxing recording of the rain. I find that sound very relaxing to begin with so it worked well.  A lot of what I read said that music can be very distracting although there can be times where just listening to the music and only the music can be meditative.What's a Binaural Beat?I ran across these things called Binaural Beats during my research. Apparently certain sounds can induce your brain into certain states. When you are meditating you want to get your brain to slow down and get into the states where the brain waves move slower. Delta is the slowest. Some people that have been meditating for a long time can get into that state from meditating but most can't. Binaural Beats can help you get into that state by just listening to them and experience the benefits without having to meditate for years and years. One I came across was called Holosync and I saw a few different recommendations for it.  I did see some information about it causing "upheaval" periods so I decided not to try it now until I got more information about it. It was on the expensive side of the available products as well so it will have to wait.Should I sit or lay down?I tried laying down at first because I thought it would be a great time to catch up on my napping and that's exactly what happened. I would fall asleep. I have read about people doing "napitations" which start as meditating and end up being a short nap. They can be beneficial if you need to catch up on your sleep at the same time. I ended up sitting for most of my sessions. I had troubles sitting in the lotus position or even cross-legged for 15 minutes. The indian position worked well or just sitting on the edge of a chair or couch. Sounds like whatever position that is comfortable to sit in for 15 minutes is ok.Should I close my eyes?I closed my eyes for most of my sessions. That lead to falling asleep when I was laying down but it was fine when I was sitting up. The traditional way to do it is to have your eyes slightly open and focused a few meters in front of you. This prevents you from falling asleep. The whole idea is that you are awake and present the entire time. You don't want to have to close your eyes every time you want to relax during the day!Meditating before or after exercise?I ran a few times before and after meditating and both orders felt great. When I ran and then meditated I had to be careful to stretch and then get into my position for meditation or else I would stiffen up while sitting. Running is almost meditative for me anyways so the two went along well. I found I would be a lot more present on my run if I meditated first. I want to experiment with this more and see if there is more of a difference I missed the first few times I did it.What's the next Spark Challenge for December?I've been kicking around the idea of doing a Guitar challenge but wasn't sure if I should just start on my own and see what happens or go take some lessons. I feel like guitar is one of those things that you can get some pretty bad habits engrained if you start practicing in earnest without having had some formal lessons.I've got a marathon training clinic coming up in January so I didn't want to start any lessons that I'd only take for a few weeks. I am still doing the guitar challenge but it will be with a book and DVD set I have called "Learn Guitar in 24 Hours". It sure sounds hokey but so far it's been really good.I think almost any learning methods would work for guitar as long as I practice a ton. I've been doing about 15 -20 minutes a day so far and I'm sure feeling it in my fingers. Each day I go to practice, I feel it less though. I'm not sure how long it's going to be before I can play as long as I want but I hope to keep up the practice as long as I can and get to a point where I can at least play a couple songs before having to take a finger rest!I've got a couple easy songs in my head that I'd like to learn how to play so the first couple weeks of December are going to be practicing chords and getting the basics down and then the last week, I'll be trying to get a song or 2 learned.Anyone else doing a Challenge for December? If you are let me know so I can check out your progress!  

October Writing Wrap-up and November's Challenge

The first every Spark Challenge is done. I spent October writing every day. Well, make that trying to write every day.Every day was a battle of time. What do I spend my time on? I could spend 2 or 3 hours of time on whatever I wanted before I left for work and after I came home. In between cooking, cleaning and hanging out with my girlfriend there was some time that I was free to do what I like. That's when the priority battle started. What should I work on? Should I be configuring the new section for PureOutside? Should I be writing more guides to sell there? Should I be writing on rcThink trying to expand my horizons and conquer fears? Should I be reading about what other people are trying to do and chatting with them about it?Even with a full-time job, I still find the time to do the things I love to do. The only problem is that the full-time job takes so many of my waking hours that I'm left with only a few for the awesome stuff.With that said, I think I did pretty well. I wrote 22 or 23 days of October. That's more than I've ever written in my life. Some of what I wrote got published. Some of it didn't. My rules for the challenge was that it had to be at least journalling. I spent the majority of it working on articles for PureOutside, which worked out well. That site is a priority for me and I also get to work on the challenge. I'm finding more and more these days, that I need to work on things that accomplish a few goals, not just one. Something that I write that can be used for multiple things, or I'm working on a mental goal and a physical one at the same time. Adventuring is always like that for me. Exploring outside is a great workout, I get some time away from work and machinery to relax and think, and it's great material for photography and writing guides. There are many beneficial byproducts from adventuring. That's my case for needing to do it and I'm stickin' with it.I'm proud of the fact that I wrote most days in October but I still think I could do better. To be honest, some of the days I forgot that I was doing a writing challenge. I was quite busy for a couple of the weeks travelling, with sports and other commitments that by the time I got home, writing wouldn't even enter my mind. When I remembered, though, I was all over it, totally immersed in Wordpress or Evernote on my laptop and typing away like mad. That leads to a couple of things I learned from the first Spark Challenge.Teh Learnings1. It gets easierThe Resistance was telling me writing every day was going to be like pulling teeth every single day. It was going to be like wringing a dry towel to get more water from it. It was going to be terrible. It wasn't like that at all.Every day I wrote more and more and while I was focused on writing because I was doing a challenge for the first couple days, I would flow into just writing to write after doing it for a few days straight. Doing it every single day and creating a routine is a huge part of being able to do it all the time. I couldn't get the same time every day to write but if I could wake up and remind myself I had to write at some point that day, it would usually get done. Days that I forgot to remind myself or were just to crazy to get an extra relaxed thought in edgewise were the ones where I dropped the ball and forgot about it. I can't think of a single day where I remembered but intentionally did not write. My mind was just elsewhere sometimes.2. You have to make timeThese new challenges I'm doing are things I don't do normally. There would be no point to making a challenge for going to work every day. I already do that (minus weekends). They are things that are tough to do every day because I already have commitments pulling me in every direction and other projects on the go that are splitting my time even thinner.I started just adding to do list items to my lists for writing but that wasn't working. It was hard to relate a to do list to the actual amount of time I had. The to do list didn't display things as a schedule or calendar. Oh wait, I have one of those. It's called a calendar and I use it for other things. I ended up sitting down with my to do list and my calendar on as many days as I could, at least once a week, and scheduling out some writing time. Surprising things happen when you look at tasks scheduled on a calendar.I always thought I had tons of time during the day to do extra things. I would give myself 10 tasks to do each day but wonder why I wasn't getting anything done. I had lots of time right? Wrong. I didn't have a lot of time. After putting all the little random tasks around the house and my full-time job, that left me with minimal amount of time to spend writing. What did I typically do with half that precious free time? I'd lolligag around on email, Facebook and all sorts of blogs. By the time I got around to writing, my time was up and I needed to move on to other things.If I was going to write then it was going to happen first. I had to schedule time to work on things and when that time came around I would sit down and write, nothing else. I wouldn't "warm up" by checking email or reading blogs because they just turned into time sucks. They're required yes but they can happen in little slivers of time I have here and there. Writing deserves a  nice big uninterrupted chunk of time. Once I gave that time the respect it deserved, wonderful things happened. I got so much more done, and even though there was tons of email and Facebook messages around I felt much better about what I had accomplished.3. Nothing is perfect the first timeI get stuck in a rut sometimes with my writing. I start thinking more and more about what other people think about it and me, the writer. I worry about what other people are writing, how they're doing it and why it sounds so much better than what I write. As it is it every creative endeavor and really anything you start doing in life, I had to get over the fact that I'm not a top-notch writer yet. I like to think it makes sense and is relatively interesting to read but it's not quite a literary classic. I'm coming to grips with the fact that I'll never be writing classics. I just like too many things to spend the time to learn to write that way. If I wanted, I could devote all my time to becoming an amazing writer but then I wouldn't have as much time to adventure, take photos and experiment with new things I haven't even tried yet. That fact still stresses me out a little but I'm getting closer to fully accepting it. A question for you: Do you specialize or go shallow into meany different endeavors? Which is better?4. One at a time is bestAt least to start. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has been pushing this idea for as long as he's written. One thing at a time. As soon as you introduce more stuff to the mix, things get diluted, forgotten, pushed back, lost. If you want to learn something, and learn it well, you have to focus on it. I feel like having at least an hour a day to do something could get you some traction in it. More would obviously be better. You don't want to burn yourself out right away but the more you can pick up in a short time span the more you'll recall later on. I remember learning to snowboard and only going to the hill once or twice a year. It took forever to get to a certain level. When I finally took a family trip to another ski hill and boarded for 4 days straight, I improved much faster than I had riding so sporadically. It was exactly the same thing learning wakeboarding, skiing, ultimate frisbee and sailing. The more time you can spend in it when you're first learning the better.There seems to be a critical point you get to along your path that you're no longer a newbie. You've got things figured out, you're no longer one of those brand new people trying to figure out what's going on. You certainly don't know everything there is to to know but you know enough to get you started and you know about what you don't know. Realizing there is a lot you don't know goes a long way to keeping you humble and hungry for more. No one wants to spend a huge amount of time learning something only to realize that's all there is, the learning is over.5. Let the squirrel do itI read an awesome article recently about writing or really doing anything in general. I can't for the life of me remember where it was though. They were talking about letting your squirrel brain do the writing. Often when you've learned what you need to know and you've thought about it enough, you can just let go and let your subconscious or squirrel-brain do the work. At this point it's less about conscious thought and just about letting go and allowing your brain to do it's work. You don't have to force it. If you've done your prep, research, thinking, interviewing and checking, it's all there there already. Just let it flow.I'm sure there were a bunch more insights that I had writing for a month but my brain's already turned to the next Spark Challenge.A month of meditationI've been hearing more and more about meditation as a daily practice for creatives. Brian Johnson from Philosopher's Notes talks about it a lot and Jonathon Fields mentioned it in Uncertainty as an anchor to clear thinking in the seas of crazy life. I made up that terrible metaphor, don't think Jonathon would write something like that. In his book, Jonathon talked about it as a great way to relax, clear your mind, organize your thoughts, and allow your brain to do some heavy, creative thinking all at the same time.I've always seen meditation as some weird fluffy thing that guys on mountain tops do because they have nothing else to do with their time but the more I read, the more it sounds like something that would benefit my life in many ways.I've started with the free sample Blissitation from Brian Johnson. It's 15 minutes long which I think is a perfect time to start off at. I know some start at 5 minutes but I found 15 minutes very easy to do. I'm almost falling asleep after that amount of time though, which I'm not sure is supposed to be happening. Along with the practice of meditating every day, I'll be looking into exactly how it works and the different types. In a couple weeks I should have another post up about what I've learned and how I'm doing with the challenge.Post YoursI hear about challenges going on all over the place and I'd love to hear about them. What are your rules? Is it 30 days long? What have you tried and what are you going to try next?I'll be tweeting every day about how things are going with the hash tags #sparkmonth #day1. If you're doing any monthly challenges, I'd love to see your tweets too.