Reflection Archives

There is a time

There is a time.
There is a season.
There is a rhythm.

Every rhythm is a repetition of patterns. (While we often think these are cyclical, in fact, the cyclical repetitions evolve along spirals.)

The simplest one involves two extremes, say “in” and “out”, action and rest or “up” and “down”, and the middle point or the center.  

You take the breath in. You pause. You breath out.
You plant the seeds. You wait. You reap out.
You learn. You practise. You apply.
You work. You flow. You rest.

It is the space, the break, the moment when you pause, when things begin to happen. It is of crucial importance. Sometimes, the crossing of this middle point is barely noticeable, while other times it lasts infinitely long. As it seems.

The “in” is the active receiving or taking in. It is often the most difficult, time consuming stage, because it involves intent, gathering of the data, hard work and conscious effort.

The middle point is a spark that ignites the necessary processes of assimilation and transformation. The progress is hardly observable at this stage.

The “out” is the generous giving away or giving back. It is only a release, after the things have been assimilated, digested, understood or worked out.

When you have a time (a week, a month, a year or a decade) that feels unproductive, with lack of progress and motivation, filled with missed opportunities, rejected projects or failed accomplishments, remember that there are also times when things happen with grace. There are times you fly and there are times you walk.

It is pointless to keep forcing a day to arrive when the night is long and deep.
It is ineffective to take action for the sake of doing something when the right solution is being worked out.
It is immature to leave for a journey when you are not packed yet.

You can’t make an adult from a small child, neither collect the fruits from the seeds. The forced solution will not hold.  Instead, you need to understand the stage you are in, appreciate it and blend in.

Relax.

It is okey to wait for the right time.

Because …

There is a season.
There is a rhythm.
There is a tide.

Wait for your tide. It is coming soon.

 ***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

 

 traveling_to_Rome

All roads lead to Rome.

As the saying goes, you have the freedom to choose any road to your destination.

You can take a train to Rome.
You can take a plane to Rome.
If you are, however, in Florence, traveling by car may be preferred because of the great views.
If you lodge in Venezia, on the other hand, a ship cruise to Civita Vecchia and reaching Rome by bus can be an appealing alternative.

Perhaps you want to be in Rome tomorrow, no matter what.
Perhaps you want to be in Rome sometime this summer.
Perhaps you want to stay in Rome for a year to learn Italian.
Or perhaps you want to enjoy a break in Amsterdam and Brussels, before reaching Rome. You simply want to see as many cities as possible on your travel to Europe.

All good, yet, how would you choose to travel?

Is the travel by boat better than by plane?
It depends.
For many years my friend has been traveling by boats and trains, even though it could have taken him many days to reach the place he wanted to. Why did he do this? For the richness of experience, views to be seen and admired, people to meet and chat to, inspiration to sparkle and so on.

Is hitchhiking better than traveling by car?
It depends.
If you are tight both with money and time it makes sense to prefer a cheap flight over hitchhiking and traveling by car.

So …

What is the best way to travel to Rome?
There is no answer to it, because the answer depends on
– how fast you want to get there
– how long you want to stay there
– what you want to do there
– what is your previous/next destination
– with whom you will go
– how much money you have at your disposal
and so on.

***

The point of the above is this:

Deciding on the Way/Road (the How) before deciding on the Destination (Goal = Where/What and Circumstances) is pointless. It is a waste of time, at best, and a real pain and misery, at worst.

I know that, you will say.
Let’s see now how things are in life.

Sometimes you have just a single goal (destination) but there are usually multiple goals to attain. You may have two goals, A and B. However, reaching B is more important than reaching A. Consequently, in the worst case scenario you could sacrifice A for B.

For instance, you want to loose weight (goal A) and get fit (goal B). Although you would rather love to see yourself thin, the priority is on getting fit. In that scenario focusing on goal A, say by drinking slim-fast drinks, is a distraction if you don’t adequately address your goal B.

You may need to reach the goals A, B and C and D, but loosing on D would be acceptable. For instance, you want to loose weight (goal A), get fit (goal B), improve the condition of your liver (goal C) and start saving money (goal D).  The latter is not the main focus though.

In fact, any major decision with respect to your business, family (say, holiday, moving house, choice of schools, solving health issues), personal development or job challenges you to clarify your objectives first.

They are different roads you can choose to go to Rome. Or to any other city.

Decide what you want, your Goal/Destination, very clearly. It is not only important to decide whether you are going to Rome, but even more importantly When, How and for what purpose. Knowing that you can optimize your Way to get there.

When you ask:

  • “Is this a good house to buy?”
  • “Is this a good strategy for my business?”
  • “Is this person a good match?”
  • “Is this a good job?”

Remember to ask yourself
“Is traveling by car a good way to get to Rome?”
As you see, these are wrong questions. Why? Because they are too general. They are highly unspecific and will lead you to Distraction.

Better questions are somewhere along these lines:
“If my goals are A, B and C, but I want to avoid D, is this house/strategy/person/job a good (best) match to meet my objectives?”
It may still not be a question that is precise enough but it is a good starting point. Remember also that too many objectives are counterproductive.

If your goal is to have a family holiday in a warm climate (goal A) but save money with respect to your regular holiday spending (goal B), perhaps house swapping with another family in Spain provides the Way. Choosing an attractive holiday package from the travel agency, just because your friends do it and you want to look cool, is a Distraction.

If you run a business and want to get more clients, then focusing on the Like’s, Tweets and beautifying your Webpage may be a Distraction. (Say a break in Amsterdam instead of reaching Rome directly).

If you want to have a creative job (goal A) and with small kids (goal B) such that you possibly provide a therapeutic effect on them (goal C, minor), then following a job at a corporation, because it pays well and sets you on a good carrier path, is a Distraction.

Your family, parents, colleagues, neighbors, bosses and any other form of social pressure will encourage/push you to meet the objectives and goals you don’t have.

They will do their best to convince you that what they offer/suggest is the wisest / smartest / fastest Way to go.  However, to Rome, or to the Destination they point to.

Find out your own objectives because this is what ultimately matters.
You fall from your Way towards Distraction because you don’t clearly define your Destination.

Do all roads lead to Rome?
Well, they do. But perhaps you are not going to Rome this time.

Does your Way lead you where you want to go?
Remember, everything else is a Distraction.

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

When you live long enough you begin to realize that pain, loss and disappointment are an integral part of life, sometimes even daily companions. Of course, joy, surprises and blessings are there as well, but often overshadowed by the other polarity.

It is certainly hard to be an optimist when the dark hours come and the challenges are bigger than you could ever imagine.

Perhaps the wind blows in your face and it blows hard.
Perhaps you have to endure an unending stream of losses, including your income, health, pets, family or friends.
Perhaps your patience and physical aptitude are stretched to the limit of what you thought was possible.

Yet…

The call is not necessarily about being an optimist, but about being okay. The latter means that you stay in your center.

There may be no glory in your experiences but also no despair. You accept whatever comes even if you do not welcome it in the first encounter. Whatever comes, however, belongs to your life. Resistance will make things more difficult to experience, while acceptance will help you to go through them.

What you need to realize is that there may be a thin line between being a pessimist and being okay. The difference lies in your focus and expectation. Pessimism focuses on the past and foresees (or is afraid of) bad things happening in the future. Pessimism adds more odds to prove it to be true.

Being okay focuses on living in the now, and the trust that things will ultimately work out to your advantage. Being okay gives you back the power of who you are.

It helps you to become transcendent, vivacious and still.

Sometimes a real victory is a quiet survival from day to day. Sometimes getting out of bed and making a few steps may be the hardest thing under the sun, similarly as working long hours at your job, day by day, or going through a break-up or a series of losses.

In such times there is no need to play an optimist, dancing and rejoicing how great your life is, but simply discovering what can be done, step by step, and attending to it. Even if the doing becomes taking care of the most basic needs.

You are not your problems, neither defined by them.
You are not your difficulties and neither defined by them.
You are also not your challenges, neither defined by them.
While they are there to challenge you, they are not you.
You are a God’s child, an individual consciousness, on the path to become Yourself.

When you focus on the middle path, being okay despite the circumstances, you acknowledge that the external reality doesn’t have a hold on you. You affirm that the circumstances do not control you. You may not be able to control the circumstances, but you set yourself free from them, coming back to your center.

It is an important distinction. You are strong and flexible. At your inner peace.

The incredible consequence of this approach is that you stop being a victim and begin to relax. When you relax and trust, you begin to open up for new possibilities and opportunities to come to your life. Oftentimes the possibilities are there, but it is the tension, the contraction and the ghost of the past that keep your vision limited.

When you relax, you stand up straight and simply look around.

With time, for sure, you will see.

Your biggest challenges draw what is best in you – your incredible ability to grow and love.

***

the_time

A simple truth is this:
When a day is gone, it is gone to never return again.

From the perspective of creative work it means that whatever you have left undone, it remains undone until the next possibility comes.

Time is precious.

When time leaks between your fingers, it is your responsibility to take a hold on it. Time is not a resource as we sometimes assume because we can neither create nor buy more time. Of course, we may be assigned more time to finish a project but it is either due to an ineffective management or a necessity for a better / more complex solution than we currently have.

If you are a person whose progress and work depends on deep thought, guard your time with all your might.

If you are a group leader or manager, your role is to co-create the conditions under which your colleagues work effectively and efficiently, making substantial progress. Guard their time with all your mights.

The challenge is this

People who manage others usually forget how it is to work on multiple projects that require a deep thought and focus. Managers’ days are gone fast, split into small chunks of time, perhaps of 15 or 30 min each. Within these short intervals, they jump between conversations, talks and meetings, and deal with their derivatives such as emails, phone calls, brief readings, short writings or small talks. They need a fast switch between the tasks and a short-span focus. Small talks or humor in between are purposeful because they are refreshing and relieve tension.

On the contrary, thinkers or creative workers, such as programmers, designers, researchers, scientists, analyzers, medical doctors, writers, artists or engineers require uninterrupted chunks of devoted time of a considerable length, say 4h, at least.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of time to reach a deep focus, and even more time to understand what the question or the next step is before taking a small step forward. While some people are able to reach it within 30min, many will need an hour or two. This is both a personal skill as well as the multitude and variety of deep thought involvements in projects a person has to run. The stakes are really high!

Currently, many people have to juggle as many as 10 to 20 projects at a time and each of them of a considerable complexity and difficulty. Small talks are detrimental to the progress and to the person’s ability to conserve energy because they kick him/her out of the Flow.

How can such people deliver creative solutions if they are interrupted by meetings, discussions, calls to action, small talks, courtesy talks, messaging and so on?

Do you realize that any interruption to focused people often wastes a considerable amount of their time and progress? After a short conversation, it may again take them an hour or more to return to the same level of thinking as it was before you interrupted them.

But … what if a meeting is still awaiting ahead? All the time may be lost if there is only little time left before the meeting. Why? Because it would not make much sense to start the real work if a thinker knows, will soon be interrupted.

The goals of creative workers and their managers/supervisors are totally opposite (think marathon runners versus short distance runners), a few tasks and a long term focus versus multiple tasks and short-span focus.

Simple strategies

The next time you knock on sb’s else door or come to start a talk with your team member, ask yourself whether the issue you have at hand is of such importance that it potentially justifies the total waste of their efforts today.

If your progress depends on the quality of your thinking, take all the necessary steps to prevent interruptions. These may involve actions such as:

  • A note on your door indicating when and how you prefer to be interrupt
  • Personal communication to all members of your team, asking them not to approach your with a small talk
  • Using noise-removal headphones to remove all the background distractions
  • Request to your manager to group the meetings or talks together, ideally first thing in the morning or just after the lunch
  • Working from home, or
  • Shifting hours of work

If you are a manager, your main task is to lead the projects and the group towards progress. It highly depends on the ability of your colleagues to maintain deep focus in order to create the solutions your company needs. Meetings severely interfere with the productivity and creativity of your workers.

Even a meeting of 10min, say 2h after the start of the day, may destroy all the progress made in these hours. What is even worse, many creative people may not even start the thinking process because if they have too little time, say one hour before the meeting, they know it is to little to really do something. Consequently, they will choose to procrastinate than to loose the thinking energy in vain.

Your role is to either create or help create big chunks of undisturbed and uninterrupted time for your workers. Not only that, you need to think how to create a positive and open atmosphere in which work is a pleasure. To improve the situation, your actions may ask you to:

  • Cut on talks, discussions and meetings, and when necessary, group them together and make them brief.
  • Choose brief emails (or perhaps messaging) over personal chats.
  • Choose polls on the web to direct and shorten the discussions when important decisions need to be made.
  • Enable other colleagues to work at home.
  • Raise the team awareness on improving personal focus and efficacy.
  • Introduce time for small talks, chats and humor, e.g. before / after the lunch or before the end of the day, to relax the atmosphere.
  • Schedule short time for personal talks with your team members.

Whether you are paid for creative solutions or managing, choose to value the Time. Of yourself and Others. Become a guardian of the Time. It will pay off.

***

To learn how a company can be set and run from homes of creative workers, study the success of the 37Signals company. I recommend reading the Rework book, created by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

***

Top photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

wu_wei

Remember your golden times of trust

When I was a child I used to spend summer holidays at my aunts, in villages they lived in. I was playing in the meadows, cycling along small paths, walking in forests and picking up berries and mushrooms, helping in the garden or around the animals. Life was simple, yet rich in sensations and experiences. These were the golden times of an enormous growth yet peace. There was trust.

I loved to be an explorer. I used to jump on a bike and cycle as fast as I could over off-beaten tracks until I arrived at a new place: a hidden meadow, a tiny hill, an old tree, or far-away field. I loved to lie on the meadow grass or warm sandy ground in the forest and look at the high grass, trees and clouds. I felt fully alive, in resonance with the vibrating earth.

I was there, present in the moment, feeling the pulse of Life in me and around me. It was magical.

I was observing the gracious movements of flowers or weeds, dance of tree tops, walks of ants or the hard work of bees, or bugs carrying their food. I was listening to the tuk-tuk and cuckoo sounds, grass-hooper’s music, wasps’ melodies and all type of noises and sounds of living nature. I was connected to the plants and creatures. Inseparable, it seemed.

With only little time, my senses used to become sharp. Extra-sensitive, I would say now. I was seeing colorful light bubbles and sun-rays dancing playfully around. I was sensing the heavyneass and tingling of the air. I felt the vibrations of the leaves. I was hearing the sounds of flying butterflies, songs of light zephyrs or heated discussions between insects.  I was both an observer and a participant of the vibrant reality.

I felt an enormous respect for the Order and Structure behind the things and their place. I was blended in to Life around me.

These were perfect times for a busy child, teaching her to be. No problems. No worries. No obligations. Just a healing presence in the magically orchestrated Whole.

I used to spend hours by being a part of these Experiences. I have always had a highed sense of calm and poise when I was returning from my exploration to my daily tasks. I felt strong yet flexible at the same time.

Wu wei

Wu wei is an interesting principle that basically teaches us about active non-doing. When you face a difficult challenge or a problem, your natural inclination is to do something about it. Be it a judgment, a talk, a call, a plan of action or a piece of advice. You want to solve it in one way or the other in order to move forward. 

This comes from the belief that problems are being solved by taking action as if the energy required for the doing can be translated into the final result. While it is necessary at right times, in other times – it is simply not so. Action may become counterproductive.

There are times when doing will not bring the solution you hope for. This is especially true when there is a shock or a big challenge outside your comfort zone. You may educate yourself, read books, take courses, collect advice and imitate successful people to learn which actions to take. And you may take the effort to optimize your actions. Yet, the results are none, poor or mediocre at best. Your frustration is high, hope is gone and there is no solution at a horizon.

Patience, my Dear!

We often believe we need to plan and organize things all the time. Yet, the nature operates in perfect ways without our organization. Perhaps, things do not need to be organized as much as we think, but simply appreciated, given attention to and understood. If you understand them, either you or they will change.

Active non-doing teaches us that Doing originates from Being. Doing for the sake of doing only creates the illusion of progress. You need to be first before you can do. It may sound trivial but … do you practise it?

  • How many times did you jump to conclusions or take action before even understanding what the issue was about?
  • How many times did you give your advice to your kids, spouse, friends, colleagues or neighbors without listening to them with full attention first?
  • How many times were you frustrated because the pattern repeated itself for the Xth time? Say, your kids got strep throat again, you put on weight, you got reprimanded by your boss, your report or article was either neglected or rejected,  you again scored poorly on job interview, and so on.

Perhaps your active doing to improve the situation is totally in vain, even if you educate yourself to the highest level. Perhaps there is the time for wu wei.

Wu wei or active non-doing simply means to stop and pay attention.

Pause.
Look around.
Observe patterns. 
Feel the presence of weeds, shoes, hands, clothes, cars, faces or own thoughts.

When you perceive a problem, blend in to the circumstances surrounding it. Observe the problem. Let it be. Don’t give it names, adjectives or descriptions. Don’t analyze it. Sense it instead.  And in meantime, nourish yourself. There is no need for an immediate solution. Wait!

Stop preaching to and reprimanding your child. Feel as he may be feeling first to understand his issues with the pears.

Stop thinking of strategies to make your boss like you in order to get the rise. Pay attention to his presence: his intonation, voice or face expressions. Be there and observe. Understand his frustrations. Become like him to sense what the issue he has with you.

Feel the frustration of your spouse or friend. Let him/her be loved and understood. They don’t need your advice (unless they deliberately ask for it), but they need your acceptance and love. 

You can think rationally, plan new approaches, discuss strategies of action with experts, follow the best advice, yet everything may just brings confusion. In order to be effective with your doing you have to be present in the moment first.

So…

Be present. In this very moment. Blend in. Pay attention to the details. Participate. Listen.

When you are present, you will be blessed with answers. The answer is already there, in the silence. You only need to wait, notice it and understand.

*** 

Exercises:

1. Presence.

Stop what you are doing. Look around. Notice the details. Even if there is seemingly nothing happening, pay attention. 
What do you hear? What do you notice now that you haven’t had just before a while?
What is the atmosphere around?
How are your hands and feet? Are they fresh or tired? What do they sense?
Look around closely. Notice five elements that you have not noticed before.
Close your eyes. Find another five.

Train your attention and perception. Sense. There are the colors, the temperature, the sounds, the vibrations, the smells ….

2. Active non-doing.

Think of three challenges that solved themselves without your doing and participation. Recall them. Pay attention.

What were the essential ingredients that led to the solution?
How did they contribute to a sequence of events that brought you to the final solution?

What was your active non-doing contribution? 
What did you have to notice, observe and feel to restrain from taking action? 
What was it to have  helped in creating this spontaneous effect (i.e. the problem has solved itself)?

Do you see any patterns, or a trend perhaps?

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

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