Tag Archives: books

20 for 2020: week 23

Week 23: Week of 1 June
My 20 for 2020 list.

I don’t feel like I achieved much this week.

20200601 Leaf on the ground 3 edit IG

Some winter colour

I spent a bit more time tidying up the work I finished on the wellbeing course (thing 3) last week and I’m quite happy with what I’ve done.

I’m struggling at work with finding ways to deal with a job that is, at the moment, very reactive and, consequently, not giving me much of an opportunity to work in the way I do my best work. I like to sit down and focus on something for long periods uninterrupted and I’m finding my inability to do this at work is flowing over into my personal work too. I’ve been looking for ways to manage this better at work and at home because I don’t see this changing any time soon. The procrastination tips I learned last week have certainly been a good start.

I missed a few days of my creative 15 minutes in the mornings this week, which is not something I’m happy about. Part of this is because of the longer meditations I’ve been doing, which is giving me less time in the morning, but lying in bed for half an hour after the alarm clock more than wipes out the time I could be doing my creative work. So I can’t really blame the meditation, can I? The days I did do it, I felt good about it. When I actually got started. I just need to convince lie-in-bed me that it feels great to get up and do the work. Even if it is freezing cold!

In amongst me not doing a whole lot of stuff, a nice little milestone slipped by this week. My habit tracking app now records my reading habit (thing 14) as being 100 per cent consistent. I’m not sure exactly what that means but I think it means I’ve done the habit more or less consistently for at least 90 days. I was thinking about this as I updated my reading list and noticed that I have almost read as many books before the halfway point of this year than I did in the whole of 2019.

20200603 Reading habit

Habit achieved

This got me thinking about goals and habits, and some of what I’ve read about that. Essentially, what some people who know lots about habits and productivity say is that focusing on building a consistent practice rather than focusing on your goals is what will get you to where you want to be. So if you want to run a marathon (I don’t know why that always comes up as an example, but it seems to be one of the go-to goals in these explanations), you have your goal of running the marathon but you don’t focus on that. You focus on setting up a training program, showing up for every session and doing the work, and the consistent work is what gets you to be able to run a marathon.

So in my case, in 2019, I set a goal of reading 12 books (low bar, I know) and I set out to achieve this by reading 20 pages every morning after my walk. That worked well for a while, but I wasn’t wedded to the 20 pages thing and all I really wanted to do was check the 12 books thing off the list. After I’d done that, which happened in March, I didn’t have anywhere to go. The goal wasn’t there to motivate me any more and I let the habit gradually fall away, with the result being I read 21 books in 2019. Twelve in the first three months and only nine for the rest of the year. I met the goal but I didn’t make reading a habit.

This year, I decided to focus on the habit instead of the number of books I read. My thing for 2020 was to develop a habit of reading for pleasure. I tried a few different ways of doing it. Reading after my walk hadn’t worked for me. Reading on the way to work on the bus did, but I didn’t catch the bus every day and for the last three months I’ve been working at home so there’s no bus ride to read on. I decided to try reading in bed before going to sleep. In the past, this hasn’t been successful. I think this is because I would stay up too late and be too tired to read by the time I got to bed. A major part of that was drinking alcohol in the evenings. That’s a story for another time, but I’ve found by not drinking at night, not only am I going to bed earlier (and getting more sleep and better quality sleep), but I’m also able to be sufficiently alert to be able to read for 10 or 15 minutes before I go to sleep. According to the habit tracker, I have read every night (apart from one) since 2 March, which gets me the 100 per cent tick. Yay! And I have read 19 books so far in 2020, only two fewer than for the whole of 2019.

I’m not sure when you can call “develop a habit” as a thing done, because I could just as easily stop doing it today. I don’t subscribe to the “it takes 21 or 66 or whatever-other-magical-number-people-have-come-up-with days to build a habit”. After all, I meditated for 515 days in a row and still managed to lose the habit after missing just one day, so I don’t think the number of days means much at all. I bet I could develop a habit of eating chocolate every day in less than a week and then take the best part of a year to break the habit. For my reading, I think 90 days is enough to convince me that this is a habit I want to continue, combined with not drinking and going to bed at a decent hour, so I’m calling this thing done.

20200603 Hinsby Beach 2

A beach and a rainbow

That means that I’ve now finished ten out of my 20 things (yes, I know there are actually 22 things) before halfway through the year so, based on the numbers, I’m on track to get through all 20. However, obviously, some things are bigger commitments than others and are going to take a lot of time, and some of the things I’ve done were pretty easy wins (reorganise my sock drawer, anyone?), so just looking at the numbers isn’t really that helpful in terms of predicting how I’ll be sitting at the end of the year, but it does still feel good to be into double digits.

Summary for the week

  • Things completed this week: 1 (14)
  • Things completed to date: 10 (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 18)
  • Things I progressed: 2 (8, 17)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress:  (7, 11, 13, 22)
  • Things not started: 6  (2, 9, 12, 19, 20, 21)
  • Days I stuck to my 15 minutes creative habit: 5
  • Days I read a book: 7

20 for 2020: week 22

Week 22: Week of 25 May

My 20 for 2020 list.

20200530 Sunrise Taroona Beach 1

Happy Saturday

I got my mark for my uni assignment (thing 8) on Monday and to say I was surprised was an understatement. It was a lot better than I had expected, especially after having done so much of it at the last minute. I was glad that the lecturer commented on my hand-drawn picture that I had spent countless hours fretting over and that I got some recognition for the work I’d put into that. Her feedback on my writing was a huge confidence boost and makes me think maybe I can get through this. It has also inspired me to strive for a better mark than a pass for the next assignment. So much for “done is good enough”. I doubt I will ever believe that.

At least the next assignment is going to be about something that relates to my work, and it might make a difference at work—which is the point of doing the course—so I might struggle a bit less with it.

We had an online seminar this week to make up for not having the face to face workshop that was supposed to have been this week, and we have three more of those lined up in June. I’ve missed the interaction with the other students and the discussions we were able to have at previous workshops. But we are not in that world any more, so we have to adapt.

After deciding not to watch any more videos from the Photoshop course (thing 7) until I’d done some of the work, I did precisely nothing this week.

No. I lie.

I found out how to import gradients into Photoshop and I imported some of them from the course material.

Did I use them? No.

20200529 Sunset 3-Edit

I edited this in Photoshop

Let us assume I am relatively competent at my uni course. The material doesn’t scare me as much as overwhelm me with its sheer volume. While I am unfamiliar with some of the concepts, the framework in which they are presented is one that I have worked in for 20 years, so it’s all variations on a theme rather than a completely new mindset to learn. It’s intense but it’s not a world that is very far outside my comfort zone. I can do this work.

Photoshop, on the other hand, is a new world for me. I’ve dabbled in it for years doing very basic photo adjustments and refining my mad cloning skills, but I have never attempted to create an artwork using its tools. Actually, come to think of it, I have never really attempted to create any artwork anywhere, ever. A few dodgy paintings here and there that I didn’t enjoy making. Some line drawings that I enjoyed rather a lot more. I don’t consider myself an artist (that’s a rabbit hole for another day) so making art is not something I am comfortable doing or saying I’m doing. Yet clearly I want to, or why did I sign up to this course?

I am procrastinating on this big time. Why?

Unlike the uni course, this is all new and scary. Even though I want to do it, I am terrified, because I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m scared of making a mistake.

I learned a bit about procrastination last week. One of the reasons we procrastinate is fear, which provokes the fight/flight/freeze response from our brains. It doesn’t matter that the “danger” isn’t real. It’s not a bear chasing me that I have to get away from, but my brain perceives the thing it has labelled as a threat in exactly the same way and wants to respond in the same way it would respond to a bear—by getting away from it.

Isn’t that hilarious? I am so terrified of making a mistake in a skill that I’m only just learning and that has the easiest mistake erasing tool of all, the undo command, that I will do anything to avoid doing it.

Now you know, and I know, that when you are learning a new skill, you make mistakes precisely because you don’t know how to do it yet. You are learning. I am in constant admiration of Kramstable, who is taking art at school and is giving his all to learn techniques that he has never used before, experimenting and learning from what he’s been doing.

And at the other end of the scale, even when you’ve mastered a skill, you’re still not immune from mistakes. Look at the current Masterchef contestants who, despite many years experience in the industry, still manage to overlook fish, undercook rice and forget to add salt.

It’s totally a mindset thing, right?

So, how do we overcome this? I’ve seen a few strategies suggested to overcome procrastination. One I really like is the idea of starting covertly so your brain doesn’t know what you’re doing and doesn’t have the chance to invoke the fear response. That is, you say, “I’m just going to turn the computer on”; “I’m just going to write the first sentence”; “I’m just going to open up a photo and look at it”. What’s supposed to happen is that this tiny step leads you on to keep going and before you know it you’re doing the work and your brain has no idea it was supposed to be scared of that activity.

I’m sure my brain knows, when I say “I’m just going to write one sentence” that isn’t all I’m going to do, just as it knows that I can’t learn a new skill without making a few (a lot of) mistakes, so I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. My challenge this week is to see if it actually does work, because fighting with my mind over whether it is okay to make mistakes or not is clearly not working. My scared mind is winning every time. So I need another way to outwit it. I’ll just open up Photoshop . . .

Well, that went on for a bit longer than I had intended. But it was a useful thing to work through.

20200525 K&D Warehouse 4-Edit

Doomed Tasmanian icon, K&D Warehouse

I went back over the wellbeing work (thing 3) and reviewed what I needed to do with it and realised that I actually needed something slightly different than the work that was being suggested. My reluctance to do the work has resulted in me putting off doing it all year. Now that I’ve tweaked it to be something I’ll actually use, it was a relatively quick job to finish everything off that I didn’t complete last year. So thing 3 is done.

Sunday was 31 May, the last Sunday of the month, so it was time to do my monthly review from Unravel Your Year (thing 22). With the covid-19 restrictions starting to be eased off a bit, it was great to be able to go and sit in the coffee shop to reflect on the month and what I’d learned, do the review and set my new goals for June.

20200531 Monthly review at Picnic Basket-Edit

Sunday morning coffee

Summary for the week

  • Things completed this week: 1 (3)
  • Things completed to date: 9 (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 16, 18)
  • Things I progressed: 4 (7, 8, 14, 22)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress: 3 (11, 13, 17)
  • Things not started: 6  (2, 9, 12, 19, 20, 21)
  • Days I stuck to my 15 minutes creative habit: 6
  • Days I read a book: 7

20 for 2020: week 20

Week of 11 May

My 20 for 2020 list.

Remember last week I said I was going to track my days for the wellbeing work (thing 3) to help me identify things that take up too much time and find windows of wasted time?

That lasted a couple of days and I kept forgetting to do it. I think I know what the wasted time windows are without doing that though. Constant scrolling of social media on my phone is right up there, so of course, what did I do? I reactivated my old Twitter account and spent more time on there than was strictly necessary. Anything to distract me from my uni assignment (thing 8).

20200513 Hinsby Beach 2

Walking on the beach also distracting me from my assignment

The assignment was due on Sunday night, and by Saturday morning I had a mass of words and references and thoughts all shoved randomly under the various headings that I thought I had to respond to. Whereas in the other units, by this stage of the assignment I had a complete document that was in the final stages of being trimmed down to fit the word count, this time I only had a mess of stuff that I was going to have to somehow make fit into 1500 words. There were eight sub-themes to cover in the essay so, as you can imagine, for someone as verbose as I am, this was going to be a challenge. I probably could have written 1500 words on each of the issues, most of which would have been rubbish because I was finding pretty much everything of the unit material to be somewhat irrelevant to completely irrelevant to my work. There was going to have to be a lot of long bow drawing to get this done.

On Saturday morning, I set myself the goal of having the ready-to-cut-down version finished by the end of the day, and then spend (as little time as possible on) Sunday cutting it back and making it as good as I could get it to submit it by 5.00. The deadline was actually midnight, but I had no intention of pulling a late nighter to do it. One of the five principles I’ve adopted to get through this is “protect your sleep” so there will be no all-nighters. Ever. I aim to be in bed every night no later than 10.30 and I have been sticking to this (give or take a few minutes) pretty well since the end of February.

This was going to be a test of whether or not I really could live with “good enough” as opposed to perfect, something that I’ve been trying to embrace (and generally falling at). However, this time, I hadn’t allowed myself the time to make it perfect. I deliberately didn’t apply for an extension even though requests for extensions were being viewed favourably, because the reason that I haven’t done the work has been my own procrastination, not any external factors. If I’d spent as much time working on it as I had complaining about it and distracting myself, I’d probably have had a half-way decent draft by Saturday, regardless of how confusing the material was and how irrelevant it was to my actual work. It was my responsibility and I had fallen way short of a standard acceptable to me. And that’s something I have to deal with and live with the consequence of.

Long story short, I didn’t have the long version finished by Saturday. It took me until lunchtime Sunday, which gave me less than 12 hours to do the edits that would normally take a week. By 9.00 Sunday night I was well and truly sick of it, and couldn’t stand the thought of re-reading it one more time even though it was more than the allowable ten per cent over the word limit. Perfectionism, begone! I submitted it and collapsed, feeling completely drained, knowing that even though I can get something done at the last minute, it doesn’t feel good and I am not going to do this again.

I finished Module 1.2 of the Photoshop class (thing 7) and am really glad that I put the other class on hold to do this one. I think I would have felt completely out of my depth starting with the other one and I feel like I have a lot more grounding in Photoshop basics now. There’s over 100 videos in this class so It’s not going to be something I’m going to finish in an evening, but now I have a lot of the basics I don’t really mind how long it takes. I just want to get into the work. One of the tasks has been to go out and collect images of things that can be used as backgrounds in larger works, so I’ve started to take a camera out with me to build my collection. Yes, I am that crazy lady who takes photos of weird stuff on the ground and your brick walls and tree trunks and tyre tracks in the mud.

20200513 Shell on Hinsby Beach 3 Edit

Beautiful beach find

This week I finished reading The Ravenmaster, which is Ravenmaster Chris Skaife’s account of his life with the ravens at the Tower of London (thing 14). I was lucky enough to visit the Tower in 2014 and saw some of the ravens then. 20200517 The Ravenmaster

The book was a really enjoyable read and it was interesting to find out more about these complex and fascinating birds. I’m a bit of a raven fan and I love it when they come to visit my yard or I can hear them out and about calling to each other. It’s inspired me to read some more about them. When I’m not learning about Networked Governments . . .

Summary for the week

  • Things completed this week: 0
  • Things completed to date: 8 (1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 16, 18)
  • Things I progressed: 3 (7, 8, 14)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress: 5 (3, 11, 13, 17, 22)
  • Things not started: 6  (2, 9, 12, 19, 20, 21)
  • Days I stuck to my 15 minutes creative habit: 7
  • Days I read a book:  7

20 for 2020

20 for 2020 is a continuation of 19 for 2019, which is an idea I stole from Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft’s podcast Happier (here’s the link to how Gretchen and Liz did on their 19 for 2019 lists). I think they actually started it with 18 for 2018.

I’m going to do 20 for 2020, which, I mean, how can you not? All the twos and zeros.

I haven’t made any further progress on my 19 for 2019 list since my last post, so in the end, I accomplished 14 of the 19 things I wanted to do in 2019. Three are still in progress (things 2, 6 and 16) and I will complete them, one I decided I didn’t really want to do (thing 14) because putting the systems in place to do it, rather than actually doing it, was more important, and I think I went some way to doing that. The other one (thing 10), I’m waiting on someone else so maybe I need to follow up.

Having learned from 2019, I’m going to include a mix of small things that I’ve been putting off for ages, longer term projects that I want to finish off and some new things that have just recently popped up in my life.

The first step was to look at my uncompleted 2019 things and decide if any of them need to be carried over into 2020. I’ve kept the photo project on the list (thing 16), getting my sewing machine fixed (thing 10) and completing the wellbeing program (thing 6), which will actually run again in 2020, so I will be able to dip back into that work as I need to.

I’ve also included two things that I did in 2019 and want to do again in 2020. And a whole bunch of new things.

Here’s the list

Carried over from 2019’s list

1. Complete my photo project

2. Get my sewing machine fixed

3. Complete the wellbeing course lessons from 2019 (and go back into this work over the year to pick up on things I missed last year or need to reinforce)

Repeated from 2019

4. Complete my 2019 weekly photojournal and put in place a system so that I don’t get behind with the photos again (I have kept up a lot better than I did in 2018 but I still have about 10 weeks of photos from 2019 to sort and edit)

5. Have an alcohol-free month

New for 2020

6. Complete the 21 days creative kickstart course I started at the end of 2019

7. Complete the Photoshop class I signed up for in 2019

8. Successfully complete my uni course and graduate

9. Use no camera other than my SLR with a single prime lens for 30 days and post a photo a day for the month

10. Ride my bike to work

11. Set up a mini studio at home

12. Finish the Bored and Brilliant challenge and write a blog post about it

13. Read the book Indistractable and do the activities it recommends (at work and home)

20200101 Indistractable

14. Develop and maintain a daily habit of reading for enjoyment

15. Redesign my study wall as a vision board

16. Have a hearing test

17. Learn to use my graphics tablet

18. Reorganise my sock drawer

19. Take a class in fermentation

20. Repot my orchid

21. Use the sprout jar

22. Commit to (and actually do) a monthly review every month

I know. There are 22 things on that list. Clearly maths isn’t my strong point or I have travelled in time to 2022.

Allow me to elaborate. The monthly review idea comes from Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year workbook, which is a lovely thing that Susannah sends out to her email list every year to help you figure out how you want your upcoming year to look. I’ve dabbled with these in the past and shoved them into a folder somewhere. This meant I never followed up what I wrote down in the early days of January and have come back to them 12 months later to find nothing I wanted for the year happened.

I couple of weeks ago I saw a post from a friend on Instagram about her starting her workbook and I commented that I never followed through with mine. She said she found the monthly reviews really good, which got me thinking about how staying more in touch with the book over the year might be key to actually getting the work done.

So I got it spiral bound at the local printers so that it looks more like a book and is a lot easier to carry round and write in than loose pages or putting it in a folder. I’ve been working my way through it over the last couple of days, pulling out some of the key themes to include as things for my 20 for 2020 list.

20200101 Uravel your year

The monthly review is a way for me to remind myself to check in on how I’m doing throughout the year, along with my regular(ish) blog updates.

I just threw the sprout jar in as a thing at the end because it’s been sitting on a shelf looking at me forlornly (almost as forlornly as my sick orchid that is in desperate need of repotting and if anyone knows how to do this please help!) ever since I got it. I figure it’s a small thing to do, one that I have been putting off for months, and if I include it here I might have a chance of actually doing something with it. I didn’t have the heart to bump anything else off the list to make room for it, so there it is. Something I could probably do in five minutes, but it will probably take me six months to actually do.

So there we have it. My brand new list for 2020 with lots of fun and challenging things to do.

Silence

Today I picked up a copy of the free magazine published by Penguin Books, underline, which had a feature on a book called Silence: In the Age of Noise by the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge. I had never heard of Mr Kagge before today, but according to the magazine, he is the first person to walk to the South Pole alone and has also climbed Mt Everest and travelled to the North Pole.

20171126 SilenceI was most fascinated to read that he had explored the underground sewers of New York and he had walked from one end of Los Angeles to the other in four days – slowly, staying in hotels along the way – attracting the attention of the police as he went. In another article I read, he said that the police thought it was really suspicious for someone to be walking around because the only people they saw walking were “crackheads, prostitutes, and crazy people”.

That really blew me away. I cannot imagine a place where walking around was so unusual that the cops would think you were up to something. I love walking and exploring on foot. It’s what I do. It’s part of my identity. A journey like that would have been fascinating. To have taken four days to explore 35 kilometres.

The magazine had an extract from Mr Kagge’s book, which had me captivated from the first word. I need to read this book. I will be going to the bookshop on Monday to see if they have it. The whole extract spoke to me, but two passages really stood out.

“The secret to walking to the South Pole is to put one foot in front of the other, and to do this enough times. On a purely technical scale this is quite simple. Even a mouse can eat an elephant if it takes small enough bites. The challenge lies in the desire.”

As I was reading, I thought that this summed up exactly the struggle I have every day to try and ingrain the good habits I want to have in my life. Technically, it’s simple. Do the thing enough times, day after day, consistently and you build a habit that sticks. But until you’ve done it enough times to make it stick (and the 21-days theory is complete bullshit in my experience) you have to have the desire. And when the desire for another whisky outweighs the desire for a 10pm bedtime, you’re (I’m) in trouble, and the bad habit, rather than the good one, is reinforced.

“On the 27th day I wrote: ‘Antarctica is still distance and unknown for most people. As I walk along I hope it will remain so. Not because I begrudge many people experiencing it, but because Antartica has a mission as an unknown land.’ I believe that we need places that have not been fully explored and normalised. There is still a continent that is mysterious and practically untouched, ‘that can be a state within one’s fantasy’. This may be the greatest value of Antarctica for my three daughters and generations to come.”

This made me think of the desire within Tasmania to “unlock” more of this precious state to commercial ventures that would allow more people to experience our wild places but at the cost of the pristineness of those places. It’s a practical example of the observer principle. Observing something changes its nature. To open up these places to more people changes the fundamental thing that makes them worth seeing in the first place.

(You know I gave in to the desire for another whisky, right?)

I can’t wait to read the book. Silence is something that I crave, and learning to find it as Mr Kagge did “beneath the cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts, music and machinery, iPhones and snowploughs” (maybe not snowploughs) is something I would love to explore more.

Book 32/24: Goodwood

As I mentioned last week, I was lucky to receive a copy of Australian singer-songwriter Holly Throsby‘s first novel Goodwood from the good people at Dymocks Books. Of the 32 books I’ve read or started to read this year, I’ve read one novel. This one. I intended to read more novels, including some that have been sitting on my shelf for years, but I kept stumbling across non-fiction books that grabbed my attention and demanded to be read, allowing me to continue to collect underpants!

So finally, after more than ten months of reading, I’ve finished my first novel for the year. Hooray!

20161109-book-32-goodwood-ig

Goodwood is set in a fictional (I presume) town in NSW, not the Hobart suburb of the same name (sorry Anchor Wetsuits fans). The Goodwood of the novel is somewhere relatively near to Belanglo State Forest (which may or may not be relevant as the book progresses) in 1992. There’s no mistaking this as an Australian country town, with local landmarks including the Bowlo, the Wicko (the Wickham Hotel) and Vinnies, and characters called Big Jim, Smithy and Davo. The reference to Glenn Ridge on Sale of the Century set the scene perfectly.

The story is mostly told through the eyes of Jean Brown, aged 17, who lives with her Mum Celia. It begins with the disappearance of two of Goodwood’s residents, 18-year-old Rosie White, who vanishes overnight, and the popular butcher Bart McDonald, who never returns from a fishing trip. The two apparently unconnected disappearances happen exactly a week apart, and they take away all sense of normality from the town as the people struggle to come to terms with what has happened.

As with any small town, everyone knows everyone’s business (especially Nance the grocer) and, of course, everyone has secrets, some of which are relevant to the disappearance of Rosie and Bart.

I read this book in three days, which is pretty speedy for me. I was hooked on the story right from the start and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Ms Throsby cohesively weaves together Jean’s narrative and the parts of the story she isn’t directly involved in, and builds believable characters. Their histories and the revelations of what they know are gradually revealed to build up a picture of a small, close-knit town overcome by tragedy, where no one is untouched by what has happened.

I haven’t read many mystery novels recently (OK I haven’t read many novels recently full stop), so I don’t know if there is a typical style or format typical of this type of this genre. As an inexperienced novel-reader, I found Ms Throsby’s writing to be clear and genuine. I could identify with the characters and the story came across as plausible. I really wanted to know what had happened to Rosie and Bart, as well as being interested in how Jean’s character developed during the story.

Of course, I missed the key clue in the mystery (or at least the clue I think was key) and all the other pointers along the way, so the conclusion was totally a surprise for me. I’m really not good at mystery novels. Did I mention that? Maybe I should stick to crosswords. Haha.

In short, if you like Australian writing and mysteries, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Maybe I should investigate this genre a little further.

Thank you, Dymocks for a great prize, and congratulations Holly Throsby on a fabulous debut novel.

(ETA: I received this book as a prize from Dymocks and was under no obligation to write about it on my blog. I wanted to do this as part of my reading project for this year, as I did for several other books I’ve read – you can find my reading list here.)

What I learned this week

30 days of yoga is going well. I’m now 14 days into the challenge and I haven’t missed a day so far. I’ve had to incorporate my back exercises into my practice, because whatever I did to my back has either stirred up my old injury or resulted in a new one, and it keeps flaring up again.

I’m being Very Careful, especially with the back bends, and I haven’t been game to try any twists. My normal class starts up again this week so I’m looking forward to seeing if it will be easier to get back into it after almost three weeks away than it was last time when I didn’t do anything during the holidays.

Now onto what I learned this week.

1. In my drawing lessons, I’ve been learning about two-point perspective. This was fun. Lots of straight lines here!

lesson-25

2. I read the book The Road to Lower Crackpot by Brian Inder, the Laird of Lower Crackpot. It’s a fascinating read. In the book, Mr Inder says,

“The name Crackpot comes from a real village in Swaledale, Yorkshire. It means ‘a low place where crows gather’. I added ‘Lower’ because we are in the southern hemisphere’.

 

This interested me because my mother’s family emblem is the crow. I asked her if any of her ancestors came from Swaledale, but she doesn’t believe that they did.

3. If you see something in a shop you want, buy it when you see it. It might not be there when you go back to get it.

In the same vein, take photos when you have the chance, because you might not go back that way again. We went to Freycinet National Park on the weekend. I took lots of photos.

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Book 16/24: Yoga For Life

I didn’t know anything about Colleen Saidman Yee or her husband Rodney Yee, other than that they featured on a couple of yoga DVDs I’d bought. Turns out they are a pretty big deal in the big wide world of yoga, which I’m largely unfamiliar with – hence my not knowing about them!

Kramstable really got into Colleen and Rodney’s DVDs when I was using them, so I started following Colleen on Twitter. I was quite delighted a couple of years ago when she responded to one of my photos of Kramstable following her yoga sequences on the DVD and offered me some tips about keeping him interested in yoga.

Book 16 - Yoga for Life

Yoga For Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom is the story of Colleen’s life, starting with her early life in a large Italian/Irish family in New York, who moved to Bluffton Indiana, where a teenage game of chicken on the highway changed the course of her life. The book tells of her early marriage, return to New York and four-year heroin addiction, the lowest point of her life.

Colleen then writes of how, after the struggle to kick heroin, she established a modelling career. She ponders the question as to whether her longing to find expression through her body would have led her to modelling in the long run; whether she would have become a model if a modelling agent hadn’t stopped at a restaurant not long after she’d stumbled on it and found a job at – and what, even with the break she’d had, were the odds she’d succeed as a model.

“Some people believe we make our own luck,” she writes. But she takes the view that what seems like good luck can easily turn into bad luck, and that bad luck can result in something good:

“In yoga we learn that there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because everything is always in flux and rarely what it seems. The key is not to get too attached to any one scenario or outcome. . . . Life is sometimes beautiful sometimes ugly, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful. It’s a wild unpredictable ride. The best we can do is take the ride with love and a sense of humour. Notice your breath in the present moment, whether you consider it to be a ‘good’ moment or ‘bad’ moment. Because that moment is all we have.”

Colleen spent some time in India volunteering at Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, a time which profoundly influenced her and indirectly became her first experience of yoga teaching. During this time she began to realise that “every encounter is sacred” and that everything will pass away. She writes that Mother Theresa had said even though everything is impermanent and could disappear at any time, that is no reason not to do your work.

“What you spend years creating someone could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”

On the theme of impermanence Colleen also writes about how clinging to what is impermanent prevents us from living in the present moment, and she tells of how distressed she was when her daughter left home to go to college. “I wanted to run back and grab her and tell her not to grow up and leave me.” I feel like this every single day when I think about Kramstable growing up and eventually leaving me.

Colleen continues:

“I have been studying and practising yoga for the last 28 years learning how to avoid clinging to what is impermanent as gracefully as possible, and to focus on what doesn’t change – call it the higher self, love, the soul, God, the divine, true teacher, essence, original nature, or the state of yoga – whatever you want.”

It occurred to me that this concept of impermanence connects strongly to what Brené Brown wrote in her book I Thought It Was Just Me. She writes of how, in a culture of shame, we see people as “us” and the “others”. The “others” are the people who we don’t want living next door; whose kids our kids aren’t allowed to play with; the ones we insulate ourselves from. But, she continues, we are the “others”. We are all one [insert unfortunate event] away from being “those people”, the ones we pity, the ones bad things happen to.

I think what this implies, and what Colleen is saying, is that it’s important to fully live in the present moment, but to know it’s just that: the present moment, and that if we get completely attached to it we’ll be unable to deal with what happens when things change, as they undoubtably will.

Likewise, if we get hung up on times things aren’t going well, instead of accepting that what’s happening is what it is, we can end up clinging to old pain long after the events have passed.

Of course, when things are hard, it’s difficult not to focus on the pain. Accepting that what’s happening is what it is, says Colleen, is something that she can grasp intellectually, but when something devastating happens, she’s still in excruciating pain. However, she says, feeling this pain is important. “If you can’t feel the fullness of any emotion you’re not fully alive.”

(I think I got a bit distracted here. Colleen’s comments on the impermanence of things, whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, reminds me of a difficult time at work when I was really struggling. Someone who was struggling with the same issue I was stood up and said publicly that yes what was happening was painful, but “there will be an end point”. Realising that the painful events were a stage I had to get through but that it wouldn’t last forever really helped me to clam down and take things one day at a time.)

While on a camping trip with her brothers, Colleen was struck by lightning, an experience which she says “zapped” her into contemplating santosha – contentment. At this point in her life she had thought that she would only be content when her grades improved, or she got married, or she had money. She writes:

“You can wait your whole life and never happen upon contentment. The key is to accept what is and not allow yourself to be jerked between liked and dislikes, attachments and aversions. Accept what is, right now, whether it’s comfortable or painful.”

At the end of her time in India, Colleen was ready to search for something bigger than what she had been seeking – a boyfriend, a career, a family – but she wanted to be able to “serve in a way that would enable peace to prevail in [her] heart” while living in the modern Western world.

Her story continues through her increasing immersion in the world of yoga while maintaining a career as a model, her struggle with epilepsy, her second marriage to photographer Robin Saidman, and a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her daughter. She then talks about how she moved into yoga teaching and how she and Rodney eventually ended up together.

In respect of her epilepsy, which she developed later in her life, Colleen writes:

“The biggest transformation has been my acceptance. When I take my little white tablets every day, I’m grateful for Western medicine. . . . I don’t feel defeated any more. Instead I feel awakened to the fact that I’m not in control of everything. Maybe we’re born into bodies that challenge us to learn lessons we haven’t yet understood. All situations, no matter how painful, can be opportunities for growth.”

She takes this lesson into her birth story, where like so many of us, Colleen had expectations of what her daughter’s birth would be like and was disappointed when it didn’t turn out as she’d wanted it to.

I remember one day at pre-natal yoga my beautiful teacher Julia was speaking about expectations, and something she said has stuck with me to this day. She said, “You don’t get the birth you want; you get the birth you need.” To this day I am trying to figure out what my experience was trying to tell me; what I need or needed at the time.

Expectations can make us unhappy when they aren’t met. Colleen observes:

“We all have small daily desires. Something as insignificant as expecting ripe avocados at the market, then finding they’re all hard can make us irritable and impatient. When you count on a future-based result you’re not living fully in the moment. Expectation can keep you locked in a narrow tunnel with no broader vision. Joy is right here right now. The key is mindfulness, noticing when your expectations have taken you out of the present and made you unhappy.”

Colleen also relates a story of attending a workshop with yoga legend BKS Iyengar, who told her that her problem was that she didn’t take the time to let anything absorb. “You are moving too fast from one pose to the next. Perhaps you do this in your life as well. Slow down.” Colleen says that he was right and that since then she’s started to notice when she’s rushing mindlessly from one thing to another. It’s a good thing to notice when we feel overwhelmed and rushed.

I loved this book. Colleen weaves her story into 14 themes, ranging from roots, addiction, forgiveness, service, fear, love and peace. Each chapter relates her story and the things she’s learned back to the theme of the chapter, and includes a yoga sequence connected to the theme.

It’s beautifully put together, and even though my life is completely different from Colleen’s, I could relate to almost everything she had written. I think this is because she has captured the essence of the human experience in her writing: Beyond the superficial differences that make up the detail of our day to day lives, we’re all human beings and we’re all making our way the best we can in this unpredictable world.

The Dalai Lama has said that we are more similar than we are different, and I think this is why I was so easily able to connect with Colleen’s story.

I got a lot out of this book. It’s one I want to refer back to again and again.

Book 23/24: Changeling

You’re probably sick of hearing me say, “I didn’t know much about [author of the book of the moment] until I read the book”, so I’ll simply say Mike Oldfield’s story was nothing like I’d expected.

I remember when I was in Grade 7 one of the older kids at school talking about the experience of listening to Tubular Bells, and I’d built it up to be this amazing piece of music that would completely alter my mind. After that build up, I don’t remember when I first heard it, or even if I actually heard it before listening to Tubular Bells II, which was released in 1992. What I do remember is that around the time I was listening to Tubular Bells II, there was one of those end of the world rapture prophecies floating round. I hadn’t quite weaned myself off my grandmother’s religious views at this time, so I wasn’t too sure whether to believe this or not, but I clearly remember thinking if the world was going to end, that was the music I wanted to be listening to when it happened.

Also around this time I went to see the musical Hair (at the Theatre Royal), which I loved, and I had the cast recording on high rotation along with Tubular Bells II at that time. When I was reading the book I thought it was kind of cool that Mike Oldfield had been in the orchestra for the original production of Hair during its West End run in the early 1970s. Strange grooves.

And for with that rather long and rambling introduction, here’s my thoughts on the book.

It’s broken up into five groups of three chapters, and begins with an intense description of a rebirthing process Mr Oldfield went through in 1978 (the Exegis seminar), where he faces his demons and survives, an experience that he describes as resulting in “the huge blood-crazed demons that had been stalking [him] for the previous 20 years suddenly disappeared”.

Book 23 - Changeling

Most of the book is about his life from when he was born in 1953 to 1981; the final chapter covers the period from 1990 to 2006, and there are four short interludes written in 2006 and 2007 that cover his thoughts on Family, Spirituality, Fame and Rebirth. I liked the structure. It was hard not to feel the pain of the little boy who never fitted in, and whose family gradually fell apart as he grew up.

He writes of Christmas 1960:

My dad had made me a beautiful model of the Ark Royal aircraft carrier [he was into planes]. It was complete with little tiny planes, each on individually painted. I remember that Christmas like it’s locked in my brain because of that model. The fact that my father made it and hand-painted it himself really impressed itself on me. When I was later to write music, maybe that was part of why I wanted to pay great attention to detail, to make sure it was something really special. To be worthwhile, I knew it had to be really big, epic and important, not something to be thrown away. Perhaps those feelings go back to that wonderful Christmas present.

As a child, Mr Oldfield came to music as a release from his problems at school and at home. He writes of how he would listen to records and spend hours trying to work out how to play a certain piece: “It was like a switch went on in my head: I’d finally found something that I really liked and I really wanted to do. . . . I must have looked completely obsessive, but for me it was a way of escape.”

At the age of 12 he started playing regular gigs at the Reading Folk Club. His older sister Sally was playing in the clubs as well, with her friend Marianne Faithfull, and he says of the time that he he wasn’t really socialising, as most of the people he was around were older. He was using his guitar as a means of communication and escape from school, his mother’s mental illness and family problems. He writes:

I understood music like other people didn’t. I felt it and saw it very deeply, with crystal clarity. When I listened to a piece of music I could see all its components, its parts and how they fitted together. I didn’t just sit back and think, ‘oh that’s nice.’ If someone said something like that to me I would be furious with them, ‘What do you mean, can’t you see what’s going on? It’s brilliant!’ Music to me was something different, a vast kaleidoscope of magic and wonder. To this day my mind boggles at how superficially some people listen to music.

In music, he had found a way of coping with life. He writes that it was a sanctuary where he felt safe, it was something that he found interesting – and it was something that made him socially acceptable.

Mr Oldfield recalls his first music class at school after his family had moved from Reading to Harold Wood, where he had to conform to the rules. While he created beautiful harmonies, it wasn’t what the teacher had wanted, and he found the whole experience boring. However, he credits this teacher for introducing him to one of his favourite pieces of music, Sibellius’ fifth symphony, and he says that the beginnings of Tubular Bells started from him wondering how he could do something like that piece.

It was at this time that he was introduced to LSD and hash, and he explains that things wouldn’t have happened the same way without drugs:

That first experience might have flipped a few switches in my brain that led to the utter paranoia I experienced later, which left me feeling incapable of doing much at all for years and years. Through all of that came my life as it is, Tubular Bells and everything else. I wouldn’t put it all down to my drugs experiences but they made me who I am and made the music the way it was.

His experiences with drugs were relatively short-lived though. Following a horror trip in 1970 when he saw reality as it really was, which was the beginning of a decade of panic attacks, he says he’s never touched LSD again.

By this time he was waiting for his 15th birthday so he could leave school. In the meantime he recorded some demo tapes with his sister Sally, under the supervision of Mick Jagger. They ended up recording an album together under the name Sallyangie, but eventually Mr Oldfield felt as though he was in his sister’s shadow and he wanted to do his own thing.

The book continues to tell the story of Mr Oldfield’s first band, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World, which he joined at the age of 16. He notes that he felt like he was the young boy in a band of much older guys, and he didn’t think they took him seriously -they tolerated him, but he wanted to be as good as them. It was with Kevin Ayers that he first started drinking, which he says helped his guitar solo in the show become one of the wild points – like Angus Young of AC/DC (who actually doesn’t drink!).

After this band disbanded, Mr Oldfield continued working with Kevin Ayers and eventually ended up at Shipton Manor, owned by Richard Branson, having been given the chance to work on the album that would become Tubular Bells.

This was recorded over two periods in 1972 and 1973, and the book describes the huge amount of work he put into this album that became a monstrous hit – and how he signed a contract with Virgin that in the end committed him to 17 years and 13 albums with the label. On becoming famous, Mr Oldfield writes:

Eventually I realised that I couldn’t have any true friends any more, because I couldn’t trust why they were being friendly. . . . It’s horrible but I couldn’t see any way of avoiding the feelings of mistrust. To succeed in the music business you have to be very savvy and worldly wise. If anyone can rip you off they will, without a second’s thought. . .  The paradox is if you become strong and tough enough to deal with it, you could lose the sensitivity needed to create whatever it is, the music, the art.

Mr Oldfield goes on to describe the difficulty he had following up such a successful album (Hergest Ridge, the difficult second album), his increasing dependence on alcohol, and the release of his more successful third album Ommadawn in 1975. As the 1970s progressed the world of music was shifting to punk and Virgin, which was essentially a one-artist label, was feeling like a laughing stock, debating whether to drop the “progressive” label and focus on punk. Mr Oldfield writes that he wasn’t marketable at that time, and was constantly attacked in the music press. Consequently he lost his spark and music became a chore to him. It was around this time he attended the Exegis seminar, after which he felt like he was floating on a cloud. He decided he needed a new way of living and working – he writes that it was like starting a completely different life.

He writes of becoming a father, losing his fear of flying then learning to fly, and even going on tour, which he had refused to do in the past.

The final two chapters of the book cover 1981 to 2006. He writes of the settlement agreement with Virgin and another breakdown he had at the end of the Discovery tour in 1984, the break up of his relationship and the albums he made in a more commercial vein with actual songs on them (this was the Moonlight Shadow period). He writes that that last album he made that was full of songs was Earth Moving in 1989. His next album Amarok, was another instrumental album. Richard Branson had wanted him to call it Tubular Bells II but he refused. He said he wanted to do Tubular Bells II, but that wasn’t it. As a result, he says, Virgin didn’t promote it, and it didn’t sell well. He says this is a shame because it’s probably one of the best things he’s ever done.

It’s a single 60-minute piece, which was probably difficult to isolate a piece for radio or release from, and has been described as Mr Oldfield’s protest album against Virgin, and apparently includes Morse Code spelling out “FUCK OFF RB” about 48 minutes in.

Mr Oldfield finally did get to make Tubular Bells II, released in 1992 on his new label Warner. He describes working on it as a joy and that it, and therapy, helped him get through the break-up of his family, his second relationship break-up involving children.

The book ends with Mr Oldfield’s musings on “now”:

I’ve had to learn what I am and it’s not a musician, it’s something else. To me, a musician gets out his instrument and just plays or entertains. That’s not me at all: What I can do is transfer the essence of a feeling or emotion, express it in music. … I’m an interpreter, a sonic mood translator if you like. I can take the beautiful feelings you get in life, and the horrible ones as well, and I can turn them into aural sounds, give form to them in music . . .

From now on my music is not going to be cool, it’s not going to be hip or sexy. It’s going be hand-played and mathematical; it’s going to be as complicated as I feel it needs to be. I’m not going to care if anyone likes it or buys, it, which is exactly the way I felt when I was 19. . .  If I can somehow persuade people how to play again properly, to stop concentrating on how good they look on TV and really start to do interesting things with music, then I’ll try to do that.

I found Mr Oldfield’s story fascinating and knowing the stories has made me want to track down more of his work. I’m currently listening to Ommadawn, which I love and have on high rotation. I think I’ll figure out the Morse Code in Amarok next!

Post script: As I was putting this post together, I learned that Mr Oldfield’s father, Raymond Oldfield, passed away last week. In the book Mr Oldfield says that he has tremendous respect for his father, and that he’s learned how important it is to accept your parents the way they are. He learned in the Exegis seminar that “we look at our parents like gods” and that “if you don’t grow up and see them in their proper place, as proper human beings, you can carry on your whole life looking at them through the wrong perspective”. I think I know what he means there, and it’s a good lesson to learn.

On contemplating death: Book 21/24

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (2014)

Book 21 - ThriveBefore I read this book, I knew of Arianna Huffington in connection with the Huffington Post, but that’s about all. I found out more about her on Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” Podcast (Episode 65)  when she was talking about her new book The Sleep Revolution, which follows up on the information about sleep she presented in Thrive.

In the podcast, and in a similar interview with Dan Harris on his 10% Happier podcast, Ms Huffington speaks of having a wake-up call when she collapsed from exhaustion after working 18-hour days as well as being a mother to her two teenage daughters, and woke up in a pool of blood after fracturing her cheekbone and cutting her eye. This lead her down a path to reduce the stress in her life, cut back on work and sleep more.

In Thrive, Ms Huffington says that “over time our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power”. She says this can work in the short term, but over the long term she sees money and power by themselves as being like a two-legged stool, which is eventually going to fall over. Many successful people, she says, are now falling over.

She says that the way society has defined success is not sustainable, either for individuals or societies, and that to live the lives we truly want and deserve, we need a third measure of success that goes beyond money and power. She calls this the “Third Metric”, which is made up of four pillars: Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.

The book is made up of four sections about those themes, and Ms Huffington explores these themes through examining research, scholarship, her own personal experiences and experiences of others. Like in Big Magic, I didn’t find a lot of stuff that I hadn’t read about before, but I found the discussion in the chapter about Wonder on death and dying to be particularly moving and thought provoking, so I’m going to write a bit about what she says on this subject.

As we know, we’re all going to die. Whatever we believe happens to us after death, our life as we know it will eventually end.

Ms Huffington writes: “The closer death comes, the deeper we bury it, desperately putting machines and tubes and alarms and railings between us and the person stepping over to the other side of the mortality line. The medical machinery has the effect of making the person seem less human and therefore his or her fate less relevant to us . . . It allows us to not think about it, to put it off endlessly like something on our to-do lists we never quite get to.  . . . Rationally we know we’ll get to it – or run smack into it – eventually. But we figure we don’t need to deal with it until we really have to.
Why should we think about our death now? she asks. What good would it do us?

“A lot actually. In fact there may be no single thing that can teach us more about life than death. If we want to redefine what it means to live a successful life, we need to integrate into our daily lives the certainty of our death. Without no ‘dead’ there is no ‘alive’. . . . As soon as we’re born we’re also dying. The fact that our time is so limited is what makes it precious.”

Everything we accumulate in our lives, power, money, success, will be no more permanent than we are, she says (you can’t take it with you) and, while you can leave an inheritance to your children, you can also pass on “the shared experience of a fully lived life, rich in wisdom and wonder,” which seem to me like much more significant things to leave behind. “To truly redefine success,” writes Ms Huffington, “We need to redefine our relationship with death.”

She goes on to say that research has found that avoiding the reality of death leads people to hold onto customs and beliefs that contribute to stability (which makes sense to me). This includes identifying with groups based on race or gender or other attributes. It’s suggested that holding onto a group in this way can lessen our fear of death, because the group has an air of permanence, even if we we the individual are impermanent.

However, Ms Huffington writes, this holding on can be one explanation for things like racism and for ways in which we “demonise outsiders to glorify our own group.” She describes how the research (by Professor Todd Kashdan) found that mindful people who were willing to explore what’s happening in the present, even it it’s uncomfortable, tend to show less defensiveness when their sense of self is threatened by their own mortality. Professor Kashdan concluded that “mindfulness alters the power that death has over us”.

I found this to be one of the most interesting and powerful sections of the book, I guess because death isn’t something I think about too much. I was particularly moved by Ms Huffington’s description of the last day of her mother’s life, which she describes as “one of the most transcendent moments of [her own] life”. She writes that she keeps coming back to the lesson “don’t miss the moment”, which was her mother’s personal philosophy. The present moment, she writes, is the only place from which we can experience wonder.

She writes of maintaining a sense of wonder and curiosity, and says there are three basic practices that help her live more in the moment – the only place from which we can experience wonder:

1. Focus on the rising and falling of your breath for ten seconds whenever you feel tense, rushed or distracted. This allows you to become fully present in your life.

2. Pick an image that ignites joy in you. It can be of your child, a pet, the ocean, a painting that you love – something that inspires a sense of wonder. And any time you feel contracted, go to it to help you expand.

3. Forgive yourself for any judgements you are holding against yourself and then forgive your judgments of others. Then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.

“The only thing people regret,” she quotes English Poet Ted Hughes as having said, “is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” This brought to my mind several articles that have been published on the regrets of the dying, where on their death beds people don’t regret not working hard enough, but regret not having lived a life that was true to themselves and not having been braver, loved more, spoken up more and so on.

When I think about it, this is one of the reasons I’m doing the #yearoffear challenge – to start to get braver and do things I’ve been scared of doing, so that I don’t have as many regrets when my time comes.

That’s pretty heavy stuff! But I also got a lot more out of this book than just contemplating my own death; I even got a couple of new ideas for my #yearoffear challenge – so I’ve added them to the list.

Recommended.