…”I had a discussion with a great master in Japan… and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, ‘That’s a waste of time. If you really understand Zen… you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because… the sound of the rain needs no translation’.”
– Alan Watts
In every big city I've lived in, I’ve come across people who talk to themselves. I’ll be sitting on a bus and hear someone start a loud conversation and my first thought is that it’s a loud obnoxious phone call, or maybe it’s two friends having a lively conversation – but after a quick glance I realize that it’s just one person having have a solo conversation. I’ve seen this on the city streets as well, someone will walk past me muttering to themselves or start shouting at unseen people. Their eyes are glazed over and it’s like they are on a different planet. They are lost within themselves and have disconnected from everyone around them.
The only difference between the talker and everyone else sitting quietly on the bus trying to ignore the “crazy” guy is that the quiet people's dialogue is INTERNAL vs EXTERNAL. Everyone out there has a similar chatterbox going on inside their head. Conversations like “I have to reply to that email today”, “I thought that was rude!”, “I shouldn’t have lost my temper this morning (sigh)” “I love her”, “I’m hungry”, “I should’ve answered that question differently”, “Why didn’t he text back”, “I hope the test results come back okay,” “When is the package arriving?”, “I need to workout tonight”, "I feel good", "I feel shit" etc.
Imagine if everyone’s INTERNAL dialogue was EXTERNAL. It would be a noisy bus ride. If that’s the only difference between the crazy / angry guy on the bus then who is really crazy?
The mind is a playful monkey. From time to time you have to catch yourself from being sucked into an internal dialogue with yourself. Calm the monkey with a few deep breaths, get out of your head and get into the moment.
In the previous post I wrote about my neighbor and her beautiful garden. She’s always working on it. Her clippers are always in her right hand as she wanders through the garden. She’s a quick draw and will snip a dead shrub or feral branch in the blink of an eye. Her clippers are close at hand and she’s prepared.
Here’s lesson number two: Part of constant tweaking and improving is that you got to be prepared with the right tools. Make it easy to improve and tweak. Structure your day so that you have time to exercise, eat a good breakfast so you don’t snack on junk during the day, buy healthy food so that when you want to snack you have good food close by, set up filters on your email so that you give full attention to the right people.
Equip yourself with the right tools and it’s easier to improve day to day.
I have a neighbor with a green thumb. Her garden is wonderful. It’s like the one in the film The Secret Garden, but in California. It’s full of flowers and trees like roses, maples and nasturtiums. With the flowers come humming birds, dragon flies and bumbles bees. It’s a beautiful place to just sit and be. Here’s what I’ve learnt from her style of gardening: Always be improving. Whenever she’s out in the garden she does a little weeding, clips a branch here and there, tames an unwieldy mint patch or waters a thirsty lemon tree. Maintaining her garden isn’t done once a week, it’s an ongoing labor of love. The result is a wonderful living and breathing sacred place.
It’s a good lesson for work and relationships. Always be clipping and making small improvements. Small improvements accumulate like compound interest – it starts to gain it’s own momentum. Next time you are mindlessly checking Facebook, stop and ask yourself a question: Instead of infinitely scrolling to nowhere, where could you be clipping, weeding or watering in your own life?
My brother @socratixsw1 introduced me to a incredibly powerful deep breathing practice. It’s a relaxant after stretching or before bed.
Inhale for 5 seconds; hold your breath for 5 seconds; exhale for 5 seconds; when you’ve emptied your lungs, don’t breathe in again for 5 seconds; then inhale for 5 seconds. Repeat for 1 minute or 3 cycles.
5 seconds in, 5 seconds hold, 5 seconds out, 5 seconds no breath. Draw the square in your head – 4 sides of 5 seconds each.
Start out with 3 sets which gets you to 1 minute. The 3 sets will turn into 6 sets pretty effortlessly once you find your stride.
It’s a lot easier getting into something than getting out.
Buying something is easier than returning it.
Hellos are easier than goodbyes.
Interviewing is easier than resigning.
Hiring is easier than firing.
Signing a lease is easier than breaking a lease.
Falling pregnant is easier than raising a child.
Dating is easier than breaking up.
Starting from scratch is easier than fixing something that’s broken.
Dropping bombs is easier that rebuilding a war torn city.
Life’s operating system is wired to make us commit to something. It’s not wired to help us make the right choice, it’s our hands on the tiller.
Momentum is a powerful thing, but be careful when it’s in the wrong direction. When it’s right, you’ll never look back.
Now that I have your attention. Take your fingers off the mouse pad or stop scrolling on your phone. Pause, take a deep belly breath and list three things you are grateful for.
- Hot coffee in the morning
- Breakfast with the family
- A deep breath on a blue bird day
Try it. The list might surprise and delight you.