Monk Hours

I have an attraction to the monk lifestyle. Or perhaps I have an attraction to extreme lifestyles. You may not guess that by looking at me. I watch Netflix and football. Listen to Spotify and podcasts. But deep down – I am envious of Navy Seals and Monks. People with discipline.

A monk is someone “who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with a number of monks”. I am married – so I will not be becoming a monk – but I can do more to cultivate a disciplined lifestyle.

I will be imposing Monk zone hours – from 6:30 am – 7:30 am and 10pm – 11pm. No podcasts, no TV or twitter. Just reflection, writing, reading, meditating.

It starts by having standard against which you hold yourself. You must meet them or not.

Truth v. Quality

I have been thinking about a quote from Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig,  “Truth won, the Good lost, and that is why today we have so little difficulty accepting the reality of truth and so much difficulty accepting the reality of Quality, even though there is no more agreement in one area than in the other.”

There are truths and there is quality. For example, Tom Brady threw 3 interceptions against the Saints is a fact. It is true. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in history. Is that statement true – or is that a good argument? Perhaps, an arete? It is a statement that belongs to the domain of quality – a scale.

I constantly hear that we live in a post-truth world. Truth is relative. We are inundated with “Fake News.” I hardly hear anyone talk about quality. Whether something is “of quality”. Whether a piece is well done.

Of relevance for the moment is the election in the United States. Trump declares that there is voter fraud. Biden says every vote counts. They are talking past each other. Of course there is voter fraud – but on what scale? Enough to swing the election, I doubt it. But instead of saying that. We get zero and one. Binaries. Truth or False. Voter fraud on a scale of 1 to 10 is probably .003. But it should be acknowledged, and when discovered, addressed and fixed. So if the discussion was framed in terms of quality – this discussion would be simple – it was a high quality election. Very high quality.

In carelessly mixing our truth and our quality statements – we can arrive at a world where truth seems questionable. And we start to make judgements based on unspecified criteria. Language is a clumsy tool and must be used carefully – lest we cause chaos.

Who do you follow?

Who do you follow? On instagram, on twitter, in real life? Is this something you think about?

They say when you are ready – a teacher will appear. I thought I was ready for a long time without running in Mr. Miagi.

I have come to learn that everyone can teach you something. Everyone has something to offer. But some can provide more insight than others. Some can help you on your path to a better life – others will take you on detours. But do you take the time to “maintain your thought garden”?

Reduce the noise so you can find the signal.

Inputs and Outputs

Lately, I have been thinking about inputs and outputs. Something to the effect of, “you are what you eat” and “tell me the five people you spend the most time with and I can predict your future.”

Thinking about inputs – what comes into my “system” – also has me thinking about the inherently complicated nature of systems. Always more than one variable present at a time – so control becomes impossible.

But in general, do you try to effect the outcome? How often do you think about the inputs coming into your life? For me, I don’t think I have ever unfollowed anyone on Instagram. I hardly ever get rid of clothes. I hardly ever get rid of files or papers or books. Things just collect. That means more inputs – more things constantly tugging, I go through life accumulating.

I am not advocating any dirty label, like minimalism, or finding what sparks joy, or Zen Buddhism – but instead acknowledging our power. We make choices everyday. We choose our inputs, and that controls our outputs.

Today, I will unfollow 3 people on Instagram.

Resistance and the Sunrise

In 2013, I woke up early on a Saturday morning. Saturdays are days when I could have slept as long as I wanted. But I chose to wake up at 5:30am and drive off into the darkness. The goal was this beautiful spot I had come across driving around and always wanted to photograph. The night before I set my intention and my alarm.

The spot was a lake, argued to have the highest concentration of Alligators in the state of Florida. Now, I am not scared of alligators. But I am not a fan of them either. Living in Florida and being an avid trail runner – I have had a number of encounters with alligators. But hanging around photographing with a tripod is a little different than already being in motion – and it is a perfect example of what Steven Pressfield calls the “Resistance”.

 The Resistance is that thing in your brain that pops up whenever you try to do something – usually creative or productive. The voice in your head goes something like, “I know, I will wake up early and go take photos of the that beautiful lake.” And then the alarm goes off and it is still dark, and you would pay money to hit snooze. And there are so many steps you have to take to get out the door. And when you imagine arriving at the spot you don’t know where you will park and on top of that – the spot is the highest concentration of alligators in Florida.

This rationalizing brain is the enemy. And that morning in 2013 I beat that part of my brain. And I took some decent photos. I ended up more focused on the street than the lake – and that took me by surprise.

I did not run into any alligators and I did not win any awards for the photos I took that morning. But what I did get was better. I got the valuable lesson that, for some reason, I must relearn every week. The lesson that my life goes better when I fight resistance. 

Resistance is the enemy. And the time when resistance is at its highest, and the battle is hardest to win, is also the most important moment to rise to the occasion – the morning. If you can wake up when the alarm goes off – and start your day. Make your bed if you can (if don’t have a loved one sound asleep in it), get a little bit of stretching, exercise in, some meditation and then from there the day seems to be docile. Things tend to be smoother. As the age old saying goes, “win the morning – win the day”.

For me the right time to wake up seems to be at 5:55. What’s your time?

Courage to Consistently Create

We live in a time of noise. Tweets, instagram posts, snapchat stories, New York Times, NY Post, ESPN, Disney+, the list goes on. Today, we all have a voice and access to a platform. Channels are everywhere.

But, most of us use these tools to consume rather than contribute. When was the last time you made a film? Or tweeted for that matter? According to Pew Research, “most U.S. adult Twitter users don’t tweet very often. A large majority of tweets come from a small minority of users.And while stillness and silence are incredibly important and undervalued – so is contributing to the conversation. So what does it take to contribute?

Not much – just type something and hit send. So perhaps a better question is, what prevents us from contributing, from creating? For me, a feeling of insecurity arises around thinking about what I do not know. I feel like I need a Ph.D. in the subject to be able to comment. Which to be honest, when it comes to complex foreign policy or nuanced health care discussions, the world could use a bit more of that hesitation. But discussions, reflections, putting your thoughts on paper and in to the world – this is how we grow. And it takes courage. Courage to be wrong and to have someone tell you that. To learn and move forward – but at least you are moving forward instead of watching the world go by.

A New Watch

I often listen to long ambient music on YouTube while I work. This genre has become more robust over the years. Amongst the lofi, ambient, and classical videos there appears to be a new genre of “study with me” videos. Instead of the gif person studying forever, you can study “with” a real person. It’s oddly satisfying.

Occasionally, I look over and see someone else hard at work and it motivates me to return to focus.

But occasionally I notice things like her watch. It’s a nice looking watch. And it makes me wonder about my watch. I have long loved watches, but they have changed over the years. Now the Apple Watch exists – not so much a watch as a computer. You now have a choice between something that tells the time or something that assists you in almost every facet of your life.

For some reason, I cannot bring myself to buy the Apple Watch. But I was an early adopter of the Fitbit. I have had one in some form or fashion for over a decade. I wear them for about 3 months and then get tired of it and retreat to a regular watch for a week. Then return to the Fitbit. The band is comfortable. It tells me about my sleep, which I am always trying to improve. It tells me my steps, which I do not really seek a specific number of, but if I look down at 7pm and see 5,000 I know that I need to do something. It’s feedback.

But the watch that this girl is wearing, this is the watch that someone successful wears. It is the watch I could see myself wearing, while I succeed. In fact, I bet if I had that watch, I would focus better. I wonder how much that watch costs – or what kind of watch it is. I wonder if someone has commented on the watch or if I am the only one who notices it. I scroll down. I see that she has added links to the watch, her glasses, the computer – all of it – in the comments. She knew that we would want to “buy” the lifestyle. I lean back in my chair – what does this say about humanity?

Did I just fall into a hopeless pit of human depravity? The desire to buy a thing in order to elicit a feeling. Is that such a bad thing? 

Details and the Devil

Details are exhausting. What percentage of people who accept terms and conditions read them? How much attention do you pay to the oil with which you cook your food? What about the material of the frying pan? (hint: Teflon prior to 2013, not looking so good for the health) Maybe you pay attention to these things when cook at home, but what about when you go out to eat? Given that oils and pan materials vary greatly in health related studies, it would seem important – but how many details can we worry about?

I was thinking about this while studying the German language. In German, the cases are specific. The articles change depending on their role in the sentence. This allows you to say something like “Den Apfel hat das Madchen” which to an untrained eye looks like “The apple has the girl”, but the sentence actually says, “The girl has the apple.” One letter changes the entire sentence. Den Apfel versus Der Apfel and who owns who is completely changed.

This led me to thinking about the expression, “the devil is in the details”. It is a common expression. One that I use or hear when something goes wrong, or when someone does something “careless”. One is reminded that we should pay more attention. That the details matter. But to what extent or end? This can be exhausting. I am not a lawyer – so even if I read the terms and conditions, would I understand them? Should I understand all the details behind this website? Every line of code? What about the binary sequences that make it up? Its details all the way down.

This got me curious, where did this devil in the details phrase come from, and why inflict it on the population? Everyone can’t be expected to know everything. So I looked it up and to my surprise, it appears that it derives from an earlier phrase, “God is in the details”. What a different notion. In the details await opportunity. By looking closer, by learning a bit more you might unravel mysteries.

I find this thought invigorating. The terms and conditions are now not a legal trap waiting to catch me, they are an opportunity to learn. If you take a few extra minutes to learn about health studies about oil and cooking, you might improve your health and share with your family and improve their health. God is in the details. Delightful.

On Feedback

“When feedback is immediate, clear, and concrete, people learn quickly.When feedback is delayed, abstract, and opaque, people rarely learn.” James Clear

I have recently started trading on RobinHood. It is fun – which might be a problem. But the fun part of trading is that you get direct feedback. Decisions are rewarded or punished. It is the same reason I love the chess.com puzzle feature. You are immediately rewarded or punished. Feedback is instant.

For so much of life, feedback is not immediate. Goals are distant or unquantified. Success is not something measurable in data. How do you measure happiness? This is both wonderful and tiring. We should not seek to measure everything, but if you want to grow – feedback is required.