My empty bucket

A blog by Adam Morris

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana Meditation is an ancient art form of mastery over our habitual reactions.

Wild Maine Blueberries by Adam Morris on 500px.com

When I mention going on a silent 10-day meditation retreat, people’s reactions are often respond with a glazed look and sort of a “I could never stay silent for 10 days” kind of a response.

But having been through it, keeping your mouth shut is easy. Your mind still chatters away, and observing this is just part of the fun. Developing the strength to sit comes one step at a time, and is why you go… Not a prerequisite.

Vipassana meditation is the practice at the heart of Buddhism, with an objective of enlightenment. As Daniel Ingram noted in his book, “Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha”, enlightenment is often misunderstood, sometimes to the point that people don’t believe it exists in the world today. In fact, Vipassana meditation spells out a clear practice that leads to enlightenment in an achivable manner. From his own experience, Daniel approached it with determination and effort, but found it less challenging than getting his medical degree.

The concept behind Vipassana meditation is that suffering exists, and, and starts at the level of sensations in the form of craving or aversion. The meditation is cultivating a practice of observing these sensations — that is, learning how to observe without reacting with craving or aversion, such that your suffering will be eradicated. How cools is that?

As a side effect, I’ve found when I practice, my mind is more calm, and I approach my day with more equanimity, being able to handle situations that arise with greater clarity… and less of the “why did you do this to me?” kind of junk which sidetracks the mind from functioning rationally. Yea. Cool.

Forgiveness

 

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

– Gandhi

Winter in Toronto by Adam Morris on 500px.com

When angry or holding resentment, the way out is forgiveness. This usually comes naturally at some point, but after a confrontation, there can be a good chunk of time where the natural impulse is hold on to that resentment, generating ill will towards your adversary, almost as if it were a punishment for the pain that has been caused.

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These endless thoughts

It started as a week long Mind Chatter exercise for the Creativity & Personal Mastery class, where I wrote down the thoughts in my head periodically during the day, and the emotional tenor that I felt at the time (and whether they felt positive or negative).

Niagara Falls by Adam Morris on 500px.com

At the end of the week, I gathered the half-dozen pages of thoughts I had managed to capture, and categorized them. What I discovered is that I tend think about the same thing, over and over and over. Or if not the same thing, the same type of thing. Often like a broken record. It pointed out how insanely redundant, pointless, and often negative my thoughts are.

This was the beginning to becoming aware of my thoughts. Over time, this exercise has transformed into a check when I’m feeling frustrated or annoyed. I survey what thoughts I have been having, what the intent is behind them, and what the emotional undertone is (irritation, frustration, fear, thoughtfulness, grace, loving kindness…)

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See a table

What does it mean to truly see, to see things as they are?

To see things as they are, is to see them without interpretation or judgement. If you look at a table, and think “I see a table”, the table is lost, and you don’t see the table, but your mind’s interpretation. This would become apparent if I asked you to look away, and then tell me the color of the table. Perhaps you would respond, “brown”, or “white”.

But if you look more closely, you see that this is not true. The table isn’t one uniform color. If this was true it would look flat and two dimensional. It has a variety of shades, tones, and even various colors reflecting off in different lights. Perhaps it is a wood table, and has complex textures and grains. Maybe another object in the room, of a different color, is creating a reflection in the table. Look again, and you see a rich variety of colors, not a single one.

And aside from color, I could ask what shape the table is. A square with four legs, you might respond. But if you look again, what you see is probably more like a stretched parallelogram with various extensions. Most likely you can only see a couple legs. Four legs exist only in your memory and interpretation. And if you walk around the table, at every moment, the shape that you see changes.

This changing shape is much more true. It is unique, based on your current experience. To describe it in words would most likely fill a novel. Even so, it is difficult to convey with words, as words themselves communicate through the learned meaning attached to them. Over time you come to understand meaning in words, but this meaning is built up of your past experiences. Specific connotations of words and phrases can vary significantly from person to person, especially between cultures, so words themselves are not even constant between people.

So, what started as a simple table, is now a complex object, which you naturally simplify based on your historical knowledge of what a table is and how you use it. But this label of a “table” is not the truth of your experience.

If this is true of a table, how about everything else you’re thinking about during the day?

The HSBC security device

HSBC recently decided to send out security devices to all of their customers, as an extra measure of security on the website. I postponed activating it until today because I find it quite irritating to have an additional “thing” I’ve got to carry around with me and this extra step when logging into my account.

It is interesting how this irritating plays out. In my head there was a dialog of whether or not it made sense to switch to a new bank account. Yes, it is bothersome, but I transfer money to other HSBC accounts, and doing this from another bank would be even more bothersome, so bottom line, I am not going to switch.

Then, I kept having thoughts of how I would seek my revenge for this unwarranted attack on my now more complicated log-in procedure. First, I’d lose my card. Then, I’d complain when I was out and didn’t have my card with me. Finally I’d press the button repeatedly until the battery wore out.

The worst part, is that these thoughts are just background mental chatter, and are not something I would take action on. But when I think them, I feel even more irritated. So really, I’m just generating thoughts that make me feel more miserable. This apparent attack in my head on some nameless corporation serves only as an attack myself. What purpose does that serve?

None. It is pure pain-inducing silliness.

First git

The world of open source is truly fascinating to me. People sharing work, and building platforms together, that make it easy for others to do cool stuff easily. When I think about all the people that have contributed to tools I use on a daily basis – eclipse, ubuntu linux, the birt report writer, python, stack overflow, and countless plugins of all sorts – it’s truly quite amazing.

Well, for the first time, I created my first project on git, the collaborative version control system… posting updates to a wordpress script that I used to convert posts from wordpress to evernote.

http://github.com/adammorris/Luis-Rei-Wordpress-to-Evernote

Maybe now I can call myself a real programmer.

Meaning in what we see

The street was crowded this morning, as I walked into the place where I work. It was a bit annoying. There were people everywhere. Not like in India, but like a Monday morning in London.

London is quite a diverse city. Lots of cultures, ages, backgrounds, walking paces. There was an elderly lady with a stroller. A few touristy looking people and construction workers. And tons of people in work cloths bustling along.

I wasn’t annoyed specifically at any one of them – I didn’t even know “them”, yet still they managed to collectively emerge into the exact location where I was trying to walk. I just wanted to walk at my own bustling pace, and couldn’t. Annoyed.

So I turned left and walked back along a different street. There were no people there. The street was oddly quiet and peaceful. And, yes, I felt happy again.

In Chennai, India, there are people everywhere. There are just a lot of people. And they move at a very different pace. It boggles my mind… yet it never bothers me. London is practically uninhabited in comparison, and yet I get easily disturbed. The only difference seems to be that in London, I am trying to get somewhere.

I seem to have attributed the sight of all these people as an obstacle to my walking pace, and felt annoyed as a result. Not really a productive reaction. If I was slightly more aware, then I would have just accepted that this was so, and then turned left without any of these thoughts that left me feeling more stressed.

This is easy for me to grasp in this situation, but how many situations during the day do I react to something I see negatively, with some fictional meaning that I’ve created?

9pm rule – week 2

My 21 day commitment of turning off my laptop by 9pm is an interesting project. After the first two weeks, I am finding:

  • It forces me to concentrate. Watching the clock tick down, I get things done quickly and efficiently before 9pm.
  • I send more e-mails: I don’t stress over making detailed and comprehensive responses, and am learning to effectively communicating my message with less.
  • The time after 9pm is a great stress relief. Being able to let go in the evening creates space that I don’t fill with the pressure to get things done.
  • On the down side – my posting has disappeared in the last week.

Strangely though, I feel out-of-balance. My previous 21-day stretches incorporating exercise, meditation and the creativity project have vanished.

Prof. Srikumar Rao, in his course, Creativity & Personal Mastery, states that anytime you are trying to change your behavior through an act of will, you are doing harm to yourself – instead you should focus on who you are being, and let the change happen naturally through you. In a way, these 21-day commitments are an attempt to force myself to change – and perhaps not the most effective way to bring about change.

Project Communication Tool: 15 Minute Round-up

Over the weekend, a colleague in the in open space retreat I attended suggested a method for communicating project status across a team without long, inefficient update meetings.

At the begining of each day, the project team (say 20 people) get together, and in the space of 15 minutes, everyone gives a brief update of what they’re working on and any problems they are encountering – while standing – no sitting allowed. People speak up if they are able to help, but no solutions are offered in the meeting.

Results: Everyone is informed about what others are worked upon, and connections form automatically to bring people together without wasting everyone’s time.

21 Days and the 9pm rule

Somewhere, I heard it takes 21 days to develop a habit. So, I started giving myself 21-day commitments to help create change in my life.

I believe true change comes naturally when your beliefs change, and the way to change your beliefs is through awareness. The experience of being committed and doing something non-negotiable for 21 days provides awareness of what commitment means. And, it is much easier for me to say, I must do this today, for the next 3 weeks, then I must do this today, for the rest of my life.

Lifehack.org had a piece yesterday on How to Create a Non-Optional Mindset which examined the problem of seeing items we want to accomplish in our life as optional:

Because we haven’t made the relevant body-changing habits non-negotiables in our life. On some level we still consider optimal eating and consistent exercise to be optional. Of course we do, otherwise we’d never have the start-stop problem.

Tool: 21 Day Commitment

I have just started my third 21-day commitment, the objectives of first two were:

  • Round 1: Minimum 15 minutes of meditation + 15 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Round 2: In addition to above, taking the time to recall my dreams in the morning, and posting to the creativity project each day.

Learnings: 21 Day Commitment

Round 1 Results: Success. Making sure I had time each day for meditation and exercise, even if it was only for 15 minutes, was not as hard as I thought. I find even these 30 minutes are giving me more energy and clarity during the day.

Round 2 Results: Failed. Trying to commit to 4 things in a day, was too much. I started doing the minimum exercise and meditation each day, and cutting out my sleep to get things done, which made my energy and clarity worse.

Round 3 Objective: 9 pm rule

I have just started round 3 with the 9 pm rule. The rule is no laptop after 9pm. No e-mail, no writing, no nothing, except if I choose to watch a movie. (Although, I never watch movies, so I don’t expect this to occur).

This was a suggestion by my friend Olivia Fox Cabane as a way to improve my lack-of-sleep and walking around in a daze. If I can eliminate the word “sleepyhead” from my girlfriend’s vocabulary, I will consider it a victory.