Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

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Heart home

We’re traveling again, on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year we’ll be with family, seeing different ones over the course of the week. Some years we’ve been with friends, and had to add the family touch via phone. We do the best we can, but making the family connection in person is not always possible. When that happens, friends round out the circle, fill in the space at the table, make the holiday bright.

Here’s what I’ve learned about celebrating and connecting in spirit, since we moved far from family, 27 years ago:

  • When you connect on a regular basis, holidays are icing on the cake. Holidays don’t have to function as points of glue. The day-to-day relationship is the glue.
  • Connecting can be as simple as a phone call or Skyping or a card or an email. Or in today’s world, a Facebook post.
  • Distance can work for you. It can smooth the rough spots and make you appreciate the good stuff.
  • You’ll only maintain the relationships you nurture. That’s especially true when you have to relate across the miles.
  • A carefully planned “surprise” visit, or some gesture that shows you’re thinking outside the box…becomes a highlight. There’s nothing more fun than orchestrating a trip like this. And the faces when you pull it off…priceless!
  • Spending holidays with friends has enlarged our circle and our traditions. Some of my favorite memories are of Thanksgivings with friends. We’ve learned new foods, new games, and built relationships that have lasted over the years, solidified by adopting others as “family.”
  • Find the right balance between pulling out all the stops for a special gathering, and keeping it real and sane. I’ve learned to pick and choose…we don’t try to do everything, we just try to do a few things well.
  • Mark the moment. I’ve learned to stop in the middle of the hustle-bustle and just look around and absorb.
  • Limit the drama. Family gatherings should not be a time of crisis or scenes. Create memories that are good so you’ll want to get together again.
  • Bring something new to the party…a new food, a new game, something different.
  • Decide what traditions are keepers. What are you always going to do, no matter who sits at the table?

Holidays don’t wait for life to be perfect. I’ve never quite achieved the Martha Stewart magazine spread for my living room or my dining room, although I’ve tried. Who doesn’t have the ideal scene in their head, just waiting to be unveiled in real life and captured in family photos as proof that it can be done?

But I’ve had better than a magazine spread. I’ve had the real thing, in all its chaos and glory, deliciousness and kitchen failures, to tell me, and those gathered with me: this is the good stuff.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”   ~ C.S. Lewis

The Great Unsubscribe

I read a lot, and I often save items that catch my eye for “later.” Sometimes the stack by my desk has to be thinned out, and typically, I find a few things that I replace, still waiting for that magical future moment when I have time on my hands; and a lot more that’s outlasted its usefulness, or my interest. So satisfying to see a noticeably smaller stack after a clearing!

The digital world is no different, except that when I read something I like, I often click “subscribe.” I need more to do, right?

But if it’s easy to add myself to email lists, it’s almost as easy to undo the damage. So lately, every time I see an email come through that I’m not going to get to, again, I do the mental sort. Is this a site I’ve outgrown? Did I subscribe thinking that this would be a treasure trove of information and advice, only to realize I will never read another thing from this source?

Have I gotten on an email list by mistake? I could swear there are evil things at work in cyberspace. I know some of the junk mail that makes it through my filters is nothing I would ever request. Not sure how that happens…probably agreed to something in fine print. But even those emails have the little “unsubscribe” link at the bottom, usually in the finest of fine prints. Clicking “unsubscribe” is almost as exciting as dropping off at Goodwill…you just know you’re going to feel lighter for the effort!

So, I’m thinning my digital commitments. Don’t ask me how it works, but an email inbox can be almost as overwhelming as a physical stack on my desk. I just know there’s some great stuff buried in there, if only I had time to catch up!

It’s a little like throwing out a box you never opened from a move. The common advice is, if you haven’t opened a box a year after a move, you can safely throw it out, because you obviously haven’t needed or missed whatever is in the mystery box. I’m a little to obsessive for that approach.

But when it comes to digital files, I’m more willing to purge without angst.

The other solution is a little like moving and not leaving a forwarding address. I’ve created new email addresses over the years to better sort who gets what. Now my oldest address is for those annoying times when you need to give an email, but you know you’re not going to maintain the relationship. A second one is for orders, and I use a third one for personal exchanges. Except when I forget and use the wrong one…which is why some friends and family are mystified by my system and just send the same information to multiple addresses. My fault for making it complicated, I know.

But here’s the thing…I find it’s easier to unsubscribe than to abandon my email addresses. Because, you know, I’ve probably set up an account or two along the way with the information, and if I abandon ship, that’s going to be a problem. An old email address is sort of like a remnant from middle school…like a piece of your history that you aren’t really excited about any more, but can’t part with either. I wish I had been more thoughtful about what I would want to follow me around the rest of my life. I probably wouldn’t have made the same choice if I had recognized the reality: I’m likely to be stuck with my digital “names” till I die. What’s up with some sites treating your user name like it’s sacred? Because of course a lot of my user name choices were based on my email address at that time. Apple‘s iTunes, for instance…now that’s one I’d like to update, but I’m stuck with my original user name there forever, apparently.

I think the digital world should allow regular re-sets, don’t you? I’m not trying to do anything illegal…my personal preference in naming convention has just matured a bit over time.

But I digress. I started by saying that I’m cleaning digital house, and how good that feels. I guess I’ve just demonstrated that all issues have sub-issues. My real angst is about email and user names, less about my inbox clutter. At least I can do something about the clutter.

If you want to reach me, feel free to send me a comment here. I can currently be found through my blog; Facebook; Twitter; I have four emails that are trailing around for various purposes; and I have a LinkedIn account that I don’t really use. I also managed to stumble into Google Circles, but I tried to back out as fast as possible. Really, I’m not looking for more ways to be connected…I just need to keep up with what I’ve already begun. And at that, everything I just listed is only for personal use. Work is a separate story.

I’m going to rest now. Feeling overwhelmed by digital forces.

Well at least I’m not that bad…

This is a funny take on addiction to social media. I have to admit I keep my smart phone handy and I like to stay connected. But hey, I gave up TV, doesn’t that count for something?!

Enjoy!

Afternoon sunshine

We’ve had a break in the rain. Either the notorious climate of SE Alaska is getting to me, or we really have had more rain than usual this spring. Not sure, but either way, I’m excited to have a window full of sunshine to enjoy. I saw friends from Colorado posting on Facebook that they have snow. Yes, that happens sometimes in Colorado this time of year. I’ve seen it snow there on my son’s birthday, which is in June. And the first summer we lived in the Denver area, it snowed on the 4th of July. I love that state! And I miss it. But I do not miss the late spring snows.

The late afternoon sun is a luxury of only a few months. So much of the year here, the sun appears late and leaves early. And on rainy days, you get a sort of twilight effect, although this region of Alaska doesn’t have the extremes of dark and light like the far north of the state.

This afternoon, as I sit looking around, I notice the light catching on things that I don’t usually see. It plays with the color of paint on the wall, the clear glass vase on the dining room table, makes the room too bright to sit in my favorite chair looking out over the water. I can’t see my laptop screen with the light pouring in through the picture windows. On the way home I noticed more trees leafing out. And the most sure sign of spring? The clearest indicator that the season has come? The construction workers have descended on us. The main road through Ketchikan is under seige, with cones dividing the space for traffic and speeds reduced to the one lane crawl.

The construction boom is in evidence at work. The hospital is getting a new roof. I’m in a different mind set. I’m hoping to sell a house, and spring is the season for homes to be shown and sold. People are moving, new people come to town. Opportunity is on the horizon.

It’s a bit like pregnancy, except there’s no known delivery date. You just sit with the process, waiting for a call from the realtor that there’s a showing, then hoping for an offer to come along. Every morning I leave the house ready.

This afternoon, I pause. I would love to have an offer in hand, to be able to look at the next chapter in life. But nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow. For today, since I don’t have a choice, I’ll enjoy the light streaming in, the blue of the water, the view in front of me. The sunshine reminds me that a new season has arrived, that days don’t stay dark.

How’s your view today?

On the hunt

I have never been much of a window shopper. I’m more of a target-oriented buyer. I usually know when I drive to a store or a mall exactly what I’m looking for, and although I’ve been known to buy additional “found” things not on my list, I always start with knowing: knowing the goal, the store, the general price.

That’s the approach when I’m doing actual brick and mortar shopping. I am completely different when I shop on line. I may begin with a specific site and item in mind, but I wander. I click. I follow links. I get sidetracked. I end up miles from where I started, maybe with nothing, maybe with a lot more than I planned on buying. But it’s always a meandering ramble through digital space.

I find the same thing happens whether I’m looking for a shirt, a recipe, some obscure piece of information, or click on some random headline on a news site. Of course, that’s why they call it surfing. One click leads to another, leads to another, leads….

I’ll admit, I’ve spent a lot of evenings just following a trail from one link to the next, sometimes with purpose, sometimes with curiosity, but always with interest to see where I’ll land. I’ve found some of the best sites by accident. That’s the amazing thing about the internet: there’s always something more to discover, to stumble across, to appreciate. Some sites I visit often, others are a one time stop. But that’s true of real places too.

I love the personal side of the internet. It’s a technology that can isolate and separate. You don’t have to leave your home to access many things that were once available only in person. You can certainly limit your interaction with human beings…shop online, research online, bank online, make reservations online. The ever-growing ability to do for ourselves via the internet has decreased dependence on other humans in many ways.

And yet, the opposite is true too. I am an avid review reader. I rarely buy anything now without first checking out the online reviews. I read customer opinions of all types of products, restaurants, hotels; editorial reviews of books, movies, music; blogs whose writers focus on food or travel or some phase of life. You can find blogs about every subject under the sun. And most of this free and very personal opinion comes with the option to comment on the comments, to reply and have a conversation, or even multiple conversations, about the topic of the moment. How connected is that? I’ve certainly never walked around department stores quizzing other customers on their buying recommendations of a particular item in a brick and mortar store. But I can do it in a digital setting. I call that pretty personal, even if I’m not seeing the other customers face to face.

Of course, one of the great success stories of the world wide web is the social networking opportunities that abound. It seems there are never-ending opportunities to be connected. In spite of the reality that the links may be only digital…I’m in Alaska, and my Facebook friends are scattered all over the US…the relationships are real. I’ve found people I hadn’t communicated with in years.

I frequently get fixated on a particular quest and stay focused on it until I feel I’ve exhausted myself with the number of links I’m willing to investigate. (This happens a lot with recipes.) Sometimes I lose track of the original search and find I’ve veered off toward a completely new target. But that’s part of the fun too…seeing where I find myself at the end of the night. Did I find the cookie recipe I was looking for, or did I come away with the perfect pasta sauce? Did I find the out of print book I wanted, or discover that there’s a free Kindle download of some classic that is available for a mere click of the button?

Tonight I listened to a presentation on the future of electronic health records. Did you know that we are all moving toward a new age when every piece of our health information will be available across different health systems, across different technology platforms? Did you know that health care providers have to be skilled technologically as well as knowledgeable about medicine?

We’re all hunters now. Whether the hunt is for personal benefit, work related, knowledge based, or pure curiosity, every time we go online, we’re hunting. And even the digital world can be a scary place. You shouldn’t follow every link. Really. There are some frightening things and places you can visit from the comfort of your sofa.

But there’s no going back now. No, the real stores won’t go away. We’ll have a need to buy milk, and most likely, we’ll continue to do that for ourselves rather than ordering it online to be delivered to the front door. But as the world is increasingly a digital experience, there will be changes to absorb.

Happy hunting. Be careful out there. Most of all, have fun, don’t get lost, and leave yourself a breadcrumb trail to follow home.