All Posts in Motivation

March 4, 2017 - No Comments!

Working With the Energy of Time

My volunteer commitment is almost up at Dharma Publishing! I'll be wrapping up my projects in one month and then striking out east. Above is a photo I took of sunset at Stump Beach, in case you were wondering how goddamn beautiful it is up here.

In Skillful Means teachings your accomplishments act as a fuel for your future action, and provide nourishment for continuing projects. In the interests of continuing to grow as a person, I'm going to try and acknowledge some of the things I've accomplished here and sketch out some goals for the next phase of life. If that sounds narcissistic and boring, it definitely is and I also definitely don't care. #myblog

Meditation, mindfulness, contemplation - this continues to be a fruitful field of exploration and I intend to continue seeing where it takes me next. In my time here I've done two levels of Kum Nye Teacher Training; I lead a Kum Nye class three days a week for volunteers and occasionally teach retreat guests at Ratna Ling as well. Continuing to learn and plumb the depths of mind is bolstered by teaching - leading any class requires a more intricate understanding of the subject. To really be a good instructor one needs to be intimate with the body of knowledge you're teaching. This is the same principle in teaching anything- Muay Thai, design principles, or cooking techniques. I would like to attend a multi-day silent retreat, and also am open to learning new techniques and practices over the coming years. To not be curious about the experience of being human is no longer an option for me, and I'm happy to chew anyone's ear off about why that's important and necessary work to do.

Political activism - I'm afraid we seem to be experiencing a "democratic recession" at the moment globally, and domestically we have a dangerous ego-driven wannabe autocrat at the helm. And Jesus Christ, this Russia thing. It's a precarious situation, and as someone who has been enjoying the fruits of liberal democracy for a long time I owe more time and energy spent protecting it. How that manifests requires more thought, but I can dedicate my physical presence more if I'm not way out in the middle of the redwood forest. I've been taking liberalism for granted, and recent events have made it clear that we may be a hair's breadth away from sliding backward into a bleak, autocratic political situation. More vigilance and action is required here on my part.

Learn how to teach basic self defense and begin leading free classes for my community. Learning martial arts has been a very important part of my life, and I hope it will continue to be so. I want to continue to train in martial arts to improve my body and mind, but also would like to give back by volunteering efforts to lead self defense classes locally. This may not seem to jibe with the whole meditation and Buddhism activity — but unfortunately we do not live in a safe world yet. Pretending violence doesn't exist is not a rational option, and I'm worried by statistics pointing to increased violence against various groups being targeted by those in power at the moment politically. I'm fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn principles of self defense and enjoy teaching, so this makes sense as an extension.

Work is our creative outlet in this world. It is a very important part of my life and, when I am being kind to myself, I am proud and sometimes surprised at how I continue to improve in this area. Applying Skillful Means (think of it like a mindful management training program) to my work at Dharma Publishing has been very fruitful.

In less than a year I've been able to learn Premiere Pro and After Effects - not an expert by any means but competent enough to design intro sequences, cobble together clips with basic editing and export/distribute via online channels and physical DVD production.

I also created the new Dharma Publishing Academy, an online portal for learning Dharma teachings like Kum Nye and Skillful Means. It serves two purposes: preserves and presents the mixed media (audio lectures, video seminars, books) and content Dharma Publishing has produced over the years by turning them into Self Study Programs. And, it's an automatic source of revenue. With no human effort required (other than originally creating the online course) money is able to go straight to purchasing paper for the books printed by Yeshe De and distributed every year to the Tibetan refugees in India. Writing and designing the courses has been a rewarding challenge, and working on a digitally oriented project with huge video files from a place in the woods with satellite internet has been a good test in patience.

There's also all those Stupas, and the work I do in the community here, and the days I've been faced with a choice to say yes or no, and learning to choose "Yes" more often. How my work and activity will continue to unfold is a question I'm still working with. But I am excited to try it out "in the real world." I have an entrepreneurial spirit, enjoy leadership and am excited to continue adding tools to my arsenal of creative expression. I intend to live from a mindset of abundance, at least unless that's proven wrong and I end up destitute (spoiler alert: I won't).

Relationships, do them better - I would like to continue improving here, my connections with other humans is a great space to do self-work from. Family, friendships, romantic partners, coworkers, community members - there's always room for improvement and making things better. Not to get all woo-woo but the bedrock underneath most of our life seems to be love — when you penetrate the layers of mind deep enough that's been my experience, at least. If that's the case then one would be wise to start acting like that more often. Appreciate and have more gratitude for those around me, through daily practice. Develop my patience and equanimity when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

Broaden horizons through travel and new experiences. Learn Spanish. I would love to commit to writing something more substantial, mostly to tell others condescendingly that I'm an author. I want to explore virtual reality and immerse myself in technology again. The creative possibilities with VR sound exciting — at Layerframe we got the first Oculus dev kit and it was cool but basically just made you nauseous. I think the blending of sensory experiences and ability to manipulate perceived reality like they are able to know is ripe for exploration. And it's still nascent enough that there are real opportunities to innovate with the technology and drive change, which is exciting. Continue to read, at least one book per month. I feel like that's a major "lifehack" that people seem to be forgetting, which is worrisome. It might just be because I currently work at a publishing company so I feel it more acutely here.

I'll continue to jot down thoughts as my experience here winds down. If you have questions let me know in the comments. And if you want to work with me or collaborate come springtime holla at ya boy: ryan@ryanegan[dot]net

December 28, 2016 - No Comments!

Reality vs. Perception vs. Happiness

First a very important update: I've been wearing the same sweatpants and hoodie for several days now, and it's glorious. Merry Christmas.

I was fortunate to recently participate in some training at Ronin Athletics and in between getting strangled the head coach, Christian Montes, told me about how the Gracies used to sell laypeople on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is back in the eighties, before the emergence of modern MMA and when there were still karate schools practicing death touch and breaking boards. To prove Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's effectiveness as a self defense discipline they would have a prospective student lay down on the ground and put them in full mount:

From there the black belt would just tell the neophyte on bottom to try and get out, like their life depended on it, there was someone taking away your loved ones right over there, you have to get to them, etc. etc.

Anyone who has trained modern martial arts can probably guess what happens - the person on bottom will not be able to escape, inevitably and quickly become exhausted, and a realization sets in. That you had an perception of reality that was at odds with the way things actually are. I would bet a lot of us who train in BJJ had an experience similar to this the first time we stepped onto the mat.

How you take that new understanding and move forward is up to you. In my case the absolute decisiveness of the practice (you are in essence fighting for your life every time) and the depth of knowledge required to get good led to it becoming a borderline obsession.

Now I can give you this same experience, but for meditation or contemplative practices.

Just do this: Try not to have a thought. I'll wait.

Probably didn't take long. Meditation, like martial arts, is many things but awareness of thoughts and how mind operates is one major benefit of the practice. This is important because, arguably, identifying with thoughts and as thoughts causes roughly all of our problems as human beings on a day-to-day basis.

You can take this realization and cognize it, process it and think about it and that's fine. But in my opinion until you practice meditation regularly this won't become apparent in daily life.

Just like I can learn the escape from full mount, and that there are actually a couple of very easy ways to get out most of the time in the space of five minutes, but without practicing the technique over and over my mind won't fully realize it. Eventually you want it to become muscle memory (which is a flow state of mind and body unified) where it feels like you don't even cognize what to do next, you just do the technique and get out.

The same principles apply for contemplative practice - without taking the time out of your day to sit, pay attention to the breath or the body, and work with the ceaseless stream of thoughts that we think are "us", then we will not be able to have this awareness become muscle memory. In daily life, when we are upset, we will not be able to recognize (what a wonderful word by the way, re-cognizing) that upset is just a thought and pull ourselves back into a better frame of mind to deal with the situation. This can be done more and more effortlessly and quickly the more you practice paying attention and bringing mind back to a focal point.

From there it opens up. How far you choose to pursue it and integrate that into your life is entirely up to you. In my case the style of practice sort of found me, and I currently subscribe to the Tibetan Buddhist practices and general perspective on the practice. There are more secular alternatives if the very concept of religion freaks you out, but I would also argue that religion is just that- a concept, and of the spiritual practices available (that aren't a cult) Tibetan Buddhism has almost 3,000 years of creating contemplative masters.

You can completely ignore any magical elements and still receive extraordinary benefits by learning more about it. I'll plug a different book this time, I recently read Sam Harris' book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion and would recommend that if you'd like a logical presentation of contemplative practice and Buddhism in particular.

We are being driven around by thoughts and emotions for most of our day. You don't need any sort of spiritual practice to see this is the case. Just try and not have one. Sam Harris used a great example in the above book - imagine you're in a room of strangers and you find your glasses. You might say out loud "There are my glasses" when you found them and no one would really react. Now imagine if you kept talking, "Oh, there are my glasses. I am always forgetting things. This is probably why Cheryl stopped talking to me. I'm such an idiot!" The people around you would probably be freaked out. But we do this in our own heads all day, without even realizing it most of the time.

I am much better off now because I am able to more fully understand the depth of this simple fact, by taking a little time out of my day and paying attention. Compared to when I began earnest meditation practice, I generally get 'hooked' less by thoughts and am able to better recognize patterns of behavior that seem integral to my being but aren't at all. I'm not great at it by any means, but any advancement is improvement and I try to acknowledge it as such.

So big thanks to Christian for bringing that to my attention recently, as I love to draw parallels between the different obsessions that I have and gradually become an even bigger nerd. If you want to learn more about any of that, whether related to strangling people or becoming more mindful just leave a question in the comments and I'll try to respond!

OmAhHum and Osssss

 

June 29, 2016 - 6 comments

The Importance of Showing the ☠@✴# Up

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There's one phrase I heard early on here that seems to hold true pretty consistently - "You're going to get what you put into it." This can seem intimidating, especially here because there are several thousand years of tradition, history and mind-blowingly in depth metaphysical concepts to study and help support. A seemingly simple seven line prayer has an entire book written about it.

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There's also not much guidance for rank novices like myself on where one should actually start. I actually ended up quite liking this as it allowed me to find my own comfort level, rhythm for absorption and a baseline to start work. However I did run into some difficulties - it's daunting and my initial response to daunting tasks tended to be "hide and wait it out."

The approach I've been using to deal has been effective for me and so thought it may be worth sharing. It's pretty simple on the surface, like most good maxims - "Show Up."  5am Kum Nye class? Just get out of bed. Once I do, just like that going back into bed is now a defeat larger than the initial challenge. Tired after lunch but have to paint a Stupa? Just pour the paint into a tray. Now it's a task to put the paint back into the bucket so I may as well get started. It's sort of a micro-victory approach, combined with pump faking my own laziness and ego.

For me that's always the hardest part- it's thinking about how nice it is in bed while you're under the covers and should get up, or rationalizing the reasons that you don't really need to go this class and besides everyone else is watching a movie. And really I don't have to do any of it - apart from a little guilt the consequences aren't so great. I'm not in grade school, and no one is going to give a shit that I don't go to class - the only party being affected negatively is me and my personal growth.

When I have some objective distance from the situation (easiest post-showing up by the way) the choice is obvious - just go, idiot. After all why am I here at Ratna Ling? To grind 10 hours a day for a cause I can't be bothered to learn about and make no money in the process? Or am I here to put in my best effort to contribute to myself and an organization that I learn about and believe in? Both at work and in study there are opportunities to develop greatly and find satisfaction if approached with the proper energy.

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h/t to Alexandra who sends me wonderful nonsense like this on the daily.

In reality it's a small hump to get over but it is constant and pervasive - and it's something I've dealt with for years before coming out here to Ratna Ling as well. Any activity not mentally labeled as "fun" or "enjoyable" or "easy" can fall victim to this line of reasoning. Studying, exercises I don't like, phone calls I don't want to make - there are micro barriers that I erect in the mind that lead to procrastination or poor effort. That's why the "show up" approach works pretty well - it's a micro effort to overcome a micro barrier. Once you start dialing the phone it's usually fine and in fact tends to be enjoyable in the end.

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So if you want to be a person who goes to the gym every morning, don't think about how the hour spent there will be. Unless you're remarkably positive or stupid your mind will begin telling you all kinds of stories about how much it will suck compared to staying here in bed where it's warm. Just get out of bed, get to the gym. Once you're there it's more work to go back home, and so you may as well start to wake up and jump rope.

Another practice I've learned here from Arnaud is to set personal time commitments. So for example, can I go to Kum Nye class every morning for a month? How does that feel? Impossible? How about one week? Try that and see how it feels. If I hate it, at least now I know and I tried. This keeps the ownness on me too, which is a more consistent metric to reference than any sense of responsibility to others (which can vary based on personal preference, respect, etc.).

Now once I do show up, the next hurdle is usually full participation. In my best moments I like to look at my work in this life as an expression of my human potential - that can be hard to find when you're neck deep in an Excel spreadsheet but even there I think it holds true if you're doing it for the right reasons. If that's true than why do I sometimes find it difficult to throw myself into a task, participating with joy and an open mind? And it's even more true for activities outside of work. It seriously boggles my mind as to why someone would show up to a class or event of their own volition and then mope or not take part as fully as they can.

I have noticed there are some common mental patterns I've observed that lead to issues like procrastination and holding back. Oftentimes it's the shitty inner roommate who tells me the project is stupid, or I could be doing something better, or this person or that organization doesn't appreciate it anyway, etc. I'm also starting to recognize that I personally need to improve on the middle portion of projects in particular. I tend to be a strong starter, good at creation and tapping into ideas with others, and I'm pretty good in the clutch ie, deadlines and crunch times. But the middle - routine, maintenance, etc. - I tend to get frustrated and bored with.

I'm working on those issues by - yes, once again - keeping it small. Setting micro deadlines and more importantly taking the time to immediately reflect on a task once it's accomplished has been a big help. Trying to find the sense of joy and accomplishment in the single blue stripe on a wall that I do on week four, as opposed to the initial rush we had in the beginning while talking about the renovation's potential, or scrambling and working late as a team to get the project done in time for a larger deadline.

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I recently helped paint and hang these giclees of the Buddha's life story with the wonderful Alexandra at Dharma Publishing.

With something physical and tangible like painting or exercise it's a little easier because my body's energy starts flowing, the heart rate increases, hormones pump and synapses fire. I can tap into that ape-based evolutionary reward system and it makes the task a little easier. But full participation in mental activities - study, office work, art - that's a more difficult challenge to unpack sometimes. Especially working in digital - there's a sharp disconnect between the body and the sense of accomplishment when it comes to tasks like programming or graphic design where it sometimes take an inordinate amount of mental energy to move something ten pixels to the left, and then it doesn't work on a goddamn phone anyway:

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Not saying it should feel like a struggle every time, and if you seriously can't find any joy you should absolutely find something else to do. If you hate programming or dry walling or management or whatever - get out. Just quit, life is way too short and you're too important to the human story to be wasting your (and all of our) time being miserable.

But I would suggest first trying to set that time period for a personal commitment to show up, participate fully and then taking the time to reflect. Did you find any pleasure or joy in the task? Then maybe see if you can identify that feeling during the task itself the next time, maybe by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Can you find pleasure in tapping the keyboard, delight in finding a good color, joy in lifting up a sand bag, happiness in hoisting a pallet over your head?

If you're interested in learning more a lot of these ideas originated via Skillful Means, a book I recommend highly when it comes to motivation and discipline in your work. We're developing some programs here at Dharma Publishing that expand upon that, including an online academy that I hope will launch soon. Look forward to sharing that with you all!

Till next time, nerds. XO