Onwards to 2016

sunrise

I wrote a recap of 2015 in my previous post Adieu 2015, Hello 2016. This post is about things I did in 2015, what worked and what I will keep doing, and what didn’t work and what to change.

What worked

Using a calendar app to manage my schedule
I used to keep my schedule in an old fashioned way with a Moleskine weekly planner. One of the productivity tips I often read is keeping a “one calendar to rule them all” – and it was difficult to do it with pen and paper.

I started using the Google calendar app on my phone since October 2013. Along the way I experimented with several calendar apps and found one that worked really well called Business Calendar, I’ve been using it since then. Leaving a 9 to 5 job and switching to freelance yoga teaching made my schedule became more varied and flexible. Having a digital calendar on the phone means it’s always with me, can be quickly updated, and I can modify it from the computer as well if needed. I’ve been relying on it more and more. I will continue to use it, and I’m going to use it more by scheduling in my other activities too.

Cook more often
I’ve been cooking more last year, mainly because I’ve been at home more. I started to stock my fridge with relatively hardy vegetables like broccoli & zucchini, and started to stock aromatics like onions garlic & ginger as well. Prior to 2015 I hardly cook, and I rarely bought fresh vegetables as they tend to just wilt in the fridge drawer. When I did buy them, I bought those ready to cook portioned & packaged veggies, so I used everything up in one go. Now I’m comfortable with buying a whole head of cabbage as I’m cooking it up in a few days.

I think cooking is like a chicken & egg situation for me, I didn’t buy vegetables because I didn’t get to cook them and they just ended up in the trash. On the other hand I couldn’t cook because I didn’t have anything to cook with. Now as I always have something around to be cooked, I cook more. So I’m gonna keep the fridge stocked, not overwhelmingly ambitiously so, just enough to allow me to whip something up quickly.

Keeping a gratitude journal
For years I had journal that I write on, but I had never been able to consistently keep it. I wrote everyday for a few days or weeks the most, and somehow trailed off, not writing for weeks or months, and then came back to it, and same thing happened again, writing on it for a few days, and off again.

I stumbled upon this Five Minute Journal with this headline “The simplest, most effective thing you can do everyday to be happier”. I agree, I think journaling is one of the things we can do to improve our quality of life, if only I can do it everyday. The creator of Five Minute Journal, Alex Ikonn & UJ Ramdas, posted a digital version of the journal that I can flip through. Essentially it’s a journal with prompts, so one just need to write responses to that prompts. A set of prompts is for the morning before we start the day, and another set of prompts for the end of the day.

The journal ships internationally but I couldn’t wait that long – plus the shipping charges makes it very expensive. I decided to try creating my own, using a plain notebook and writing the prompts manually.  At the beginning I wrote the prompts at the same time as writing the answers. After a few days I tried writing the prompts ahead, and I found that having the prompts already there worked better. After a few more days I tried differentiating the color of the prompts and the color of the content – I use black for the prompts and blue for the answers. After a few more weeks I tried writing the prompts with capital letter. I’ve been keeping it that way since then.

How did I fare? I started the journal on 23 July 2015. Out of 162 days ( from 23 July to 31 Dec 2015) I wrote on the journal 94 times, that’s just slightly under 60%. There were two main reasons for not writing. First reason was I finished the first notebook, and I didn’t have a new notebook ready. I meant to immediately set up a new notebook, but it dragged on for more than a week. Lesson: prepare the new notebook  a few days in advance when the existing one is almost finished. Second reason was because I didn’t bring the journal with me when I was traveling, because the notebook is a bit thick and I wanted to travel light. Lesson: make a lighter, portable version to bring when traveling.

Did it work? Yes I think it worked. The journal made it really easy to write things – literally just five minutes a day – so easy that my success rate is close to 60%.  I think the journal helped setting up positive condition at the beginning of the day, and closing the day with a short reflection. I’ll keep at it hopefully with better percentage in 2016.

What didn’t work

Exercising regularly 
With a flexible work hours I should be able to find more time to exercise, yes? Well it didn’t work so well. When I was still working in an office, my weekdays schedule was rather predictable; I woke up at the same time everyday, did morning meditation, left the house around 5:40 am, arrived at the gym or track around 6:15, did my work out, and be at the office by 9. Now as I teach morning yoga classes, I couldn’t exercise in the morning. Theoretically I could use the time after teaching to exercise, but I didn’t, for various reasons, that boiled down to the failure of setting up a new exercising habit.

What will I change this year so I exercise regularly again?

  • I will try to actually schedule exercise time in my calendar, just like my teaching schedule
  • In the days where I’m not going to the gym, I can run around my neighborhood. Or I can do a functional type exercise at home with a youtube video

*

So that’s three things that worked and I will keep doing and one thing that didn’t work and I will change in 2016. What about you? What worked, what didn’t work, and what will you change in 2016? 

Image: Sunrise over the mountains – November 2015, Dharamshala, India.

Space for grace

spring-bud

What’s grace?

It’s difficult to define. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, grace is:

a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b : a virtue coming from God
c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace

It’s something to do with divine and God.

And what is divine and what is God?

More and more description and words, in the attempt of describing something undescribable, something beyond words.

Every breath

Every move

Every sunrise

Every morsel

Every sip

Every heartbeat

Everything

is Grace

I wrote the above almost a year ago.

Grace is everything, and everything is grace. The more I realize that, the more I just let life flows. Allow. Open.

What was stopping me from letting life flow?

Conditioning. Fear. Afraid of not being accepted, afraid of being alone, etc. And thus I conformed with the conditioning of society – eg: study, get a degree, graduate, find a job, find a husband, build a career, buy a car, buy a house, go for a holiday, buy a fancier car, buy a bigger house, go for a more exotic holiday, and so on and so forth. And there’s no end in sight – there’s always something more, better, bigger, fancier.

This pursuit of ‘more’ made my life cluttered. Full of excess baggage. Not only physical but also mental. The more cluttered, the less space…

Without space, grace couldn’t flow – and it felt like I was swimming against the current.

I was unhappy, but too afraid to do anything because of fear; fear of being different, fear of failure, fear of not accepted by others. Until I realized that it was my fear that made me so clingy, too afraid to let go.

Facing the fear, I let things go. Clear out some stuff. And create space. Soon, with all the space, grace started flowing.

Cultivate space for grace, and grace will flow.

Image from 7-themes

Life is like cooking

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Whoops it’s already a month from my last post. I’m lagging behind again on my writing. I didn’t have a regular schedule to sit down and write, I used to just squeeze in writing in between here and there. As my schedule becoming more full, this blog is forgotten. From now on I will schedule time on my calendar to write.

Also contributing to my lack of writing is, I think, I’m feeling like there’s not much more to say. I don’t feel like commenting on events. I certainly don’t feel like commenting on other people. And who am I to comment about books and other writings. So, I can only talk about my own ideas and personal experience. And lately I feel there’s nothing really worth to share.

Well that’s not exactly true. Somethings are worth sharing. I have a lot of notes in my notebooks and journals…  But I was not motivated enough to type it up it into a blog post… I decided to use my free time to do other things, like: reading, cooking, etc.

Cooking is not my forte. I rarely cook until recently. As a full time office worker I used leave home early in the morning and arrive back home at night – too early to cook breakfast and too late to cook dinner, we often just eat outside or buy takeaways to eat at home. As I am shifting into freelance work now, I got more time at home, and I start to explore cooking. Surprisingly I enjoyed cooking, although not so much about the cleaning up. I’m happy when I can prepare my own meal, I know exactly what went in there, it can be as spicy or as mild as I want, and there’s just something about creating a meal from scratch. And I believe that it’s more nourishing to eat home-cooked meal compared to mass-produced food.

I usually don’t follow recipes, I just go ahead and experiment with whatever ingredients I have available. Most of the time it worked, still there were a few times when the resulting dish is barely eatable (but I ate it anyway :P). As I gain more experience in cooking, generally the more skillful I become in selecting and processing the ingredients, resulting in better dish.

I think life is a lot like cooking. We got ingredients and tools, and it’s up to us how we process the ingredients, then the final result will depend on how skillful our processing is. A good cook can create a delicious dish from the simplest ingredients and the crudest tool with his skillful processing, and a bad cook can create a disastrous dish from the most expensive ingredients and the most sophisticated tools if he’s unskillful. The key here is the cook.

A delicious dish is like a good karma – a karma that benefits other people, beings, the earth. Good karma then generates more good ingredients – and with the good ingredients one can make even better dish. A bad dish is like a bad karma – it has negative effects to other people, beings, environment, earth etc… if handled unskillfully it can continues to spiral downward. Like in the TV show Masterchef, a good dish can get one to the safe zone – and a bad dish means one has to face the elimination.

The beauty is, it is always up to us to turn things around towards the better. There’s always a choice – and it’s always up to us. No matter what life has given us – it is up to us how we ‘cook’ it. Up to us how we live it. Up to us to choose our response.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~Victor E. Frankl

Image: Cooking adobo by Nicole Abalde

Dies slowly

dyingflower

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones i’s rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandons a project before starting it, who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who doesn’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
dies slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness

~ Martha Medeiros

I just got back from Japan and haven’t been able to write much. Today I’m just sharing this beautiful poem with you all.

Image credit: Dying flowers by Mercury Dog

On running

Long_Distance_Running

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.
~ Oprah Winfrey

When I just started running, finishing a full marathon the whole 42.195 kilometres, was unthinkable. I started running in 2010, because I had ‘Run a 10K’ on my 43things list. After that first race I was hooked. I met many new runner friends, ran more races, joined a running group, and slowly built up my mileage. In January 2011 I broke my left feet metatarsal (the outermost bone of the feet between the pinky toes & heels). Not because of running, hiking, or anything – but because I fell down the stairs at home. I stopped running for about 3 months – and slowly build it up again. After that I finished my first half marathon at the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon in December 2011. And then I managed to make my husband join a 5K race, and he’s also hooked to running ever since. Running became an activity we do together, and running with someone we love is much more fun.

After finishing a few more half marathons, I decided to do a full marathon. For a runner a full marathon distance is an important milestone. A bragging right. So yes I am a marathoner, albeit a slow one. I finished my first marathon at the Penang Bridge International Marathon 2014 last November. I wasn’t training properly due to my yoga teaching, training, and travel schedule. I managed to squeeze some long runs, I decided I would just run happy only aiming to finish under 6 hours. And I managed to do it, I finished in 5 hours 47 minutes, so I was quite happy.

Second full marathon is Tokyo Marathon this February. My preparation for the Tokyo Marathon hasn’t been that good either. And I just get back from extended travelling to Dubai & India with only 2 days gap before flying to Tokyo. Anyway again I don’t set time target except that I want to finish under 6 hours, I’m just gonna run happy and finish happy.

Non-runner friends ask me “Aren’t you bored during running?”

Nope, I’m not bored during running. Well at the beginning I did need distractions to run, I had to listen to music during my runs, both on treadmills and outdoors. But as I run more often I actually enjoy running more when I listen to my breath and focus on my body when I run instead of listening to the music. So I don’t listen to music when I run anymore.

When I run with friends, I enjoy the conversations during the run. Talking with someone during runs help me check my effort level too – if I can still speak short sentences that means I’m OK. If I can speak long sentences comfortably that means I’m too slow, and if I’m so breathless that I can’t speak at all that means I’m too fast.

When I run alone, and that’s the case during a race or training in the track, I think of my running like meditation. Sometimes I say the mantra Om silently with each exhale. Sometimes I contemplate during the run. Sometimes I just witness the mind thinking during the run. Sometimes I concentrate on my breath. Sometimes I focus on how my body feels. Sometimes I talk to myself.

I think running plays a role in strengthening my discipline and willpower. Running breaks inertia, reducing tamasic tendency, instilling a ‘go for it, just do it’ attitude. Sometimes, when I’m feeling lazy, I just do it to get it over and done with. But more often after a few minutes of running I actually enjoy the running itself. The more often I won over the lazy self, the stronger my willpower become.

Running is a road to self-awareness and reliance – you can push yourself to extremes and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet.
~Doris Brown Heritage

Now running has become so much part of me I have to do it, rain or shine. I bring my running clothes and shoes when I’m travelling and try go for short runs, and it’s a good way to check out new places too.

I finished my second full marathon the Tokyo Marathon yesterday, got a new PB (personal best) of 5:31:17. Happy!

Some tips to get started running:

  • run with friends or family – join a running group or get people around you to run together
  • get proper running shoes
  • start slow and build up distance & speed slowly. Most injury happens when we try to do too much too soon
  • besides running do other activities that increase strength & flexibility. Eg yoga, pilates, strength training, etc.
  • stay hydrated – bring water along or bring some money to buy
  • use sports tracking app to track the trainings & keep the motivation up. I use Nike+ app.
  • register yourself to 5K or 10k running race, ideally still 2-3 months away. The race will provide motivation to train

Some running resources:

Related post within this blog:

Managing attention

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Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.
~Susan Sontag

Last week’s post, The Value of Attention, got some attention from my friends (thank you guys!). I got valuable feedback on it. Apparently everybody is having this ‘attention management’ problem challenge, many people can relate to it.

Here are some articles I found about attention management:

And a blog dedicated to attention management:

My previous post, and also the above links, talked about how our attention is a limited resource, it is not infinite, hence we have to manage it. On this post I’m sharing a recap of what I’ve been trying to do to manage my attention.

1. Ditch TV and limit Youtube. Nowadays everything on TV can be found online as well – so we can forget about TV altogether. Youtube is on-demand, so we are in control on what to watch. Only watch what we intend to watch, not channel surfing nor mindless browsing. My friend Ashish Sahani wrote this:

There is this black god occupying the central place in our home. We worship it every day for hours together. We love it and keep staring at it, all day long. Every few minutes we do it’s aarati* with an instrument called remote. The only solution to peace in our lives is to lift it to the window and give it a slight push. Truly an idiot box. This box, right now before you isn’t any smarter either. [My addition: neither is the little box in our hands]

*aarati: a Hindu religious ritual of worship

2. Pay attention at the first time. Very often because we weren’t giving full attention on the first attempt to the task at hand, we make mistakes, that later will need to be corrected, that further consumes our already limited attention. And if we still don’t pay attention the second time, again we may make mistakes, and so on, it becomes a endless attention-consuming cycle.

3. Simplify. The more things we have in our mind, the more thinly spread our attention. A big part of simplifying life is decluttering, both physical space and psychological space. I’m no expert in decluttering, having grown with parents that tend to packrat, but slowly over time I manage to let go more stuff. Something interesting I read a while back – there’s a reason why Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and President Obama dress the same everyday. They’re simplifying their wardrobe. That way they don’t need to use their precious limited attention to make decision on “What should I wear today?” And think about it, what to wear is one of the first major decision we have to take every day (the ladies reading this are nodding their head).

4. Meditate. One thing I often hear from my friends when discussing about meditation is “I can’t empty the mind during meditation, my thoughts are running all over the place”. Most people have this conception that meditation equals to emptying the mind. Well yes in a way it is, but it’s not as simple as we sit down and pour the mind out and mind becomes empty. Thoughts will always be there, with consistent practice they will become less gripping, and we will start to see more space around the thoughts. Like any other skills it needs to be practiced and experienced, just reading about it won’t make any difference. Om Swami wrote about Two Types of Meditation, have a look if you’d like to gain more understanding about meditation.

These 4 things I have been trying to apply in my life, and they help me manage my attention. There are more, but as I am currently travelling I have limited access to computer and couldn’t write properly. To be continued.

Related to this post within this blog:

  • Unclutter – a post from 2009 about my attempt to declutter

Image of cat from wallpaperhi.com

The value of attention

dog-attention

Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.
~ Seth Godin

These days, with always-connected gadgets in our hands, we’re overloaded by so many information. Some of them are good, some of them are useful, some of them are beneficial, but a lot of them doesn’t add any value to our life. Our limited span of attention are spread thin, one second we were looking at the computer screen, and then we look at the smartphone screen, and back to the computer screen, which has multiple windows open, and back to the phone again, or the tablet, which also has multiple tabs, and then there’s the TV, and the radio, and don’t forget today’s newspapers or this week’s magazine, not to mention the billboards and banners we passed on the street, and so on and so forth. Never ending stuff all vying for our attention.

Even this blog itself is seeking your attention. Although I only post it on my own social media and don’t actively advertise it, this blog is also fighting to get your attention among the many other things a reader can spend his attention to.

There’s this term “attention economy” used in a 1997 article by Michael H. Goldhaber, here. An articulation of attention economy written in 1971 by Herbert A. Simon (via Wikipedia):

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”

Because there are overflowing things that calls for (consumes) our attention, then our attention becomes scarce. And when something is scarce, it becomes valuable. How valuable is it? How much is our attention valued? It depends on what sort of medium that holds our attention. Ironically, the ones who put monetary numbers on the value of attention are, marketeers. Marketeers strive for our attention on behalf of the brands (products/services by corporations) they represent.

I work in marketing, so I know about marketing and brand management quite a bit. I’m speaking from my own experience. Here are some of the phrases used to quantify our attention: eyeballs, exposures, impressions, views, CPM (cost per thousand view), click throughs, engagements, footfall, traffic. Etc. They all are referring to some form of attention from the audience, which brands call ‘target market’. Our attention is sold and bought by someone other than us, which is the marketeer. Somehow someone else, other than us, is making money from our decision on what we are paying attention to. Mark Manson wrote that in the future, our attention will be sold. I think it’s already happening now.

If brands (via marketeers) are willing to spend money to get our valuable attention, then it’s only logical if we put a value on it ourself. But we often take our attention for granted, and gave our attention away so freely, to advertisements, videos, pictures, news, chats, etc. If we value our attention properly, we will only give it to what really matters. To the loved ones, family, friends, people around us. And don’t forget to give attention to our own self, sometimes we’re so busy looking outside that we forgot to pay attention to ourself.

I’m trying to wean down my screen time as well. I mostly don’t watch TV, just a bit here and there when it is on. But I’m guilty of having my eyes glued to computer screen or the phone screen most of the time. Browsing, googling, reading news, checking email, checking the various social media, among many other things. I haven’t found a surefire trick to lessen my screen time except trying to be more mindful about it. I used to fall for those ’12 celebrities picture without make up you won’t recognize!’ headlines, because who doesn’t wanna see Scarlett Johansson looking like an average normal person? It gives a sense of relief that they’re not that flawlessly beautiful after all. With mindfulness we can catch ourself before clicking the link that will eventually lead into more mindless attention sucking stuff. With mindfulness we can, in Rumi’s word, know what to ignore.

The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore.
~ Rumi

According to Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), the way to manage our attention is through meditation, and by focusing to one thing at a time. I do practice meditation, not as often as I would like, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. I also try to incorporate more focus in my daily life, for example focus to the food when I’m eating, and focus to listening to the other person I’m with instead of checking out the phone for new emails, messages, or status updates.

Through meditation and by giving full attention to one thing at a time, we can learn to direct attention where we choose.
~ Eknath Easwaran

When we understand the value of our attention, we realize that attention is one of the best thing we can give to others. We then appreciate more when someone gives attention to us, and we try to do the same to others.

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
~ Simone Weil

So, if you make it this far, thank you very much for your attention. I sincerely hope you find this post is worth of the attention you gave. I’m not trying to market or sell anything here, and I don’t have any agenda, I’m just sharing my own personal thoughts. If there’s an occasional advertisement below, it’s from wordpress, the free blog platform I’m using, not from me. And it’s up to you to ignore it or to pay attention to it.

Related to this post within this blog:
Where’s the line? – where does marketing ends and lying starts?

Image of dog from freehdw.com