Of late I have been practicing meditation, and it is finally starting to bear fruit. What I have realized is that I (and perhaps most people) have always lived life automatously: Reactive, un-self-aware of what I am doing, and why. Mechanically.
Now that I am starting to learn to pay attention to these things, I’ve surprised myself: I’ve caught myself on some occasions acutely aware of what I’m doing, the process I’m following, and why, and on (too many) other occasions, operating completely dysfunctionally, embarrassing myself. The difference, I’ve concluded, is that in the former cases I’m present, and in the latter cases, absent. I have no idea who this mindless idiot is that operates my body most of the time, but it can’t possibly be me.
There are two parts to this presence: The first part is this self-awareness — knowing and noticing and paying attention to what you’re doing. It is hard to both do something and to pay attention to yourself doing it, but it is not impossible. The second part is following a process, one that you’re comfortable with, but not so much that it’s subconscious.
I think the key to both is practice. We can learn to be both active, engaged, in the moment, and aware that that’s what we are. Being and observing ourselves being. And we can learn to use a process diligently, consciously — a process that we’ve found to work, and that we’re so comfortable with we can adapt it to suit each different circumstance. We’re so comfortable with it that we don’t have to think about it — but we do. These things take a great deal of practice.
I don’t like practicing. Perhaps it’s a vestige of being forced to practice things when I was younger. Perhaps it’s impatience, inattention, lack of self-discipline. Perhaps it’s that often what I have practiced (e.g. four-finger typing, bad musical instrument playing) have been poor habits, such that practice actually made me worse at it.
Here are just some of the things that I do all the time that I have started to become aware of my process for doing them (two of which are illustrated above):
For a few of these things, I have evolved a very good process, and do tend to follow it. But for most of these things, I have no process. I have no clue.
Some of these processes are linear. Others are iterative, or interactive, or improvisational. In some of them I adapt the process to suit others, and to suit their processes for doing these things. In others, I confess, I’m still far too dogmatic, still too fervent in the belief that my way is the best, or nearly so. In some cases my collaborators use different processes than I do, so everything in the collaboration becomes a building of bridges, a translation of frames, an adaptation and co-production. A dance.
I think it makes sense to develop (and evolve) a process for doing each of these things, and then practice using it until you become very competent (but not dogmatic) at it. And then, each day, each moment, as you begin to do things, be aware consciously of the various activities you do, and the process you use, deliberately, to do each. That doesn’t mean designing new processes for everything you do. It means simply being aware of what process you do use, and letting it evolve to become better. And also being aware of being aware, self-aware, present, deliberate.
Chop wood, carry water, as my friend Rob Paterson reminds me. Do each task, mindfully, until you understand exactly what you are doing and why you’re doing it precisely that way. Practice, consciously, getting better, improving the process and the execution of the process, refining, getting faster, more skilled and competent, presently aware, managing, adapting oneself.
At last I understand when meditators speak of mindfulness, what they are referring to. Simply being aware of what you are and what precisely you are doing, and how, and why. The word attention is from the Latin “to stretch to”. Such folly to be constantly stretching, in all directions,without knowing, being aware of where or how or why you are stretching.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
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A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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