Silence is a rarity in our 24/7 world. Enjoy The Soothing Sound of Silence audio post. To listen, click on the link, and you should automatically be able to hear it. If not, right click the link, then save to your desktop to listen on your own audio software.

Mind Mapping the Slow

August 17, 2012

The folks at MindMaple approached me with an irresistible offer to try out their new mind mapping software. Having never created a mind map before, I felt a little daunted, but the software was so easy, even someone as non-technical as myself could grasp the concept quite readily.

If you are looking for a snazzy way to shape up your power point presentations,  your office walls or even your screen saver, check out MindMaple. They offer a lite, free version so if you don’t want the bells and whistles, try it instead.

And for those of you who are curious what I came up whilst trying out the software myself, I offer you this. Slow. In true colors.

 

The other day I scored major points with my son. He indirectly mentioned his concern about my iPhone obsession by commenting about how another soccer mom watched her phone more than the game.

“She’s reaaaaaaally manic about her phone, Mom,” he eyed me closely. He was looking for hand tremors, involuntary eye-twitching or anything to reveal whether or not I could take on his veiled challenge. (To my defense, I do watch his games, not my phone, but it is usually in my pocket, tugging at my thoughts even as I focus on the field).

In an effort to prove him I could do without my phone not only on the sidelines, but also in life, I snapped it off mid-day in the middle of my work week and headed for the pool.

“Looks like it’s going to be a hot one. And look, Son, I’m leaving my phone at home.” He raised not one, but both eyebrows as he watched me turn it off completely and calmly place it in the cupboard.

Can you hear the slot machine go ka-ching? Yes, I scored big with him that day. And you know what? Instead of drawing my attention to my phone screen, I had plenty of time to watch other people do it instead.

Is that really what I do all day? I watched people cling to their devices like an emphesymic patient to his oxygen tank. Because I knew my phone was at home, I felt more energetic, as if that holding pattern of “what is someone calls/texts/emails me” had been eradicated. And in truth, it had.

It appears many more of us are engaging in digital distractions than not these days.

My Wall Street trader friend on Twitter @StalinCruz pointed out an article about distracted walking that underscores our often harmful obsession with smartphones. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 Americans have been injured in handheld digital device-related events while walking in the past few years. A man recently fell onto the train tracks in Philadelphia while playing with his phone. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but it shows how all-consuming our electronics have become that we don’t even notice the danger of our own behavior.

A University of Maryland study spanning six years found 116 cases in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones, two-thirds of whom were men under the age of 30. Fifty percent of the cases involved trains, while 33% were incidents in which a warning horn was sounded just before the accident.

Believe it or not, I have friends who leave their cellphones behind when we meet. We enjoy hours-long conversations without the need to cache, photograph or Facebook every moment we spend together for their broader network. I find when I’m with people who’d rather update their social media status than update me on their lives, it is a classic cocktail party experience in which they are looking over your shoulder for someone better to interact with. It’s distracting at best. And in the case of walking, talking and texting, it can be lethal too.

Take the no phone zone challenge today. Leave that mobile behind and reconnect with people in the flesh with your eyes, ears and fingertips at the ready for a real, not virtual, human interaction. Turning on to life is worth it.

Trust me on this one.

 

 

Playing for Change

July 22, 2012

It is true that once you leave home, you never really fully return because a part of you is left with the people you meet along the way. If that is so, I have my heart scattered on five continents.

But what is also true is that music can bring the world together, even when the actual musicians live far apart.

PlayingForChange.com is a movement that brings musicians together from around the world. They all perform the same song, in harmony, at the same time. And get this: Timeless Media is their for-profit arm that funds the project.

It goes something like this:

 

So you see. It doesn’t really matter if loved ones are far away. There is always a way to connect through technology. Of course, the real thing is good too!

About two months ago I made a radical change in the form of one baby step. The result was a shift in my worldview, I dropped ten pounds and have never been happier in my life.

The baby step came in the form of no more television. According to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, watching television for extended periods of time is the equivalent of placing yourself in a mild state of depression. Apathy follows.

It may seem simple enough to snap off the TV and do something else, but what happened thereafter for me was life-altering. Instead of flopping in front of the tube every night, I began writing more, eating less and sleeping better. I’ve even started learning French, thanks to supportive friends who have helped me tremendously (je vous adore!).  It is as though I have fully recognized that how I spend my time really does make a difference.

And it shows.

My negative emotions, while not completely eradicated, have receded to the background. Sure, I still get upset with my kids, but I am no longer subjecting myself to the constant barrage of negativity that comes from the TV.

I had no idea how impactful one decision could be.

It may seem paradoxical for someone who actually works in television and film not to want to actually watch it. I am still impressed by images on the Internet, occasionally read the newspaper and peruse business Web sites to keep up on the latest developments. But abandoning my nightly tube-watching has uplifted my spirits and has had a centering effect on my well-being.

When we look at our habits, we may think we can’t live without certain things. We may be so convinced of their inalienable place in our lives that we don’t even question the habit itself. But I bet you anything there is something you can do without and that will actually make you feel better once you depart from its stranglehold around your neck.

What happens next can be quite amazing. Suddenly new people emerge to cheer you on in your new-found authenticity. Perhaps they have been there all along, but you felt you didn’t have the time to pay attention. Or maybe they are new friends you’ve discovered because you’ve magically got so much more time through that one baby step to really enjoy them.

It is an endeavor worth pursuing. What baby step can you take today to make that radical change?

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle

A few weeks ago I read a book by Google’s self-proclaimed Jolly Good Fellow, Chade-Meng Tan, aptly entitled Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace).

Before you groan, “Not another self-help book whose content I’ll forget the minute I click off here…” hear me out. This book is based on an actual mindfulness training course given internally at Google. That the author has a quirky sense of humor makes it all the more enjoyable to read his work. Plus it has lots of pictures that made me laugh.

But on to mindfulness! Do you want to feel a natural high? Then read on.

The most memorable exercise for me was the Just Like Me/Loving Kindness Exercise adapted from Buddhist meditation practice. The objective is to increase your compassion and kindness, which thereby raises your own happiness level and, most likely, that of others too. It goes something like this:

Get into a comfortable position (I found sitting cross-legged to work well because lying down inevitably put me to sleep). Take two minutes to breathe deeply and quiet your mind.

Now visualize someone in your life. Say to yourself: “This person has a body just like me. This person has a mind just like me. This person has feelings, emotions and thoughts, just like me. This person has felt disappointment, fear, hurt, pain and confusion, just like me.” You could go on for some time, saying various things you know you share with this person. Then you end it with “This person wishes to be happy, just like me.”

The Loving Kindness part of the meditation involves wishing the person well. For instance, “I wish this person to be free from pain, to experience joy, to be extremely happy. Because this person is a human being, just like me.”

End the session by resting your mind for one minute.

I have only done this exercise once, but I was ready to hug the world after I did it. The book is filled with powerful exercises like this one. And it does require that you search inside yourself for your own golden nugget. You know, that lovely jewel resting deep within that wants to shine.

My jewel is blue. What color is yours?

When learning a new language, you are bound to make mistakes. It’s expected and normal. But when you are in a world where you don’t understand a thing without an interpreter to help you find your way, you might become dazed, confused and a tad irritated after a while.

Such is the language of computer programming for me. Product Key IDs, Windows Installer corruption and the inability to update applications such as Skype, a lifeline for me in so many ways, are things that put me in a tailspin.

And so it was this week. That is, until Mumbling Microsoft Man came to the rescue. The support guy on the other end of the line spoke so quickly and unclearly that I literally only understood the first and last word of every sentence.

“It……….again. So…….,okay?”

Right.

For the record, he told me I could use his last name here, but since we got on a first-name basis over the course of an intense three hour on-again, off-again mobile phone conversation, I decided to create a pseudonym for the purpose of this post.

It only seems fair.

After repairing what at first seemed like a minor missing link, Microsoft has gained enormous respect in my eyes. Admittedly, like a college student dabbling in drugs, sex and rock-n-roll, I have been known to dabble on the Dark Side (read: Apple products). Their graphics rock, the look and feel of them are appealing and the store itself makes me want to take my shoes off at the door and speak in hushed tones as I admire, well, everything. I love Apple products for their cutesy nature, their instantaneousness and their speed.

Yes, even in a blog about slow, speed is valued. But when push comes to shove and I really need to write, my PC stands like a lighthouse in the dark: solid, stark, simply there.

You can imagine my frenzy when my PC rejected any type of updates whatsoever. To make a long story short, an old registry sweeper application I stupidly downloaded had eventually erased an important product key that unlocked the mystery that is Microsoft-based computer programming.

Microsoft Man patiently began our session with a kind request for the Product Key ID. I gave him the wrong one. He patiently asked me to look on my computer tower, not my Home Office software packet. I got down on my hands and knees, owing him my own set of patience as I scanned all four dusty corners of it. Finally, with a shriek of delight, I found what he was looking for. After discovering how dirty my floor was, I pulled myself up from under my desk and waited for Microsoft Man’s next intelligent command. He logged into my computer via some secret remote program and I watched him whip around my computer screen like Super Geek trying to find the solution.

Forty minutes later, I was a liiiiiiittle less patient, understanding only half of what he was saying. What first came out of my mouth as, “I’m sorry. Might you please repeat that?” later morphed into, “Huh?” accompanied by a glazed look of the truly defeated.

But Microsoft Man would not be beaten. After an hour and ten minutes, we took a break. I headed for the kitchen, he to a colleague’s desk. I’m not certain whether he beat his head against it, but he came back to the second conversation sounding as even-keeled as ever.

I threw him a bone.

“Would you like to take a lunch break?” I suggested, secretly muting every time I took a bite of my Thai food.

“Not until this is over,” I heard him say.

What commitment!

He manually added some gibberish into an additional screen and by the third hour, we were speedily updating, reinstalling and generally smiling at the amazingness of Microsoft Man himself.

He kindly suggested I fill out the customer satisfaction evaluation form that would inevitably pop into my inbox in a few days.

You bet I will, MM. Somehow I feel like we speak the same language now.

What’s your computer repair story? If you have a PC, I know you have one. Now Apple, well, that’s another story!