Habits of Mind

From as near as I can tell, the act of meditation entails practicing and cultivating habits of mind. Nothing more than that.

I’ve been thinking about meditation for a really long time, as I’ve read a bit about it, especially the lojong practice discussed in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. When you get into the whys and wherefores of it, you start approaching a rather religious discussion, but putting that aside, I’ve been wondering what will happen if I diligently practice it.

Maybe it’s not fair to say that I’m wondering, what’s the point? What’s the purpose? Is there a goal? I admit that sort of language crossed my mind at first. It doesn’t seem to be a useful line of questioning. Rather, those questions seem to impose a kind of value judgment on your practice: Am I achieving a goal? Progressing towards a desired outcome?

That’s not necessarily what I want. In fact, there’s no place for “want” in this. Just an exercise.

So along and along, I’ve indulged in the practice in quiet moments. Not a lot. Perhaps I haven’t been as diligent as I would if I were practicing under a formalized setting. But I don’t hold that against myself. I used to. I’m learning more and more to observe that fact and then let it go.

I can’t say that I’ve accomplished things. I can talk about what I’ve noticed, and I can talk about what I’ve focused on.

I try to focus on awareness. When I was having angst about the experience, like I said, I wondered where I was supposed to be going with this, but after a conversation with a friend, we talked about awareness, and I thought, well, there doesn’t have to be some end goal. Awareness is a nice thing to have. Who doesn’t want to be more aware?

I’ve noticed how quickly my thoughts blow me away from the current moment, how quickly they carry me forward in time. As I live and grow and accumulate time and experiences, the more quickly I tumble forward, out of control, my thoughts and experiences aggregating around me until the current moment is hard to see.

So I just want to be more aware, and this has this side-effect, one I’ve found really beneficial, of slowing down the passage of time. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a side-effect; that implies there’s some primary effect I’m chasing. Just an effect.

I don’t have much else to report. I just wanted to share that experience, in hopes someone else out there is thinking about meditation.

Self-evaluation

Since reviewing my self-evaluation with my immediate manager the other day, I’ve gone through a lot of thoughts and feelings over it that I would not have expected.

It went really well! That’s the first surprise. This is my first job in the tech field, and so I haven’t been programming for a living very long. I’ve had my current job for perhaps a year and a half, so this was my first full evaluation.

This began as a 360 review that I filled out for myself, and I put down “meets expectations” in every aspect of my a career as a middle- of-the-road response. I genuinely did not think I could justify anything more, and I felt sure I was doing well, so I didn’t feel like I needed particular improvement in any area, either.

My manager put that I “exceeded expectations” in most of the fields and talked with me about it. I fought hard to hold back the urge to disagree with him, but internally, I did keep thinking that somehow he was a bit biased or skewed in favoring me. I wasn’t sure where he got that impression, but I was sure that my evaluation was going to lead to disappointment (either during or after).

The second surprise, however, was how much he won me over to his point of view instead of the other way around. I had had the idea that I was one of the least productive people on the team, but not only did he point out how productive I was, he had pulled the figures to support his view directly from our issue-tracking system. He compared me not only to the rest of his team but to all the engineers in my department, showing me the average time I spent on a task (about half the overall average) and the sheer number of tasks I had turned over in the last year.

I definitely told him how useful it was to see that; otherwise, I just plainly would not have believed him.

Thirdly, the language he used to describe my role in the team surprised me. This is the first time I heard myself described plainly as a “lead” for the rest of the team. I knew that I had had taken some leadership-like roles on (especially training), but it’s only starting to sink in for the first time to what extent that’s happened and how my manager has nurtured that. He’s sought out my opinion on almost every single member of my immediate team to the point where I’ve practically been able to handpick all of them (at the very least, I’ve had veto power, but that isn’t too unusual in tech environments). I’ve been doing a lot of training, pairing, and guiding on tasks our team handles, to the point where sometimes I feel stretched thin.

Of course, I knew about all these things, but I hadn’t internalized myself as anything resembling a leader, and that led to his only negative (but oh, so constructive) feedback for me. I’ve always been a really candid person about my feelings, and he pointed out the extent to which those feelings are influential to the rest of the team when I vent about something negatively.

I suppose I just assume people will disagree with me or that I’ll hold a minority opinion (and often, I do), but the idea that as a leader (whether de facto or de jure) I hold some influence over the opinions of others on my team is a novel one to me.

I’ve always had trouble being professional in past jobs I’ve had, and it’s becoming clearer to me why that’s held me back, and I’ve begun to examine what I say and how I say it in that light.

It’s been a huge shift in how I think about myself, and this review process has generally given me a huge step in internalizing a different idea of myself and my career. I also have to give huge props to my boss, who is maybe right about more things than I gave him credit for in the past.

Writing within Constraints

I was joking around on IRC and Twitter today with @ashedryden and started alliterating randomly for fun, apropos this Tumblr:

New neuroses, now neatly nested.

Then she challenged me again:

<ashedryden> now if you can rephrase it so each word is one letter longer than the word before it

<ashedryden> you would win an internet.

<ashedryden> I would hand deliver it with cake.

I actually tried to do this for a moment and gave up (it stopped being fun). But it reminded me how much I enjoy embracing constraints when being creative. For example, last fall, a coworker randomly asked me to write a sonnet without using the letter “e”.

Rather than stifling my creativity, constraint seems to slow me down, make the process more meditative and deliberate, and ultimately explore more options.

It doesn’t seem as much like self-censorship. When there are fewer choices, it feels easier to choose among the remaining ones, and moreover, easier to see down the paths those choices lead to.

Wait, Maybe This Is a Migraine after All

I am kind of unsure why I was so insistent in the past that the headaches I regularly deal with couldn’t possibly meet the definition of a migraine. And I get asked that sort of question pretty regularly because I deal with debilitating headaches pretty regularly.

I guess I was getting hung up on some of the weirder symptoms that my doctor asked me about (auras, photophobia). But let’s look at what I do experience for a moment.

  • They’re relatively frequent. Sometimes a few times a month.
  • They’re universally relegated to one side of my head. Almost always the left side.
  • They usually last a day or a few days.
  • They very slowly pulse, ebbing in waves of pain for a moment before flowing into a momentary remission.
  • I’m beginning to realize they are often triggered by stress and anxiety. I noticed one come on strong just after a stressful, depressing meeting the other day (smack dab in the middle of a relatively stressful week for me). On the other hand, during my December holiday break, I was completely headache-free.
  • Most importantly, they’re pretty bad, and on some days, I just know I won’t be able to function well. Such as today, I’m taking off work unexpectedly to deal with it. (With all the appertaining guilt and anxiety about that fact.)

If Wikipedia is to be believed, I am pretty sure that I am in fact dealing with a true migraine (as much as the idea of “true” and “false” diagnoses bothers me).

I reckon it’s time to discuss this with my therapist or even my doctor, but I’m not looking forward to what I imagine and predict will be a struggle to be taken seriously and get some kind of medicinal help.

Never Read the Comments

You may have noticed that I don’t allow any form of comments on my site. This isn’t a technological limitation—the software supports it fine. I’ve got a few reasons for not allowing comments, but they boil down to this: this is my website, and you have the entire rest of the Internet for your own comments.

My reasons, such as they are, follow.

  1. Comments are a total waste of my time. Catching spam, moderating content, and generally monitoring discussion is a time sink which only grows over time.
  2. Without comments, I retain absolute control over my site. This means I can make assurances about what visitors will see.
  3. Finally, I just hate comments in general. Let it be your mantra: Never read the comments. Repeat this in the morning to yourself, let it guide you, and you’ll never go wrong. I can count the times on one hand that I’ve come away from a comment thread more edified than I entered it. On the other hand, I’ve personally had comment threads vampirically drain away a bit of my soul and leave only regret in its place. Why would I do that to you all?