In his essay "How to Get Startup Ideas" Paul Graham writes:
The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not "think up" but "notice." Since what you need to do here is loosen up your own mind, it may be best not to make too much of a direct frontal attack on the problem—i.e. to sit down and try to think of ideas. The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing.
Awareness, the ability to notice is a fundamental life skill that can release you to pursue greater things. For Paul Graham it's a strategy to unlock startup ideas. For those that practice mindfulness it's the foundation of the practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh in his seminal book on meditation "The Miracle of Mindfulness" introduces the reader to meditation through awareness. Having a process running where you are constantly aware of what you are doing presently. Even when putting a book back on the shelf:
While placing a book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware of what book it is, know that you are in the process of placing it on the shelf, intending to put it in that specific place.
What is awareness? How do you channel it? Tara Brach in "Radical Acceptance" writes:
When thoughts arise, where do they come from, where do they go to? As you explore looking into the space between thoughts, through the holes in the net, you are looking into awareness itself. You might sit quietly and simply listen for a few moments. Notice how sounds arise and dissolve back into formless awareness. Can you notice the beginnings of sounds, the ends of sounds? The spaces between? It is all happening in awareness, known by awareness.
As you begin practicing awareness you'll notice a transformation in your outlook to the world. Signs you may have missed previously become clearer. Feelings you've suppressed may become nurtured. Your relationships with others, with food, with experiences may become more significant.
Starting small and finding awareness in moments everyday can lead to more awareness throughout your experiences. It's a habit that can easily be dismissed or neglected. And yet finding ways to remind yourself, to continue to notice, can establish a habit that can have a profound impact on how you live life.
During my grade school years summers felt endless. June to September, 3 full months! I was unbound by the reigns of responsibility and school. I could do anything I wanted. A project, a trip, or just nothing. If I didn't get to something today, I could do it tomorrow. Time felt limitless.
For 16 years of adolescence I lived on a schedule dictated by the school year. 9 months in school, 3 months summer break. It was predictable. Summer was always there for me to pursue my interests. And if I didn't get something done this summer, I could always do it next summer.
Yet in my early twenties my perception of time was no longer based on a predictable school year schedule.
I was in the workforce equipped with 5 sick days and 10 vacation days. No summer break. Summer months were indistinguishable from other months. Time became based on work project deadlines and quarters. Start a project in January, launch it in May. Start planning in June for a project that will launch the following year. And the cycle continues.
The pause, created by the bookend between the school year and summer was gone. The warm feeling of unlimited potential that appeared at the start of every summer break dissipated.
I had fallen into a rhythm where one year flowed into the next. No bookends. If I wished to pursue a project outside of work, I had to make time for it. I needed to manufacture my own bookend.
I could no longer find comfort in doing it next summer. Next summer was no more. And so next summer became this evening. This weekend.
Next summer became today.
Somehow it's going to be OK. My future self told me so.
Actually, he didn't say much. And he didn't say those words. But sitting in the room with him - I knew. It was the way he looked at me. His smile told me what I was hoping to hear.
He looked happy and the environment felt right. It was like visiting a place for the first time, but feeling you've been there before. It felt like home. The computer, the couch, the dog, and the little girl that came in calling for daddy. Somehow it turned out OK.
My future self asked me - how is it?
How is what? I replied.
Living in the city. What did you do today? What are you feeling? What and who are you loving? I ask because I don't remember. When I think about it, it's a blur. I remember being in a rush to get here. The "next step". But I forgot about standing on the step you're on. Help me remember.
Well, I'm worried about this. I'm concerned about that. I'm not sure that I'm heading in the right direction.
Really? You're concerned about those things? I don't remember them. Hearing them now they seem a bit trivial. A high price to pay for the memories.
And my future self sat back, looked at me and continued to smile.
That was the moment I knew it was going to be OK. The stress, the worry, the fear. He has no recollection of them. He's alive and well. He's happy in his current environment.
But I sense a bit of regret. He's missing the memory of my today. The memory of what it's like to be me. I need to get that to him.
I owe him that.
I recently attended a wonderful talk by Tara Brach. Tara (among many other things) is a teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. The talk took place at NYU and was hosted by MindfulNYU.
I was introduced to Tara through her book "Radical Acceptance". A collection of stories and practical lessons for introducing mindfulness and acceptance into our lives. It's become one of my favorite books and I strive to implement it's various lessons daily.
In this post I'd like to highlight some of the ideas Tara presented in her talk. These are the ones that resonated with me.
Through her teachings Tara is striving to instill a culture of caring. A culture of empathy. Practicing mindfulness is a way to get there.
Many of us fall into a "thinking trance". A trance of unworthiness. We identify and look for ways where we feel we are not good enough. It's a narrow view of ourselves that allows for fear and separation to set in. The fear and separation hinders us from being our true selves. It's like trying to exercise when you're sick. The sickness prevents you from performing at your full potential.
We are constantly asking ourselves "how am I doing?". How do I look? Should I be doing this? What will they think of me? This fuels fear as you worry of falling short. Feelings that you aren't good enough. That something is wrong with you. And you regret. You can't carry on through life like this. On your last day don't have the regret that you lived your life feeling that you weren't good enough.
Ask yourself, how do you get caught in the story that you are "not ok"?
We separate ourselves from reality. There is "the world" and "me". We separate because we feel there is something wrong with us. And yet the divide does not exist. We live in the world. Say "yes" (internally) in those challenging moments and fuse the separation between "the world" and "me".
Our culture exacerbates the feeling of "not enough". We are addicted to our screens looking for the next like, message, update.
In any moment pause, check-in, and ask yourself two questions. What is happening inside me right now? Can I deal with this?
We are in the midst of a societal evolution. Mindfulness has become global. It's all over the internet. It's value is taught in schools and corporate environments. It's used in medicine. Our global consciousness is waking up as we collectively become more aware.
Wake up from the trance. The Paul Newman ice cream story.
In challenging moments, try the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. Recognize the feeling. Allow it to happen. Investigate, what does the hurting part most need? Nurture it. Try placing your hand on your heart to connect with yourself.
Ask yourself, who would you be right now if you didn't feel something was wrong with you. Radical acceptance.
Learn to respond, not react.
When you flip your lid, you lose reason, mindfulness, and empathy.
"Prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging" -John O'Donohue
Pause, see the vulnerability in people.
I will not dishonor my soul with hatred.