The Harshness of Interruptions

    When I read this this essay by Nancy Kline of Time to Think I thought, ”YES!”

    I’ll go further - I felt, “YES!”

    Kline speaks, not mincing her words, of how interruption is an assault. In the first paragraph of the essay she says as much,

    Interruption is assault.

    She goes on to say,

    There is violence in it. Interruption is a slice made into the guts of an as yet unfinished idea. Interruption is arrogance masquerading as efficiency; it is efficiency massacred. It stops the thinking of one person in favor of another. It is the politics of the aggressive laying waste to the brilliance of the respectful.

    Her words laid bare for me everything that I felt when I am interrupted, but was afraid to verbalize. Her words contrast with the relative tameness of my choice of title for this article.

    A colleague introduced me to Kline’s work because of my interest as an introvert and highly sensitive person in having space, specifically quiet space, to think and work. While Kline’s work is not specifically for quiet people, she is interested in creating environments where people can think, her arguments around being interrupted really resonated with me and I would imagine for all those who value quiet, focused time.

    I work at my best when I am alone and in a quiet space, maybe with some soft music playing. At its best there is absolutely no one else present. Just me and the task at hand. In such an environment I can just drop in and focus on the job that I am doing.

    When I know that someone else is present who might blurt something out at any moment - a question, a statement, just making conversation for the sake of it - my body and mind are on edge and it seeps into my ability to focus and concentrate, eating away at my capacity to get work done effectively. In one of her recent newsletters, Kendra Patterson shared some words that really resonated with me,

    it’s not the loudness of sounds that bothers me, but the invasiveness of them

    Loudness can bother me, but I also relate to the invasiveness of sound. Patterson linked to a scientific study on misphonia, a condition where people suffer an extreme sensitivity to and decreased tolerance for sound. I like the passage that Patterson picked up from the article,

    people with misophonia feel in some way that sounds made by other people are intruding into their bodies, outside of their control. The results of the new study support the understanding that misphonia is not about having a negative reaction to sounds, but that hearing certain noises causes brain activity in the areas involved in creating that sound.

    I have been known when someone makes their presence felt, and by that it might just mean a person stepping into the room that I am in, that I will get up and involve myself in other work elsewhere. Work that might need to be done, but which I’m not in the space to do in that moment. Regardless, I do so simply to give myself the mental and physical space.

    I admire people who appear to get things done in the middle of complete chaos, but that is definitely not me. Though I still wonder what the quality of the work is that that person does, and if they could get much more done in a more quiet and focused environment (my sense is sometimes yes, and sometimes not)?

    I have been called out before when I turn the music down or step out of a room because someone has entered, the implication always being that I am doing something wrong. At other times I have stayed put, gritted my teeth, and tried to proceed with my work - but I can feel the others' presence in my body, and wait anxiously for the interruption.

    Some might have the superpower of working with mayhem happening all around them? All power to them, but it is not my strength or, dare I say it, ability. This is also a superpower that I have absolutely no wish to try and cultivate. I am quite comfortable with who I am.

    If like me you feel as though interruptions are an assault, I highly recommend reading Kline’s short essay. It could become your ally.

    Video - The power of quiet leadership

    A short, inspiring video on the power of quiet leadership.

    The power of quiet leadership - BBC Ideas

    Stepping out of Retreat, and Valuing Solitude

    I share here an experience from a few weeks ago. I stepped outside, I made it into town for the first time for two weeks. The world appeared so vivid and colourful, so bright, so varied. I was reminded that the world carries on regardless of whether I am a part of it or not. That was freeing. Through unplanned circumstances I had spent a week in relative solitude. Let me explain.

    It had been raining here on Maui for two weeks. My wife left the island to visit her mother. When she flew out the weather was good, or was maybe on the turn. When she returned, the weather was good. In between it rained, and rained, and rained. Island wide.

    Now I like my alone time. I like solitude and quiet. It nourishes me, allows me to ground myself and refocus, but this was different. Why? In part because it was unplanned. While I knew that I had time to myself, I still expected to get out and about. The weather kind of put a stop to that. It just poured and poured and with that I just found myself staying at home. Commitments where I had them and work were honoured. Otherwise I just stayed put. I rested, read, reflected and fed myself. Before I knew it the first week was over…..And with it a deep sense of fulfillment, contentment and healing, but I found myself stopping and reflecting on what had just happened. I even wondered if I had been selfish?


    You see my step-daughter and her family live next door. I normally see at least one of them each day. I saw none of them during that week. My doubting mind started asking if I could have used my time more productively, more usefully, without actually quantifying what those terms might have looked like? When I sat with this, asking if it was true, what I found coming up was a question. That question was,

    "Why was I questioning taking this retreat time?"

    When I lived in a Buddhist Community in the early 1990’s, retreat time was part of our yearly commitment. Either supporting people who were taking time out to just focus on their spiritual practice, indeed they supported me in such an endeavour before I moved into the community, or doing a practice together as a community. There was always work to be done inside in the community. There was always work to be done outside of the community. But in these times of retreat, individuals were saying,

    "I need and want to take time to feed myself inwardly. Life will carry on just fine without me, and when I return to the outside world I'll be refreshed and ready to carry on my commitments."

    For me that was a major insight, maybe slightly unsettling at first, that life carries on just fine without us. It is good before you drop into retreat that you make sure that all your ducks are in a row and that you have got all necessary business wrapped up with family, loved ones and work colleagues. Don’t just disappear. But with that taken care of, you can close the door and be assured that others will get on just fine without you.

    Nature of your time away

    You can choose to go completely offline while in retreat, or as I did for this wet week, to honour commitments that you have but don’t do anything ‘unnecessary.' In my case, my quiet time had not been planned and so just disappearing would have been very inappropriate. People were relying on me in some areas of my life. So I did what had to be done, and then returned home, staying within the confines of my home.

    I listened to my body and did what I felt I needed. This retreat was as much about resting, reflecting and nourishing my body. A retreat might be about focusing on, say, a meditation practice. That needs its own preparation, which might also include some rest before getting started for if you arrive exhausted, you will not have the mental stamina to make it through the retreat.

    The men’s weekends that I attend occasionally require that I wrap things up with family before I head off (this retreat is men’s work, but is also ultimately about family and those in your life). Making sure that all unfinished business with family is made good and that they have any contact numbers should an emergency arise - otherwise I am offline.

    Are you making time for retreat?

    One take away for me in my week’s retreat was how much I don’t make space to take time out from my life. Going forward it is something that I want to prioritize in my life. It might not be for a week. A weekend might be more appropriate, or maybe a day, or perhaps even just an afternoon. However, I want to be wary of where I sell myself short and let excuses get in the way of time taken. Life has a tendency to make its presence felt a little too heavily at times - at least I know that I can bow very easily to my life’s demands.

    Finding time

    So if retreat time is something that you would like to bring into your life, how and where can you make time for it? Where are you making excuses to avoid retreat time? What needs to happen so that alone, quiet time becomes a part of your annual rhythm?

    If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.

    In Transition

    (aka, looking for a quieter online life)

    Spring has sprung. Even in the tropical climate of Hawaii, it has been noticeable in the last couple of days. The temperature has risen, this was a cold winter. Even out of State visitors were noticing that - sometimes cold for a Hawaii residents is still warm for a visitor! The rain appears to be lessening and the warmth of the sun feels so good as it works its way through to the marrow of my bones.

    Changes are happening elsewhere in my life. These have been slower paced than the recent seasonal changes, but they are there. A few days ago I completed the edit and transfer of my website from the Weebly platform, to the more minimalist Blot. This has been part of a more wide reaching process that started around autumn of last year when I stumbled across the social and blogging platform, As can happen on the internet, I was searching for something unrelated and came across I was intrigued, I think in part as it appeared to be speaking to something that I was unknowingly looking for.

    I was signed up to a lot of social media sites. The reasons were varied - keep in touch with family and friends, virtual networking, publicizing my business, and there was probably a bit of peer pressure or fear of missing out in there as well. But my social media presence was bothering me. I was bothered by the feeling of needing to look at my phone, an action that was constantly being reflected back to me as I saw people around me picking up their own phones…just to checkin in case they (I) had missed something. I had a sense of never being able to keep up with the online world, and in truth not really wanting to. I felt as though I was living in a virtual world that I simply did not enjoy or maybe not even belong to, and I knew that it had a hook in me that was pulling me back in.

    Don’t get me wrong about these online connections. In the same way that I enjoy meeting people and enriching the circle of my own awareness, so in this digital age I enjoy meeting kindred spirits online, having good conversations and widening that circle. But therein lay a problem that I was having with social media. At the risk of brushing all of social media with one broad stroke, I was missing enriching conversations. I felt as though I was spending a lot of time trying to keep up - I was looking out for the likes, the best hashtags to use to create more likes, who was following me and what were those other people saying and doing. In the middle of this were some good conversations and connections, but they were getting lost for me under the other hooks of social media. unexpectedly brought this to my attention.

    I knew what was going on for me, but lacked the discipline to put it down. Or maybe I was telling myself that I had to suck it up and run with it?

    Discovering peeked my interest. No likes, no hashtags, no seeing how many people were following me, community rules. In short, in the words of founder Manton Reece,

    It prioritizes both a safe community of microblogs as well as the freedom to post to your own site.

    My curiosity was aroused and I signed up for a free trial. Yes, free, as in there is also a paid option. To reap the full benefits of, you have to pay for a hosted site. The costs help to maintain the service, means that there are no ads on the service (even when you are trying it out), and I believe goes a long way to help keeping those who do choose to use the service being folks who want a more civil, argumentative free conversation.

    Leaving the Old Behind

    Initially it felt odd not to see who was following me, the lack of hashtags, not knowing what was going on beyond my immediate surroundings. Then that omnipresence of “what am I missing," became something that I had to let go off, and with time has become something that I’ve forgotten about. My attention span feels as though it is returning. I have returned to more long form reading - articles, blog posts, reading details of the news instead of just headlines - my RSS reader is what I am checking now.

    Towards the end of last year I closed all but one of my social media accounts. I still have a Twitter account, held onto mainly because of easy access to software support, but I sense the hold on that slipping.

    A Quieter Web

    And so back to my Weebly site which is where I started this post. I have never been comfortable with the design process of building a website, and was really wanting something easier to manage - read, less need to worry about look, colour and images. I have wanted something simpler and more minimalist, but which could still get a message across - in essence a website service that was quieter. That I believe is also what I was really looking for in my online life.

    While is both a social and blogging platform, when I found Blot through users it felt closer to what I was looking for from a website platform.

    At its heart, Blot publishes what is sitting in a particular folder in your DropBox account to the web. Pictures, and videos can be added, but it is essentially text based with formatting taking place, like, via Markdown. That taste of simplicity is what pulled me in and a month ago I signed up for an account. I am very happy that I did.

    With and Blot I now feel more in control and ownership of my personal online content. My online life has become quieter, but richer.

    Quiet Time, Space, Mindfulness and Focus

    How much time do you give to be just with yourself? Why should you want to? 

    For six mornings of the week members of Portland Japanese Garden have access to the Gardens for two hours before they open to the general public. The other morning I finally made it up there to benefit from this special privilege.

    The silence and stillness on that summer’s morning, the sound of the birds singing and running water, the vividness of the views seen many times before, but being all the more precise with the absence of people.

    Why, or why had I not made it up there earlier?

    I can in part answer this for myself. Morning quiet time is important to me. Unless I know that I am getting up for an early meeting or to travel somewhere, I plan on starting the day away from busyness and noise. There is plenty of time for that during the day, and my introverted self starts better with a quiet, self-reflective boost before the day gets going. Secondly is my daily meditation practice which is a stable for me just like having breakfast, or the sleep that I have just woken up from. So walking to the car, a drive and walk up to the Gardens, and an uncertainty of just how busy that journey might be and how many conversations I could get drawn into along the way, tends me more to the assured quietness of home.

    I was nudged out the front door yesterday morning by some busyness at home. The Japanese Garden seemed like a good second option. As I travelled further up the hill it became apparent just how quiet it was going to be. There were few people around, and beneath the trees was the stillness of a day just starting. On entering the Gardens I walked to find a place to practice Qigong, before moving down to the Rock Garden to meditate. The few people there moved around respectful of their fellow visitors’ space, speaking in hushed voices.

    After an hour I headed for home, nourished not only by the silence but also the time spent in nature. The day was still ahead of me.

    Returning to those two initially posed questions. How much time do you give to yourself each day? Time free from meetings, emails, other people, phones. And if you were to do so, what would be the benefit? Our over busy, multi-distracted lives aside from not being good for our health, can also lead to less productivity and less time checking in with ourselves. The multitaskers are praised and celebrated, but time spent continually switching between jobs and worrying about what the next distraction coming down the pipe might be, all means less concentration and focus on the current job in hand and with those whom we are working with.

    In our run around what is driving us - our fears, concerns, habits and reactions, or our clear thought through ideas? Time spent with ourselves is a “STOP” in the middle of the freneticism. It allows the dust of busyness to settle and what we are really feeling to rise more to the surface - is our body telling us we need to rest, are we really happy with the suggestions being made, would we prefer more time to think through this solution? More time spent in this space starts to change the habits of where we work from. Familiarity here does not breed contempt but a knowing of who we are and how we react to different situations. In the long term the result becomes us catching ourselves more quickly when we find ourselves simply reacting as opposed to coming from our heart.

    Quiet Time

    So what might this alone time look like? Here is a suggestion. Not a full blown, formal mindfulness meditation session, though the essence of it is here.

    Early morning is a good time to give yourself some quiet time. You are fresh from the stillness of your night’s sleep. The day is still as the world wakes up. Before your reach for your smart phone, checkin on the news or your email, schedule ten minutes to be alone with yourself. Find a comfortable chair, or if you like sit on the floor. The important thing is to have a straight back. This allows the mind to stay fresh and alert.

    Now as you sit there, just be aware of what is arising for you in those moments. What is arising in your mind? What sensations are there in your body? There is no judgement in what arises, just observation. Be like an usher collecting tickets at the theatre. You see the people walk up to you, and then they are gone. If you catch yourself getting involved in a conversation with your observations, without judgement let that go and return to the observing. If this is not something that you are use to doing, ten minutes alone could feel like an age, but stick with it.

    During the day it can be helpful to reinforce the habit of mindfulness that you were observing in the morning. Look for opportunities to remind you to come back to yourself for as little as a few seconds. Here are some suggestions:

    • A telephone ringing - don’t just reach for it, take a deep breath, feel your presence in the chair and then answer the phone.
    • The brake lights of the car in front of you.
    • A stop light.
    • Try driving without the radio on or music playing.
    • Standing in line for food or a drink. If you are by yourself, don’t check your phone but be aware of your breathing. Deepen your breath. Be aware of your feet on the ground.
    • If you are eating by yourself, don’t eat and read. Just be aware of yourself eating. The chewing of the food, the texture of the food, swallowing the food.
    • When walking walk mindfully, staying aware of yourself walking. Use your breath, or the stepping of your feet as an anchor to keep yourself focused. I have written on this here.

    So why should you want to give time to yourself? For you own well being, but also for the benefit of your work and those with whom you work and live. You’ll start to catch yourself being distracted, working off autopilot and find the space to stop and better consider the situation that has presented itself to you. You will start to find space where at first there appeared to be none.