Running from our Thoughts

During an afternoon Mentoring circle in Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) yesterday, I led a meditation. The meditation was on awareness. Initially I asked the men present to bring their awareness to the breath as a means to focus ourselves and to quiet the mind. To move away from the busyness of the day to the be present in where they were now.

Next I led us on a scan through the body, bringing our awareness to sensations in the body and using that light of awareness to relax and let go of areas of tension.

Finally, I invited everyone to scan back up through the body, to sit with that silence and stillness that awareness had brought to them. I reminded everyone how that stillness is available to us at all time, standing in line, resting in bed, we just have to bring the light of awareness to our breath and our body.

As the meditation drew to a close, my co-facilitator read out the following quote. I don’t know who it is attributed to, but for me it speaks to the places that we run to in order to escape that which we do not like in our lives or about ourselves. It is the place where addiction can spring from. Meditation offers one solution, or a part of a solution to making friends with and gaining control over the agitation in our mind.

My sense is that as part of a meditation practice, it could be helpful to reflect regularly on this piece.

As you settle into your breathing, you may notice your mind telling stories, trying to solve problems, taking you away from your breath and your body? Why? Perhaps there is something there we don’t want to experience: Shame, fear, anger, sadness, feeling unloved. We hate these feelings, so we do what we can to avoid them. All addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and just can’t stand it. So we drink, use drugs, eat, blame, argue, fight, look for excitement, zone out - anything to avoid feeling those unpleasant feelings, many of which have been with us since childhood. And the most common addiction of all is thinking. Often we think to avoid feeling. We think because we believe we can find a solution to avoid our pain and suffering.

So now, come back to the breath and notice how it feels. Are you trying not to feel something? What is it? See if you can just be with it.

Meditation - The Intellectual vs The Knowing

If you have an intellectual leaning, it is very easy to learn about meditation, what it can do for you and the transformation that it can bring. Books about meditation are a dime a dozen these days. Magazines devoted to mindfulness, an aspect of meditation, sit on the magazine racks in all good book shops and grocery stores.

Reading through these publications, it is very easy to understand the mechanics of the meditation process and how the transformation can take place if you follow the instructions given and diligently pursue the practice.

But there is a chasm of a difference between that intellectual understanding, of getting what meditation can do, and holding the knowing of meditation practice in your heart.

My own teacher use to speak about the challenge of bringing our understanding of meditation from our head to our heart, to that place of knowing.

So…Why mention this?

From my experience many of those who are drawn to meditation feel some connection, some resonance with the practice. They sense that it will give them something that they are looking for, even if they cannot name what they will get or even what they are looking for! Their intuition, their gut pulls them towards a meditation practice.

Also from my experience, those who are drawn to meditation practice are well educated and even if they are not big readers, understand things intellectually.

However, I find that it is very easy to conflate the intuitional pull that meditation has for me with the understanding of how it works, and feel that I know the results of meditation. But life shows me that I far from do.

Let me give an example...

Loving kindness meditation if practiced assiduously will allow us to feel love - defined in Buddhism as the wish for all beings to be happy - towards all beings. I can sit and practice the meditation, and feel a sense of letting that wish reach out to all beings. I get up from my cushion feeling a heady feeling of goodness and well being.

A couple of hours later a good friend does something that upsets me, a good friend, and I have anything but feelings of goodness towards them. What happened to my love of two hours ago?

Transforming the heart

When my teacher spoke about the mind, he would always rest his hand over his heart. Meditation is about transforming the heart, the mind, so that I become an embodiment of what I am meditating on. So that patience does not become something that I lecture people on, it becomes what I am. So that I don’t tell everyone that loving my enemy is the way to be, I am love. So that compassion becomes a part of my ordinary everyday actions.

I am far from those ideals, but aspire to them, and that is why I practice meditation. To take the ideas in my head and bring them to my heart. Meditation takes time, a life time. It requires patience in itself. However, if you have practiced steadily and look back to how you were a few years ago, you will notice a change. Change takes time, but I believe that the effort is worth it.

The Exhaustion of a Family Visit

From my experience people visiting and staying in my home always requires a break in my routine. There is entertaining, showing around, just more going on and the house feeling busier and more full. I don’t say this to complain, just acknowledging what the welcoming of visitors entails.

For me, as an introvert and highly sensitive person, this creates an added struggle of overstimulation and exhaustion from the constant do, do, do along with accompanying conversation and noise. To borrow from an element that surrounds the island of Maui where I live, it feels to me like constantly being hit by the ocean’s waves. Every time that I come up for air another waves breaks over me, disorientating me and sending me tumbling.

At some point I just need to call "time out".

That is where I am at now. My sister-in-law and her husband are visiting from New York. It is wonderful to have them here, to spend some quality time with them, to show them the island that is our home (we have done so much in the last week and I have visited areas that I don’t go to often, probably because they are on my doorstep), and I am exhausted. Right now I am grateful for a morning that has materialized where I can have some time to myself. I really need it.

Bullet Journal - A Place for Mind to Relax

Meditation is giving a huge, luscious meadow to a restless cow. The cow might be restless for a while in its huge meadow but at some stage, because there is so much space, the restlessness becomes irrelevant. So the cow eats and eats and eats and relaxes and falls asleep.
~ Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom, pp. 48-9

Giving space to our thoughts

At times my mind can feel very small and constricted. I probably wouldn’t acknowledge that at the time, as when I’m in such a space it is too caught up in grumbling about something, being frustrated, impatient, judging (myself or others), to actually notice what it is doing to itself. But when I finally muster some self-awareness, that is what I recognize going on - a small, constricted mind caught up in a thick dust storm of not thinking clearly.

Meditation clears my mind, letting the dust settle and allowing me to see more clearly. As opposed to engaging with dust cloud of grumbles and judgements, I just allow them to be. I give them the space to act out as they choose to, watching their antics. With time and me not engaging with them, they run out of steam and the mind settles.

My Todo Lists

My todo lists have also at times felt like a dust cloud, not allowing me to see what is really going on and needs to be done. For many years I have been caught up in an apparently never ending search of where shall I put them such that I actually act on what I put into them?

Will this app work, maybe that app? Yes, my search for an answer was always in the electronic realm. However, nothing ever really worked for me within that domain. No method appeared to stick. I used an app for a while, find myself getting behind in due dates that I have set - for reasons within and out of my control - and then start feeling the pressure mounting in me to get things done. All I could see in front of me was due dates and nothing else. The dust cloud starts to get stirred up again. I became paralyzed into inaction. What was meant to help has now become a burden.

Journaling

While this carousel of a search went on I continued to keep a journal. I have kept a journal for almost 30 years now. Not everyday. Sometimes everyday. Just regularly in an irregular way. Often enough that I regard it as a part of my life, and an important part at that.

My journal writing came out of my traveling in my mid-twenties. I just started keeping a diary of my travels, where I had been, what I had seen and then slowly I found myself delving introspectively into my thoughts and feelings as I experienced life on the road.

In the decades since those travels I continue to write, filling notebooks with thoughts, struggles, celebrations, really whatever comes to mind in the moment that I pick up a pen.

I keep an electronic journal as well. I use it if I am on the move and just want to get something out of my head and pen and paper are not available. For the most part though my journal is a notebook and pen.

So the search for a todo list manager continued. Through it all I felt a continued resistance to managing my todos away from the electronic world. I work a lot on my computer, my devices are all synced together, and so managing lists electronically felt clean and minimalistic. Nothing else to carry around. I just had to find that elusive app that would bring my problems to an end and make my life productive.

Back to paper

My wife has managed her todo lists in the most simplest of ways for as long as I can remember - a pad of paper sits in the kitchen and she writes on it as things come up, and then refers to it through her day. The seed of my way out of todo list struggles was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see it.

I think that in the end exhaustion just set in. I had to find a way forward, and then two methods presented themselves to me.

At some point I came across two pen and paper ways of managing your life. - The first was Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plush System. - The second was the Bullet Journal.

My first take was that the Bullet Journal was just too complicated, would take an age to learn and ironically because of that would just be another addition to my todo list. It was relegated to the runner’s up position and I started experimenting with Dash/Plus. However, no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make it work for me. Something was missing. So I bit the bullet, excuse the pun, and dived into exploring the Bullet Journal.

The Bullet Journal

Fears of over complication couldn’t have been further from the truth. Yes there was a learning curve, but within a short time I was getting into the rhythm of writing down things to do, checking them off as they got done, moving items from here to there à la the Bullet Journal methodology. Journal feels a very apt name for this system. My Bullet Journal felt like a very natural adjunct to my regular journal. My Bullet Journal was keeping track of a part of my life. It was not only helping me move through and manage what I had to do, it also held space for me to go back and see what I had been doing with my life. At times I was even exploring some insights where some activities or decisions had proven challenging.

Creating and holding space

Perhaps most importantly for me is the space that I feel the Bullet Journal holds for me when I enter my todos. Some are urgent, some have dates when they need to be completed, others are just sitting there waiting to be done. It offers a space to download from my head stuff that needs to be done. With my head cleared of the noise of what has to be done, my Bullet Journal then gives me the space to look at…let’s say, my life. If it is not done today, it gets moved on. Perhaps in time it is erased from my todos. I can check back over a day or week to see if there is something that has slipped my mind…or observation.

The space that Bullet Journal creates for my todos allows my mind to relax, not constricting (which it was before) around deadlines and wanting to get items of the list.

The field of my Bullet Journal

Returning to the quote at the top of this piece, my Bullet Journal has become the field into which I can let loose the restless cow which are my todos. The Bullet Journal system gives them a space to rest, and to be moved elsewhere if necessary. But not moved in anxiety. The system allows it and works with the move.

As my todos rest, so do I.

When Shame Hits

Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.
~ Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown

From my experience shame can come out of nowhere. It hit me hard yesterday, and it can be a real gut wrencher.

I met up for breakfast with some friends from my men’s group. I value having these men in my life and we were having a great conversation. Another man happened to walk into the store where we were eating and joined us. I hadn’t seen him in a long while. I appreciate these moments in my life.

Then one man said something to another. Innocently, nothing wrong with what he said, but it hit me in the gut. The pain from that blow slowly expanded over through the rest of the day, putting me in a space such that I found it hard to be productive for a few hours.

Shadow

Shadow - The part of ourselves that we don’t talk about. It is the part of our personality that we deny to the world, and often to ourselves. That which we repress, hide and deny.

That is what had been hit in me yesterday, shadow. I have a context for this now. My men’s work has shown me shadow and given me a safe place to bring shadow into light. Something that had innocently been said had touched a shadow within me. As the day went on, those very men who I had had breakfast with also became my support.

Shame Resilience

The work of author, speaker and researcher, Brené Brown, through her own research on shame has developed a four step process for dealing with shame. Brown calls this process Shame Resilience. Here are those four steps:

  1. Recognising shame and understanding our triggers - Shame is biology and biography. What are your physical responses. What does shame taste like, smell like, feel like?
  2. Practice Critical Awareness - Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame?  Are they realistic?  Attainable?  Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?
  3. Reaching Out - Are you owning and sharing your story?  We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
  4. Speaking Shame - Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

This was also a big help. When I bring light to that which I did not know was there, or had hidden due to shame or fear of being judged, it starts to loose its power. When I bring that shadow to light within the context of a person or community who does not judge me, who sees me beyond my struggles, the power of that seeing becomes all the more stronger.

Shadow and shame does not disappear over night, but a willingness to expose, challenge and look at them will wear down the foundations upon which they stand.

Adapting to Transitions

Early summer this year was a time for travel. Family travel. Across the continental US to a family wedding and then across the Atlantic to visit with my parents. From there I turned around and headed back West to meet my wife on the US West Coast for a couple of days of r’n’r in West Marin, before finally crossing the Pacific again back to Maui.

Introducing transitions

I’ve mused on my micro.blog website that despite all of my travels when I was younger, I feel that of late I have turned into more of a homebody. It seems harder to get me out of the house to travel. Once I am out on the road I am fine. I enjoy seeing and experiencing new places and cultures, but that initial push seems to take more of an effort these days.

Once out on the road and moving across the world I am moving from one place to another. With those moves come changes in rhythm, changes in the feel of a place. I have come to recognize that on arrival somewhere there is silent need in me for a settling in time. Why ‘silent’? Because it is not something that I overtly speak to. It is not a need that I demand by shouting out that, “I want my settling in time!” But as I have come to understand myself better, it is a need that I have noticed within me. I see how I feel more complete within myself if I allow myself to gently take in the new environment.

Development

During my years living in South Wales, initially in a Buddhist community and then next door to that community, I came to experience the world around me in a way that was new to me. I had stopped after three years of travel. Distractions were less. Life was set up in the Retreat Centre to encourage awareness - self-awareness and awareness of the space that one was inhabiting. I started to notice and become aware of my surroundings in a subtler way, noticing the rhythms and pulse of where I was living. Even within one area of land, the perception of one corner might be quite different to another. I would come away from those experiences with a sense of intimacy with place and with that came a sense of wholeness and being grounded.

A need for that intimacy has stayed with me.

Even when I went on travels with my Buddhist Teacher, there was time spent moving into the new place. The trips might at times have been demanding and busy but within, because of this importance put on awareness, there was still quietness and space available to feel my way into our new home.

Feeling my way

As I have developed an awareness and understanding of who I am, I’ve put this need to feel and sense my way into a new space down to my highly sensitive nature.

Put simply, I don’t necessarily settle in quickly - though most everyone will be unaware of this going on in me. Unless I’m on total burnout, I do not give any external display to this need. So I function as would be expected of me. If it is busy, like at the East Coast wedding, I move into doing what needs to be done, socializing, unpacking, catching up with people. But amongst those those expected activities, I adopt an almost ninja like attitude. I look to find some time amidst the noise of activity to just be with the new environment. That can either be sneaking off for a moment, or being alone with myself in the middle of the busyness.

The struggle

Where the struggle can set in for me is finding myself in a situation where I am being given a running commentary of what I am looking out on. Exclamations such as, “Isn’t this so beautiful?” “Just look at that.” And ironically, “Isn’t this so peaceful.” For me the conversation in that moment kills the peacefulness. I can feel my head dealing with a dustbowl of noise - the noise being spoken to me, and the noise in my head wishing that it was quieter - I spoke about dealing with such situations here, but I did not say that it was always easy!

When I am struggling to deal with this noise, I find myself in a conundrum. I don’t want to hurt another’s feelings by appearing standoffish. But the struggle is real. The overwhelm and exhaustion that comes with the noise is tangible. I can really feel as though I am fighting to keep my head above water, while wanting to keep my host or traveling companion happy.

At the end of the day, I do my best. I’ll find time to be alone when I can - a quick unneeded run to the toilet, turn in for the night a little earlier or later (as the case may be), head out for a short solitary walk if the situation allows.

A learning reflection

There is one thing that I do know - in time I will settle into the place. Time spent in an environment is time spent deepening the relationship. The intimacy will strengthen. There are times when the quietness that I so much enjoy won’t be available to me, and experience has taught me to be OK with that - if I can’t change it, complaining certainly won’t help - but self care is also important and so when I need some quiet time, I look to take it.

But overall, just knowing and acknowledging my needs is a release. Living in ignorance of what I am struggling with is difficult. Without an understanding of my temperament, I have no perspective other than judging myself against others and how I have been told I should be in the world. Educating myself on other possible ways of being in the world allows me to give myself permission - permission to say to myself, “you are OK. You are doing your best, and each time that you find yourself floundering can be a learning experience on how better to handle the situation next time.”

Crossing The Threshold

Patrick Rhone recently shared a photograph with a quote in it, on his blog. The quote spoke to me of the meaning behind the title of this website, Crossing The Threshold.

The quote reads,

Books and doors are the same thing. You open them and go through to another world. ~ Jeanette Winterson


We Cross a Threshold with intention, with purpose. We open a book, climb over a gate, step out of our front door, walk into a new job, land in a new country. Or we might with more ceremony lay a stick on the ground, quietly (or loudly) speak a short invocation of intention, and head off on a walk for a few hours, a day, a week, longer, perhaps choosing to fast along the way, searching for a vision, insight, guidance.

In all cases with mindfulness of intention we are opening the door, ourselves, to new possibilities, new learnings. Be vigilant, watch, listen. Be intentional. Be open. See the world that you are entering as liminal, the doorway to something new. We all experience the world in different ways, so there are no rules as to how you view the world around you (apart from, I would say, no harming).

So pick up your books, open those doors, step into another world and return with lessons learnt.

A Poem That I Always Come Back To

Since I first came across this poem, it comes to me in times of doubt. It reminds me of those who do feel different, who question the normal route through life that the modern world and education ask of us. It calls to me of the seekers, the questioners, of those who see things differently, look deeply, of those, men and women, who are, ”…too gentle to live among wolves,” the sensitive souls.

Their questions, in my opinion, are real. Indeed the gifts that they are born into this world with, might given them no choice but to be different.


There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

by James Kavanaugh

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.


James Kavanaugh later wrote about his poem,

If anything has changed over the years, and it has, I only feel more confident now about what I wrote then. I am far more aware of the power that guides each of us along the way, and provides us with the insights and people we need for our journey. There are, indeed, men and women too gentle to live among wolves and only when joined with them will life offer the searcher, step by step, all that is good and beautiful. Life becomes not a confused struggle or pointless pain, but an evolving mosaic masterpiece of the person we were destined to become.

130 Guests and Me

This is a post written in installments over the course of, and just after a weekend of wedding celebrations. A weekend of activities that were just made for me… not. .. Having said that, I do wish to empathize that I am here to enjoy myself, make new friends and most importantly celebrate the commitment that a lovely couple are making to each other.

And so it begins…

I start this log on Friday evening. I am getting ready for the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding of my wife’s niece - having married into the family, I’m not sure what her official relationship is to me? There will be 130 guests here tonight. Not the largest wedding that there has been, but by no means the smallest either.

I love this family. Watching the interaction between the parents and their adult children in many ways makes me yearn for a relationship with my own parents that I have never had…and probably won’t at their advanced age.

The wedding has seen me visit a part of the US that I have never been to, the Catskill Mountains, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to explore new vistas. So far the weather has been glorious, almost too hot, and it has been good to catch up with close family. We had a small, intimate dinner last night which was very pleasant, a handful of us having the hotel to ourselves.

Giving myself permission

As an introvert, an INFJ, I know that this weekend of extended activities will pose a challenge. Long periods of socializing, small talk with relatives who I recognize but do not know that well and with people who I am meeting for the first time. In the midst of this activity, I will have to find time to step back and recharge, and in doing so give myself permission to step out of the crowd when others are full into conversation and celebrations.

The permission part is important for me. When attending an event where the more extroverted guests are chatting, laughing and carrying on with seemingly endless energy, I find that I can very easily drop into feelings of inadequacy. A judging and unhelpful voice in my head telling me that I should be able to keep up with the crowd. As Aaron Caycedo-Kimur, writing under the alias INFJoe, says in his book “Text, Don’t Call,”

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

The weekend - Friday

Friday evening went well. I had a couple of extended conversations with relatives that I had not seen for a while. Long conversations are easy for me if I get into the flow of the subject matter. I pulled myself away from the hubbub on a few occasions, just looking out from the periphery. My lack of enjoyment of small talk, and over stimulation from all the activity, did keep me away from meeting some people. I could feel an uncomfortableness creep in when I wasn’t drawn to conversation, a consciousness of my difference but I breathed into the permission that I had given myself, reminding myself that I am not less because of it. This is just an aspect of my personality….and I wondered who else amongst the guests was feeling the same way?

Saturday

Saturday, the wedding day, went equally well. Breakfast, a morning walk, long preparations, driving to the venue with my mother-in-law and helping her get situated….and then just taking in the celebrations of the day. The Ceremony was beautiful, the vows between bride and groom moving. Pre-meal drinks, a beautiful dinner, speeches and much dancing (which I enjoy) to a great band. At times I lent into conversations with those who I did not know well however uncomfortable or otherwise that I felt. At other times I could feel myself pulling back and choosing not to engage. Again it was about permission. Permission to honour myself and my needs. By the end of the evening I was actually reluctant to leave.

Sunday

The final hurrah was brunch on Sunday. There were conversations and reflections on the night before. Final words shared before slowly the guests started packing up and heading off on their various journeys home. Again I lent into some conversations, maybe more than the night before with the faces not being so foreign as when we first met yesterday?

And slowly it became time to leave….

Reflections

There had been a long build up to the wedding and now it is over. I felt that crash of coming down from the high of a weekend of activity and fun. As is the introvert’s tendency, I spent time in my head when it was all over analyzing whether I should have reached out to people more than I did. I probably spent far too much time doing that, dropping into feelings of inadequacy or wondering what people might have thought of me as I held back.

And I remind myself that such can be this introvert’s way. I don’t see it as good or bad, it is just who I am. I always see the possibility for change in who I am as an individual. That change won’t necessarily be how other people think that I should be. I am still an INFJ. However, I can still explore and see where my limits might be. I can make a stretch, to see if I am limiting myself by who I have told myself that I am and corresponding learnt habits.

And when I do reach my limits, when I do need quiet time, when I don’t feel like socializing, that is OK. To repeat INFJoe’s quote,

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

Boundaries

Yesterday dealt me a lesson in spades. I will keep the details confidential to respect the agreements of those who I was working with - what is said in that circle, stays there - but will share the more overarching experience.

No boundaries

Without boundaries in my life I ended up feeling frustrated, feel as though people are taking advantage of me, become overwhelmed with things that I have to do, and end up blaming others for how I feel. The reality comes in two parts, both of which are tightly entwined,

  1. I am not being clear about when and what I am saying “No” to in my life.
  2. My wish to please can be tightly entwined with me saying “Yes” to requests for help…but to the extent that I do not know when to say enough is enough.

In short - none, or weak boundaries.

Life without boundaries is a life half lived. You are not respecting yourself, and your emotions come filtered through that hole in your boundary wall. To quote Brené Brown,

“Empathy without Boundaries is not Empathy. Compassion without Boundaries is not genuine. Vulnerability without Boundaries is not Vulnerability.”

When helping is not enough

So what happens when you are involved in work where some of those participating are being made to do so against their will? For me I keep telling myself that I am there to help and must do that come what may. I tell myself that there is a key that I just need to find that will enable me to get through to those not interested. I tell myself that I am here to help and so must push through until the results come.

The result? Frustration and anger building up in me at the lack of cooperation - and those who don’t want to be there, still don’t want to be there.

Action

When our work was over yesterday, I told my co-facilitators that going forward I had no intention of working with participants who are not interested in being there. That I wish to ask those who we work for to not make participants be there against their wishes. That if I knew that I was being asked to go back into such a group again, that I would say “No.” I was clear about that. I can use my time better.

The result?

I felt clearer and stronger for having said that. If people do not want to be helped, I can’t help them whatever my skills might be. As Brown said in the quote above, “Compassion without Boundaries is not genuine.”

If I am clear about who and how I help, the help will be much more effective.

Along with the feeling of strength and clarity, I feel a shakiness and vulnerability about making such a statement, but again as Brown says,

Boundaries are not fake walls. Boundaries are not division. Boundaries are not separation. Boundaries are respect. Here is what is OK for me and here is what is not.

And you?

Where are your boundaries, and where are they not?

Catnapping

Being able to catch a quick 40 winks can be a life saver for me. I usually find a patch of the afternoon, mid-afternoon, when I start flagging. My eyes start becoming heavy and ache, an ache that might drift round to the back of my head. I notice that my ability to focus or be productive in my work, dives. I can push myself to keep going, but my work becomes less focused and more fractured. I know that what I really want is to stop, rest my body, and close my eyes.

If I am at home, I will lie on my bed or curl up on a chair - I was on the sofa this afternoon - but I have been known to doze in the car, get out of the chair that I am sitting on and just lie on the floor, or even escape to the bathroom in a house that I am visiting, curl up on the floor of and drift off for 10 or 15 minutes, my hand acting as a pillow. The weariness can be so great that provided I am warm - coldness, especially cold shoulders, appear to be what keep me awake - I will fall asleep or drift into a deep in between state, almost anywhere.

Quality of sleep

There is a quality to catnapping for me which is very different to a regular night’s sleep. It is not that. It is like a quick refuel which will get me through the remaining hours of the day. I am still ready for bed come the end of the day. But the nap feels as though it takes me deep, to a deep place of rest. I close my eyes, withdraw inwards putting aside everything that is going on in my life and drift off. I am always amazed at just how refreshed I feel afterwards. Indeed research has shown the benefits to mental performance of such power naps.

Personality’s part?

Without that ability to take a quick catnap, making it through the days would be much harder for me. I put some of my need for these power naps down to the years that I suffered from chronic fatigue, more of which I plan to write about soon. I have also wondered what part my introverted and highly sensitive personality play in my need for a nap? If my day is more in a flow, running more with my needs, there is less of a need for a nap.

For now though I am grateful for the ability to be able to take a quick nap, and especially not necessarily needing a bed to flop into when I need to grab one.

A Day of Rest

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. - Genesis 2:2, King James Bible

I do not practice the Christian faith, but I grew up in a country, England, that is heavily influenced by it. Sundays were a day of rest. The only stores that were open were the local newsagents, or corner shops. They opened early on Sunday morning to sell the newspapers and a few essentials, milk, etc, and were closed by noon.

If you needed to buy anything else you had to wait until the next day. No choice.

For one day of the week, one’s mind was not engaged in thinking about monetary consumption. It was a day for family, for walks, for working in the garden, for resting, for reading, for making do with what one had, for being grateful. The benefits were felt, I assume (maybe incorrectly given what happened next), beyond those people of faith.

And then…

…as I entered my thirties, the restriction of not being able to trade on a Sunday in the UK was slowly eroded. Initially the Sunday Trading Laws were enacted. This enabled certain stores, over and above the newsagents, to be opened for a limited number of hours on Sundays. That law was like a slow opening of the sluice gates. Within a relatively short time Sunday was looking no different than any other day of the week.

A trip back in time

A number of years after the Sunday Trading Laws were introduced, I found myself in Graz, Austria for a series of Buddhist teachings being given by HH the Dalai Lama. There was a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the venue that the teachings were being held in. We arrived on a week day, and spent those first few days navigating the traffic, both the cars and those on foot, as we commuted to the event.

And then Sunday came…

…and with it came an unexpected experience, because I was by now so use the new English way. The walk was quiet. There was next to no one around. No traffic. Those who we did pass were dressed in their best clothes, presumably on their way to church? The energy in that city was notably different - restful, quiet, not busy.

That visit to Graz reminded me of what I felt had been lost in England’s embracing of consumerism, of its embracing of business as usual.

The Sacredness of Rest

“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” - Genesis 2:3, King James Bible

Regardless of one’s faith, even if one professes to no beliefs, I believe that there is something Sacred about a day put aside for rest. A day put aside free of busyness, of transaction, of consuming. That day, becomes special, different from every other. A day to step back, take stock and be with those who are important to you…or perhaps just a day to yourself. One might call it a day to consume what truly sustains your body, your being.

The Introvert/Sensitive angle

I understand those saying that I would lean to a quieter day because of my personality. I hear that comment, and I believe that in a world where there is so much more noise than there use to be, where communication is so easy and abundant that it can be difficult to disconnect, that a day of stopping, of resting, of taking a break to reflect is needed for the health of the individual and of society.

As I read somewhere once, it is the pauses, the rests that make up the sound of music. Translate that into the life that we lead today.

Today

This morning’s very strong winds must have taken the internet out. The issue that I reported this morning has been escalated from just our problem, to a known outage in the area. But it appears to be localized as I am currently piggy backing off of our neighbour’s WiFi by positioning myself by a window in a particular room of our house.

The winds, which beat down the cane grass in the next door field, were replaced by heavy rain. I only just got cleared up from working outside before the heavens opened. The rain fell, and I fell asleep.

I woke up feeling chilled and so stood under the shower for a good while. The rain still fell. The cloud was low. The day was beginning to feel like a stay at home Saturday. A day to either pick up a pen and write, or to disappear into a book. Maybe a bit of both?

Early evening now. The rain has stopped, there is even a little blue sky. A rainbow appeared briefly. My guess though is that we are not over the rain yet. I expect more to fall before the night is over.

For now, it is time to eat. Sharing food with friends and family. A wet day, a day offline, what ended up being a restful day.

Social Media Vulnerability

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure…Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
~ Brené Brown.


The transition that I spoke about here feels complete. Over the Easter Weekend I deactivated my eleven year old Twitter account. I am now off of mainstream social media in totality. I feel comfortable with the decisions that led to this place, and I now feel vulnerable.

Social media is, I have been told, where I have to be to keep my coaching business afloat. But social media is not where my heart is. It feels to me like a noisy party that I can’t keep up with, despite the presence of friends and colleagues. The noise and activity that exist there drown out my ability to keep up with the conversations and hear the clarity of my thoughts. The sensitive side of my nature finds the volume deafening - loud for me does not always manifest as sound - and I have chosen to bow out. Some people have offered me strategies for staying involved, but those have not worked for me.

For me my preference is the quieter world, whether in the virtual or real world, though quieter does not mean unengaged. Places of longer reads, considered conversations, peppered with joy, laughter, friendship and building connections.

The last six months, from leaving social media to embracing a simpler website, has seen me cross a threshold to a place that feels as though it more closely honours who I am, and sits more comfortably with what I want to offer. At the same time it seemingly - as the story goes that I tell myself - leaves me feeling more alone in the opportunities that I now have for making connection, making myself visible…and so, more vulnerable.

But that is simply a story that I tell myself. A story fed by fear brought on by vulnerability. It also feels more like my truth, and now that I have entered that place, I will see where it will take me.

+++

Update: 4/29/19

I have been traveling and needed to contact the airline that my wife and I were using. I was looking for a quick response. I didn’t fancy waiting on the telephone for someone to answer, and the only other place I knew where I might get a quick answer was on Twitter. So, very aware of what I wrote here, I reactivated my Twitter account (it sits in a dormant state for thirty days when you deactivate it, before Twitter deletes it) and got the answers that I needed. I acknowledge that this is something that I have found useful about Twitter - quick access to companies for assistance. I have therefore decided for now to keep my Twitter account open, for such instances. I don’t plan on using the platform for anything else, time will tell.

And what might this turn of events say to vulnerability as I spoke about it above? My words still hold true, I believe. I am honest about my need and how Twitter can help me there. I still find social media loud, and will monitor its presence in my life, currently not planning to use it beyond the need that I spoke of.

Reflections on Death

This post is not an attempt to be bleak, or to put a damper on the day. Rather it is a sharing of thoughts that go through my mind on the subject of death, shared with the hope that someone else might take something from it.


The Tibetans have a saying,

we are one breath away from our next life.

They don’t say this in order to put a dampener on life, but rather wake us up to life! Life does not exist apart from death, and with the time of our death unknown to us, the Tibetans are saying, “make the most of this precious time that you have by using your life meaningfully,” regardless of what your belief is in what comes next.

Alex Honnold, the first person to free climb El Capitan, a nearly 3,000ft granite wall in Yosemite National Park, put it in more stark terms in the documentary of his climb, Free Solo,

Anybody could conceivably die on any given day, and we are all going to die eventually. Soloing just makes it far more immediate. You accept the fact that if anything goes wrong, you are going to die, and that’s that.


I was lying on our living room floor one Sunday evening, a couple of weeks ago. I was tired after a full day. Relaxing jazz music was playing. As I lay there staring at the ceiling, the thought came to me of what if this was my last evening? How do I feel about that? I imagined life carrying on as usual despite my departure. There would be grieving and loss from families and friends - at least I assume that I would be missed! - but the world would carry on regardless. My death would just be another happening on this Earth…another death.

I lay there wondering if I had any regrets? Could I let go and leave my life behind? What would I miss as I saw my last breath coming? Would I feel as though I had led my life in a meaningful way? I didn’t feel morose as these thoughts went through my mind, rather it felt good, maybe even healthy to be reflecting in this way.

Why so?

I can be very good at putting off things that I don’t feel like doing - from paying bills to gardening. It is not a habit that I am proud of, and it does not serve me. The activity needs to be done sooner or later, and so putting it off or pretending that it is not there does not help me. Whatever I am doing, it’s voice will be calling to me in the background of my life. So, I ask myself, why not make a plan and get to the job as soon as you can? I might feel uncomfortable or dislike what I have to do, but better to look at that now and address it than wait until the last moment, when it is also possibly too late. By delaying the action, the source of my discomfort just sits there and waits until the same circumstances arise again, triggering the same procrastination.

That luxury, next time, does not occur with death. There is only one chance. So much better to look at your relationship with it now, where your concerns are, and what you need to do to get them in order. Then your life can happen with you being comfortable, maybe not liking, but being comfortable with whenever death knocks on your door. No looking over your shoulder, hoping that nothing is going to happen. You have prepared yourself.

I don’t know how I will be at my death time, and I still have some items to get in order, but I find these reflections help me.

Stillness in the Air

With the season change has come the corresponding weather change. Living in a tropical climate that means something a little different to the more northerly latitudes that I am more accustomed to, and where I have spent most of my life.

First is a rise in temperature. It is gradual, but as my wife said a couple of evenings ago, the bite has been taken out of the air.

There is less wrapping up to do. It is just more comfortable being outside whatever time of the day or night it might be.

Second is a drop off in rain. Winter is definitely the wet season here, and this year has been particularly wet. Now the precipitation has dropped right off and days are drier.

Third is the wind. The wind is what keeps these islands cool. Cool is relative. It can still be hot, but when the Trade Winds blow the edge is taken off that heat. A couple of summers ago the winds did not blow…and it was hot.

But something else can happen at this time of year, and I love it. The mornings and evenings can be ever so still and quiet. The mornings, as the sun rises, is punctuated by the dawn chorus. After waking up to the birds singing their hearts out during my years living in South Wales, I was so happy to hear the dawn chorus on Maui. But until the winds pick up, the air is still and quiet. The distant ocean is calm. For me this brings a stillness to my mind, a peacefulness which I can reach back to through the day.

Then as the day turns to dusk, the heat and breeze from the day settles, and again the air returns to a stillness. Some evenings I am loathed to go anywhere. I just want to sit outside at home, looking out to the ocean, and allow the quiet air to settle my mind after a busy day. And as my mind settles, I feel my body and heart let go of concerns and return to that still, quiet place which underlies all of our busyness and thinking.

Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer - Generosity, Reciprocity and Hope

My wife & I went to a wonderfully inspiring and rich talk last night given by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer in The Green Room, a series of lectures hosted by The Merwin Conservancy.

W.S. Merwin was an American poet, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner. He lived on Maui, until his death in March of this year, on an 18 acre property that he had turned into one of the largest and most biodiverse collections of palms in the world. The Merwin Conservancy sprung out of his work there.

This was the first Green Room lecture since Merwin’s passing, and the initial part of the evening was spent remembering his life and work. The theatre was packed, the busiest that I have seen it in a long while, a fitting tribute in itself to Merwin.

Dr. Kimmerer’s talk focused on Gratitude, Attention, and Reciprocity and how all of these can give us hope in the face of the ecological damage being inflicted on our Earth. Being of Native American descent, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and in the process of learning the language of her ancestors which has been all but lost, she spoke about how languages such as that of her peoples’ opens up a view of the world and so a way of being in the world, that languages such as English just don’t lend themselves to. Languages shape how we see and interact with the world around us.

  • What do we give our Attention to?
  • Attention is our doorway to gratitude and reciprocity.
  • How the practice of gratitude fills us, precluding the need for things to do the filling.
  • How reciprocity towards Mother Earth, giving back to the Earth, is an act of joy, in just the same way as we are fulfilled by giving back to those who we love.

Dr. Kimmerer’s talk reminded me of the work of two of my ecopsychology teachers, Gary Snyder and Joanna Macy. A truly wonderful evening. An evening of hope.

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, micro.blog. As can happen on the internet, I was searching for something unrelated and came across micro.blog. 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.

Micro.blog 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 micro.blog 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 micro.blog, 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 micro.blog is both a social and blogging platform, when I found Blot through micro.blog 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 micro.blog, 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 micro.blog and Blot I now feel more in control and ownership of my personal online content. My online life has become quieter, but richer.

Frayed Nerves

I am not going to pretend that I can work well when I know that people are around who might call on me at any moment, because I can’t.

Loud music, disturbances, kids shouting, people talking, these distractions and others just throw me when it comes to working. Sometimes, most of the time, just people present in the room with me will intrude on my ability to focus.

Unless they are the quiet type like me, in which case no problem, I sit there anticipating the next interruption.

I can feel it in my body. There is this sense of anxiousness and of tension. I am on edge waiting for what might happen next. All of this just plays into my ability to focus and concentrate. It plays on my ability to drop into the zone and get work done. When I know that I have space around me to work. When I know that people won’t be around for a few hours, I can sit back and relax and get things done. Time will drift by unnoticed and I drop into a zone that deeply feeds me.

But too much disturbance and who knows what mood will be triggered in me - anger, frustration, dejection, just wanting to disappear. Just wanting the world to leave me alone.

Where is the Prison in Your Life?

One of the most rewarding activities that I am involved in right now is a weekly men’s circle that I co-facilitate in Maui Community Correctional Center. We call the group Men’s Mentoring and its aim is to offer inmates of the jail a place to share in confidence, with no judgment, issues in their life that they are struggling with, and to grow through that sharing.

We look at these issues under the umbrella of teaching the inmates emotional literacy, to help ourselves develop the ability to recognize and act appropriately on the emotions that arise within us. If I do not explore an issue that it is present in my life, or maybe worse deny it, that issue will pop up somewhere else most probably in unhelpful ways. Much better to spend the time and energy that I expend trying to quieten the emotion, looking at it even if initially that is not a very pleasant experience. Once the emotion is acknowledged, known and understood, I can choose to act appropriately. My denial of the issue is normally the reason for me acting inappropriately and getting myself into trouble.

In moving into a jail we, as mentors are moving into a place where trust, or lack of is a big issue in itself. Because of this it is not unusual for men to be quiet, or at least be cautious in their sharing during the first couple of sessions. Seeing men who have been sitting in the group for longer being more open with their sharing can help increase the new men’s trust of the group environment. Alternatively a new man might talk a lot as opposed to being quiet. This in itself can be an avoidance tactic, even if the man is unaware that avoidance is rearing its head, helping a man feel in control of a situation in which he is really uncomfortable.

To enable the process of trust we have the ground rule of confidentiality - everything said in the group, stays in the group, and we as facilitators model that as well and share alongside the men about our lives and experiences.

At the risk of dropping into a clichéd analogy, as I watch the men in the mentoring circle open up and share more, trusting the group as a place to go to get things off their chest and to explore their own emotions, I look back at myself and the people who I interact with in my life with a few questions….

  • ”Where am I in a prison in my life?”
  • ”What or who do I not trust?”
  • ”What do I need for trust to be present in my life where it is lacking?”

The men who I sit with in the mentoring circle have made a mistake in their lives and are paying a price for it, but I see those inmates who sit in and complete the program that the group offers wanting to make changes and move ahead in their lives.

In our own lives I believe that it is easy to be complacent or in denial about where we are stuck, where we have a block that is holding us back in an emotionally literate way. At such times a mirror held up to us through a life situation and noticed can be a true blessing and the start of positive change.

Looking to the Future

Do you ever have an event coming up that you are just not looking forward to, indeed dreading? You are mentally counting down the days to when you will have to show up at a time and place that you could quite happily strike off your calendar? That meeting becomes a gnawing presence in your life, making it impossible for you to relax, and difficult to fully concentrate on anything else.

​A trick that I have found helpful is to look beyond the event. This trick does not always completely remove the event’s gnawing tendency, but with practice and constant use it does lessen the event’s effect on your life.

So this is how it works. Come what may you will  have to work through this occasion. But also there will come a time when the event is over. After that your life will carry on in whatever way it usually does. That event, although it feels like the big monster in the room right now, the big obstacle that is taking up all the space in your life, it will come to an end and life will carry on. So I spend time in that space after the event. I tell myself how I will in that future space when the interview/party/meeting/networking event, whatever it is that I am dreading, is over. I can even go to that space during the event if I find myself hitting overwhelm, and it helps me get through it.

This is not a cure all, but with familiarity I find that it lessens the load of those times I have to be somewhere that I would prefer not to be.

What is your experience of dealing with similar situations?

Finding Solace in Memories

Introverts spend a lot of time in their inner lives. It is what makes us introverts. We sit, process, think, ruminate and so much so that the external world can sometimes be just too much for us. It is why at times we just want to be quiet, or can seem remote, aloof. We are not ignoring you, just looking to find some time to rest from all that activity and noise.

One place I find myself going, sometimes unexpectedly and normally when I am looking for a safe space to be, is memories. Sweet memories of a time in the past when I felt safe, was alone or exploring the world by myself. Those times when I find myself in a place that resonates deeply with me and perhaps in some sort of way lets me know that everything will be alright. They are memories that I can go to and touch into a true, knowing aspect of myself. Something that I believe in. That no matter what the external world might be saying to me now, going back to that place touches in me a place that I know is can’t be taken away from me.

The memory might be a sudden flash that appears from nowhere, or an image that is invoked by words in a book. But wherever it comes from, the image is normally fleeting, vivid and is accompanied by a feeling for the place or time. And it is that feeling that remains with me long after the image has disappeared.

​I’d be interested to hear of any similar experiences that you have had.

When You Doubt Even Yourself

Old habits die hard…even, or maybe especially when they run counter to something that you truly believe in.

Visitors to this site will know that aside from working with introverts and highly sensitive people of both sexes, I have a particular interest in working with men as I believe that personality traits that such personalities engender in people can run counter to how society expects men to behave.

This can result in introverted and highly sensitive men feeling that there is something wrong with them, for them to deny and suppress how they are feeling and what their needs are, and to generally struggle to speak up for what they need for fear of being judged.

I recently started a monthly group here on Maui for men who identify as introverted and/or Highly Sensitive….but it did take a while for it to manifest. Why was that?

The reason was quite simple - my fear of being judged!

I set the group up under the auspices of the ManKind Project here on Maui, an organization which from my experience is accepting and embracing of men of all leanings. My gut was telling me that the community here on the island would benefit from such a group, but I was afraid of putting out an invitation for men to join me because I thought that other men might judge me as in some way being less than due to the simple act of admitting to be of those personality types (primarily due to their own misunderstandings of those personalities). Following on from that would be having to explain and convince the community that there is nothing wrong with such men, that they are fine, normal and have their own set of strengths that should be embraced by society at large.

All of that effort felt too much. Too large of a mountain to climb that might get me into more trouble before I reached the summit, and so much better just to bite my lip and stay quiet.

But hell no!

That is exactly what I want to change…mens’ and society’s in general understanding of introverted and highly sensitive men.

​My gut was telling me to do this, and I knew that that intuition would not leave me alone. Indeed that there would be regret if I did not start to the group. And so I lent into that discomfort, that fear to start the group and deal with problems if and when they arose. Hell, who knows….perhaps some good will come of it! Ha!

So I wrote the invitation, sat with it and then pressed send…

And now?

We have now held three meetings. The forth is scheduled for the beginning of March. There have been an average of six men at each meeting with fourteen on the mailing list. It is now a regular feature on MKP Maui’s weekly mail outs of what’s on, and a community meeting got rescheduled as it coincided with our third meeting.

I still don’t know where this group will go, we are allowing it to grow in its own way, but I know that the men who attend are benefitting from it and I am benefitting for taking that risk.

What fear in you are you not leaning into?

Getting Things Done When the World Around You is Spinning Out of Control

Can you move from frantic behaviour to concentration? Can you move from disturbance to instant focus? Can you jump from requests for help to focusing on a job that you are trying to get done?

​I can’t! Spinning on that sort of dime doesn’t fit my personality.

I need to have time set aside, undisturbed time in order to be able to focus on and accomplish what I am doing. In fact I need to be sure that I won’t be disturbed. If I can’t get that environment, I’ll do my best to cope, but I won’t be feeling comfortable and probably won’t get a lot accomplished.

That does not mean that I wait for quiet times before I spring into action. Sometimes the life around me appears to dictate that noise is the way that things are going to be. I live in a family of extroverts. One can at times feel the uncomfortableness in the room if the volume drops or activity diminishes. And I am speaking here about people who I love.

In an interview HSP author Tracy Cooper, PhD, noted that extroverts need to speak to and explain their actions as they are doing them. The introvert and/or HSP on the other hand is likely to say very little about what they are doing, indeed might even choose not to be around others while they are working.

Flow State

Physiologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow. In essence it is a state when we are totally absorbed in a task (work, sport, parenting), so much so that we do not even notice time go by. It is a state where we lose all sense of self-consciousness and a sense of total well-being, with euphoria or elation enveloping us, but that we don’t notice this until the job is done. The whole human species is wired for the flow state even if we don’t spend much time there.

For HSPs the desire (perhaps need?) to be in that state seems to be even more important because of our inner life, or inner complexity and sensitivity to the world around us compels the need to process it. And I find that to have a chance to drop into that state requires certain conditions to be in place, whether I am aware of them being there or not, before I engage in an activity….which takes me back to the title of this piece.

​Ideal Work Environment

​Now I am not going to suggest that every time that I’m busy doing something that I am in the flow state, far from it. But all the same if I find myself disturbed by external noise, disturbed by someone else asking me a question,  or just constant interruptions, I find it very difficult to focus on my own work. My mind feels like a glass of muddy water. It’s been shaken up and I have to wait for the silt to settle before I can truly focus on the job at hand…..and be pretty sure that I won’t suffer with further disturbances.

My ideal work environment is a room at home with a far, distant view and no one else around, i.e. complete silence and a view to clear a cluttered mind if I am not thinking clearly - yes, even focusing on work for me means that at times I need to clear a log jam in my head.

However, a paradoxically oddity about this ideal work environment is that I can find places which appear to be just the opposite in terms of fitting the bill that I described in the last paragraph, but where I can still focus well. I have sat in the back seats of my pickup truck to do some writing while in between appointments and disappeared into a flow state. I have sat in a busy coffee shop and while not maybe being a flow state, have still found it very conducive to getting work done. With regard to the coffee shop environment (in fact where I am right now), I think that anonymity is what plays into the game. The noise of people speaking and background music, providing neither are too jarring and the coffee shop is comfortable, become white noise, a comfortable noise in the background which appear to support the work in hand. I experience the same on a train, in an airport, in a hotel lobby, all providing that I am by myself and so essentially become anonymous in a crowd, just another face.

​Stimulation

​Does this mean that unless the volume is just right, the furniture is in the correct place and the walls are painted the exact colour that I won’t get any work done? Consider “Yes and No”. For the “Yes” answer - My introverted, sensitive nature can easily get overloaded if there is too much going on. If this carries on and on, it feels as though that glass of muddy water is continually being shaken, never being given a chance to settle. When that happens to me I just need to stop for a while, and by “Stop” I mean be surrounded by quiet, no more demands, perhaps a distant view to offer perspective and give a chance for my body and mind to settle - that or at least get away and be by myself. Even that anonymity around others can be of help, though solitude is always best.

For the “No” answer - If I can find a middle way balance between some focus time and disturbance, I can get by. It is hard for me to quantify that, but I do know that from time to time I need to take a break or I need a longer focus period. The important thing here is knowing that I will have time to do what I need or want to do, and know that between there will be sufficient quiet time between the disturbance time otherwise the with time the commutative effect of the noise will make  the ability to really focus a greater challenge.

​Meditation in a Busy World

​This reminds me of meditation. One can’t always get the quiet time that one wants and so one has to be flexible in how long one meditates for, and/or one starts to be creative in how one builds shorter meditation sessions into one’s day. So your meditation practice does not need to grind to a halt because you regular sitting environment is being disturbed, you just need to find ways that you can fit it into your day. However, with time the need to retreat will more than likely arise. A wish to step back from the regular activity of life so that you can focus on what you need to do for your own well-being and nourishment.

​Nourishment Through Flow

Because that is what I find what working in the flow state gives me - nourishment. It feeds me at some deep soulful level. There is a sense of deep well-being. And while I cannot speak for other personality types, that is something that I feel in deep need of as an introverted, highly sensitive man. The need for being able to touch into that space, the nourishment it gives is so deep, that a prolonged absence of it leaves a hole, a wanting, a sense of lack. I need to be able to spend time immersed in an activity, whether work or personal reading, to immerse and disappear into it to find that sense of well being and nourishment.

And what about yourself? As an introvert and/or highly sensitive person how do you resonate with the idea of flow state? Where do you go to find that place of deep nourishment?