Friday, March 6, 2015

After "In Defense of 'Busy'" // Life's Too Short to Hurry

Sean wrote about being busy.

The comings and goings and doings he describes are familiar to me. I'm not there any more, though. I can't say I'm busy in that way anymore. I'm not organizing or producing, and this month even my online writing has diminished as I throw myself into pottery (couldn't resist the pun). And the calm feels really good. Maybe it's part of my recently developed introversion.

There's that Howard Turman quote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I surely felt alive when I had a busier lifestyle, connecting with many people, holding and sharing space in various ways. But there was a point when it stopped making me feel alive and mostly made me feel tired. And for a time I was sort of frustrated with myself for stopping, and I mourned the passing of that past self, and I tried to recreate the desire to live that way. But the resistance was not necessary. I was pushing myself to interact with the world in ways that made me feel tired rather than alive.

There was no need for me to push myself to try to be busy-- there are so many ways to contribute to society, to social justice, and different ways to learn about being human, both by being around people and by being alone with ourselves.

The intention I set for this year is "Life's too short to hurry." A reminder to myself that life doesn't have to be frenetic to be exciting, and that there is value in slowness. Even though most of my days don't have much externally-imposed structure, I still create quite a bit of structure for myself.

On Wednesday, I wanted to climb, go to a yoga class, repair some camping gear, spend an hour or two at the ceramics studio, and go to the grocery store before work at the climbing gym at 4:30pm. I also wanted to feed myself and maybe do a little reading. While I was in the yoga class, I was asked to set an intention for the practice and for the day. In the course of the class, I realized that I was imposing a lot of unnecessary urgency into the day. If I could only spend an hour or two at the studio, it wasn't really worth it to go. And if I didn't make it to the grocery store before work, I'd be okay-- there was plenty of food in the house. Once I let myself let go of that urgency, I could feel my mood improving, and things feel lighter. I felt better about the day.

I respect the folks who spend a lot of time working, studying, organizing, going from here to there and everywhere. And I worry a bit, too, when they say they are busy. I avoid being "busy" now because of the way it makes me feel. It makes me feel like there is great time-scarcity in my life, and feelings of scarcity in whateverthing, be it affection, friendship, money, or time, leads to stress. Which leads to a wide array of other negative health and social implications.

Granted, things aren't always light. There are a lot of very dark and heavy things that we must cope with and change in this world. What I fear about "busyness" is that it sometimes feels like being pulled down into that darkness rather than like reaching in and pulling that darkness up to our light.

And it makes me all the more appreciative of those people in my life who are able to be busy and at the same time pull the darkness to light. (Sean is in that group.)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Waking Alarmless

For the last year, I've been trying out waking up with my natural clock. Which is not to say that I just wake up when my body feels like it. I've been experimenting with setting an internal "intention-alarm." 

I noticed that I would often wake up well before my alarm if I were quite excited or anxious for something I had to wake up for. And last year, somehow, my body decided that it wanted to rise early. I spent much of the year waking up at dawn or earlier without an alarm. This changed a bit when the nights got much colder, but for the most part, I've been able to wake up within 5-10 minutes of my intended time. 

I joke with people that I use my own mental anxiety as an alarm. A friend said that this is a big indicator of my intraversion-- I have no problem getting up when it is my deep personal intention to do so. I think back to when I would set three alarms because I would successively turn each of them off, or I would be late after hitting the snooze button too many times. Some of my poor past roommates remember this behavior all too well. 

Now, if I have to wake up for something, I don't set an alarm. I didn't set an alarm for a dawn hike I meant to take on Friday. It seems that when I externalize my motivation/reminder to wake up, I instinctively try to defy it, even though it originated from me. I managed to get up at 4am as I intended, to make coffee, do my morning writing, dress, and have breakfast well before our meet-up time of 6:20am. 

I know that it is not just a result of my sleep cycle alone-- there have been days when I've set no real intention and slept in much later than when I do have an intention. 

Have you ever experimented with intention-alarms? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Morning Coffee & Writing Ritual

I've been fine-tuning my morning writing ritual since 2008. I like writing in the morning, preferably by the light of an oil lamp if it's the wee hours, and the coffee is as much a part of the process as the ink and notebook. 

Sometimes, I have tea. Sometimes, I'm in a car. Sometimes, I'm at a picnic table in a campground. Sometimes it's in a cafe. Sometimes, I don't write at all-- but that's quite rare these days. 

I call it a ritual rather than a routine because I have such a reverence for the block of time I spend making my the coffee and then writing. It helps me think. It helps me stay sane. It helps me figure things out, get grounded. It's a meditation practice. I've called the writing "morning crazy talk" and "morning dump." I go to sleep pretty excited about my morning dump. Maybe that's what helps me wake up early without an alarm: the anticipation for this rather pleasurable ritual.

There might be a few days every month or two when I do not do the morning writing, either by choice or by chance. Those days make me treasure my ritual even more.

My mode of coffee-ing has varied from making Vietnamese-style drip coffee with condensed milk, to using a French press, to a moka, to making cowboy coffee. This pourover method is the latest, and I have a feeling it's going to stick.

I take this ritual with me wherever I go. Friends expect to see me with my coffee kit now when I roll into town.  

Electric kettles only recently entered my life. And oh, how fantastic they are. I thought I wouldn't prefer them over a regular kettle, but I do. I do.

I fill it to the count of 20.

This particular kettle is in the Noble Hotel staff kitchen for NOLS instructors (and interns) passing through Lander.

This is the travel kit this time around:

- a manual coffee mill (babysitting it...)
- #4 drip cone and paper filter
- my favorite mug
- whole coffee beans

I keep a small amount of beans in the tin, and the rest in an airtight container. Freshness is key to good coffee. Along with process.

I use two tablespoons (sometimes heaping) of whole beans for an 8-9 ounce cup of coffee.

These beautiful beans are from Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in San Diego. I'd tell you which one it is, but you really should go down to your local roaster/coffee shop and check out their beans. Another favorite is Raxakoul in Berkeley.

Dark Horse has a shop in Truckee now. All the more reason to hang out in Donner Pass next summer.

So, I cultivate particularities. Such as this.

I like to fold the seams of my coffee filter so that it rests more snugly in the drip cone.
I'm not sure it actually works, but it gives me good feelings.
By the time I've gathered my coffee bits and folded my filter, the water has come to a boil.

I pour some into the cup to warm it.
I wet and warm the paper filter. I like to think it helps ease away paper flavors, and that it allows the coffee to flow through more tastily.

This process is much easier than a French press when camping because there's no need to wash anything.

I'm not sure whether the mass manufacture of these recycled, biodegradable filters uses more or less water than it would take for me to rinse out a re-usable filter each day. Thoughts?

While the water eases off the boil, I quickly grind the coffee.

I've counted the number of turns it takes. On average, it takes around 70 turns for my morning cup.

It is easiest to grind with the mill between your thighs.

Go head, snicker.
After I open the grinder, I usually take a deep, glorious whiff of the freshly ground beans. It's one of the best parts of the whole process.

I put the coffee into the cone and slowly pour in just enough hot water to soak them, watching the lovely, pale brown "bloom" appear.
When there is a creamy bloom such as this, I know the coffee is going to be good.

Once it subsides, I try my best to pour in the rest of the 8ish ounces in a slim stream, making sure to create turbulence all around the cone (more frothiness!). This part of the process can be mesmerizing, so be careful not to overfill the cone. This will lead to some over extraction or a weak cup, not to mention possible spillage.

It's happened to me a couple of times.

And then, voila. You have your cup. And it is beautiful.

My cup has a patina (stains). Please don't let that distract you from the fact that this is delicious.

Don't sip it too much too soon, though. You'll burn your tongue. And that will be sad.
I carefully take the steaming cup of coffee to my designated morning writing area, where I reverently take a few sips.

Then, the crazy talk begins.

The red hanky is there because I'm afraid of dripping ink on the table. I write with india ink of various colors. The pen is a wooden chopstick that I drilled a hole into. I wrapped it in electrical tape for grip. The notebook is from Art Alternatives.

And there it is. My mornings (mostly). I hope you create/nurture a ritual of your own that nourishes you. Maybe it doesn't involve writing, maybe it does. Maybe it involves caffeine, maybe it doesn't. What I do know, after six years of doing this, is that it feels really good to have at least a little time and space with your thoughts in the morning.

I started with just one page in a wide-rule notebook, and maybe twenty minutes. It all starts somewhere. All it takes it starting.

Further reading: