December 2011 Review: Focus

Wild! Wet! Unrelenting rain!

The perfect ambiance for turning inwardly and focusing.

New writing projects were the primary focus this month.  Surprises, to be revealed in the new year!

I’ve discovered my best friend for both focus and writing is  Tick-tock Timer.  I’ve been actively using this free online timer.  What a useful tool!

Saving Money

Money was another main target this month:  tracking and limiting expenses.  I can raise millions of dollars for good causes, but I’m like a kindergartner when it comes to tracking my own money, which I need to do because it is limited. I began in September and have diligently continued for an entire three months (insert pat on back here).

It’s a simple two step process.  I stuff all receipts into my wallet.  Then I unload them onto an Excel worksheet.  After tracking my expenses for three months, I created a monthly budget.  I’ll continue tracking my expenses while working toward my next goal:  staying within my budget.  At the same time, I need to focus on earning more money.

I’m following Leo Babauta’s Single-Changing Method.

According to my astrology, I’m in the midst of getting a cosmic MBA and it’s going to last for a number of months.  I’ll happily share whatever tips and tricks I learn.

Saving and Actualizing the Insights

I’ve been pouring through my journals, notes from hypnotherapy and a clarity session, and guidance from selected reading.  I’ve also been gifted with a treasury of insight and wisdom from my dearest of friends.  Tons of unconscious material has bubbled up in this year.  So I have pages and pages, which my hypnotherapist humorously coined, “the Cliff Notes on Sandra”.

But more than just  capturing these life lessons in writing, I’m asking myself, “How do I consolidate and actualize these insights?”

It’s clear:  I don’t need more information.  I need to consolidate all this richness into a set of guiding principles for the coming year.  And integrate the knowledge into my being and action.  Instead of looking for more medicine, I want to focus on the one medicine that cures all.  This refining process will continue into January as it is not complete.

As Zeenat suggested, I’ve also been gradually cleaning up and clearing clutter to bring more balance and harmony into my living and working space.  It feels good.

Everyone’s Needs Are Important

My 7-week Non-Violent Communication class ended a few weeks ago.  NVC is an amazing communication tool.  But it clearly takes diligence and commitment to learn and practice it.

The most important  takeaway from this NVC training is making a commitment to holding everyone’s needs as equally important.  This is a significant shift in almost anyone’s perspective.  Instead of thinking first and foremost about my needs, it means making an effort to understand other people’s needs as well.

It’s not always possible to meet everyone’s needs.  But chances are we can meet more needs – ours and others – simply by paying attention and making the commitment.

Caught Reading Again

This month I devoured The Power of An Open Question: the Buddha’s Path to Freedom by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel.  Excellent!  It’s a highly accessible, down-to-earth guide to living in the moment and understanding the true meaning of emptiness, without actually using the word.

One Moment Unfolding Into the Next

2011 has been a challenging year.  There’s a part of me that wants to close the door and never look back.  I realize that’s a knee-jerk reaction.

The whole idea of a year is an arbitrary one anyway.  It’s not really over, it’s really just one moment unfolding into the next.  Still, it’s time to close one chapter of my life and move on to another.  Writing it out is like this, in one sense, is like putting a period at the end of a sentence.

UPCOMING in January

I’ll be in activity mode again:  instructing two online courses, writing, and seeking freelance work.  The challenge will be to find space between the activity and to bring space into the activity!  I look forward to the challenge.

How was your December?  How do you feel about moving into the new year?

This is part of my monthly review series.  If you liked this article, please consider sharing the link on your social networks.  And, I would love to connect with you on Google+ or the Always Well Within Facebook Page   With love, Sandra

Image:  Mom the Barbarian

Blogging Insight – Make new friends, endlessly!

Rainbow image for Blogging Insights postIs there any place that mirrors change and impermanence more rapidly than the worldwide web?

I’ve seen my share of blogs – even blossoming ones – bite the dust since I began blogging just seven months ago.

Now, my new found blogging friends have been disappearing – one right after the other.

It seems like everyone’s disconnecting since reading Leo Babauta’s new ebook on focus. Some are taking a digital sabbatical one day a week or on the weekend. Others are taking a full month or two away.  Still others are shifting their focus to new interests or projects and have less time for blogging and social media.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is very good.  I encourage you to follow your passions.  I encourage you to nurture yourself with personal white space and real-time connections.

But I’m missing my friends, especially the ones that are taking longer breaks.  I feel sad.  I miss their frequent infusions of joy and inspiration.  I miss their thoughtful and provocative blog posts.  I miss their unique and fascinating spirits.  I miss their visits to my blog.

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m not cut out for this fast-paced internet life where people bounce in and out of your vision for a few weeks or months at a time.  Maybe I place too much value on the idea of friends.

It makes me wonder – are internet friendships real?  Or has this just been an illusion of connection that I alone have created in my mind?

The Practical Impact on Your Blog

Then there’s the practical side – the way friends disconnecting impacts your blog.

Every seasoned blogger knows that your ability to promote a blog successfully depends upon friendly interconnections.  As Dragos Roua points out,

“The blogs ecosystem is an incredibly complex web of interactions, links, authority and trends. This web is changing constantly and the chances that you will survive as an isolated blogger are incredibly small. You need a solid team of partners who will support you. Partners that you will support too, enforcing the power of your links in the blogging ecosystem.”

There are over 130 million blogs on the internet.

Even with tip-top content, few will find your blog without skillful promotion.  To attract new readers, you need blogging friends – to share your articles on social media, comment on your blog, allow you to guess post, and to partner with you in collaborative projects.

If your blog is already a moderate or huge success, having a few blogging friends drop away will not faze you in the least.

But if you are in the early stages of building your blog, beware. Should a slew of your friends suddenly break away, your once active comment section can suddenly seem like a ghost town.  Article tweets, Facebook links, Stumbles, and other social media favors may be few and far between.

Ah, the endless endeavor to make more friends.

How many friends do we need?

We need blogging friends, that’s clear  How many?

Srinivas Rao says we only need 150 followers on twitter to be a success.  This is the number of social relationships a person can effectively manage and it’s the number needed for an idea to spread according to Malcolm Gladwell.  Rao suggests creating an “inner circle” of 150 followers who retweet your tweets, mention you, link to your blog, and/or comment on your blog.

The secret is to engage these real people in real conversations on twitter. Rao says this strategy is working exceptionally well for him.  I don’t doubt this is the case.

But for me, the idea of remembering and interacting regularly with 150 people is mind-boggling to say the least.  And, with the current trend toward periodic disconnection, you will need quite a few more than 150 as a buffer when some do take a break.

I can’t help but ask – is this how I really want to spend my time?  Glued to a computer endlessly searching for new friends?

Lessons to Be Learned, Questions to Be Asked

What are the lessons to be learned from all this?

  • Friendships are like rainbows. Enjoy yours – virtual or live – while they last.  Don’t expect them to last forever.  Or even more than a few months!
  • You’d better make new blogging friends constantly.  You never know when a few will suddenly disappear from your blog life.

Now for the questions I have for you:

  • Is this fast-paced internet the world of your dreams?
  • Is the blogosphere setting your life’s pace or are you?
  • How are you managing your time?
  • What’s your take on friends in the blogosphere?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

If you liked this article, please share it with others via your social network.  Thanks so much! Sandra


How To Focus – 10 Practical Tips

I was a workaholic.  So much so that I burned out my body and brain.

In fact, I burned myself out by not being focused.  I tried to do everything and that’s impossible.

As you can imagine, I now highly value relaxation and rejuvenation.

In fact, I spend several hours each day relaxing and caring for my body, mind, and spirit.

This commitment to myself limits the amount of time available for work.  Therefore,  I need to focus and use work time efficiently.

But – as you probably know quite well yourself – it’s easy to get distracted.

Whether you are too busy working or – like me – too busy relaxing, the answer to distraction is the same:  focus.

10 Ways I Focus

Here are 10 ways that I focus inspired by Leo Babauta’s excellent new ebook called focus, a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

1.  Resisting the pull of email

Without thinking about it too much, I had my email program set to auto check every five minutes.  Yes, almost every time it beeped, I would disrupt my work flow to have a “quick” look.  Of course, that often led to more distraction.  Now it’s reset to check every hour.  The sound notification is turned off.  I will probably turn the auto-check off completely and just check email once or twice a day.

2.  Turning away from excess entertainment

My husband and I haven’t had a television for over four years now.  We watch a movie or documentary, but we limit it to just once a week.

We often choose movies or documentaries about nature or ones with an uplifting message, which inspires our mind and heart.  The violence that is an ordinary part of many television programs adversely effects all of us, but children and highly sensitive people – up to 20% of the population – are at greater risk.

Limiting television, movies, and other forms of mindless entertainment opens up so much time and space in your life, and allows you to focus on what’s really important to you.  It’s such a wonderful way to find more peace, freedom, and creativity.

3.  Limiting social media time

I value social media and the wonderful connections I’ve made there.  But it can be a place where I easily fritter away time.  I’ve decided to limit myself to 30 minutes a day.

4.  Unsubscribing

I have hundreds of blog posts in my inbox. Since I follow all my blog friends on twitter, I see their new posts there – far before I see them in my inbox. I don’t need to receive them in my inbox too.  I’d rather follow the twitter link and visit their blog.

I’m gradually unsubscribing to blogs – one a day.  Don’t take it personally if I unsubscribe from your blog.  I’m still reading it!

5.  Turning off email notifications from social media.

I don’t need to know every time I have a new follower on twitter or a friend request from Facebook.  This further clogs up my already hopeless inbox, which takes more and more time to clear.

6.  Cleaning up my computer desktop

I tend to let files accumulate all over my desktop so I can barely see the bright blue sky behind them.   It makes it difficult to find what I need, another time waster.

7.  Choosing only the most important tasks each day

I love Leo’s suggestion of selecting just 1-3 most important tasks each day, focusing on the single most important task first, and single-tasking until it’s finished.  This is proving to be a much more relaxing and productive way to work.

8.  Blocking off undistracted time

I’m learning to work in 50 minute blocks of undistracted time interspersed with 10 minute breaks for stretching, resting, breathing, meditating, and other rejuvenating activities.

9.  Disconnecting

Since the publication of Leo’s book, so many of my internet friends are disconnecting – some for short periods of time and others for far longer.  To be honest, I miss them although I support them too.  I’m myself plan to unplug periodically to focus on – you guessed it – relaxation, inner focus, and my close relationships.

10.  Simplify my writing style

I tend to write long blog posts.  There are times when I can deliver the same value with fewer words saving both myself and my readers time.

I’m putting these new habits into place gradually, there’s no need to rush.  With every small step, I’m already enjoying the increased clarity and added simplicity that is blossoming in my life.

I recommend focus

In his simple, yet compelling writing style, Leo Babauta helps you step back and explore your own personal obstacles to focus.  He tells you how to beat the fear of disconnecting and the rewards that focus will bring to your life.  You’ll find easy to use ideas and methods for clearing distractions, simplifying your life, and finding focus.

Leo is a deep thinker and caring person, which sets Babauta’s focus apart from other ebooks on the topic.  Whether you get the free, premium, or Kindle version, you will benefit from reading this manifesto.

How are you finding focus in your life?

If you liked this article, please share it with others on your social networks.  Thanks so much!  Sandra


The True Meaning of Zen

Every time I turn around these days there’s a new blog with “Zen” in its title.

Zen” is being linked to everything from copywriting, web design, and business strategy to personal development, food, and far more.

Some bloggers are genuinely trying to express what they believe to be the spirit of Zen via their work and their blog.

Others are simply riding the popularity wave from Zen Habits.

Yes, it’s all Leo Babauta’s fault.  Just teasing, Leo!   Don’t worry,  I’m not going to yell at you about having the word “Zen” in your blog title.  Even if I did, you would just tell me to “…breath.  And then let it go.”

Besides, some credit should go to the icons who introduced Zen into mainstream consciousness starting in the ’50’s:  Jack Kerouac with the book The Dharma Bums, the philosopher and writer Alan Watts, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and Robert M. Pirsig known for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle.

But just to set the record straight, Zen is not…

  • a habit
  • simplicity
  • a state of peace
  • a state of mind
  • a minimalist aesthetic
  • living simply
  • a destination
  • nor is it just being in the moment

These are merely popular concepts about Zen.  In reality, true Zen is far beyond concepts.

What is the true meaning of Zen?

Zen master Suzuki Roishi
Shunryu Suzuki-roishi - image from his Facebook page

Zen is a remarkable wisdom tradition.

It is a path to fully awaken to your original nature, which is present right here, right now.  It is the essence of wisdom and compassion embodied in spiritual masters like Shunryu Suzuki-roishi and Thich Nhat Hahn.  It is a living lineage of tradition passed on since the time of the Buddha.

Zen” is actually shorthand for Zen Buddhism.   According to the Random House Dictionary 2010, Zen is “…a Mahayana movement, introduced into China in the 6th century and into Japan in the 12th century, that emphasizes enlightenment for the student by the most direct possible means.” 

Zen is practiced mainly in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam although there are many Zen centers in the United States as well.

The word Zen is derived from the Chinese word “chán” and the sanskrit word “dhyana,” which mean “meditation.” In sanskrit, the root meaning is “to see, to observe, to look.”

Zen is a noun. Zenic is an adjective.

It’s not uncommon to misunderstand Zen even when you study and practice it. That’s why it helps to have a teacher.  The great spiritual master Shunryu Suzuki-roishi once said:

“And this misunderstanding—the misunderstanding you have about Zen, I think—when we say:  Zen, oh, Zen is wonderful [laughs].  Whatever you do, that is Zen [laughing].  Even though you are doing something wrong, that is Zen.  Whatever you do is Zen.  That is why I like Zen.  [Laughs, laughter.]  This kind of misunderstanding I think you will have about Zen.  But what we actually mean is quite opposite.”

There is nothing imprecise about Zen.  At the same time, it’s almost impossible to put your finger on true Zen.

“Zen mind is one of those enigmatic phrases used by Zen teachers to make you notice yourself, to go beyond the words and wonder what your own mind and being are. This is the purpose of all Zen teaching—to make you wonder and to answer that wondering with the deepest expression of your own nature.” – from the introduction to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roishi.

Zen mind cannot be understood from the perspective of our ordinary, dualistic mind.

“We say “big mind,” or “small mind,” or “Buddha mind,” or “Zen mind,” and these words mean something, you know, but something we cannot and should not try to understand in terms of experience. We talk about enlightenment experience, but it is not some experience we will have in terms of good or bad, time or space, past or future. It is experience or consciousness beyond those distinctions or feelings.  …Enlightenment cannot be asked for in your ordinary way of thinking. When you are not involved in this way of thinking, you have some chance of understanding what Zen experience is.” –  from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roishi.

Zen practice may calm our mind, bring more clarity, and infuse us with greater kindness.  But the ultimate goal of Zen isn’t seeking or clinging to peace.  Calming the mind is just one part of the story. The purpose of Zen isn’t to put an end to the activity of mind.  That would be impossible anyway.  As Shunryu Suzuki-roishi explains when he speaks about zazen (sitting meditation),

“When you are practicing zazen, do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer.”

“Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure; it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water.. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one.” –  from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roishi.

If you would like a taste of true Zen, a good place to start would be with Suzuki Roishi’s spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

The allure of the word “Zen”

There’s no turning back from the fact that Zen has acquired a “colloquial” meaning in modern life.  Maybe it’s the zip and zing of the actual word “Zen” that is part of its allure.  And, it conveniently rhymes with a whole range of other words making for ever so zingy blog titles.  Chances are there will be many more blogs with “Zen” in their title and many other enterprises too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not getting on anyone’s case.  I have great respect for bloggers like Leo Babauta who are helping others live saner, healthier, and happier lives. They readily admit to having little if any knowledge of Zen, but simply like its spirit.  I also appreciate blogger  Mary Jaksch, an authorized Zen teacher, who explores the interface between spirituality and personal growth.

This is just a gentle reminder, amidst the frenetic activity of the blogosphere, let us not forget the profound and true meaning of Zen.

Do you have any thoughts to share?

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much, Sandra