Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jigsaw Lessons - The Unexpected Benefits of Analog

“Regardless what technology is, I like analog too.” Lou Graham
Seeing everyone with their nose stuck to a phone lately has made me want to go more analog. Way analog, like 1976 analog. So I got a jigsaw puzzle. It’s an image of New York City’s Times Square. I picked it because I love New York and it makes me think happy thoughts of all my friends who live there.
Work on the puzzle has been going well. As I make my way through it I suddenly realized I’m gaining some special life lessons along with the sense of completion.
The first is: have something meditative in your life. Most of the time, my brain is streaming constantly with thoughts. But when I do the jigsaw they grow quiet. It’s such a visual activity that the only thoughts that come up are, “Is it you?,” “Where are you hiding?,” and “There you are you little nuisance!” I’ve never been successful at meditation but other activities that require focus and quiet the mind offer similar benefits. Far from tiring me, I find my puzzle makes me feel refreshed, and as long as I continue to find ways to have my own version of a meditative practice, be it yoga, a dance class or some other hobby, I’ll continue to reap these benefits.
My next discovery is that the piece you’re looking for is already there. As I start to complete a section, often there is one pesky piece that seems to be missing. I have a kitty cat who is into everything so I thought maybe she got up on the table at night and batted a few pieces around. But so far, every time I’ve kind of given up on locating a specific piece, one day is just shows up in the mix, having been sitting there all along.
How many times have you been startled to discover a truth you’re seeking has been sitting inside you? Sometimes we forget we don’t need anything external to validate us because we are already whole and complete.
Lately instead of assuming I don’t know something or need to go look for it, I trust it’s already inside and will reveal itself in due time, even if it might not look the way I expected. I can’t tell you how stress-reducing this approach has been.
One final thing that’s been soothing about the puzzle has been a connection to the past. I work on it on my dining room table, which was originally my grandparents, who I dearly loved. They used it for fifty years before it passed to me and I have enjoyed countless meals, holidays and many a childhood jigsaw puzzle on this exact table. There’s even a picture of me eating my first birthday cake on it when I turned one year old.
I can so clearly connect to my childhood and teenage self as I work on my puzzle and it gives me a feeling of connection and continuity, of life progressing properly thought its chapters and seasons. It puts the troubles of the day into perspective. I’m not advocating we all life in the past of course, but having little touchstones of it can give the present more depth and meaning.
I didn’t know when I opened the jigsaw box that it would hold such unexpected treasure. Technology is great and makes life much easier, but there is still a role for the analog in a life well lived. Maybe I can encourage you to go a little analog with a pre-digital hobby and see what it offers you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stop Talking

"Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence." -Daniel Goleman

We live in a culture that is constantly pushing answers at us all day long.  No sooner do you share something troubling you with a friend when that friend is offering all sorts of advice, sometimes before you've even finished your story.  We're taught that to care about someone means to help solve their problems.  But what if that weren't true?  Did you ever think that your mere presence could be enough? 

Recently I've been studying a concept called entrainment.  The word "entrain" means to pull along after itself, like a series of box cars on a track.  In a nutshell, it's a naturally occurring phenomenon about how we pull each other in synch, given proximity.  It was discovered by a seventeenth century clockmaker named Christian Huygens who invented the pendulum clock.  He would leave his studio only to find all the pendulums swinging in unison, despite his purposefully not setting them that way. 

You might not realize your energy works like that, but it does.  If you have a friend who is upset or sick, you can comfort that person simply by sitting near them and maintaining a state of peace.  Can you imagine how much better that friend would feel, compared to a visit by someone who spoke ceaselessly and advised them on all the things they needed to do to solve their problems?

Sometimes talking is overrated.  As my grandfather progressed through his nineties, his hearing became quite poor.  It became frustrating for both of us to try and have conversations like we used to, so instead I would just sit with him, smile at him and make funny faces, which he would return.  One of my favorite dinners we had was one where it was just the two of us, slowly making our way through three courses without much talking, just smiling, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

A really cool thing about entrainment is that it works just as well on yourself as on others.  With practice, you can slow yourself down, open your heart and surround yourself with peace whenever you wish.  You can train your heart to lead your mind, instead of the other way around.

Gandhi understood the power of silence so much that he devoted every Monday to it.  He believed not speaking made him a better listener and brought him more inner peace. 

While that ideal may be out of the reach of most of us from a practical standpoint, we can each consciously scale back our typical commentary.  For example, the next time you're with a friend, instead of diving in with a similar example, just empathize.  Say, "Wow you must have been so surprised," or "Gee that sounds rough."  You may find there is a lot more your friend would like to say, given the space.  And you may find you're able to be more present by simply listening, instead of waiting to speak. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

In A Box

 “How did it get so late so soon?” 
--Dr. Seuss

I had some losses recently. My beloved grandfather came within six months of his 100th birthday, but stubborn as he was, he just couldn’t quite make it there.  Not too long after, the only pet of my adult life reached a similar end, at a very ancient (for a cat) age of 20 years.  You’d think that having both of these wonderful entities in my life for such a long time would have lessened the grief at their passing, but it was not so.  Greedily I still wanted more time with them and found it hard to let go.

On a cold, early winter day, we lowered shovelfuls of earth on my grandfather’s grave, while on a dark, lightning bug-lit summers’ night we gently lowered our cat’s pinewood coffin into its secret spot.  But this isn’t an article about sadness or death.  Rather it’s about the shift that happened following these two occurrences.  I started thinking about “the box.”

Poppy will always be in a beautiful, shiny brown metal box with gold handles, while Ernie’s simple pinewood box is one we built ourselves.  Perfectly sized for him, I used a Sharpie to decorate the outside with his name, dates of birth and death, messages of love and a drawing of him with us, his forever family.  I picture both of them in their boxes now, at peace and just resting.  Turning back into elements, grass and someday stardust again.

I think about how there is a box somewhere waiting for me. It might not have been built yet, but the idea of it, if not the reality, is now firmly planted.  And there is a box for you as well.  There is a box for everyone.  (And if you plan to be cremated or dropped in the ocean, there is a metaphorical box for you.) 

Every day, every moment, you are approaching closer to that box and a simple hole in the Earth.  We will each go in there, maybe soon, or maybe (hopefully) not for a long, long time. Death and taxes, this is where we all trails end.

Truly understanding the hard truth of the box has changed me.  It has made me less afraid.  In perhaps a strange way, it comforts and encourages me, reminding me to make the most of the minutes and hours left to me. It helps me keep failure in perspective, and gravitate toward what’s real and feels important.  If there is something I feel a pull to explore, I now do it faster and with more abandon.  If there is a letdown that sandbags me, I recover sooner.  I must.  I am driven now.  Life needs to be lived fully because the clock is ticking down.  Days are precious. The box is waiting.