Cleaning and clearing clutter helps me see to the distance. Part of the attraction of temples and gardens in Japan is they are clutter free zones for the mind, and spirit.
I recently watched an episode on NHK (the Japanese PBS) about a celebrity who spends a weekend at a Zen monastery. Before she gets to the “business” of meditating, she has to clean the bathrooms, cleaning the beautiful wooden floors with a cloth. I guess it’s part of the Zen attitude that every activity is a chance to wake up. It also saves tons of money on cleaning bills. 🙂 Clear clutter, clear mind. Samurai cleaning is samurai learning. (I love it when I can talk like Yoda.)
The school year is coming to a close, and during non-administrative duties I’ve been cleaning and organizing my classroom. I have over twenty years of material in addition to materials left over from previous generations that have used my room. I’ve been able to methodically work on every corner, throwing out materials I don’t need any more and organizing the materials I still want to hang on.
That is the essence of a samurai review—toss out the material you no longer want and organize, touch, reshuffle the material you want. The added plus is that it doesn’t just involve your mind; it involves your body in action.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests clearing clutter as one way to breakthrough creative blocks:
Few things are as distracting– and destructive– as clutter in your home environment. It is hard to have clarity when you are living amid rubble. Clearing up your space gives you room for new thoughts. Clutter can be tackled in small amounts. Try fifteen-minute cleanups. You will be amazed at the difference in your psyche. Where before you felt frustrated, you will now find yourself feeling optimism.
From Miyajima Island temple. Clear mind, happy mind?
Cameron gets the Samurai Mind award for not only suggesting a technique but also using time limits as a tool! Clear clutter, clear mind. (Clearing Yoda throat) Clear clutter, clear mind. Samurai cleaning, samurai learning is.
Samurai news bulletin. Samurai Time is on Your Side. Use a stopwatch.
After reading’s Khatzumoto’s article, You Can’t Afford Not to Buy Japanese Books article, I hustled my samurai patootie to Bookoff, a Japanese used book store in Manhattan. I had fun just looking at book titles and I didn’t feel any pressure to buy. Then I found a book whose title (毎朝１分で人生は変わる: One Minute, One Action in the Morning will Change Your Whole Life) seemed to fit with all my latest thinking and experience with the power of small moments. Even though I have plenty of unread Japanese books lying around, I picked up One Minute, One Action.
This morning I skimmed it using one of Khatzumoto’s suggested techniques. I set a timer for 15 minutes, and looked at every page of the book. Lo and behold, one of the chapters in the middle cajoles us to “Use a Stopwatch and Become a Learning Athelete.” (ストップウオッチを使って「学習アスリート」になる). The author, Hiroyuki Miyake, offers some good advice about using timers and stopwatches while studying:
If you get in the habit of using a stop watch while studying, as soon as you push the button your mind and body get in the frame for learning.
Setting a limit for how long you are going to study a particular task raises your level of concentration.
If you have a longer study time frame, make sure to schedule breaks. For example, if you study for 50 minutes, make sure to take a ten minute break.
Become a learning athlete!
Spend the last five minutes of your longer study periods reviewing what you have just learned. (He refers to what Ebbinghaus says about declining memory patterns.)
Weird clock on display at Dejima Island in Nagasaki. Dejima Island was where the Dutch traded ideas and inventions when the rest of Japan was isolated. Clocks and time keeping devices shouldn’t be confused with any sense of superiority. It’s another tool best used ethically and with balance.
This advice is all great but what I like is this whole idea of becoming an athlete. Many moons ago, I trained for and ran a marathon. One of the strange concepts I came across is fartleks (insert crude joke here :). These are basically timed changes in your running pace. You might run at a brisk pace for two minutes and then return to your normal pace. These timed “sprints” are supposed to do all kinds of good stuff for you like increase your heart’s capacity and improve your overall pace.
But why limit the goodness of fartleks to marathons. Life is a marathon. Use your stopwatch to learn and take on whatever moves you forward, whether it’s cleaning your room, learning a language, or “whatevah.” Time is on your side. Fartlek around. You are your life’s athlete. Become a stopwatch samurai!
Factors cascade over time because they multiply the effects of earlier seemingly, weak factors.
Part of the way it works is as first explained by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues is that a beginner’s skill are so modest that he or she can manage only a little bit of deliberate practice, since it is highly demanding. But that little bit of practice increases the person’s skills, making it possible to do more practice, which increases the person’s skill level more.
This morning, I used my little timer and spent five minutes each on the following:
Skimmed and read Teach Yourself Visually WordPress. I’m still learning how to drive this blogging puppy. I have also resisted any technology to my detriment. I’ve realized if I just commit my self to studying a little bit at a time, I might start to get the lay of the land. It all goes back to the two quotes above and trying to let factors cascade.
There are several ways that just taking five minutes helps your performance and your life cascade:
It helps you get over hesitant (or in Japanese いやいや）thinking. It’s just five minutes.
Five minutes helps you gain momentum. Once you start, other things start opening up.
You get the lay of the land. Feel hopeless about investing? Spend five minutes a day reading something like Eric Tyson’s Investing for Dummies. You may not become an investment guru, but you will know a heck of a lot more than if you just put your hands in the air and say, “I don’t know anything about investing!”
Tengu on the grounds of a Miyajima temple. On the left are ascending prayer wheels. Who knows? One small action done in the right frame of mind could change the world.
Small actions can lead to a change in consciousness (やる気 or will)
This leads to more action
Which leads to confidence
Which leads to a new vision
Which leads to action
I guess now I have to change all my blog posts. I’ve already gone from talking about the power of 30 minutes, then 5, now one minute. How much more small can you go? One nanosecond? That’s all it takes to have life changing idea. However I think all the other chunks of action create the groundwork for inspiration to happen. Now that is samurai time management!
A passageway from a temple to garden in Nagasaki. Morning and evening are key transition times.
A Japanese self-help book, a samurai self-help blogger , and a Japanese immersion website meet at a bar and talk about the best time to “do it.” Morning and night.
Morning and night might be one of the best times to set your intentions, embedded knew knowledge, and change your life.
Khatz talks about the importance of morning and evening as anchors:
I’ll just say that in terms of just outward behavior patterns, those two “anchor points” do tend to set pattern for the rest of the day. Broadly speaking, the rest of one’s day often seems to run off of the inertia from these two times of day.
Khatz has been lightly hammering the idea of anchors in my daily “sprints” or suggestions for immersion. Basically, I take this to mean that the morning and the minutes right before sleep are the most key moments of the day. The morning sets the tone for the day and the minutes before sleep set the tone for the dream scape.
I’ve been experiment with this in many ways. When I walk out in the mornings I often listen to japanesepod101.com podcast lessons. Yesterday, however, I felt the pull to listen to Japanese music. I follow whatever method or activity seems to be the most fun at the time. In the middle of a work day, I usually work through at emergency room like atmosphere at a school. As I get ready to sleep, I may read the supporting materials to the jpod lesson (if I’m interested) or listen to an non-jarring podcast. These days I “listen” to Tokyo FM’s Tokyo Midtown Presents, a pleasant and interesting program about different design concepts. The voices are so pleasant that I never consciously listen to the content before sleep. Does it work? Who knows? But I am enjoying Japanese, so why stop?
Power Your Morning (and Night), Furuichi Style
Yukio Furuichi, author of １日３０分を続けなさい！人生勝利の勉強法５５ Learn to Win My (My take with a dash of soy translation: Keep going 30 minutes a day! 55 Study Steps to Winning in Life) also writes about the power of morning and the evenings.
Furuichi’s Reasons Why Studying in the Morning Pays Off:
There are fewer interesting television shows in the morning.
There a less distractions such as phone calls, social outings, etc
From his experience, the rate of learning seems to be higher in the morning than in the evenings
If you “git ir done” in the morning, you’ve got a huge part of your studying done for the day
Furuichi’s Hints for the Evenings:
Buddha at rest. You have to sleep in order to wake up.
Get at least six to seven and a half hours of sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep you become less effective when you study
While you are sleeping, memories get arranged and fixed
If you can’t sleep, have something by your bed you can study. After you are tired (usually around 30 minutes) you should be able to sleep.
Napping helps but don’t go for long naps because they throw off your biorhythms.
Samurai at Rest/Samurai Rising
If morning and evening are such powerful anchors, why limit using them to whatever you are studying? (Keep in mind that by studying I mean that you take on what you want to move forward in your life.) What are the thoughts and intentions that you go to bed with at night? I’ll be the first one to admit, that I often wake up with internal grumbling? But why not wake up thinking about what you want in your life? What you want for the world? Why not rise up singing?
It’s the same with the evening. Instead of taking your worries to bed with you, what about going to bed with appreciations and your dreams for the yourself and the world?
Sun up. Sun down. Samurai at rest. Samurai rising.
Hint: given the topic of this post see if you can resist hitting any links until you get to the bottom of the post
I keep an iPad and several books by my bed. I like to throw in a few minutes of study before I go to bed. I pick something interesting yet not totally stimulating. I find that two pages of a book in Japanese are enough to push mind a little forward and also overwhelm me and help me to sleep. I also like to follow Japanese lessons on japanesepod101.com. The information is useful, the grammar lesson are great but after fifteen minutes of reading a pdf or listening to a dialogue, I’m ready to drift into la-la land.
Driven to Distraction
But the iPad is a little dangerous. I can check my lessons there or follow Japanese links. But the pretty little Facebook button calls and I have to just check it for a little bit. Maybe there is a fascinating (or not) link to an article, and then I’m gone. What was my intention? What happened to my time?
Going Old School
I’m not abandoning my electronic toys. The convenience and tools are just too elegant and fun. These days I am enjoying reading about daruma, these funky Japanese dolls that are actually based on the story one of the founders of Zen in Japan. I love that I can read the wikipedia page that’s loaded on to my iPhone. I love that I can tap on to a Japanese word and get a definition.
But I’ve noticed these tools can turn into toys that encourage your “monkey mind.” I’m not a Buddhist, but I play one on the internet. 🙂 “Monkey mind” means that you grab at whatever catches your attention in the moment. One moment you are eating a banana and the next moment you are picking bugs out of your friend’s fur in a tree. One moment you are setting out to study Japanese Zen schools of thought and then the next moment you are listening to “Tied to the Whipping Post” on Youtube.
Monkey on Miyajima Island. The fence is actually to keep the humans out of the monkey territory. Now, who has the monkey mind?
You don’t have to spank your monkey mind. Exploring, goofing off, wandering aimlessly all have valuable roles to play. But lately, if I find my self too iDistracted I resort to the following:
Read a book. There are very few apps on a book. Follow one mind. If you “have no time” take five minutes a day to read. Skip over parts that don’t interest you. I just pulled out Marius B. Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan. 800 pages. So far. So Sekihagara good.
Write in and review your samurai notebook. Follow your own mind for a while. What are your thoughts, plans, goals, noticings? Review your notebook and enjoy. Even if your notebook is filled with interesting quotes from other people they are your gatherings. Reviewing your notebook reminds you of where your mind has been. It anchors you.
[Practice what you preach alert] Meditate.
Well, if you made it to the bottom of this post it means you got past the iDistraction and “monkey mind.” Congratulations. Gotta go see my friend about a banana, his fur, and something about a whipping post.
The Benefits of Taking Five Minutes Each Day To Do Part of Your Dreams:
Starting is better than thinking about starting
Five minutes each day keeps your brain “myelienated”. You keep the thread of practice or the thought of your novel, composition, graffiti bomb masterpiece in your mind instead of losing it.
Five minutes sometimes turns into half an hour, though it doesn’t have to.
Try it, Mikey, you just might like it.
You might start a fire that burns all day.
Hey, it’s just five minutes.
The universe likes it when you get to be you.
I can see for miles and miles. View from Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. A mere five minutes a day can help you see and move farther.
Doing something for yourself helps you have better relations with others.
Five minutes helps keep your “tools” handy. The guitar is tuned. Laptop is close by. Brushes are washed and arranged. The running shoes are by the door. Reference books are bookmarked to the next section.
Five minutes today makes it easier to continue tomorrow.
The burn files, redux. Five minutes allows you to experience the power of the “burn”, whether it’s mental or physical. Haven’t done push ups in a while? Set a timer and do the “easy” push ups for five minutes. You’ll feel the burn at some point. What if you did this for a month. Try it. It’s just five minutes.
Five minutes let you know that maybe that task is not so scary. Maybe you can put in another five minutes at some point during the day. Why not now?
If you can spend five minutes on Facebook, you’ve got five minutes to look at your budget, play your guitar, write to someone you love, __________________________.
Five minutes keeps you in the present, the only place where things can happen.