How can you water your dreams? Your mind? Your soul? Set up gentle “systems” for yourself to sustain growth and wonder.
I just finished my Building Your Personal Foundation course through CoachU, taught by Susan Abrams. I was excited and challenged and by the idea of creating “automatic sprinkler systems” to fulfill various needs. For example, I realized that one of my needs was energy. Last week I joined the YMCA located near by job. Oh yeah, and I actually went. Y-M-C-A!
Needs may not be completely satisfied but it seems that you can at least create systems that challenge you in that area and increase the potential of moving forward. For example, one of the needs that I isolated was the need for motivation and inspiration. I may not be motivated or inspired all the time but I have started to play with some systems and rituals that have the potential of kicking me back into motivation and energy. Here are some of my “systems”:
What I read–I’ve always been kind of a self-help book junkie but I’ve added a few titles to my kindle: Words Can Change Your Brain and Loving What Is. Both of these books were suggested by Susan Abrams. I keep the reading process fun. When I am no longer inspired by what I am reading I move on to the next title and then switch back.
Who I hang out with: people provide the frameworks and conversations that can motivate and inspire you. Part of the benefits of starting the coach training program is that I get to talk to people who are focused on moving forward I’ve also been experimenting with finding a positive spiritual community.
What I write and say: I am not censoring myself but I am playing around with something I call “Happiness Journal.” Inspired by a little page from Words Can Change Your Brain, I am taking time in the mornings and evening to write three things that made me happy.
Finally, I realized that my samurai mind notebook is actually one of my automatic sprinkler systems. If I put ideas from projects and quotations that excite me, review them regularly, I have those thoughts as part of the conversation. I may not listen to them but at least they may challenge the crappy mood and change the terms of what I think is possible.
What I like about everything that I’ve been hearing and encountering is that none of it commits me to becoming a happiness robot. All the work I’ve come across acknowledges that there will be periods of darkness and –err–shades of gray. I think the trick will be to set up “systems” that challenge the darkness without becoming inflexible or ignoring the depth and color of life. Join me. What are your sprinkler systems?
You can’t really stop the flow of ideas, money, life but what are your systems to help you “go with the flow?”
The other day, I had the rare pleasure of going to a little bar/restaurant called Lil’ Frankies with friends from work. As a teacher and dad of two young children, I don’t get out much. I was a amazed that I could enjoy a place with purty looking drinks and food. At 4:30 p.m. I announced I had to go and return a library book. “Nerd Alert,” my friend chided. As I walked towards the library and home, the nerd alert approached def-con as I fantasized about–hold on tight–getting a new filing cabinet.
Anyone who has seen my apartment or even my man-bag would know I am not going to be your de-cluttering guru anytime soon. But what I am getting from my ongoing experience learning Japanese, writing, and guitar is that it’s really important to have tools and systems that catch your flow.
I want a decent and beautiful filing cabinet where I can easily organize my samurai notebooks and other projects, so that creating and remembering becomes even more systematic. I already have a plastic box where I have folders organized according to topics and by months and days. (This is an idea I got from Getting Things Done.) But I am ready to upgrade so the folders sit up right and the whole process of getting a folder out is smoother. I’m trying to minimize physical or mental resistance because the more organized my flow and capture systems are, the more I can create.
It’s important to “capture” ideas, money, and projects in ways that enhance the flow even more. It’s important to create systems but not be enslaved by those systems. Here are some examples of tools and processes I consider to be my “flow capture” systems
Setting a timer for 15 minutes and writing even if I don’t have “anything to write” about every morning. It can change my whole day to create an idea where there wasn’t one just through this little move.
Keeping a samurai mind notebook. Keeping a notebook with positive ideas. information, skill bits and reviewing regularly means that my circuitry is kicking around the ideas and questions that I want there.
I have several automatic savings accounts for different purposes. Capture your financial flow and keep your finances in different “buckets.”
I use surusu, an online spaced repetition flashcard system, to remember where I am in guitar. When I study something on jamplay.com, I create a card with a link to the lesson. When I don’t know “what to do” on guitar, I go to this deck and it takes me to the lessons either targeting or that I’ve forgotten about and could use a refresher.
Creating these systems may seem restrictive, but it actually frees you to play more. Suddenly, there you are with a guitar strapped around your neck because deciding what to practice isn’t this mental storm of self-hatred. The flashcard reminds you what to practice. You practice. Then you play. Just in case you are too serious to remember to play, you can make that part of your system. Part of why I enjoyed doing Silverspoon, a Japanese immersion service is that I would get reminders to just play–in Japanese. Play is the ultimate “capture system.” (Sounds severe, no? 🙂 )
You have a flow. Catch the flow. Catch the rainbow!
All I need to know is how much is enough. —James Heisig’s translation of saying on a small stone basin at Ryonji, a Zen temple
Buddhist poet Saigyo tried to live “one inch above the ground.” . . .not with one’s feet planted firmly in the everyday, not walking on the clouds, but floating a thumb’s length above the ground. –Heisig, Dialogues at One Inch Above the Ground
Stop being a jerk to yourself. You did your best given what you knew at the time. Now do your best now. —from a Silverspoon email.
Remember, in order to actually get better at guitar you need to actually take the guitar out of its bag. —Dan Emery, head of NYC School of Guitar in a postcard to all the students
I decided to shut up and show the samurai up with guitar. I picked this book to begin with because it will reinforce my Japanese. Of course, it has a mangalike character on front. If you are interested, here is the closest version I could find on Amazon Japan. Two birds. No killing. Just a rolling stone gathering no moss.
In my last post, I focused on Heisig and how he examined his systems and perfected them. Heisig optimized his learning and the learning of many more through his system for learning kanji. I also suggested that it’s great to examine your methods, find your weaknesses and reassess. I still believe that is true, but I also believe you also just have to show the Samurai up! If you can’t think of the “right” thing to do, do something! In short:
if you can’t think of the most fun or targeted learning activity, do the “boring” one until you are inspired
inspiration sometimes comes through “work”–sometimes it doesn’t
keep your brain myelinated …keep the mental and physical conversation of the skill going
still, don’t forget the fun–what’s really great is when some fun activity or experience reinforces the work and seals the deal on what you have learned
stay “one inch above the ground”…grounded in the practice of what you are trying to learn and also dreaming and enjoying it . . . watch experts and children who still enjoy learning and model them
I need to practice what I preach. 🙂 Lately, I decided to start playing guitar again. I have no dearth of materials, in Japanese and English. I was getting my underwear all in knots thinking of which set of materials to use: a Japanese guide, Jamplay.com, or the many English DVD’s and books that are hidden in different corners of my apartment.
Did anyone notice how good Japanese graphic arts can be? In addition to these homey little characters (this one is showing you how to hold a guitar correctly) there are also very precise and sharp schematic drawings about how to hold the pick and hit the strings.
I finally to stop fretting (guitar joke!) about all the materials and just get started. I had an old flashcard deck devoted to guitar playing and started with some scales. Then I decided to open up one of the many guitar books I have and just go through it. It includes a DVD and I fired up an old Dell that I now use as a spare DVD player. The first few lessons are really simple, and explain how to hit the strings with your pick. The first few video lessons show how to hit one string with different rhythms. It’s kind of boring but hitting the strings and doing it rhythmically correct is fundamental to a lot of guitar playing. Hey, someone should write a book called Zen Guitar! (It’s an actual book!)
This is a reference manga for the manga series, “Beck.” The manga is about a 90 lb. weakling who joins a rock band. (I didn’t end up following the manga or the anime.) The music guide gives background to all the characters and all the real-life music influences that run throughout the manga. If I read this, not only will I know more Japanese, I will also know more about rock and roll music history. Amazon Japan Link.
After doing scales for a few days, I thought about perusing the lessons at jamplay.com and found a new series on the guitar playing of Eric Clapton. I went through a beginning lesson that covered the style of the Yardbirds doing a song called “Boom Boom.” I listened to this song and the many versions of the original by the blues-man John Lee Hooker. It’s so much fun to watch what the masters can do with their guitar. (of course you never hear what they sounded like when they were sucky beginners)
The Beck Music Guide is fun and encyclopedic. For example, one character is really influenced by the blues, so here you see the character and then all the real-life albums that “influenced” his playing. It’s great to see the cover art of all these great blues albums from Bo Diddly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, etc all in one place.
But all of this happened because I decided to show the samurai up! Use a timer if you need to do but do something daily instead of fretting about the methods. Stay grounded but not at the point where you are digging your own rut. Get inspired by the masters but not to the point where it looks impossible and you stop practicing. Work. Have fun. Stay “one inch above the ground.”
I am enjoying just reading the chapter titles. The chapters are bite-sized but I haven’t gotten around to reading the innards. There are some great hints for leading a powerful, simple life. Here are a few of my faves. As always, take my translations with a dash of soy sauce. Use it for your life or for your sentence sampling if you are studying Japanese.
十五分、早起きしてみるーーTry waking up fifteen minutes earlier.
朝の空気をしっかり、味わうーーReally take in the morning air.
脱いだ靴を整えるーーWhen you take off your shoes, arrange them neatly
いらない物を捨てるーーGet rid of things that you don’t need
デスクの上整える＾＾Arrange your desk neatly (uh-oh)
一杯のコーヒ＾を丁寧に淹れる–Serve Up Your Coffee Mindfully
食事をおろそかにしないーーDon’t neglect your meals
食事では、一口ごとに箸を置くTake Only One Bite-Full with Your Chopsticks
好きな言葉を探す＾＾Search for Words That You Really Like
持物を減らすーーReduce the Amount of Stuff You Carry Around
ベランダに小さいな庭をつくるーーCreate a Small Garden on Your Veranda
自分の手で自然に触れるーーTouch Nature With Your Hands
寝る前は嫌いなことを考えないーーDon’t Think About Negative Things Before You Go to Sleep
My Un-Zen desk at the Manga Cafe.
今できることを一生懸命にやるーーDo everything you are doing now with gusto
ときには、考えるをやめてみるーーTry to Stop Thinking Every Now and Then
起こっていないことで悩みないーーDon’t Worry About Things That Haven’t Happened Yet
仕事を楽しむーーEnjoy your work
悩むより動くーーMovement is better than worry
人と比べないーーDon’t Compare Yourself to (Other) People
平凡な一日こそ、感謝するーーBe Grateful for the Average, Every Day Things in Life
This book didn’t make my browsing cut but I like the message. I think the title is something like ‘Nothing is Pointless.’ More Buddhist self-help, please!
Of course, this all brings me to the question： Is Zen Zen because its Japanese or are the Japanese Japanese because of Zen? The answer is probably yes.
Will all of this help you? I don’ know. I do know my mother in-law is thrilled I neatly arranged the shoes. 🙂
“Chase two rabbits and lose them both” (nito otte itto mo ezu). This Japanese proverb is a graphic picture of the mind which is divided in its purpose, and therefore loses that which it would gain . . .
In the martial arts, the hesitant abiding mind is considered to be the most vulnerable to attack. The main thing is to get moving. You cannot balance on a bicycle unless you are in motion. Once you are moving you can adjust your course. . .. William Reed. Aikido expert and business consultant
So many rabbits too little time. I spent the day at Makai Farms in Fujinomiya. Language immersion and family time. Killing two rabbits with one stone? Ouch!
Indecision can be a time and motivation killer. I know. I struggle with it every day. Sometimes I lose precious time playing around with Japanese because I agonize about which would be the right method. Should I finish a japanesepod101.com or iknow.co.jp lesson or should I do something fun in Japanese. If I decide to ‘have fun’ in Japanese, I agonize about what would be fun.
The key would be to keep moving, as Samurai Renaissance William Reed explains. As I’ve explained before, I am currently doing Silverspoon, a a subcription program where I get daily recommendations of what to do and study in Japanese. Khatzumoto, the webmeister behind AJATT, deftly calls it structure without stricture. I like having a structure not just to have a structure but also because it gives me something to rebel against. You want me to watch anime all day today? Eff it…I think doing a japanesepod101.com lesson might be more fun today.
A friend recently asked me what I would do to create a program to get more people writing. One of the main suggestions I offered is to simply get a timer and write. I am not Shakespeare but I am writing. When I get stuck writing about a specific project, I get out my timer and go to the ‘blurts’ section of my documents and complain, scream, whine. Many times I come up with ideas for chapters or blog posts. Sometimes the blurts are just kitty litter、but at least I am moving. ‘ Once you are moving you can adjust your course.’
We spent some time at the sheep races. Which sheep to pick? Indecision. As Khatzumoto says. ‘Just pick. Click. Move on with your life.’ 🙂
So stop being such a queen and just pick whatever. Decide. Either way, it’s easy in that all action in your cushy, sedentary life is easy. It’s easy to do; it’s easy not to do, and — now that you’ve given up the duh-rama — it’s easy to pick as well.
Go on, timebox it. 90 seconds. Pick. Click. Move on with life.
Take out your Samurai katana and cut through indecision and do something in the direction of your dreams. And, if you see me on the road vacillating, give me a swift kick in the samurai.
“Every day I count wasted in which there has been no dancing.”–Friedrich ‘Shake What Your Momma Gave You’ Nietzsche
I’m staying with my wife and my daughters in a a little town called Yui. It’s famous for it’s Sakura ebi shrimp and the fact that it is shown on NHK television when the waves from a approaching typhoon crash across the interprectural highway. It is a good trip. In the mornings I’ve been able to get away and hike among the farms. I’m living the slug life, yo.
Have you ever watched a Studio Ghibli movie and watched a cartoon slug wander down a plant. They are slimier in real life.
I can tell it’s a good trip because when my daughters play with their cousins, they vehemently tell me to go away.
We are also here to enjoy the matsuri or festivals. This weekend, at night this sleepy little town is transformed into a festival of lights. My shaky little iPhone pics won’t do justice to it.
My daughter, Sakura, especially enjoys 盆通り, or bondori. This is basically a festival dance. Anyone can come dance around the yagura, a large beautifully lit central platform where the musicians and drummers play.
The central platform around which bondori dancers dance. There’s something primal in a maypole kind of way about this kind of festival dance.
There are different dances but it usually involves stylized hand and arm movements and very little moving of the hips. What I love about this festival is how many different types of people come. It’s cool to watch tough guys twirl their hands delicately in the air. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) It’s kind of amazing that people have been coming to dance together for hundreds of years.
Last night I saw an old couple dancing. The woman was pushing his wheelchair in the general directions that the other dancers were moving. The man’s had moved like eagles above his wheelchair.
That’s how I want to live–grasping every minute that I can to dance in some way. It’s why I woke up this morning and walked to the hills and farms above the local zen temple. It’s why I swim through lameness totry to keep on writing. Join me. Keep dancing.
Above the zen temple–from the hills where you can really see far.
Jetlag can be a drag, but there are its advantages. This morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m and walked out to the rising sun. After purchasing a canned espresso drink
Fueling my jetlag with canned coffees.
from the local vending machine (they are everywhere!), I headed out for a morning walk. I saw Mount Fuji in the distance, with its little trails of snow. My little iPhone picture can’ t do justice to Fuji-san, but seeing this ancient volcano is one of the perks of waking up way early.
This visit to Japan is slightly different. I can understand a little bit more, I can read a whole lot more, but I still know just enough Japanese to get me in trouble.
However, I am also better “armed” with a smartphone. This morning not only was I able take these “stunning” landscape pictures but I also took pictures of signs along the park for future reference. I’d always meant to write down these signs and translate them later but when you are walking you don’t want to break the flow of the walk. A quick snapshot and then I’m gone. Jetlag samurai on the prowl.
Later, by the beach, (not as romantic as it sounds), I was able to use my Midori app and look up a few words and insta/presto turn them into flashcards. Jetlag lifehack.
It’s better to get a full night’s sleep and I know I can’t keep this up for ever. But it brings up a point Furuichi-san makes in his books. Take advantage of sleepless moments to study something and explore. Usually after 20 minutes, I can go back to sleep. However when my body is telling me that it 5:30 in the afternoon, I take the opportunity to use this “awakened” moment to be out in nature and among the vending machines. 🙂 Every moment is precious for the jetlag samurai. zzzzzz.
This time on my visit to Japan, this samurai is “armed” with an iPhone, ready to capture sights, sounds, and random kanji on the fly.
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!
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.
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.