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File Under: Useful Books You’re Kind Of Embarrassed To Be Reading

April 26, 2010

Trust me, I never thought I’d pick up any sort of self-help book.  Even when I worked at Harvard Book Store and shelved the Personal Growth section, I don’t think I so much as thumbed through a single volume.  But, as it turns out, some self-help books can teach us how to, like, help ourselves.  It’s kinda nifty.

Specifically, this weekend I got my hands on a library copy of Soren Gordhamer’s little handbook, Wisdom 2.0, and it is actually, materially improving my life.  Reminding me of many of the insights I came to independently last year about healthy Internet usage, and adding lots of practical tools to my existing repertoire.  The snappy magazine tone isn’t my favorite — partly because it tends to veer into upper-class magazine generalizations, where the only external causes for stress are cranky co-workers and long lines at Starbucks, rather than, you know, institutional racism.  For the most part, though, the content is solid.  This piece, particularly, proved instantly helpful:

An old Zen saying reads:

When sitting, just sit.
When standing, just stand.
Above all, don’t wobble.

In our age, we might change this to:

When e-mailing, just email.
When talking on your cell, just talk on your cell.
Above all, don’t talk while emailing.

For most of us, the talking, working, or surfing online are not what is stressful; it’s the time we spend wobbling.  It’s the multitasking and unconsciously switching back and forth between modes of communication…This can be exhausting and stressful when such transitions are done unconsciously and habitually.  We can, however, learn to consciously change channels so instead of draining our energy by continuously multitasking, we move with ease from one mode to another. (27)

This means a few things for me.  One, I’m re-adopting a practice I developed last summer, in Europe, of leaving open only one window on my laptop at a time.  Just one at a time.  Either my Internet browser, or my word processor, or iPhoto, or Skype, etc.  This clears up a shocking amount of head space and lets me concentrate on one task at a time.  Surprisingly, I find that this elevates not only focus, but also enthusiasm.  I feel lighter and more at ease when I have a single task before me.  I can even see my lovely green desktop photo behind my one window, instead of a cluttered layer of more programs.

If someone calls my cell phone, I pause and determine whether my time is better spent answering right now, or staying with my computer project and hitting them back later.  If someone approaches me in person, or the kettle whistles, I take a moment to deliberately shift all of my attention to the real-time project.  And far from slowing me down, this approach actually cuts down enormously on wasted time, and helps me spend my energies in a more pleasurable way.

That’s another thing: this book is reminding me that waiting can be pleasurable! Waiting for photos to upload, waiting for a page to refresh, waiting for a wireless connection to come through…simply by reworking my own mind, I experience them as moments of rest and alert relaxation, not impatience and weird greedy hypnosis.  (Staring at the loading bar, anyone?)

Of course, there may be issues, like a colleague’s continual tardiness to meetings, which need to be addressed.  However, if we do not blame the person for our discomfort, if we do not bring our dissatisfaction with our inner life into the issue, then we can more skillfully address the problem.  We see that the situation provides an opportunity for learning, and we can address it without the extra frustration.

This does not mean that we can use this as an excuse for our own actions.  The next time we are criticized by our manager for showing up late to a meeting, it is probably not best to reply, “Well, if you weren’t so uncomfortable with your inner life, this would not be a problem.  Deal with yourself.”

It was during such a bright, cheerful pause in a French café last summer, while 20 photos took 10 minutes or so to upload, that the germ for this post (one of my favorites, I think) arose.

Anyhow, this little manual is certainly shaping up to be a pleasant surprise.  (I’m about 2/3rds through.)  And speaking of mildly embarrassing interests, it has even diminished my skepticism enough to warrant one more student registration for the Wisdom 2.0 Summit in Mountain View, coming up this very weekend.  (Crazy — Ari Pliskin of Zen Peacemakers had mentioned it to me a while back, and I knew he would be in town for it, but none of that occurred to me last week when I found the book at the library and picked it up.  Too odd a coincidence not to explore, even though it means dropping the bulk of my dog-sitting earnings on the conference fee.)

May your back and neck, forearms, eyes and mind be well this week, my dears, however much time you log in front of a screen.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Roger Nehring permalink
    April 26, 2010 5:59 pm

    A technique I learned some years ago is when coming in late to a meeting or whatever, you say to whomever, ” I am sorry I am late, I am totally out of control of my life.” End of defensiveness, end of bullshit excuses, and after saying this aloud to your peers once or twice, it makes you realize that it is true! And that you need to get control.

  2. April 27, 2010 10:53 am

    Katie, I LOVE this post. I especially appreciate the concrete idea of one window open at a time. A realistic goal that I can try out. Consciously changing channels! That’s the tough thing. I’d love to talk to you more about what happens in that second of in-between changing-time, too.

  3. Kate F permalink
    May 2, 2010 8:55 pm

    ‘Don’t wobble.’ This is sticking in my head. I wrote it all down on a note next to the computer. I hope it helps with remembering.

  4. May 3, 2010 12:31 pm

    Kate F!!! I hope it helps, too. And it’s so good to see you here — thanks for saying hello. Hope all’s well with you.

    Leora, (A) number-one: I love You; (B) number-two: let’s talk. Soon. Maybe Wednesday evening? I’ll call you. After having changed channels as consciously as possible.

    Roger, interesting tactic! I feel like it would be a little too attention-getting for me to say aloud, but it’ll be interesting to note in my head the next few times I am late. (Although, to be real about it, I have a pretty loose and friendly relationship to timeliness in general, hehe! The perks of not having a “career.”)

  5. May 28, 2010 8:38 pm

    wait, isn’t Buddism self-help by definition? :) i admittedly love self-help, and your writing

  6. May 31, 2010 2:02 pm

    hehehe, good point. :)

    miss you — let’s talk more soon. i think a lot about your tutoring kid without the glasses. (is he the same one who digs the computer over the paper worksheets? or is that a general phenomenon?)

    love you lady

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