Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

The past week I’ve been playing Rocksmith. It’s a music “game” that aims to teach you how to play the guitar. Unlike the other music games that have come out over the past few years, this one doesn’t just give you a plastic instrument that you push buttons to make what they call music. This game uses a real, honest to goodness electric guitar. It plugs right into my XBox and knows exactly what strings and what frets my fingers are on. It’s been the most fun I’ve ever had learning how to play a new instrument. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play but been afraid to make the commitment, this is a great way to get started.

Like any good guitar player, I’ve also been putting the fingers on my left hand through quite a workout. While I don’t really have blisters on them, I am getting some nice callouses. It’s been a great experience to spend a little time each day playing music and watching myself get better over time. When I started, I had a hard time playing for very long and I couldn’t keep up with the songs. Now, I don’t really have any stamina problems and the number of songs I can play is growing more and more.

The practice mind that one develops when learning a new instrument is similar to the practice mind that one gets from a dedicated Buddhist practice. In both cases, one must develop a solid set of routines that serve to enhance the practice. With music practice, a person learns to play more challenging songs and develops stamina and the ability to think in new ways about songs. In a committed Buddhist practice, the challenges faces are the ones that we all face on a daily basis. The problems of suffering and pain and sorrow are slowly overcome while endurance is built up in a solid meditative practice. This past weekend, for example, I started my day off with a solid hour of meditation. This is something I never would have been able to do when I began to practice.

Another interesting parallel that I have noted is that in playing the guitar, I’m trying to build up a strong layer of callous that makes pushing down on the strings easier to do. In my Buddhist practice, I am trying to wear down the mental callouses that have built up over years of exposure to illusion and suffering and attachment. It feels like two sides of the same coin. Building something up or tearing something down with the end result being a stronger practice and greater ability to perform.

With all of that in mind, I’m trying to approach living a healthy lifestyle the same way. It is something I need to work on each day. It is hard to make a lot of headway at first. It seems like something that is almost impossible to do. It will require building up of new habits and tearing down of old ones. In the end, with repetition and diligence, I will see valuable results.

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As you may have heard, we got a bit of  snow here in the U.S. recently. It was only a foot or so here in Maine and it fit rather nicely on top of the foot we already had on the ground. Needless to say, today was spent securely indoors and out of the cold. It was the perfect day to finish up my first woodworking project: a meditation bench.

Once the polyurethane has finished drying, I’ll get some pictures and post them. For now, it’s a waiting game. I had a lot of fun putting this together and would never have been able to do it without the assistance of my brother who has been visiting with us. It was a great project to do with him and to learn from him and to just hang out in a workshop and make something together. I’m really pleased with the way that this has turned out and expect to see many hours spent on this bench.

When we weren’t working on the bench or playing with the kids, it was a lazy day. I actually took a nap and rested for a bit. There’s nothing like a foot of snow to bring out an instinct to hibernate. Especially after your belly is full of Caribbean Jerk Quinoa (one of my favorite ways to prepare quinoa). Overall, just a really nice day slowing down and spending time being a family.

One thing that meditation and living mindfully does is enhance your enjoyment of taking slowly the things that don’t need to be rushed. Obviously there are scenarios where time is of the essence and one needs to hurry but those scenarios aren’t as common as we like to think. I think this is because we, as a species, derive a lot of motivation from stress. It’s how we evolved. Since we no longer have to fear being eaten by wild animals or dying from a lack of food or shelter or from catching a cold and having it turn in to something worse, we invent artificial stress to keep us going. This is bad for a few reasons. One, we create states for our body to go into overdrive much more than it should. This causes health problems from “running too hot”. Two, in a lot of people, stress will trigger an emotional response to eat. This leads to a big source of overeating for many of us who have struggled with our relationship with food. It’s a quick way to weight gain since you end up consuming more than you need and your body stores away the calories as fat more readily than it would under normal circumstances. This is why a nice slow lazy day like today is really important every once in a while. It reminds us to slow down and take things as they really are.

It’s started snowing again while I have been writing this. At some point you have to say, “enough is enough!” and get tired of it. I’m probably at that point now but it’s taken all day to get there. The fact is that I have had a great day doing low stress and slow-paced work and play. Tomorrow, I’ll brave the elements and go back to work but that’s a post for tomorrow.

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You know those dreams where you’re trying to design an algorithm to solve a difficult problem but someone keeps changing the meaning and nature of the variables halfway through? No? Me neither but if I ever had a dream like that I’m sure I’d hate it.

OK, maybe I did have a dream like that. So what? Is it a big deal to be so frustrated with the changing nature of the dream’s reality that you wake up at 5 A.M. fully aware of the dream and what it might mean? No, I didn’t think so either.

To borrow a question from the Internet’s favorite double rainbow guy, “what does it mean!?” Unlike double rainbow guy, there isn’t an easy answer to this question when it comes to dreams like the one I woke up from about 90 minutes ago.

The first (and most obvious) answer is that it’s my subconscious mind dealing with stress. I’m sure there’s a component of this in my experience but it is definitely not the entire answer.

In my dream, I was trying to design an algorithm that would look at a picture of a building and return the optimal number of windows to put on the front of it to be aesthetically pleasing and energy efficient as well as provide a functional component from inside the building to ensure that the view when looking through a window would be unique and significantly different from all the other windows. Since most of these variables are subjective, I was having a hard time solving the problem because the interpretation of aesthetics and uniqueness of perspective kept changing. Yeah, not only do I speak nerd, I dream in it. Wanna make something of it?

With that background about the dream does its meaning become any clearer to you? No? Ok, how about this?

A second way of looking at the dream has to do with how I feel about perceptions and interpreting them. This is something I have to do every day. In my line of work, I don’t have the blessing of working with hard, concrete materials that can be transformed in to something. I get concepts, ideas and suggestions and opinions and have to make something out of them. Needless to say, this can often be a frustrating experience.

This is getting a little closer to the meaning behind my dream but I don’t think it’s the entire explanation of it.

When I woke up at 5 O’something this morning I knew exactly what I was dreaming about and why. This dream really had to do with my own ideas and perceptions rather than other’s views. In the dream, I was trying to design the algorithm but I was also the person looking out the window wanting a unique perspective. I was the committee responsible for guiding the project by defining the terms of success and deciding what things mean. I was dreaming about my own interpretations and perceptions of reality.

I could add a lot more to this but instead of trying to explain more of my subconscious mind’s workings, I’ll leave you with a bit of a Christmas koan: when you’re on a fast moving train, how do you experience stillness?

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Today I went to the store and picked up a bunch of stuff that I’m going to use to work on creating a few new recipes. Once I have a recipe or two, I’ll post them here along with pictures of what I have come up with. For now, a sneak preview.

  • French Green Lentils
  • Red Lentils
  • White Quinoa
  • Red Quinoa
  • Polenta
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Red Pepper
  • Orange Pepper
  • Jalapeño Pepper
  • Carrots
  • Red Onion
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Tofu
  • Various herbs/spices
  • Low Sodium organic vegetable stock

I’ve got a few ideas about what to do with some of the ingredients but I haven’t come up with anything firm yet. I love going to the store and finding ingredients that I either really like or have wanted to work with for a while and just picking them up with the intent of cooking something with them. It’s a challenge to come up with something good and interesting and I’m going to have fun doing it. The great thing is that all of the produce was local and organic so whatever I end up making will have supported local farms and farmers. It’s a win/win for everyone.

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The other day, I wrote about my realization that shaving in the morning is a great experience of mindfulness on a practical level. I have been looking for other things I do that require mindfulness in order to be done well. I was overlooking one of the most obvious ones that I do practically every day. I am a programmer by profession and when I am creating code that will create a new program or utility that will allow a computer to do something differently or new I absolutely have to be mindful. If I allow my mind to wander and remain unfocused, I will introduce bugs or problems in my code that will prevent it from working. In addition to maintaining a focus on what I am doing without allowing my mind to wander, I must keep in mind those people who will be using the programs that I create. Without a concern for those who requested the work or those who will use the programs I write, my programs will not work correctly. I can program without mindfulness but I almost always end up going back to change and modify the code that I write when I perform my tasks mindlessly. I will either have created a problem with my program or it will not work exactly the way that my users need it to.

Mindfulness like this is not easy. Mindfulness requires effort and practice and constant awareness. When I think about mindfulness like this, it’s easy to understand why we live so much of our lives mindlessly: it’s a lot easier to live mindlessly. One reason that I have created so many blog posts is that I write in times that I need to stop what I’m doing and think about something else. In the past, I may have spent that down time running to the vending machine or to the corner store and pick up junk food that contributed to my weight gain. Now, I’m spending it thinking about my life and how I’m living it and writing my thoughts here. Even these blog posts require mindfulness. If I try to write while my mind wanders, I will end up deleting sentences or entire paragraphs because I haven’t said anything worth reading.

The other day I saw a tweet from someone on Twitter about mindfulness. They were saying that mindfulness is the key to unlocking creativity. I could not agree more with this sentiment. Whether I am trying to create a new computer program, a new blog post or a new solution to a problem I need to attend to it mindfully in order to really create something I’m happy with. Maybe this is why trying to incorporate mindfulness into my life has come easier for me since I was doing it already without realizing it. Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice to cultivate and grow. If you find that you are struggling to be mindful try to identify the distractions that are preventing you from being able to attend mindfully to the task at hand. Ask yourself why you are distracted and try to get to the root of your mindlessness. There are as many (if not more) reasons to resist mindfulness as there are people on this planet. In order to begin your mindfulness journey, you need to identify your barriers to mindfulness and start to overcome them. Breathing and concentrating on the breath is a great way to get grounded and start to be mindful. I often find that when I am facing a difficult task that I return to my breathing first and then I can apply the mindfulness that the situation demands. Good luck to you in finding your own way to mindfulness.

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