Categories
Focus

Holding an image in your mind

Further reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Begin practicing visualisation meditation

Learn to focus on the patterns behind your eyes. Practice holding images there for longer periods. Meditations should last 20—30 minutes.

Introduce mantra meditation to enhance the clarity of the images. Ribbono shel olam is a Jewish mantra suggested by Rabbi Nachman. Practice until images become spectacular and vivid.

Begin conjuring images to hold in the mind’s eye. Practice holding images for longer periods, and controlling what the mind sees.

Advanced visualisation experiences

Visualising images which aren’t possible to see with physical eyes, such as the “lamp of darkness” which the Zohar speaks of, or intensified beauty of mental imagery beyond our physical perception.

Panoscopic vision, where one can visualise an object from multiple perspectives simultaneously. Ezekiel’s vision of four-faced angels who do not rotate as they move may be an example of a panoscopic experience.

Synesthesia may be induced in a higher state of consciousness. This is a mixing of the senses, where one sees sounds, hears colours, or feels scents. This may have been the experience of the people’s experience when the Ten Commandments were given. The Torah describes “All the people saw the sounds”.

Visualising nothingness. This is a phenomena less associated with transcendental meditation, and more with mindfulness meditation. It is the absence of everything, including self, and including blackness or space.

Categories
Focus

States of Consciousness

Reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Meditative states are usually hard, often impossible, to describe. Language is created through shared experiences, and meditation is a purely internal experience, so it makes sense that we lack the vocabulary.

Even so, it is possible to understand varying degrees of consciousness by starting with two very familiar states: Sleep and Awake.

We can expand this further – sometimes we feel drowsy, sometimes we feel alert. So we can see that there are at least two wakeful states of being. Also, we know that there are two states of sleep: NREM (quiet sleep) and REM (active sleep). So, based on this, it’s possible to understand:

  • Active sleep state
  • Quiet sleep state
  • Awake state
  • Alert state

Now that at least 4 states of consciousness are obvious to us, it’s not impossible to imagine additional states.

I don’t think of these as a ladder, gaining higher and higher states of being. Rather, think of consciousness as a tree – we can tune in (or branch out) to being more perceptive, more focused, more creative, calmer.

It appears to me as though there are two main boughs to this tree, which I refer to as hot and cold meditative states. Being hot allows you to give your full attention to a single task, laser-focused to the exclusion of all else. Being cold allows you to clear and calm your mind, allowing positive emotions and creative solutions to surface.

I have experienced a hot meditative state many times while programming. Being “in the zone”, also referred to as achieving “flow”, is a common experience for software developers, who become hyper-focused – locked-on with the whole body and mind (often ignoring hunger, thirst, and even the need to use the bathroom).

There’s a whole subreddit (unknowingly) dedicated to being in a cold meditative state: r/showerthoughts. Often our best ideas come to us we’re relaxed, with a quiet mind, such as in the shower or drifting off to sleep.

Categories
Focus

Back to Bookmarks

Here’s a productivity tip I’ve rediscovered, straight from 2003: Browser Bookmarks.

Since I left social media, I found it hard to keep track of four things:

  1. News (from sources I care about)
  2. Blogs (written thoughtfully and regularly)
  3. Photos (from family and friends)
  4. Videos (information and entertainment from sources I trust)

My first inclination was to turn to RSS – the ancient XML format that kept everyone up to date in the 2000s. But RSS is dying, and I believe blogs should be read in the context of their site (design).

Instead, I started using the browser feature that’s been with us since Netscape: ⭐️ Bookmarks! I created a folder for each of those four categories, and whenever the mood strikes me, I just right click and choose “Open in New Tabs”.

News and Blogs are self explanatory, but it bears stating that you can still follow Instagrammers and YouTube channels without an account on their service.

You can view any public instagram account online by visiting https://instagram.com/[username]

For YouTube, I like to visit the channel page, then click on the Videos tab, and bookmark that. This way I’m always seeing a list of the latest videos from that channel. I also use 1Blocker to block cookies from Youtube (so that the videos I watch don’t result in “Recommendations”).

I hope you’ll consider hitting Command+D (or Ctrl+D), and visiting this blog again soon.

Categories
Focus Work

Something Daily

Inspired by Seth Godin, I recently attempted a daily writing project. I committed to write one blog post every day, indefinitely.

Here are my reflections.

Writing takes time. Not the actual typing – that part is easy. But finding inspiration everyday is a serious commitment. It can take hours, and it can't be forced.

Sometimes opening yourself up to inspiration means sitting in a café reading a magazine, or going for a stroll through the park, or reading a book. Let's be real: I have a family and a job, I don't have time to wistfully wait in the bath for my eureka! moment every single day.

After a few months, I gave up. And when I gave up… I really gave up. I didn't write again until… well, now.

I've realised that, at least for me (and maybe for you, too?), trying to force a daily routine isn't the best way of falling in love with a habit or practice. I advocate for a different approach. Let's call it…

No Pressure Weekday Habits

I'll illustrate this habit-building technique with an example: Meditation. I love meditation, but I haven't always. At first, I only loved the idea of meditation, the practice took some getting used to.

All the books I read told me that it was vital that I meditate every single day for the first 3 months (a common trope among daily habit pushers). Other books told me to start with just 5 minutes a day (or write only 1–2 sentences, or run for only 1km).

That wasn't working. So instead, I decided to commit to the following:

Meditate for at least 30 minutes, but only on weekdays, and only if I feel like it.

In the end, I found that my intuition here worked wonderfully. It was the pressure of not missing a day which caused me to give up. It was the triviality of "small habits", that caused me to give it away. Now, I often happily meditate for 20—30 minutes, and I do so most days.

So, back to writing.

After a few days of writing every day, I started feeling stressed, worried, and overworked. Worse – the short posts were often uninspired or forced. That's not the sort of writer I want to be.

Instead, I'll be the writer who taps out a decent chunk of valuable content every single day.

But only on weekdays, and only if I feel like it.

Categories
Focus

Reflections

When it comes to productivity hacks and workflow tools, I like to keep it simple. Different strokes for different folks. Here’s one I find to be universally useful: Reflection.

My wife loves to keep a diary, where she reflects both visually and in writing nearly everyday. My mind tend to focus more on the future, so reflective thinking doesn’t come naturally to me. After putting in place habits to create a reflective practice, I’ve found the benefits to be incredibly helpful.

There are many benefits of reflection, but I’d just like to tell you about the one I’ve found most useful:

Reflective Thinking is, essentially, Critical Thinking.

Without a reflective practice, I never pause to assess how I’ve performed, or what changes I can make to improve. By adding a simple weekly exercise, I drastically improve my long term performance, and refocus my energy into the right places.

For me, since reflection thinking doesn’t happen very naturally, I have set myself a very achievable goal: Reflect, in writing, one per week, at least one sentence.

I often end up writing out a page or two, but there’s no pressure.

How do you set aside time for reflection? What habits have you created to help you find time for critical thinking?