Saturday, July 26, 2014

MORTALITY


Our usual warm-weather-low-humidity has turned like a child looks back to see if someone familiar is near. In the Pacific NW rain magically ceases soon after Fourth of July and doesn’t reappear until late September/October. But our light sweater July evenings have dissolved into two days of November downpour and I feel cheated. Where has summer gone? Will it reappear?

Our yucca plants produced their white bell blossoms early and with extravagance. They were glorious for days, reluctantly dropping petals as they dried on the stock. Our neighbors’ plants were not so long enjoyed. The rain force bent the stems or denuded them. Their short season concluded face down in the mulch.

Unseasonable weather reminds me of a metaphor hidden in an Asian figure:
Talk about tomorrow
the rats will laugh

Assuming, hoping against hope, continuing in spite of, planning with no guarantees, are conditions of our mortality amid storm-beaten flowers, nurturing rain, changeable weather systems.  
In front of the wooden yucca stocks, the iris greenery feed their tubers. Spiking gladiolas are turning a shade of coral I would not have chosen. Mortality and death are complicated subjects. 


Reluctance
by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

 

 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

GOOD DEATH


Sumptuous Mortality


Children’s veranda in the
lowbreathed summer twilight:
‘if I should die before I wake’ lingers
erosive     engraving

O     not alone     ‘my soul to take’.
The sweetjuice hay of nightbreath
smothers in luxury. Who doesn’t
burrow into being
deaf to not-life for

sleep, a time of sleep.
A handkerchief of waiting daylight blown
in esperance: enough.


Margaret Avison. Always Now. Volume Two.

 

What is our life expectancy? We look at ancestors who died in their 40s, early 60s, 80s. We consider the conditions of their living and passing, and extrapolate our years through the statistics of our improved nutrition and health care and presume we will live…more.


As children we kneeled by our beds and prayed the historic prayer, pushed ourselves up to slide over the sheet, dusting our bare feet off one on the other. Curled in the dark we silently amended the prayer, but not for a long time if you please.  The many versions first recorded in the 1800s are basically the same but they differ in the last two lines.  “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” seems a heavy burden for a nine year old. Less Catholic prayers exhort angels to watch over me, or simply pray for safe guidance through the night. Considering the various plagues from which children in the 1800s died, any of the versions would suffice.


On Sunday night as we mentally move into the demands of Monday morning, we scarcely consider our death. We prepare to commence another week of busyness and stress. But a friend reminds me on Facebook that she has survived cancer and achieved another birthday. Others have not. Bear with me.
 
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread


Our neighbors have two toddlers, ages 2 and 4, who hurtle themselves across the lawn, down the driveway, onto our cul de sac, full tilt with seemingly no other intention than to move as fast as possible. There is no more mindfulness in their actions than the peony that drops deep pink petals on the hedge. 

In contrast, one of our seniors walks carefully one foot before the other, trailing her hand along the wall.

Transitional movement transfers us from one place to another. A toddler must learn to make that transference while keeping his balance. As he lifts his back foot leaning toward forward motion, he is unbalanced. If his concentration falters, his heavily diapered bottom stays aloft only as long as he hesitates, then falls.

The present slips so quickly from future to past. Whatever our movement, it helps our balance as we transition if we give our full attention to what we are doing in the moment. Then we can look back and appreciate that we were fully involved in our life. Not merely spending time.
 
 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mindful Living


As I’m writing this, it’s a blue sky, cool morning in Washington. The fog of winter months has evaporated into joyous clear air of summer opening our vista across the bay and to the distant mountains on the Canadian border. The sparrows and finches flutter at each other above the feeder before settling to take turns. Early swallows feed on the wing.

And as I observe the activities of a natural world, I ask myself, what do I do without thinking about it, without due process but move on automatic pilot? What would change if I focused on the elements of a task, just for a few specks of time, to observe them as a child who is first learning?

The energies around me change their intensity, ebb and flow like the tide washing higher on the beach, hiding the small creatures busy finding food and avoiding becoming a meal. Energies that collect the fragments of me into a vessel to be of use. My energies also change as demands are placed on me by others or I decide that something has become necessary rather than optional.

Attempting rootedness in the moment frustrates me because as soon as I breathe in the moment, I must exhale and that chosen space of time has evaporated as quickly as fog. As much as I want to stay, my mental list of wonderful potential pulls me away, like walking an unruly puppy.

But I am grateful for the moment, for each breath as I take a last turn through our residents’ rooms, observing them sleep, the rise and fall of their blankets. I failed them in small ways through lack of energy or distraction. But also today I paused to glance out the front window to observe the hummingbird flit around the purple glass flame on its pole; I mindfully listened to the frustrated silence of people who have no choice but to internalize rather than risk garbled speech. We created moments of joy feeding our people with our their favorite food, hugs and conversation.

And I pause, mindful that I live as fully and with as much presence as I can manage at any given interval in my life. At the end of the day, that must be my peace.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Mindful Multitasking?


Guest Writer: Moira Allen

Is Multitasking Good for Writers?  (or anyone else)

Link to this article here:
http://www.writing-world.com/coffee/coffee78.shtml

Show me a writer who doesn't "multitask," and I'll show you...

well, I'm not sure what.  But I'm not worried about being held to my half of that sentence!  I seriously doubt that, in today's "do 50 things before breakfast" world, you could show me that writer.

Let's face it: We all do it.  We have no choice.  As I've said before, the speed at which we can do things hasn't saved us labor.

It's simply caused us to have to perform 10 tasks in the time once required for one.

The problem is not that we multitask.  Again, in many cases, we have no choice.  The problem is that many of us have been led to believe that multitasking is a good thing because it speeds up our work and increases our productivity.  After all, it stands to reason that if you can do two things at the same time, they'll both get done faster than if you did them sequentially, right?

Unfortunately, studies are showing that this isn't true.  In fact, it seems that multitasking can actually DECREASE your productivity -- by as much as 40%!  In plainer words, that means that either one will accomplish 40% less while multitasking, or that the actual time required to complete one's tasks may increase by 40%.  I think.  Studies also show that multitasking increases the chance of error.

Which makes me feel loads better, because I was beginning to wonder if I just "wasn't doing it right."  One of my most common forms of multitasking is to work on Project A on my computer, while scanning articles and images for my Victorian website on the scanner sitting next to my desk.  Scanning is boring.  I can't handle just sitting there and turning pages, so it seems logical to multitask: Work on something else, and pause to flip pages as needed. 

Only it doesn't tend to work that way.  Instead of making good progress on Project A, and getting a pile of scanning done, I find that BOTH projects actually tend to suffer.  All too often, I get distracted from Project A (and turn to something simpler, like e-mail or checking my eBay sales or playing a game).  As for the scanning, all too often I end up rescanning the same page because I forgot whether I actually pushed the button. 

My husband can attest to another hazard of "multitasking."  When we lived in Virginia, my office was downstairs, the kitchen upstairs.

Many a dinner -- and many a pan or teakettle -- burned to a crisp because I'd pop downstairs to do "one quick thing" while cooking.

That's one reason why I always use a whistling teakettle, even though today my office is in the "breakfast nook" and the rate of burned dinners has decreased dramatically.

Mothers have multitasked for millennia, so I figured the problem wasn't simply that I was a dinosaur, less hardwired to multitasking than the generation born with a cell phone grafted to its fingers.

So I decided to check a few articles to see whether the problem was more than "just me." 

Unfortunately, although there are many articles on the evils of multitasking, those articles themselves can be confusing, as they provide different "examples" of what the author thinks multitasking actually is.  One, for instance, sets up an example of a woman fixing a meal (I'm not sure which meal, since it involves eggs and a salad).  The article defines mixing the eggs and washing the lettuce as "multitasking" steps, while heating the pan is "parallel processing."  In my mind, this is not multitasking at all; it is simply a set of steps involved in the single task of "preparing a meal."  Multitasking, to me, would be preparing the meal while popping back to my computer to answer e-mail.  Other articles describe "exercising" and "listening to music" as a form of multitasking, and again, I disagree.  Most of us use music as an integral part of exercising, to set the tempo for our workout.

We're not doing two separate things - but if we were attempting to work out and hold a conversation, we might be.

Pursuing different projects within the same general time frame - i.e., during the same week or even the same day - is also not "multitasking."  If one works on Project A for one hour and Project B for the next, or Project A on Monday and Project B on Tuesday, with the goal of completing five projects by Friday, this is not multitasking.  Working on several projects at once is not the same as working on them simultaneously.  Otherwise, we wouldn't need such concepts as "prioritizing" or "scheduling."

So here's my definition of "multitasking": being engaged simultaneously in two or more activities that require a comparable amount of concentration.  For example, I cannot switch pages on the scanner without removing my focus from the computer.  I must physically turn my chair, lift the book or magazine from the platform, turn the page, reposition the item, close the lid and push the button.  It requires both hands, both eyes, and a modicum of brain power.  If I am, say, editing this newsletter at the same time, that task also requires both hands (on the keyboard), both eyes (on the screen), my chair to be positioned facing the computer, and (one hopes) a modicum of brain power. 

In short, multitasking involves what researchers describe as "switching."  One is not, actually, doing two things at once.  One is rapidly switching between tasks - edit a paragraph, "switch off" from that task, turn the chair, reposition the book on the scanner, "switch off" from that task, turn back, edit the next paragraph.

Each switch requires a certain amount of physical adjustment (turn chair, take hands off keyboard, move book, hit button, turn chair, put hands back on keyboard).  But more importantly to researchers, it requires a mental adjustment, known as "goal switching."  Once you switch goals, the next step is "role activation" - I must go into edit mode, then into scan mode, then into edit mode.  In each mode, I must focus on the types of tasks or steps involved in THAT task, and "switch off" the focus on the alternate task.

Even though the time involved in "goal switching" and "role activation" can be just a few tenths of a second, these switches add up.  More significantly for writers, the more concentration that is required by a task (such as writing), the more we are likely to be distracted by the constant interruptions of multitasking.  It's hard for a stream of thought to flow if it is constantly being diverted.

Obviously, we're not going to stop.  There are too many demands on our time to hope that we can avoid multitasking altogether.

However, if you're feeling frustrated, blocked, and unable to concentrate, this could be the culprit.  Once you realize that multitasking isn't actually going to get your work done significantly faster, it can be reserved for the tasks that require the least brain-power.  And writing definitely isn't one of those tasks!

Here are some interesting articles on the topic:

The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking, by Kendra Cherry http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/costs-of-multitasking.htm

You Say Multitasking Like It's a Good Thing, by Charles Abate http://www.nea.org/home/30584.htm

Multitasking: Good or Bad? By Roger Kay, Forbes http://onforb.es/M91bUE

Reprinted with permission from Moira Allen, Editor


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mindful Living with Poetry



Don’t give me the whole truth,
don’t give me the sea for my thirst,
don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,
but give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote
as the birds bear water-drops from their bathing
and the wind a grain of salt.

Olav Hauge.  Selected Poems. White Pine Press. 1990.

 
Olav H. Hauge (1908 – 1994) lived all his life in Ulvik, a village in the west of Norway, where he made a living off the apple crop from his orchard, an acre in size. His poems begin with simple things, a wild wind dying to become a breeze, rough cut curb stones (stabbesteinar) along a country road, tramps, knives. His themes carefully build from the simple to universal and heartfelt. Pruning his trees was mindful work and he continued such with words on paper.

Mindfulness calls us to live in the moment, be it rest or work. Hauge’s poem centers his request on the dew he can comfortably hold in his hand. A wise man.