Continuing Faith | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

Nichiren wrote The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith to one of his most trusted disciples, Shijo Kingo. Shijo was being pressured to give up his practice of Buddhism, and Nichiren reminded him that difficulties were predicted in the Lotus Sutra – that he must bear this firmly in mind and remain steadfast.

Although this letter is about maintaining faith in Buddhism, the encouragement is applicable to anyone. Victory lies in never giving up. It requires one to be relentless in her commitment to a task.

How many times do we start something – anything – with energy and verve, only to be to swayed when difficulty comes along? For instance, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You’ve found a training plan that makes sense for your level of fitness. You’ve chosen the perfect marathon, one that is bound to have great weather and a relatively flat course.

After a few weeks of training, you need new shoes, but your funds are low. You simply can’t run another mile in your current kicks, and you must put off training until you can get a new pair. Obstacle? Or maybe your training isn’t progressing as planned. You can’t seem to break 10 miles without hitting a wall. Obstacle. Or here it is, a couple of weeks away, and you sustain an injury that will force you to miss your race. Obstacle!

These obstacles must be signs, right? You think to yourself, Maybe marathons are for other people.

Maybe. But the obstacles don’t decide that. You do.

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

As human beings, we can’t control our environment, our circumstances or the timing of things. The only thing we can control in a given moment is our ichinen – our single-minded determination. For various reasons we might not be able to run the marathon we intended. But we can still run a marathon.

Choosing to strive again another day, even to start all over if circumstances warrant – that’s continuing faith. It may seem more than merely difficult – it may seem Herculean. But the decision to keep moving toward your goal, undaunted by the inevitable setbacks; to keep believing in yourself even in dark times, that, that is enlightenment.

Off the grid. Writing anyway. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge

I’m off the grid today, and all day tomorrow. My blogging is compromised a bit, but something is better than nothing.

As most of you know by now, I’m participating in Tayari’s WriteLikeCrazy challenge. My goal was to write a minimum of 15 minutes a day toward a goal of 4 hours a week. I also wanted to publish one blog per week. Those may seem to be low goals, but for someone who wasn’t even approaching those numbers, it was a stretch. My underlying goal was to build a writing habit.

Almost at the same time, Aliya invited us to participate in the 30in30 blog challenge, with the goal of writing one blog a day for 30 days. Talk about kicking it up a notch! I decided to do it because the thought of it made me uncomfortable and I’ve been striving to push past my perceived limitations.

Sidebar: that’s also the reason I lift weights – to steadily and tangibly increase what I’m able to accomplish.

As I’ve mentioned before, the daily commitment to publish something has made me prioritize writing in a way I never have. It’s the reason I’m spending my “free time” writing.

I’m at a Buddhist study conference and it’s an all day, all weekend affair. Two-hundred SGI members from North America and Oceania are present including people from the continental United States and Hawaii, Canada, New Zealand, one brave woman representing Barbados, and another representing Palau.

We’ve gathered to learn more deeply about the theory of Nichiren Buddhism and how to apply it in practical ways to improve our lives and society at large. Indeed, at the root of our work is the development of a peaceful society – something not too far afield from a caring community.

Every Tiny Bit | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

I’m proud of myself.

I have written daily, without fail, during the 30in30 and WriteLikeCrazy challenge. Today, I don’t have much to say, yet I remain committed. So here I am, showing up, even though I’m sleepy and am not up to writing any of the brilliant ideas germinating.

I have no harsh words for myself. Only love and congratulations for continuing to forge ahead, one word at a time.

I wish the same for you.

Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.
                                                          Daisaku Ikeda

Cultivating Inner Discipline

Personal Narrative, Productivity, Spirituality, Temple Building

People often remark how disciplined I seem as if I woke up one morning and it just happened. It didn’t. And truth be told, I’m not equally disciplined in all areas of my life (who is?).  Like everyone else, I am a work in progress.

No Victory is Too Small
Being disciplined is the result of daily effort – but not Herculean effort. For me, the smaller, the better.

I take baby steps. I may not accomplish everything I want today, but I can be accomplished today. I can move forward today. I do this by finding the one, small, specific item I know I can do. I set my self up for success by making sure I have the time allotted to accomplish whatever that small, specific thing is. With a clear understanding of the task, I go for it.

Keep Moving Forward
Spending time and energy lamenting what you aren’t doing, doesn’t magically cultivate inner discipline. In fact, I find it to be a deterrent. Beating myself up (known as self-slander in Buddhism) is a sure-fire way to sabotage my forward motion. An oft-heard retort: “But you can’t move forward without self-criticism.”  No, you can’t move forward without taking a step forward.

You can, however, be reflective and honest, without being negative to yourself. After that honest reflection, you can decide on a small action, take that small step, and praise yourself for a job well done.

Praise is Karma, Too
We can devote plenty of time and effort to complain about what we aren’t doing, but for some strange reason we can’t spare a high five for our accomplishments. Especially something we view as small. We equate small with inconsequential. We shouldn’t.

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito. ~African Proverb

It’s so easy to recognize the significance of small steps when babies take them. But suddenly they “don’t count” when we expect we should have mastered self-discipline {or insert topic here} by now. The inner you is starting from the beginning! We don’t yell at the toddler taking her first steps, “that doesn’t count!” We say “yay!” We give smiles and hugs. We are full of congratulations. We offer encouragement for the baby to continue because she’s doing something right! She’s on the right path. When you’re taking your small step, so are you!

People often characterize karma as negative. It’s something bad that happens in response to our bad deeds. This is inaccurate. Karma simply means action. To that end, every thought, word, and deed count. What kinds of actions are you accumulating? Your negative self-talk? It counts. Those baby steps? They count, too. Every action is of consequence.

Where Are You Now?
Cultivating inner discipline means starting from where you are and taking a step. And then doing it again. And again. There’s no need to lament last week or yesterday. Don’t be overwhelmed about next week, or even tomorrow. Start from the current moment. Move forward today.  And that small step you’re planning? Congratulations in advance!

On accountability partners.

Personal Narrative, Productivity

Do you have an accountability partner?  I do. In fact, I work with groups and individuals to help hold myself accountable to my goals. It’s one of my personal victory strategies, and I talk about it with Ben over at Literature Review HQ.

This link takes you to Ben’s site. There you can play the podcast from his page or download it for later.

Wherein I respond to a writing prompt.

Productivity, Writer's Craft

“What are you putting off that would make your life better if you did it?”
What’s a concrete step you can take towards that goal?

Although I take issue with the phrasing of the question, the spirit of the question is basically, what are you dreaming about, and how can you start to accomplish it?

Answer? I’m dreaming about writing novels. I can go write one.

I’m giggling because that’s a bold statement on many levels, but it really boils down to action. I don’t need to think about it. I don’t need to wonder about it. I don’t need to keep researching it. I just need to start (or continue, because I have, at least, begun).

Easier said than done. A recent Facebook exchange illustrates my thinking on the matter. “Him” was impressed by my unwavering status updates about exercising.

Him:    You are my hero :-). I wish I could become as motivated.
Me:     Ha. I think motivation is a byproduct of commitment.
Him:    I’m definitely committed… To eating.
Me:     Lol. Exactly. I bet it’s easy to get motivated to do it, too. 🙂

In short, I’m coming around to thinking that the motivation to continue comes after the decision (and action) to start. Actually, I would extend that and say, the motivation to continue comes after repeated decisions followed by repeated actions. Sometimes, you just have to do it, motivation or not. You have to will yourself against the inertia of inactivity.

I’m torn with my own revelation. I do many things based on inspiration, gut feelings, sixth senses, and the like. If something doesn’t feel good, or not quite right, I often won’t do it, continue it, etc.

The flip side is, sometimes I don’t follow through on things that do feel right. In those moments, I use procrastination, confusion, or many other tricks of self-sabotage to avoid doing the thing I claim I really want to do.

It begs the question… if I’m working this hard not to do something, is that thing really for me to do? Without getting into the psychology of why we prevent ourselves from doing things we actually want to do (I’m not a psychologist), I’ll say yes. That thing is often still for you, despite your reasons, excuses for not getting to it. And this is where my commitment first idea comes into play. A brief diversion is necessary to explain my point.

I have not always exercised daily – opting instead for three days per week. This was fine for a level of fitness, but it created many opportunities for procrastination. I mean four days off per week!? But I started to notice that the days I pushed myself to exercise anyway, I was always SO GLAD I did! And the days I didn’t? I was sluggish all day. If I had those choices to do over again, I’d drag myself kicking and screaming out of bed most of those off days.

Since I already knew the reward, or the benefit of exercise, the only thing missing was my commitment to it. I already knew I’d be happier on the other side, but getting over the hump was the trick.

Deciding to exercise, no matter what, and following through, no matter what, paid in dividends that made it EASY to continue! There was that previously elusive quality – motivation – in abundance! I had momentum on my side, the wind at my back, and all of that. Once I was committed, the motivation was there.

I hope this makes sense to someone other than me.

So back to the novel writing, or whatever it is you’d like to do…

Sitting around waiting for motivation to strike first is like waiting for the perfect breeze on a summer day in Georgia. It may come if you’re lucky, but then again, maybe not. For the daily grind, the motivation to continue comes after active commitment to begin.

I sometimes avoid writing like the plague. Even though I love it! Once I get in a groove, I’m in it, man! Once I have written a satisfying piece, I’m overjoyed. Even in the midst of thinking my way through a piece, when things get messy and confusing, I still enjoy it. I’m excited. I’m – you guessed it – motivated!

But getting started?

Hell no.

So should I wait until I feel like it to start? Welp. Let’s just say a certain 200 page document might still be unwritten if I had only worked the days on which I was “motivated” at the outset.

But here’s the deal. Clean water won’t flow through barely used pipes until the rusty water flows first. And no water, not even dirty water, is flowing through a closed tap.

So sit down. Open the tap. That small action, that active commitment, is what (eventually) creates the motivation. Your life, like that thirst-quenching water, is simply waiting on you!

Spinning Wheels

Personal Narrative, Productivity

Let’s make big goals.
Every day, be clear about
the task at hand.
Ambiguity and ambivalence
are the cause for spinning one’s
wheels and getting nowhere.
Challenge yourself unremittingly
until you seize victory and success.

~Daisaku Ikeda, Nichiren Buddhist philosopher

Lately, I have not been clear about the tasks at hand. I have neither reviewed, revisited, nor reconsidered my goals, big or otherwise. There are certain tasks I must complete for my job, and those are easy to acknowledge and accomplish. But it’s the personal work I’ve neglected as of late. My writing. My teaching. Healing work.

I’ve let things slide.

The result? Days like today: a day in which I have the time and freedom to delve into pleasing topics, but no sense of joy because I’m rather unfocused. Haphazard. Today felt as though I were driving around in circles. I was obviously moving, but wasn’t really going anywhere.

I’ve talked a bit in recent weeks about what I’ll now call personal victory strategies (PVS). I conceive of them as strategies that work for sure. When you implement them, you are productive and are able to accomplish great things.

For various reasons, we I often engage in a bit of self sabotage. Fully aware of what works, I choose, inexplicably, to turn a blind eye and do something else!  One tried and true PVS is listing. I’ve made lists since I was a kid. In fact, I used them religiously, much to the consternation of my mother who thought I was a bit too obsessive with them.  “Are you okay?” she’d sometimes ask when she saw me brooding over yet another list.

Listing is my favorite PVS.

No one taught me to list. I simply thought of all the things I wanted to do in a given time period (hours, days, weeks, or even years), and I jotted them down. It was natural to me. I always knew exactly what to do, and I could just go do it. I’d cross things out, and when I got about half way through it, I’d rewrite it, revising as needed.

I remind myself of this particular PVS when I feel out of sorts, and after a day like today, it’s definitely time to implement it once again. Tonight and tomorrow I’ll be reviewing, revisiting, reconsidering my 2012 goals. I’ll list specific action items so I can move toward my goals with clarity and focus.

So tell me, what are some of your personal victory strategies?

In Praise of the Pomodoro Technique

Productivity, Temple Building

You might’ve seen one before – a little red timer disguised as a tomato. Well a tomato is a pomodoro, and the tomato timer is the inspiration behind the Pomodoro Technique. Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the technique is designed to make time our ally as we manage it better and become more productive.

This is a pomodoro timer. I just used the timer on my phone though.

To Do Today
“To Do” lists. We all have them. Some of them may be indescribably long. Sometimes they may simply include one item. A big item. An item that takes a week or two to complete. (Or a semester, e.g., “Complete dissertation”). At any rate, many of us set about the tasks at hand pretty clear about what we’d like to accomplish, but not going about them in a strategic way. Before we know it, time is passing and at 3 p.m. we’re wondering where noon went.

Chunking larger tasks into smaller, bite-sized pieces is invaluable. I did it to great effect to build momentum and finish said dissertation in a timely fashion. I went from feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of it all, to excited and energized every time I completed a task successfully.

Pomodoro Basics
The Pomodoro Technique takes that idea a step further. Take your same “To Do” list and figure out specifically what tasks you plan to accomplish in one day. No, seriously. Then follow these steps:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (15-30 minutes)

There are a few more rules and tips, and you can consult the .pdf cheat sheet here.

Proof in the Tomato Pudding
I tried it today. I really had to get a project done. It’s one I’ve been putting off, literally for weeks, because other things kept taking priority. But time does eventually run out and the clock was ticking. I chunked the whole project into five tasks and started the timer for “round one.” I was amazed and encouraged at how easy it was to bat away my typical distractions knowing that a break was imminent. For the same reason, I pushed myself to focus as I wanted to see at least a little progress by the time the bell rang. The cheat sheet says the “next” pomodoro will go better, and, ladies and gentlemen, the cheat sheet doesn’t lie.

Productivity begat more productivity and I was on a roll. Turns out, I chunked my tasks pretty well. The first one was most difficult, taking 4 pomodoros (2 hours) to complete. But the other tasks took one pomodoro each, with seconds to spare each time. A project that seemed to take forever, only took four hours to complete. And I still had time to check email and tweet on breaks!

Any Drawbacks?
Yes! The momentum can be tiring. It’s really important to take those “longer” breaks every two hours. You’re basically moving at top speed constantly. I would recommend mixing in all sorts of tasks so you can sort of relax in between harder ones. And by relax I mean doing something that doesn’t require as much mental work – organizing, filing, returning a call, etc. Things we do have to accomplish anyway.

At any rate, shout out to Amanda for reminding me of the technique. I heard about it years ago, but for whatever reason, chose to stick to the Nicole Technique – working for 60-90 minute blocks on long assignments, with 15-30 minute breaks. That worked fine, but I’m really glad I now have this tool in my toolbox. And now, so do you! If you try it out, please let me know how it goes for you. Happy timing!