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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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Mind and Spirit

Solve problems by writing a note to yourself

Dear, Merlin,

For someone so fond of lecturing other people about their problems, I have a lot of annoying tics (I mean, duh). One of my worst, at least back in the day, was seldom bothering to RTFM before demanding lots of time-consuming help from others.

For years, my court of first resort was almost always to email the smartest, often busiest person I knew about a given topic, alerting them as to their new role as the speed bump between me and solving my problem (cf: the classic Balloon joke). I've gotten better at it over the years, for sure, and, in the age of Google, it's a habit that's easy enough to shed.

The funny thing I eventually realized was that I could and often did find the solution to my problem -- part way through writing the email in which I was asking for help. I realize this sounds kind of silly, but the next time you're having trouble figuring something out, try writing a note to yourself.

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Looking back at our fresh starts & modest changes

Fresh Starts & Modest Changes

Henry David ThoreauEarlier this month I began a short series of posts and podcasts called "Fresh Starts & Modest Changes." It was meant as an antidote to the pressure that many of us feel to upend our lives with poorly thought-out new year's resolutions. The idea was to get you thinking less about the unlikelihood of success in mounting sudden, ginormous change, and more to suggest some subtle adjustments for making life just a bit more pleasant, productive, and your own. Tweaking as you go, instead of trying to treat your mind like some kind of a microwavable corn dog.

We're getting to the end of the month now, so I wanted to wrap up with a few thoughts on the value of small changes, but I'd also love to hear about any of your own fresh starts and modest changes -- particularly hoping you'll share the ways you've had the best success keeping on track with the adjustments you've chosen to make.

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Actors & Memory

Association for Psychological Science: 'To be or, or ... um ... line!'

Given my own undependable memory and the hand-hewn props I rely upon to shore it up, I was intrigued by this article/press release from last year on how actors are able to remember their lines (via BB):

According to the researchers, the secret of actors' memories is, well, acting. An actor acquires lines readily by focusing not on the words of the script, but on those words' meaning — the moment-to-moment motivations of the character saying them — as well as on the physical and emotional dimensions of their performance.

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BBC: "I want to shoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oot...the whole day down..."

BBC NEWS | UK | 'I don't like Monday 24 January'

A "part-time tutor" in Wales has derived a formula which suggests that today (January 24th) is the empirically most depressing day of the year. Spake the science:

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Fresh Start: Replace one project

If you don't have one already, draw up a list of all the projects that are on your radar screen right now -- all the active or dormant projects that will require some kind of task work (or even just mental bandwidth) by the end of this month. If you're doing Getting Things Done, you probably already have a list like this, but it might not hurt to just grab a piece of paper and do a fresh "mini-dump" of all the obligations and outcomes that are squatting on the edges of your brainpan.

Study your list, and think about the real value of everything you've theoretically undertaken. Any of these apply...?

  • something I feel obligated to do (but have no real interest in ever doing)
  • something that stalled long ago and could easily be removed
  • something that takes massive amounts of fuss for consistently annoying results
  • something I haven't seriously thought through yet
  • something potentially interesting that's very poorly defined right now
  • something I can't really do anything about for a while
  • something that's been on my lists so long that I just keep it out of sentimentality
  • something I could, quite frankly, just not care any less about

Got it? Good. Surprised at how much you actually have on your mind? You ain't alone, sister.

Okay, so now set that list down, and grab a fresh sheet of paper.

Without thinking too deeply about it, start jotting down all the things you'd love to be starting right now. Be reasonable; this isn't about fantasies of unassisted flight or basement alchemy so much as garden-variety growth, development, and fun. What are the things that, given the proper focus and time, would bring you the most satisfaction for the time you spend on it -- or could serve as a bridge to achieving higher aspirations you've been smacking down because you're "too busy" with other stuff?

Good candidates:

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Zencast: Basic Buddhism Podcast

Zencast [Zencast 33 - Basic Buddhism 1]

The very swell Zencast podcast series' latest entry is on Basic Buddhism. Just listening to it right now, but so far it seems like a good introduction.

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Jack Kornfield on mindfulness

FINDING MY RELIGION / Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield on mindfulness, happiness and his own spiritual journey

SF Gate interviews Bay Area meditation teacher Jack Kornfield:

What is mindfulness and why is it important?

Mindfulness is an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it.

Much of our day we spend on automatic pilot. People know the experience of driving somewhere, pulling up to the curb and all of a sudden realizing, "Wow, I was hardly aware I was even driving. How did I get here?" When we pay attention, it is gracious, which means that there is space for our joys and sorrows, our pain and losses, all to be held in a peaceful way...

For many people, happiness is about chasing after something -- a new car, a promotion, a trip to Bermuda. But when they get it they aren't satisfied. They want more. Why do you think that happens?

I'll tell you a story. A reporter was asking the Dalai Lama on his recent visit to Washington, "You have written this book, 'The Art of Happiness,' which was on the best-seller list for two years -- could you please tell me and my readers about the happiest moment of your life?" And the Dalai Lama smiled and said, "I think now!"

Happiness isn't about getting something in the future. Happiness is the capacity to open the heart and eyes and spirit and be where we are and find happiness in the midst of it. Even in the place of difficulty, there is a kind of happiness that comes if we've been compassionate, that can help us through it. So it's different than pleasure, and it's different than chasing after something.

Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock and is the author of many books, including A Path with Heart -- I haven't read it yet, but it's been recommended to me by several people as a sensible introduction to meditation and a spiritual path.

[ via Ms. Stiness ]

Un-alarming timers for meditation and the (10+2)*5 hack

If you're a beginning meditator, you may share my distraction of sometimes wondering "How long have I been doing this?" It's easy (and desirable) to lose track of time, but it can be worrisome if you need to be someplace later and are nervous about falling sleep or the like.

Commentor Ruth recently pointed us to Zencast, a site that does podcasts on Meditation, including an introduction to meditation series. Haven't listened to any of these yet, but I was pleased to notice that their first three shows of the podcast are just "timers" for meditating.

Each is an MP3 of 10, 20, or 30 minutes in length, and they each consist of a "Music for Airports"-like wash of ambient music at the beginning and end of the session and just silence in-between. The 20- and 30-minute versions also feature unobtrusive tones at 10 and 15 minutes respectively. Handy way to get time off your mind (a meditation hack?).

In a similar vein, don't miss Hernick's alarm-free MP3 for running the (10+2)*5 hack. As he says over on the board:

But syncing myself to a alarm? Urgh. Painful stuff. I hate buzzers.

So I invoked the power of Open Source: I fired up Hydrogen, a drum machine.

I laid down 12 minutes of beats; the beats synchronise you to the hack.

Both the mediation timers and the Dash tune are clever ways of having alarms without actually having alarms.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »