Sunday, December 27, 2009

Embracing Serendipity

Often, life’s richness lies in its serendipitous moments. Failure to be open to such moments, or to note them when they occur, becomes a loss.

Serendipity may, in part, be a function of the connections we make in our daily lives, a function of all the silk our experiences spin and cast across the web comprising our intersections with others. One reason social networking has become so popular on the Internet is, I believe, due to the acceleration of serendipitous experiences possible when so many people interact.

How does one measure serendipity? Is it in terms of how large, or how great, or how impressive the experience is? I think not.

My experience of serendipity has been that when it occurs, the response to it is one of delight. In other words, serendipity is delightful - full of delight.

Just now, I had such an experience.

I had found my way to the web page of Dr. Marsha Lucas, a neuro-psychologist who has incorporated mindfulness into her work. I enjoyed what she had to say, and then clicked on a link to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. The center has a download page for guided mindfulness meditations. Also on the download page, I saw a link for something called a “mindful clock.” I was curious, and clicked on the link.

I was taken to a page, which explained the mindful clock was a bell that could sound hourly, or every 15 minutes, or at random. Also, that I could choose between a traditional Tibetan sound or a Westminster chime. (The page also has a newcomers link for the Washington Mindfulness Center.)

Now mindfulness is an interest of mine, and a practice that I undertake intermittently, much to my detriment. While not sure whether the mindful clock would help, I downloaded and installed it on my computer, and set it for the Tibetan bell to sound every 15 minutes.

Serendipity came at the 45 minute mark when I realized this simple sound, echoing through my speakers as only a Tibetan bowl can when it’s struck, gave me the chance to pause, and to take two or three mindful breaths every time it sounded.

The serendipity also lay in how pleasant it was to take this very brief break, and then to return, mindfully, to my work. I was surprised that the breaks were not interpreted by my mind as interruptions, but rather as a revitalization, a recreation in the sense of re-creating my self in a mindful manner.

Another feature of the mindful clock I look forward to trying is the countdown clock which can be set for any timed period of meditation or other activity. Given that one of my goals for the new year is to meditate daily for longer periods, this feature added to my sense of overall delight.

Embrace the sensitivities that arise in your day, and note them. Another reason for keeping a pocket notebook.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's in a Notebook?

A day after I started this blog, an acquaintance said to me, "So, what's the big deal about your notebook?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, thinking he wanted to know what I'd write about on my blog.

"Unless you're taking notes on something, your notebook is just a place to put shopping lists and stuff," he said. "And since you're not a reporter anymore, and you're not taking any courses anywhere,why the fuss?"

I thought it was a good question.

First, I told him the name of my blog was to give people a sense that my topics could be anything under the sun.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you were going to write about your notebook and what you put in it."

So the second thing I told him was indeed that was part of my plan.

I explained one doesn't need to be a working journalist or a student to have a notebook that is much more than reminders of what to bring home from the market.

I asked him if he had ever heard of David Allen's book Getting Things Done. He had, and said he even belonged to a Yahoo group called GTD.

"Well, you might know then that some people, rather than have a Blackberry use notebooks for managing their use of Allen's GTD," I said. "In fact, some people create indexes and put plastic tabs on the pages of their pocket notebooks. Sometimes I do that with my Moleskines."

He wanted to know why these people wouldn't just buy a ready-made date book from the store. When I asked him to answer his own question, he got full marks: "I guess you couldn't set up the way you want it."

This conversation got me thinking about the various ways I use my pocket notebooks.

Having been a journalist, and now a therapist, my ear is always open for interesting tidbits of conversation from people around me. I may hear a phrase or sentence in which the person has expressed themselves in a unique way. Having a notebook with me lets me capture quotes, so I don't forget what I have heard.

Or, the conversation of others may lead to new ideas, or insights. If I don't write down what I hear, chances are it'll get forgotten. Over the years, I've had countless ideas for stories, things to do, and therapy interventions that came from overhearing the people around me.

But a notebook is like a camera, and that means to benefit from it you need to observe with your eyes as well as your ears. Often I write brief notes about what people are doing around me, or a scene that strikes my curiosity. It doesn't have to be anything fancy schmancy - simply something that seems to me a little out of the ordinary.

Because of my notebook, I'm probably more observant today than if I hadn't spent the last 40 years carrying notebooks and pens.

And I think this habit has helped me to have a more diverse web of connected tidbits of information and thoughts that often have thrown something useful up from my subconscious mind - many times when I least expected it.

After the chat I had with my friend about notebooks, he realized my interest goes beyond just what may be put into a notebook, and includes the ways people have found to benefit from their pen and paper.

Even in a supposedly digital age.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Jew Reflects on Christmas

One of the real gentlemen on Twitter is a guy by the name of Shel Israel. He's a writer, and if you're around social media much you may be familiar with his recent book,Twitterville: How Business Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhood.

So I was interested when he mentioned on Twitter that he had written a post about Christmas from a Jewish perspective. I thought it would be good, having observed Shel to be a thoughtful and gentle person. I wasn't disappointed.

In his blog post, A Jewish View of Christmas,Shel writes of the ambivalence he felt about Christmas as a 1950's era Jewish kid growing up in a very Christian neighborhood. He says Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, "seemed pale in the shadow of all that Christmas glitter of tinsel and bright blinking bulbs," which seemed to be everywhere.

"Christmas was a source of huge confusion for me as a boy and teenager," he says. Now 65, just a few years older than I, he's managed to catch the essence of the Christmas message of "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men."

Two things make Christmas special for Shel. One is the big thought, that meta-dream of peace and goodwill among the many people who live on our Earth.

And the second, is about Paula, his wife of the last several years, "and of how she catches the season's joy as if it were something contagious."

Shel ends his post with a wish that I share with him heartily: "Happy holidays, whichever you choose to observe, and may the New Year bring all of us closer to peace on Earth."

Do visit Shel's blog, Global Neighbourhoods: Following Social Media Wherever It Leads, and read his complete post.

Naked Without My Notebook

Have you ever wondered about people who never seem to have paper or a pen with them?

I'd feel naked if I left home without my Moleskine reporter's notebook stuck in my hip pocket, and a couple of pens. Maybe it's just a habit I learned when I start working for my first newspaper at age 19.

Through the years, countless ideas, quotations, and names and phone numbers have found their way into my notes. One of my cheap pleasures is to sit in a coffee shop and write.

The notebook habit is helpful for anyone. You don't have to be a journalist to benefit.

So much emphasis these days is placed on creativity, on training the brain. Some of this emphasis comes from the fact we live in an increasingly competitive society in which creativity and fast thinking gives a person an extra edge, a leg up on the competition. But some of it comes also from what's been learned in recent years about the brain's plasticity - its ability to lay down new neuronal pathways, and even to grow new cells.

My belief is that the habit of carrying a notebook and a couple of pens (two, in case one runs out of ink) leads to the habit of writing more often, of being observant. Since the acts of observing, thinking, and writing lead to new ways of seeing and interacting with the world around, naturally creativity seems to grow.

Maybe the best - and most basic - resolution one can make for the coming year is to start carrying a notebook and using it. And if you're one who already does, resolve to use it more often.

Keep this resolution and 2010 will be more creative, enjoyable, and profitable.

Recovering Sacred Meanings

We're well into Chanukah, and I hope you're allowing this special time to nurture your minds and spirits. As I wrote on my other blog, Exuberant Eclectic,there's a risk of losing the meaning of either Chanukah or Christmas when the emphasis veers away from their spiritual, to be replaced by commercialism.

Jews especially will find two favorite books of mine a good read at this time year. In fact, dipping into Soul Judaism and A Letter in the Scroll, makes it easy to recover some of the sacredness that gets lost in everyday life. These books may be of interest to secular, as well as to observant, Jews.

Read, enjoy, and keep a notebook handy to capture your thoughts and feelings.