Experiment 2: Experience Tranquility

zen

Image: Blizzard Entertainment via icy-veins.com

As I shared at the beginning of this year, I am conducting a series of 2-week self-experiments. In the first, Address Book Lottery, I connected to others. In Experiment Number 2 I have turned the focus inward.

The Experiment: Meditate once each day for 2 weeks.

Hypothesis: Daily meditation will reduce stress, improve mood, broaden perspective.

Equipment: Calm smartphone app, YouTube videos, a floor.

Following is a description of my meditation experience through present tense narrative, reflective analysis, poetry, and poop jokes. You’ve been warned.

Day 1, 10am Ok, here we go. Day 1, this is gonna be great. Headphones in, firing up the app, music is calm… Whoa, super-loud voice, too loud!

Turning down volume, that’s better, here we go. My back hurts, I never sit this straight, my foot is tingling, the poodle jumped in my lap. Focus, focus. Breathe in, breathe out.

I’ve had my eyes closed for a while. what if I were blind? Is it inappropriate to think about being blind – or to write about it? Breathe in, breathe out, in, out. I have a LOT to get done today,… this is boring… did I fall asleep? Breath in, breathe ou – wait, it’s over?

Observation: Mid-morning is distracting – too much activity. Maybe I should shift to an earlier time, and then try a little harder to “just let the thoughts pass by like clouds” tomorrow. Wait, is trying harder bad? I’m getting confused already.

Day 2, 6am. Alright, Day 2, this is gonna be great. Here’s the poodle again, hi buddy, no problem. He’s licking my fingers. I just showered, what could he possibly be licking? It’s ok, relax, breathe in, breathe out. Did I hear someone on the stairs? Did they just laugh at my puppy-and-me meditation? 

Day 3, 5pm. I just couldn’t get it done today. I felt exhausted and like a failure for not even completing three sessions in a row. I attempted again at 9pm in the high school parking lot, which felt public, dark, and awkward.

Day 4, 7am. This morning I moved to our basement laundry room for quiet and privacy. I did not prepare for the cold.

Laundry Room Meditation Haiku
Smells of dirty socks,
Toes freezing, frostbite likely,
Solution is clear.

Day 5, 6am. Ok, today I’m ready for high-quality meditation. I got up early, took a shower, walked and fed the dogs, and secured a comfortable spot in the living room. Here we go!

Crap.

Literally. There was dog poop on the floor right next to me. How did I not smell it?!? I cleaned up, sat back down, then heard a series of dings. Oh boy – 6 text message from work – I better call to sort this out. After clearing up that issue I tried to meditate again, but the magic was gone.

Day 6, 6pm. I attempted a 5-minute session while waiting in the high school parking lot, but my daughter got out early and interrupted the session 3 minutes in. Tranquility is hard.

Day 7, 8am. During this session I had a really, really great idea – a “million dollar idea” – that I completely forgot by the end of the session. Sorry, heirs.

Day 8, 2pm, Taking the meditation experiment on the road, I brought by zen to Juneau, Alaska. I attempted using a random YouTube meditation. It was terrible, but it did include this philosophical gem: “Your ears are made for hearing.”

Day 9, 6pm, After a full day of work in Juneau, I got settled at the airport preparing to meditate before the trip home. There were lots of distractions – announcements, people nearby talking. Wait – those people were in my workshop today. Should I say hello and talk to them? I was exhausted and dressed like a 90s teenager, so I did not go over and tried to avoid eye contact. I refocused on my breath, and then… “Welcome to Flight 66 to Seattle…”

Day 10, 9am, Today I tried ambient sounds only (no guide) for 15 minutes, and it felt pretty great. I had visions of outer space in the midst of the session, which helps me with perspective. Today’s list of tasks feels less daunting when compared to our eventual demise from a supernova.

Observation: Over the last couple days I noticed how the Hawthorne Effect is affecting me. One the first things I think about during meditation is writing these post-session reflections, which obviously must alter the results. Time to kiss that honorary Ph.D. goodbye.

Day 11, 9am. I was very distracted today, so I started counting my breaths from 1 to 10, and then started again. Once I hit 43 before realizing I’d forgotten to start over. Counting is hard.

Day 12, N/A. I literally forgot.

Day 13, 9am. Today I was joined by Otis, the feline master of our domain. He entered the room wailing the sound of painful death. He was not dying, but rather hungry or bored or he noticed I was sitting on his favorite piece of carpet.

Day 14, 5pm. I had a little epiphany while thinking about the past 2 weeks. Alongside purposeful meditation, I’ve found myself pausing more often – sometimes only for a few seconds – throughout the day. This evening I approached a traffic signal changing from green to yellow to red, and instead of cursing my bad luck, I welcomed the 90-second break in the day. A red light meditation.

Breathe in, breathe out.

rocks

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, joseph140178

Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery

rolodexI’m planning a series of experiments aimed at attempting new daily practices, learning new skills, and finishing uncompleted projects.

The first experiment of the year is simple: E-mail 50 randomly-selected people from my address book and see what happens.

Choosing an address book. I’ve been a professional for 18 years, and in that time I’ve worked a number of different jobs. I’ve done a good job transitioning my address book each time. More recently, though, my contact list has become fractured among Outlook, Gmail, social media apps, and my phone. For the sake of choosing something, I went with my Outlook Contacts – a list I started in 1999 and currently includes 1,181 people.

Selecting 50 people. The next step was identifying the random 50 people to email. For this task I used this random number generator: http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/. A few interesting things came out of the randomized subset:

  • Three of my direct-reporting employees were part of the 50. To avoid “obligation to the boss” awkwardness, I removed them.
  • One selected contact was a name with no e-mail address, so I replaced it with the next contact on the list.
  • One was a deceased business contact. I remembered him fondly, and then added the next name.

The email. I chose my current business email address (instead of my personal Gmail) for this effort. First, that is how I met many of these people, and they may recognize it. Also, I think a corporate address is less likely to go straight to an automated spam folder.

At this stage I was nervous that this will come off as creepy or a sales call or both.

Hi,

I realize this email may seem a little weird.

As I begin 2017, instead of developing a year-long resolution, I’m trying a series of 2-week experiments. Some will be health-related (working out daily, eliminating sugar); others will be habits (meditating daily, reading fiction each night); and some just weird ideas (wear the same jeans for 2 weeks, learn the ukulele).

My first experiment is in the “weird idea” category: Contact a random subset of 50 people from my address book and track the results. I anticipate some emails will be undeliverable, recipients won’t remember me, and some will just choose not to respond. But I hope in some cases I’ll get to revisit old stories, revive a few connections, and maybe spark some interesting email discussion. (I also realize that, in some cases, we just talked last month or even yesterday – that’s part of the fun, too!)

Letting “the universe” or “God” or “mathematics” choose the initial recipients is part of the fun, and you have literally been randomly selected. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear from you. Where are you living, what kind of activities are you enjoying, and – most importantly – what are you passionate about in 2017?

Thanks for considering, and I hope you have an amazing year!

Brian

At 6pm on January 3, 2017, I sent the email to the 50 randomly-selected contacts. And then I waited. Will anyone respond? Will some think I’m a moron? Was this a bad idea?

The numbers

  • 15 bounced back immediately as undeliverable. 30% of my randomly-selected contact list was effectively useless? Yikes.
  • 2 responded that evening.
  • 6 responded the next day.
  • 3 responded over the course of the next couple weeks, including the final response 15 days after receipt.

As of this writing, I received a total of 11 responses, which (after factoring in the undeliverables) is a 31% response rate of those who presumably received the email. Not bad for a random note with no real subject. Respondents included customers who I’d spoken with a few days before, a person I had met once at a conference 10 years ago, and my father – Hi, Dad. (I kept other identities confidential, and I’ll note here that I didn’t use any of my dad’s response in the content below.)

Responses. I was blown away by the information shared with me, given that in most cases our relationship could be considered past its “best by” date. Respondents, some of whom didn’t even really remember me, shared their life struggles, relationship problems, victories and defeats, and goals for the future. Many shared with me recent successes in health and business, and relayed to me their hopes and dreams for 2017 and beyond. Responses came from every region of the country. Here are a few sound bytes from the emails received:

  • From what I remember about you, you were skinny and recently married and young.
  • I’m going to be passionate about my family’s health and not just physical, but spiritual health.
  • I’m on sabbatical this year and enjoying seeing new things and travelling around the world.
  • Travel is in my weekly budget and chances are, if a friend asks me to visit, I’ll book it immediately.
  • Thanks I felt like I won the lottery.
  • Yes, weirdest email I have received in 2017.

In the end, it was a fun experiment that put me back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in some time, and I’d recommend giving it a try.

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, flic.kr/p/4MLzSY

2017: The Experiment

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The Problem: I have approximately 17 million ideas that I typically don’t follow through to completion. Instead, I spend much of my life in the daily loop of tasking, numbing, and tasking.

The Idea: Live 2017 as a series of two-week experiments.

I intend to try new things, and I even start some of them, but I habitually get bogged down in the middle. I have a deep love for beginnings, so part of this is series of experiments is to give myself something new every two weeks – a year of beginnings!

Experiments may include daily practices (cold exposure, meditation); finishing partly-done projects (board game, website); learning new skills (Spanish, ukulele, javascript); removing a habit (coffee, social media); or weird ideas just for fun (wear the same outfit every day, watch every Spielberg film).

In some cases I may love the “new thing” and want to continue it. That’s fine, but it will be important that I don’t require myself to stack experiments. If I’m learning Spanish or Elvish (both potentials for this year), I want the freedom to skip meditation sessions or eat red meat or check Twitter 37 times a day.

I hesitate to claim any goal or purpose to this little game, but if there is one, it’s to learn a little bit more about myself and how I respond to trying something new.

Photo courtesy of Keene Public Library, Elliott Community Hospital, https://flic.kr/p/4HjgpY

Is this heaven? No, it’s Gotcha

(I gotcha02ran across a Halloween essay I wrote in 2009 – seemed like a good day to dust it off and re-post).
My favorite part of Halloween in Columbia, Missouri, is trick-or-treating downtown. And the highlight of the evening is always a visit to Gotcha.
 
Gotcha is a costume shop in downtown Columbia, owned and operated by a gentleman I’ve only known as “Arrow,” along with his family. As one might imagine, the shop is extremely busy on October 31, as college students and others are completing their outfits for upcoming parties. Here’s the scene:
 
We walk into Gotcha, fighting the crowd a little to get in the door.
 
Arrow yells, “Make way for the important people!” in reference to Blake and Madilyn as he makes the 30 paying customers in line scoot back two steps to make room.
 
“Hey, it’s Bumblebee and Hermione!” (note: the kids were mis-identified as a Power Ranger and Harry Potter in most of the other stores) “Come get some candy! Happy Halloween!”
 
At this point it is important to define “candy” the way Gotcha defines “candy.” We are not talking about Tootsie Rolls or Smarties or half-bite-snack-size Snickers. The kids’ eyes opened wide as they giggled at a basket full of KING SIZE CANDY BARS. Blake grabbed M&Ms. Madilyn beamed at her choice: a 4-pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
 
In a world where kids (particularly once they grow past the cute baby and toddler stages) are typically vilified, ignored, or – at best – tolerated, my children were celebrated as the IMPORTANT PEOPLE by a store owner who surely had much more important things to do on his most profitable day of the year. For 2 minutes they were the stars of the show.
 
This “let the children come to me” selflessness surprised and overwhelmed me. But why? Had I previously thought (and been taught) that love and acceptance were reserved for more “Christian” environments like home or church? Am I surprised that my kids are cared for in a downtown costume shop? Is the lavish generosity of chocolate somehow different than from God’s gift of grace?
 
I’m not sure about answers to any of those questions, but I do know this: My children were adored this Halloween, not at a church-sponsored, anti-ghoul Fall Festival, but among the plastic vomit, fake blood, and half-drunk-half-naked college students at Gotcha. It was unconditional love at its finest, and I’m grateful for it.