Jul 12

Grocery Run

Sometimes, I take a drive to the grocery store on Sunday nights.

The radio is off. The window is open. The roads are empty.

If I am lucky with my timing, the weather is nice and the sun is setting.

I arrive at the grocery store and park in the parking lot. The lot is in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by trees. There are tall lamp posts shining halogen light on the ground.

A few people go into the store. They pick up abandoned carts along the way.

A few people come out of the store. They have bags in hand or they push their carts to their cars.

The air in the store is cold. The aisles are empty. There is space to walk around.

I pick up my items and head to the checkout line. I make my purchase, walk to my car and head home.

I feel the warm air coming in through the window, as I drive down my street.

My Sunday grocery runs are brief moments of calm. I would have never expected to find it going to buy groceries. But it is there.

If I can find it there, where else can I find it? More than likely, everywhere.

No beach required. I don’t have to start listening to New Age.

I just have to continue recognizing these calm moments in my life that happen naturally.

Jul 12

It Has Been a Long Time

I started this blog 3 years ago. I took a break. It ended up lasting a full year.

I have missed writing about rationality and mindfulness. I have missed thinking about them both too.

I am sure that I have used both skills throughout the past year. But since I have not shone the light on either one by writing about them, I feel as if I have not. Or at least, I have not used them to their (or my) full potential.

Coming back to Rational Focus has brought back good memories. Good feelings.

And I am coming back to it at one of the busiest times in my life.

Perhaps, that is the best time to come back. When everything around me is moving so quickly, maybe Rational Focus can be the place where I can move slowly.

Hopefully, it can be the place where you can move slowly too.

Jul 11

Rational Focus (Year Two)

This Wednesday, July 13 2011, will be the two year anniversary of the start of this blog.

I have kept the tradition of posting every Monday for the past two years. I attempted to change the schedule last year, but I failed. I could not bring myself to break the chain.

I am going to attempt to break it this year.

In “Ending Meditation“, I said that forcing myself to meditate everyday made the practice boring. I did not mention another problem that I had with keeping to a schedule.

It obfuscated the purpose.

Not only was I meditating because I had the desire to learn more about my thoughts, I was meditating because I did not want to break the chain.

This is the same problem that I am having with posting every Monday.

Am I posting because I have something to say, or am I posting to just be consistent?

Breaking the chain will be a good thing. It will put my interest in rationality and mindfulness to the test.

For the past two years, I have felt like rationality and mindfulness have really spoken to me. Has this been just because I have been writing about them? Or am I writing about them because they speak to me.

We shall see.

Jul 11

Two Paths to Simplicity

I had an interesting discussion with a friend over the weekend.

I was trying to solve a problem with some software I was writing. I explained to him how I was attempting to do it.

He laughed.

He thought the way I was trying to solve the problem was way too complicated. He said that I should do it in a different way.

After about 15 minutes of debate, we came to the realization that both ways were legitimate ways to solve the problem. Both had positive and negative attributes.

The debate boiled down to a universal dichotomy in the path towards simplicity:

1. Start with something. Start taking away the unnecessary parts. Reach simplicity.

2. Start with nothing. Start adding only what is necessary. Reach simplicity.

My buddy was favoring number 1. I was favoring number 2.

To his point: I had almost all of the software written already. I could leverage that to solve my issue.

Towards my point: if I did things his way, I would not be able to know all the possible ways to solve the issue. I was trying to come up with the ultimate solution.

As it turns out, I came up with the algorithm to solve the issue using technique number 2, but it took way too long to run. So, I went with a solution based on number 1. And it seems to be working great.

When the rubber hit the road, number 1 won out over number 2. Is it always like that? Can you ever really start with nothing then only add the necessary parts?

It all depends on the situation. I think there are cases when you have a fresh start, a clean slate. And there are cases when you don’t have that luxury.

The point is to recognize when you are going down path number 1 or path number 2. Recognize when one path is not working. Understand that there are other options.

The choice to switch paths will always be up to you.

Jun 11


For as long as I can remember, I have studied people.

I try to guess at what people are thinking. I try to understand what drives them to do what they do.

What does their body language say about their personality? Are they the most powerful one in the group? Why is that guy feeling that way? And all kinds of other questions …

After a while of doing all this observing, I end up identifying character traits that I like (and ones that I don’t).

Recently, I have noticed that some of the character traits that I admire all can be categorized under the term integrity.

It is an ambiguous word. Stanford has a long article describing 8 different ways one could define it. Self-integration, identity, standing up for something, moral purpose, virtue, intellectual, artistic, etc.

The first interpretation speaks to me the most: integrity is “keeping the self intact and uncorrupted” through “strength of will”. Keeping the self uncorrupted reminds me of the purification of the mind that I talked about in this post.

Simplicity. Efficiency. Occam’s Razor. … Integrity.

I see integrity in scientists I admire.

They stick to the principles of rationality and science. It may be easier for them to let doubts or worries influence their judgement away from reality, but through strength of will, they fight the temptations.

They follow the rules of logic and rational thought in the attempt to achieve a full understanding of reality.

Jun 11

Ending Meditation

I have stopped meditating after three months of daily sessions.

I meditated for 5 minutes each day during the first two weeks. I increased the time to 10 minutes and I kept that up for a month and a half. Then, I tried to increase the time to 20 minutes, but that did not last long. After about 4 days, I went down to 15 minutes and stayed that way until I stopped meditating altogether.

For the past two weeks, I was just not feeling it. The log I was keeping showed that too.

I rated each session with a number 0 through 5. 0 meant that the session was awful. 5 meant that the session was excellent. I based my rating simply on the feeling that I had about it a few minutes afterwards.

The first two months, I had a weekly average of 1.43 or higher. That means that my sessions, on average, were decent to good. Sometimes I had an excellent feeling about meditating that day. Some days I felt like the session was awful. But on average, they were all pretty good.

But in the last month, the average dropped down to 1.29, 1.00, 0.71 and finally 0.43. They were trending towards awful.

I believe that the routine of doing it everyday for a set time made meditating boring. I was too consistent. So, I stopped.

My overall goal was to remove as much delusion as I could by studying my mental activities. I did not remove any delusion, but I definitely studied my mental activities.

I came up with a list of guidelines for myself while meditating that have carried over to my normal life. With the most enlightening rule being “Don’t reject anything”.

I reject a countless number of thoughts. I was very surprised to realize that. And I am still surprised at times when I realize that I am immediately rejecting some other new thought.

I would say that realization falls under the “insight” category. I definitely felt that sense of distance that I mentioned in my “attitude” goal. Unfortunately, I did not improve my “attention” very much.

I learned a lot. Meditating really gave me a different perspective on everything.

I am going to try to continue to recognize thoughts that I reject. I am going to try to continue to feel that sense of space between thoughts.

And I suspect that this will not be the last time I meditate.

Jun 11

Science and Beauty

Beauty and Science

xkcd's take on beauty and science

Jun 11

Traffic Again

I guess I do a lot of thinking while I am in traffic, so that is why I write about it so often. Today, I had a good experience with it.

I was sitting in traffic this afternoon and a lesson from meditation came to me. I realized that I was not fully understanding where I was because I was attempting to reject the situation.

It is hard for me to describe the meaning of “fully understanding where I was”. I have heard mindfulness/meditation experts talk about fully being in the present moment. But I am now just beginning to understand what they mean.

Once I recognized my immediate rejection of the fact that I was sitting in traffic, I was able to visualize the situation without my immediate rejection.

I had a more objective point of view. And it was a pleasant feeling. I felt empowered.

I started noticing what color the cars were in front of me. I saw how the leaves on the trees were a deeper green because there were dark clouds above.

At that point, I felt like I had a choice between sitting in traffic feeling upset or sitting in traffic trying to reach a better understanding of everything.

That distance is showing up in my everyday life.

May 11

Meditation and Mindfulness, Naturally

I have been talking about meditation a lot recently. I want to make sure that I don’t lose sight of the difference between meditation and mindfulness. I have slightly modified my previous opinion on when to use each word.

Meditation (at least the kind that I practice) is when you sit still and concentrate on your breath. It is concentrated mindfulness.

Mindfulness is when you think of nothing other than the present moment. The color of the sky. The way your body is positioned. The smell of dinner cooking. Et cetera.

I have found that I am more mindful immediately after meditating. But you don’t have to meditate in order to be mindful. It is just good practice.

I think it is safe to say that meditation is not something that would naturally occur to someone. A person sitting down and doing nothing but thinking about his or her breath for long periods of time is not a person in their natural state.

Mindfulness is a different story. I have not determined if it is a natural thing to do or not. It does not come naturally to me. It could be because mindfulness just doesn’t come natural to anyone, but I doubt that. More than likely, I have built up years of habits in my thoughts that keep me away from mindfulness.

What does a child do? From what I can tell, they observe everything with a complete sense of wonder. They are less likely to be filled with worries about the future or to reminisce about the past. They seem to live in the present moment. But at the same time, a child is filled with imagination. Their minds are off in distant lands, flying in the sky, or riding ponies (or whatever it is they think of).

So, I am going to say that meditation is definitely not a natural thing to do. Mindfulness is natural but it is not the only way to think. Like most everything, there is a balance.

You need mindfulness in your life, just not all the time.

May 11

A Snake Under My Feet

While meditating today, I imagined that a snake slithered under my feet. I imagined myself getting up and stomping on its head.

I knew that I was just imagining the whole scenario. It was a distant picture in my head.

But I still felt a slight bit of fear from the thoughts that I had. The fear did not come from the potential of a snake actually moving under my feet. It only came from those pictures I had in my head.

My thoughts had manufactured emotions in me.

Continue reading →