Quiet is good

Long walk, down a country road…

I’ve had a very quiet few days… when I’ve been at home, that is.

This past week has been crAYzy, and I’ve spent my time at home relaxing and just enjoying the quiet.

Interestingly, these days, I don’t have much interest in going online, when I’m not at work. I think it’s about just being all maxed-out with the computer — all day, every day — and really enjoying not having to type anything…. or be in front of a humming electronic box, when I don’t have to.

So, I’ve been spending time reading and thinking… sketching out some ideas I’ve been having, and just working through a lot of logical problems in my head.

That’s my new thing — exercising my brain on “problems” I invent, and then try to solve. Some of the problems are very practical and everyday — like, how best to organize people at work to get all the jobs done, without completely frying their systems. Some of the problems are very abstract — like, what do we really experience, and how do we know what we know?

It’s good practice for me. And it gets me thinking in all new ways.

It keeps me honest and it keeps me humble. And it also keeps me on my toes and reminds me to take care of myself and my brain. I tend to wear myself out a bit, when I think too much about things.

That’s another thing I’m working on — patterns of thinking that move me forward, instead of wearing me out. What’s the best “cadence” for me? How do I best function? When is the best time of day for me to “do thinking”, and how can I organize my day, so that I can put my brain to work on different problems, and still have a life?

I think I have some good ideas around this. I pace myself. I also think up to a certain point, then step away and do something completely different. Like today — I read about a new type of computing, and then I cleaned the bathrooms. My spouse has mobility issues and cannot get down to floor level, or lean over to clean under the commode basins, so that was my “quest” for this morning. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on the task, because I have really bad recollections of being forced to clean toilets when I was a kid, and I am also sensitive to the cleaning supplies. So, I worked as quickly and as efficiently as I could, and I was done.

And then my mind was clear again to go back to what I was reading before, and come at it from a new angle.

Now I’ve been reading and researching and thinking for another half hour and it’s time to go for my long walk again. I walked for 2 hours yesterday, and I got some great ideas, along the way.

Time to walk again — this time in a different direction. Who knows what will come to me then?

And this afternoon, while I have the house to myself, I’ll take a nap, then get up and do some chores… make some supper… and get a good night’s sleep.

I’ve got a good cadence going. Last night I actually got in bed before 11:00 p.m., and I got over 8 hours of sleep.

It’s amazing what a little balance will do for you. That, and exercise.

Onward.

Re-learning how to learn

So, I’m studying up on new technologies, and I’m very excited about my prospects. It’s going differently than it was, 20 years ago, when I first got into this line of work. A lot has changed, since I first learned to code — the technologies, the complexity, the principles, and especially how my brain works.

Things are so much more complicated than they were before.

It’s nuts.

And I have to find new ways of learning, that are very, very different from how they were before.

Once upon a time, I could sit down with a book, read through the principles, and then put them into practice.

Nowadays that just doesn’t work for me anymore. I think it has a lot to do with my memory — I cannot retain things the same way I used to — they just disappear after a relatively short while. Now I need to practice what I read, make a ton of mistakes, practice doing things about five different ways, hunt around for answers online about why things aren’t working, and then try new things out a bunch of times, until it all makes sense to me.

It’s a lot more winding and convoluted, and it takes a lot more work.

But that’s how it has to be.

I’m actually really relieved to have discovered this new necessity. For years, I really struggled with learning new things, because I was going about them the wrong way. I was going about them the old way. Back in the day, I could take things step by step, and go about them in an orderly fashion, with each logical step following the last. Nowadays, it’s a much more roundabout route. I have to not only read, but also do — and do and do — until I get it.

And it takes me a lot longer to get it.

And even when I do get it, I forget it.

And then I have to start all over again.

Looking back at the code I wrote 5 years ago, I am impressed by how much I was doing, and the ideas I had for projects. But I can also see how my brain was definitely limited in its thinking. I didn’t have the range that I have now.  I would get fixated on specific topics, specific features of my projects, and I could not think in larger terms with a variety of scenarios. I would find one thing to think about, and I would only think about that – for weeks and months. And I would neglect the other areas — and really limit my overall problem-solving skills.

The other thing that amazes me, is how convoluted my coding was – I mean, I had the basic logic in place, but it was not streamlined like my coding is now. Writing different programs, I had a lot of “fluff” in there that I really didn’t need, but I thought it was all so important.

Now that I’m coding again, I can see how to do things differently — more efficiently. And even if my current projects don’t turn into anything much, it will still pay off in a very big way, just training my brain to handle things differently — be more logical, more efficient, and better at learning.

Another missing piece is found — It’s not that I can’t learn.

It’s that I need to learn in completely different ways. I need to not only read and expect to retain. I need to read and then do and then mess up and fix what I’ve broken, and then start again from scratch.

Until I get it.

Because eventually, I will.

So, onward.

Calming it down, one breath at a time

When it’s all coming at you…

Got 8 hours of sleep last night — actually, I ran out of steam about 9:30 and lay down on the couch while my spouse was watching t.v., and slept till about 10:45. Then I woke up and watched a little t.v. … and went to bed at 11:30. Woke up at 6:30, so that gives me 7 continuous hours (not bad, compared to how I’ve been doing lately) plus a little over an hour, for 8 hours total.

I know I’m supposed to get 8 hours of continuous, restful sleep, but please. Life is just not the sort of experience right now that lends itself to total relaxation and restful sleep. I’ll be happy with what I can get, and try to not sabotage myself this weekend. I’ve got some travel going on this afternoon and evening, so it may be tough to get enough sleep, but I can always nap in the afternoon, I suppose. Maybe…

Anyway, I got up this morning and did my breathing exercises. When I first started doing this regularly, several months back, I tried to focus only on my breath — put everything else out of my mind, and just focus my full attention on the in-breath and out-breath. Okay, that’s good, but eventually I found my mind wandering and flitting about wherever it chose. I kept the breathing steady, but my mind was all over the place.

I was feeling sort of bad about that, thinking I was failing at this, not being able to keep my mind focused… but then it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty useful for all this “stuff” to be coming to mind while I’m doing my breathing.

See, here’s the thing — this steady, deep breathing calms me down physically. It slows my heart rate and really helps tone down the stress that’s going on with me. It also fills me – when I get to the zone – with a sense of well-being and calm that I can’t get anywhere else in my life.

So, when all this “stuff” starts getting riled up in me, when I think about it, I can feel my breathing speed up and my heart rate too. But when that happens, I can consciously slow my breathing, and get my heart rate down, and I can change my stress level while I’m thinking about this stuff, to something that’s way less than it is, when I’m just thinking/spinning about it and not doing anything about the quality of my experience.

When I start to “spin” and get all riled, consciously changing my breathing and my feelings about it, actually helps me get it under control — well, not control, per se, but rather it helps me to have a different way of thinking about it and a different way of approaching the problems.

So it’s actually good that all that stuff comes up when I’m sitting and breathing. It’s my chance to turn it around, to change it, to make it into something other than something that just drives me, day in and day out.

Maybe that’s what people are doing when they sit za-zen for long periods of time. Or maybe it’s not what they are doing, but what they could be doing. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered what the attraction is for sitting still all day and all night… I guess it takes all kinds.

In my case, I think it makes more sense to sit for shorter periods of time to get a handle on my experience each day. I’ve done it at work, a few times, and it seems to have helped. But the times when I did step away, I wasn’t actually “working on” any particular experience or feeling. I was just sitting for the sake of sitting and breathing.

Hm. I’ll have to try that intermittent stopping-and-breathing when I have specific problems I need to address. I think that can help me. Logically, I know that reducing stress levels around problems helps with problem-solving activities. And I know that sitting and breathing reduces stress levels. And I know that sitting and breathing with specific problems helps me feel differently about them. So, sitting and breathing on a regular basis during the day — or whenever a real problem comes up that I am getting stuck on — can be a valuable practice and tool for me. Anytime, anywhere. If I can manage to take just 2 minutes between my tasks to slow down my breathing, to settle down and just sit… it can be incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure. (So long as I don’t end up getting stuck in that sitting and breathing, and end up never getting anything done – which is also a possibility with this brain.)

It’s simple. And it’s free. And all it takes is some awareness that I need to do it.

That awareness is the challenge, actually. Just realizing that my breathing is getting fast and I’m getting tense is often difficult, if not impossible. It’s like I get so absorbed in the problems that I can’t see past them. I can’t see myself. I can’t feel myself. I get lost in it all, and I lose my ability to cope really well.

But that doesn’t have to stay that way. On the contrary. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes writing about how I can handle this, so it’s time to do it — time to put it into action. This is good and useful, so now it’s time to use it.

Onward.

Tired and dizzy and running late

Well, this is great… not. Our big deadline is today – what we’ve been working towards for many months, now. I was awake early, thinking that I could get to the office early. I will get there a few hours before I usually do, but after getting some exercise and eating my breakfast, I find that the clock has moved more quickly than I thought it was. I’m running a little late.

Part of the issue is that I’m pretty dizzy. So, I’ve had to be more careful and cautious about how I move, this morning. I can’t rush around, I have to pay attention to where I put each foot, how I move each part of my body. And that takes  more time than usual. I have to be very deliberate, very mindful, as I move around. And as I slowly navigated my way down the stairs and into the kitchen this morning, I thought about the times years ago when I could just move… without thinking about it and coordinating every move.

Oh, well.

Did I have sugar yesterday? Dairy? This feels like dairy vertigo — when I have dairy, I get mucus-y and my ears fill up, and I become very dizzy. I don’t think I had any milk or milk products. I must just be tired. Very tired, in fact. Yep, that’s it. I could use about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, right now. Not gonna happen till much later today, but a person can dream…

I’ve been pushing hard for weeks, and I’m feeling it for sure. I worked most of the day at home, yesterday, starting around 4:30 a.m. getting things together and all organized. I worked till about 2, then lay down and rested for an hour, then got back up and took care of errands. It’s nuts, and I probably should have gotten more sleep than that hour nap in the afternoon, but again, this is the big deadline. The end of this project. And a bunch of us were online, sorting out last-minute things all day. I was not the only one.

These last minute things have been completely and totally needless, in my estimation. If I think too much about it, I rapidly become irate… even livid… that certain folks on the project dicked around while a number of us were voicing concerns about not having enough time to get everything done in a systematic fashion. But no, certain individuals were busy jacking around, fiddling with this and that and the other thing, rather than staying on point and being focused on what was important.

Like I said, if I think about it too much, it makes me nuts. So, I’m using my noggin and not wasting time getting all tweaked over stupid sh*t I can’t change at this point. We have time to change later. After the obnoxious SOBs who carried on like they knew what the hell they were doing, have paid the dear price and have let these lesson sink in.

That’s assuming, of course, that the lessons will sink in. From what I’ve seen, that might never happen.

Oh, what-ever. I can’t let this experience define me. I can’t let it shade my perception of myself and let it get me down. There are things I did wrong, that have contributed to the last-minute mess. Things I did wrong many months ago, and didn’t fix. Part of this is my own damned fault. And I accept that. I’ll take full responsibility for that. But my name isn’t Patsy, and I’m not taking the fall for this. Not gonna happen.

But all this internal haggling isn’t going to get me anywhere. I’ve got to keep my head above water and keep my spirit and soul intact. I’ve got to focus on the positives and carry myself in the best way possible. People are people, and I’ve been in this business long enough to know that this sort of crap happens all the time. There’s always something. And in response to what’s gone down, I have a multi-point plan that we can follow as a team and as a division, that will not only help prevent these sorts of things from happening, but also make us even better in the long run.

I read recently that sometimes people learn best from hard lessons. Trial and Error Learning (TEL) can work better for some than Errorless Learning (EL). My neuropsych tells me that for some people, EL is the only way they can really learn, and TEL is a recipe for disaster.

We’ll find out today — and in the coming weeks and months — how that’s going to shake out.

For now, I just need to get a move on. The day is waiting.