Benefits of Inhabiting One’s Body

Dessa, a 3′ 6″ Detroit disability activist, begins training in Aikido, via an Embodied Leadership workshop. She discovers how the practice can support her in life, and in her role as a leader. You can read in her article, below, how excited she is at discovering whole new dimensions of herself.

The way we move and treat our bodies is often indicative of (or a metaphor for) how we show up in the world.

Our bodies reflect where we are emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.

Read Dessa’s insightful article on Shetroit, “Warning: Learning to Flip Grown Men Can be Good For Your Health

Aikido is an embodied practice. As people, we become what we habitually do. Our repeated physical behaviors essentially wear paths in our way of being. If we spend our days fighting our circumstances, resisting conditions, and fighting against situations or others, we become resistant, competitive, oppositional – and probably tired, too. Instead, in Aikido we can practice being calm and soft, listening, feeling, being receptive, supporting, protecting, and collaborating. Then we take those ways of being into our daily lives.

Mindfulness Practices and Compassion

Aikido is often seen as a form of moving meditation, an embodied practice in partnership with others. As such, this and similar research could point to personal and societal benefits of training, including coming to see ourselves and not separate from others.

“As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.”

David DeSteno
The Morality of Meditation, an opinion piece in the New York Times

DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, discusses his lab’s research that supports the idea that people who engage in meditation are significantly more likely to behave in empathetic, compassionate ways toward others. He explains the research methodology and findings, then considers possible explanations for the observed results.

My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us. “

David DeSteno
The Morality of Meditation, an opinion piece in the New York Times

The practice of Aikido, which often incorporates meditation, and is a form of moving meditation itself, is not about fighting, it about becoming a more loving, less fearful person, and seeing the connection between ourselves and others, even those who attack us.

I encourage you to read the complete article: The Morality of Meditation.

Aikido, and Getting Consistent Exercise

“It’s common wisdom that missing a day or two of exercise makes it harder to get back to it the next day, but The New York Times points out that it’s not as cut and dried as simple motivation. A number of other factors show how important consistency is when sticking to a workout.”

Thorin Klosowski
Why Consistency Matters with Exercise, on Lifehacker

Klosowski points out that even a break of three days starts to have an effect on our fitness.

So it’s important to have an activity that keeps us engaged and excited about coming back. Just another reason to “keep training.” When you practice Aikido, training in a spirit of support and cooperation with others, it’s easy to keep showing up (hard not to, actually). Having regular classes to look forward to is so much more fun than “trying to get around to exercising more.”

My Plan for Ruthless Focus & Productivity in 2020

My plan for 2020 and beyond: Aikido, Writing, and Fitness

Ten years ago I decided to write a book. I actually did write one – a just-for-fun throw-away I wrote for the learning experience – with plans to get to work on my “real book” after that. Even started my own publishing company. And I have been writing. My to-do list of books has expanded to around a dozen. I’ve created titles, outlines, chapters, front matter, marketing copy, graphics, …

Know how many I’ve completed so far? Zero.

Lots of Movement… in Random Directions

I’ve gotten lots of other things done – closed the horse-keeping chapter of my life, worked with a contractor to renovate the house, earned several fitness pro certifications, started my Fit Coach Linda business, sold the truck and trailer, doctored a sick kitty, created business websites and graphics, helped a friend though his mom’s last few months, participated in workshops and networking meetings, and of course I’ve continued to train regularly in Aikido. 

But mostly for the past four years the bulk of my productive hours have been consumed with doing relatively low-paying hourly work for a handful of non-profit web clients. This is the kind of work I had to give up as full-time career because my body can’t take 8 to 12 hours a day working at a desk. But these were paying gigs, part time, on my own schedule. Good work if you can get it, right? So I took them on. 

Amazingly, I had two instances where I’d wrapped up a major project, sat down with coffee in hand the next morning to get reacquainted with my writing works-in-progress, and within hours got a call asking me to take on this or that new client. Ever feel like the universe is deliberately taunting you?

It’s Time to Regroup!

While the clients and the work have been great, it’s been frustrating to feel that I have an important contribution of my own to make, while having my plate full with tasks for others. For years I’ve been just about to really get rolling on my own work. Any minute now. Right after I handle this urgent e-commerce issue. And document these bugs. And take this phone call. I never seemed able to get any momentum going. 

“The key question to keep asking is, 
Are you spending your time on the right things? 
Because time is all you have.”

Randy Pausch
The Last Lecture

My dear husband noticed this pattern, too, and proposed a solution that’s going to change my life dramatically for the better: Stop doing outside work. My work offers no benefits, and we are fortunate to be in a position now where I do not have to bring in a steady (if small) paycheck. I sat with the idea for a week or so, to be sure it was realistic. It is. So at the beginning of December I gave 60 days notice to my web/UX clients: No more outside work after January 31st.

What a gift! It is thrilling and a little frightening. It feels fragile, precious, slippery. During school I had to work, and for a few semesters also cared for my ailing grandparents. With several employers I learned after years of dedication that I never really had a chance of succeeding there. I’ve made tactical career mistakes and wasted time on pointless projects. I’ve been through health challenges that knocked out a year or two here and there, too. I’ve been variously blocked, sidetracked, distracted, and thwarted. Now…?

“Your heart knows the way. 
Run in that direction.”

13th Century Persian Poet

Now, unbelievably, the road ahead is clear. No hindrances. No excuses. A chance to create exactly what I want, how I want. At 57 one doesn’t get many more do-overs. I can’t screw this up. I have work to do, and am determined to take full advantage of this chance to do it. I’m laying track now so on February 1st I can lock myself in my office, ignore my phone, and get down to business. I am so excited!

I really need to nail this.

This rare opportunity means taking a hard look at developing better ways of keeping my mind in my work. I need to be checking more things off my to-do lists than I’m adding. I have some longstanding habits that serve me, and some that don’t. It’s going to take an intentional effort to fully take advantage of this.

Are you with me? 

I know I’m not alone in this. In just the last few days I’ve talked to so many friends in similar situations. Some are realizing that another year has gone by without getting the really important stuff done. Others are setting out on brand new adventures. A couple will be starting new jobs in the new year. It seems there’s a lot of change in the air.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. 
After that, things can only get better.”

Stephen King
On Writing

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to stay on track, how to actually accomplish the things I have in mind. So in case it’s helpful, here, in no particular order, are some thoughts I’ve been thinking on how to (finally, goshdarnit) stay focused and be productive.

Let’s get started.

Set goals, measurable, with deadlines. Yes, I know, this strategy is older than dirt, but it endures because it works. I am setting challenging but realistic process goals and performance goals. 

“Wait, what?” you say, “There are two kinds of goals?” Yes, two kinds. 

Process goals are about developing habits or regular patterns of behavior that support us. They are the means by which we succeed. “Sit down and write for 4 hours each day” is a process goal. Similarly, “meditate every morning,” “eat ten servings of vegetables a day,” or “write all my random to-dos and errands in a list to deal with on Wednesdays,” are all process goals. 

Performance goals, on the other hand, are about the ends we are trying to achieve. “Have my first book finished and printed by June, 2020,” is a performance goal. A single objective, with a deadline. More examples: “Finish a 5K by the end of October,” or “Earn x dollars by ___ date,” are performance goals.

Either way, they need to be specific enough that I can answer “Did I do that today, or not?” Did I accomplish it as planned, or didn’t I? I’ll be writing them down and posting then right where I can see them. They will be the compass by which I can tell if I’m going in the right direction. Moment by moment, are my actions moving me closer to my goals, or are they not?

Use systems, tools, and rituals to stay on track. I’ve already updated my calendar with blocks of uninterpreted work times. I’ll use timers, track my hours, whatever it takes. I’ve worked out what should be a sustainable weekly schedule, and will do my best to stick with it. If it’s unworkable, I’ll modify it and try again. I find it also helps to observe rituals like consciously turning on the right lighting in my office each morning in my office, starting music from my Writing playlist, and turning on a fan to keep the air moving. At the end of the day I deliberately close things down and move on to the next thing.

Be mindful of attention and generosity. I have lots of interests and hobbies. I love my friends. It’s fun to learn something new. It’s rewarding to help out with a project here and there. It is against my nature to be stingy with my time, attention, or money. But if I’m to reach my goals, I need to skip a few lunches, say no to some requests, shut my office door, and get to work. That also means judicious use of social media, video binges only on my off hours, no photo-a-day challenges…

Focus, or relax. I’ve discovered that, for me, stress is doing one thing while feeling I should be doing another. Catching up on gardening while ignoring the papers on my desk. Tidying my office while while the yard goes to weeds. My solution is to set aside reasonable time for those chores and errands that need to get done. They won’t happen by chance – they are going on the calendar. So when I’m working I can be working, and when I take time to play, I can relax. 

Magically wishing away distractions doesn’t work. It’s all well and good to block off interruption-free time. But the fact is one still needs to run errands, make appointments, return phone calls, shop for groceries, clean the house, and deal with paperwork. My plan, then, is to handle all those things, as best I can, on Wednesdays. Wednesday is a day set aside for handling personal business – not for trying to work, and failing in frustration. Need a few minutes of my time? Great, let’s set up a call on Wednesday. Want to do lunch? I’d love to. Are you free on Wednesday?

Shopping and meal prep supports health and productivity. Earlier this week, for breakfast, I ate some cold “leftover” salmon I had deliberately prepared the previous night at dinner time. It was delicious, and supported me in eating healthy. I was able to grab an easy morning snack because some thoughtful person made some good food ahead of time – me! When I can prepare several days’ worth of food at once, and stock up on easy, nutritious snacks, it saves me time and helps me eat better, too.

Let most of the “important” causes take care of themselves. When I recently saw a Facebook group against something that really annoys me I almost reflexively clicked “+ Join Group.” Then I remembered that if I’m going to make a difference in my chosen area, I can’t spread myself so thin. This battle would have to be fought without my help. I can’t save the whole world. I might be able to make a difference in a little corner of it, but not if I succumb to every “important” distraction that comes along.

That doesn’t mean I”m going to bury my head in the sand. But maybe listening to one good news podcast each day is sufficient. When more in-depth understand is called for, set aside time on the weekend to catch up. My personal moment-by-moment comprehension of political, scientific, or other matters is not going to change the course of things for anyone. My completing my chosen work, on the other hand, might.

Keep training, and keep sleeping enough. It’s the time-management version of false economy to skimp on rest or grab easy junk food just to get in a little more time on a project. It seems every day we are learning more about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental health. That tired “just get up an hour earlier” advice won’t lead to success (or good health) in the long run. And skipping Aikido is out of the question for me. Aikido is my daily source of physical activity as well as socializing, plus it keeps me centered and happy. Plus it’s the inspiration and primary topic for my books! 

Say no, and honor boundaries.It took me five days to write this, squeezing in an hour or two here and there. During that time a client’s online store required urgent attention, a neighbor wanted my input before her gardener trimmed a hedge, I managed to get a last-minute appointment only days before my doctor retired, and my foot was still slowing me down after a minor surgery a few weeks ago. I had to sort out how to exchange a gift that broke, my husband had a minor dental emergency, and there was a dinner with friends. On one morning alone, four phone calls resulted in my leaving for an errand two hours later than I’d wanted to.  

“This is your life. You are responsible for it. 
You will not live forever. Don’t wait.”

Natalie Goldberg
Author and Writing Teacher

Stopping my outside client work will open up many productive hours and free my mind from most of the urgent interruptions. But there will always be other distractions and emergencies. A business cannot become profitable (or stay open!) by consistently giving away product, I will not succeed if I’m not disciplined about how I spend my time, and where I focus my attention. The strategies above are only nice ideas if I don’t respect my own schedules and deadlines, and honor the boundaries I set. It’s going to take conscious, ongoing, intentional effort. Always asking “is this what I mean to be doing right now?”

Countdown to Launch

I have a little more than a month to finish handing off work and training colleagues. I’m doing my best to dump all my client knowledge into persistent documents where the clients’ and their staff will have easy access to everything that’s currently in my brain. This is taking even more of my time than usual, but is a good investment. They don’t yet know what they don’t know, and will undoubtedly discover that they need the information. 

I have told my clients I will be minimally available, rarely, by appointment on Wednesdays only, for any lingering questions. No “just a 5-minute phone call for a quick question.” Tempting as it will be to be helpful, there’s that boundary thing again. For me even a brief interruption in my working time is like a small hole bored through the hull of a ship – it brings all forward progress to a dead halt. A few of those scattered throughout each day? Disastrous. For me, it’s focus, or allow intrusions. It can’t be both.

Meanwhile, as I’m wrapping up loose ends I’m also bringing the writing parts of my brain back online. I’m excited to get back to work, and want to hit the ground running. I’ve been listening again to favorite audiobooks about writing, refreshing my memory of the tools I use, and reviewing my works-in-progress to see what state I’d left them in. I’m even writing a bit, which feels really good. Only 41 days to go…

“All writing is launching yourself into the darkness, 
and hoping for light, and a soft landing.

Paul Theroux
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

A Few Extras

Writers and Ritual – Bowing In

I heard some great advice recently, and it’s been working well for me this past week. It’s one of many useful practices from Ally Nathaniel’s “Productivity for Writers” session, in the Nonfiction Writers Conference (NFWC), a tremendously valuable presentation at this annual online event.

The idea is to create rituals to support your work. Simple things you do every time you write, habits that help you get into your focused flow state. Writing every day in the same place at the same time. Drinking coffee from your special writer’s mug. Listening to a certain kind of music, or a playlist of songs that work for you.

My Own Writer’s Rituals

So I put some thought into what my environment is like when I’m in a good flow for writing. When I just randomly walk into my office, listening to a podcast on my phone, I flip the overhead bare light bulb on and try to work, it feels like I’m only dropping by casually. Perching. I don’t settle in. I can’t seem to focus, and tend to wander off, either mentally, or physically. Maybe I should start my laundry, feed the cats, tidy up my desk…

So now I’m being more deliberate about it. I turn on three indirect “daylight” lights that create a whole different natural, open kind of energy to the space. I take my earbuds off, and set my phone on the charger instead of leaving it in my pocket. I put my favorite writing music on, playing through the speakers in my office.

It makes all the difference in feeling like I’ve settled into writing right from the start. Now I can achieve a flow in my work right away, rather than stumbling into that state randomly after hours of aimless fiddling around.

Bowing In

These actions are like bowing in. When we go to the dojo we put on our uniforms. Before we step onto the mat, in Aikido and other martial arts, we stop and bow. Those are rituals too–declarations of intent. Bowing in is a gesture of respect for the space, and it’s also an opportunity to set aside whatever daily concerns might be rattling around in our brains and commit to focusing on our training.

Bowing in works at the dojo. The same concept can be applied for writers in our work.

Preparing for an Aikido Exam – The Week Before

2nd kyu test candidates bowing in with their ukes

Someone in an Aikido group on Facebook has an exam coming up on Saturday. Here’s the gist of his post:

“Next Saturday I will do my 1st kyu exam. I am a bit nervous. I feel confident about the techniques but it’s still a big thing for me. Some advice or nice words would be appreciated” 

I answered him briefly there, and it got me thinking about all the things I do in the week before a test. When you are preparing for an Aikido exam, in addition to polishing your techniques you can also be preparing your body, mind, and circumstances to help you do your best. Sometimes I’ve prepared well, and sometimes not. Here are a few things that have worked for me.

Take care of your body

Between now and Saturday take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, eat well, and get extra sleep. Stay well and uninjured. Run away from sick people! Wash your hands a lot. This is not the week to start a new fitness program or go to the trampoline park for the first time. If your test will be in the morning, and you are not a morning person, start getting up earlier this week.

Stick with “safe” foods in the days leading up to exam day – things you know agree with you and leave you feeling energized. Don’t try a new broccoli casserole recipe for dinner, or visit that just-opened sushi restaurant the night before your test.

Get in a good mental space

In your training, focus on building your confidence.  Save exploring new variations or cool, weird techniques for after your test. Instead, become more comfortable and fluid with what you need to demonstrate. In class, practice in the same connected, flowing, expansive spirit you want to feel during your exam. Don’t fiddle with things.

Understand how your test will be conducted so you know what to expect and aren’t thrown off by surprises. If you have any questions, ask your teacher, mentor, or sempai (senior students).

Each day visualize doing the beginning of your test brilliantly, starting with knee-walking to the center of the mat calmly, shoulders back, head up, breathing freely. Do not entertain our habitual pattern of imagining all the ways one could screw up. See yourself doing your best. 

Whatever will come first on your test, have it down solid. You will be fired up and nervous, and nailing those initial moments will do wonders for your sense of ease throughout the rest of your exam. Begin on a strong, confident note, and let the rest come naturally.

Handle your circumstances

If your test includes an essay or other written component, complete it several days ahead of time so you aren’t left cramming at the last minute. Same with thank-you notes or gifts – have them done and ready to go.

Set yourself up to have a relaxed, early evening on Friday. Trim your nails a couple days ahead of time. Fuel up your car. Set out your clothes and a clean uniform the day before, so you’re not rushing to do laundry into the wee hours – or the morning of your test! 

Pay your exam fee early, too. Don’t add the last-minute chore of stopping at the ATM to your already-busy Saturday morning.

The morning of your test

On test day, get up earlier than you think you need to. Eat right away, so you’ll have time for your breakfast to settle. Arrive at the dojo early and warm up slowly, especially if it’s a chilly morning – still visualizing doing well. If there are any techniques you’re worried about, review them with a friend. If you need to demonstrate weapons, put them where you can get to them easily during your test. Remind yourself that you are well prepared, and relax.

And finally, some nice words

You are ready or your teacher wouldn’t have asked you to test. You are as prepared as you can be. You have done everything you can to support yourself in preparing for an Aikido exam. Now relax, breathe, flow, and demonstrate your best Aikido with gratitude for all the teachers, dojo-mates, and experiences that got you this far. You will do fine.  

Self-Defense Tip: Use a “Code Word” for Emergencies

Note: It’s been a while since I’ve posted. All is well, training as usual, just focusing my time on my fitness coaching / personal training business. The thought of “getting caught up on my blogging” is overwhelming. So I’m not even going to try. I’ll just jump in and start posting… again.

“Self Defense” Isn’t Just About Getting Mugged

Often when I talk to people about Aikido, if they are at all familiar with the non-violent, non-fighting, non-badass philosophy of it at all, they grasp it on the level of “it’s just for self defense.” That’s a start, but it’s a very incomplete understanding of the art – especially the “-do” aspect, the way of being the Aikido supports.

Keeping oneself safe in the world is an important thing to think about. In my experience, 99.9% of self defense has nothing to do with being able to fight well or fend off an attacker. Real-life self-defense tips have been occurring to me recently, and I’ll be sharing them as I have time. For now, here are a few that came up in a discussion with friends this morning.

Use a “code word” for emergencies

A friend’s 90-y/o mom just got one of those “your son is in trouble and we need you to send money” kinds of calls.

To avoid future drama and worry, the family came up with the idea of reinstating the “code word” idea from childhood. You know, the one you needed to hear if someone pulled up in an unmarked windowless van and told you they were your mom’s friend, and she was hurt. (An excellent self-defense tip for kids, by the way.)

Also, their mom has caller ID, so some folks mentioned the idea of just not answering unknown numbers. (The caller can always leave a message.)

Both are good ideas, but I have a couple of issues to consider.

A few weeks ago received a call late at night from an unknown number about an actual friend who was actually injured (needed a ride to the ER)… Luckily for me, the phone’s owner was able to hand it to my mostly-coherent friend, so I could talk to him directly.

First, emergency calls likely would not come from the person’s own phone. They would come from the police, hospital, or lawyer. That’s why I don’t have unknown numbers blocked at night – or ever. (In my friend’s case the call came from the people in a nearby house who heard him yelling for help out on the sidewalk.)

Second, if the person were unconscious (as my friend nearly could have been – he’d hit his head) or unavailable, they would not be able to give the code word. So be sure it’s entered/written along with one’s emergency contact phone numbers, like on a paper behind one’s driver’s licence, or in the emergency info/Medical ID in one’s phone*. And of course keep it secret otherwise.

p.s. Keep your Medical ID info in your phone (or in your wallet)

Did you know that on the iPhone you can set up Medical ID information, including emergency contacts? It enables first responders to get important information about you, like known medical conditions (diabetes, epilepsy, having a pacemaker, etc.) that could help in treating you. You can include medications you take, allergies, any notes, and contact info for anyone you want to be called if you are found lying on the sidewalk or something. One would hope emergency personnel might look there for it.

Here’s how to set up Medical ID on your iPhone. Be sure to keep it current, including updating any medications that have changed. There either is, or isn’t, something similar on Android, depending on the model or version of the OS. I’ll leave it to you and Google to figure out if it’s available on your phone.

And of course it’s a good idea to put all this info in your wallet, too. Handy if your phone gets smashed in a wreck, or you don’t have it with you, or the paramedics just don’t think to look at your phone or can’t find it. Old school, but effective.