Friday, November 28, 2014

Why I Limit Email

Friday, November 28, 2014
I have always appreciated that traveling is a time to get out of habitual ways of thinking and acting and to look at life with an elevated perspective.  One habit I can’t maintain while traveling is that of checking and responding to all emails (almost) every day and of obsessively checking my email several times per day. 

After a three-week trip, I look at my email inbox.  It feels like looking at old lover with whom I keep reengaging even though I’ve tasted the sweetness of liberation from our recurring pattern of drama and dysfunction.  I sit here craving her.  Wanting her.  Remembering full well why I stepped away and remembering just as poignantly why I made a habit in the first place.  A bad habit.  An addiction.  It hurts inside to recognize that a habit is a bad one and to choose it again and again. 

The first time audit I ever did revealed I was spending about half my work time on email.  This was troubling to me, considering that much of my time on email was spent nervously scrolling back and forth in a state of overwhelm.  This inspired my first leap into studying personal productivity and time management, which has involved negotiating and renegotiating my relationship to email and other work habits over the course of the years.  I'm confident I could not have achieved what I've achieved without having broken the stranglehold of habits that didn't work and introduced mindfulness and choice into my work life.  

Having been away three weeks, the visual cues in my office trigger my email checking compulsions and yet I’ve also got enough distance to feel how good it is not to indulge, how nice it is to have choice, to be free.  David Allen convinced me of the value of daily Inbox Zero, which I’ve been (mostly) limiting to one 25-minute chunk per day (a “Pomodoro”).  Timothy Ferris, author of the 4 Hour Work Week argues alternatively for ½ hour of email per week.  Email, he argues, keeps us reactive instead of proactive, responding to relatively unimportant things that take lots of time without getting results.  I find this to be true in my work.  Ferris recommends batching like tasks, eliminating distractions and interruptions and automating processes in order to liberate yourself to live the life and do the work of which you dream.  

Sitting at this threshold, I see possibility and also resistance, fear.  The ego holds onto an old wound even when freedom is in sight.  Why is my ego structure is wrapped up with email addiction?  It gives me a sense of being important, of mattering, being necessary, indispensable.  It gives me cause to increase my heart rate, get a burst of adrenaline, increase focus, a sense that I’m responding to something urgent, staying on top of it, handling it. 

Previously, as Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café, overseeing a weekly meal, there were time-sensitive responses for which people were waiting.  If I didn’t respond, I’d slow down one cog that would ripple to other cogs in the system.  But, in order to be more aligned with my personal purpose and increase my positive impact on the world, I’ve made changes in my work life.  People aren’t relying on me to fill volunteer slots each Saturday, but I have committed to publishing a book.  I’m not getting random inquiries from volunteers, but I’ve committed to multiple types of regular monthly correspondence with a set number of emerging Café leaders.  I’m not attending various meetings every week, but I am cultivating long-term relationships with high-leverage national partners.  Instead of time-sensitive quick responses, my current commitments require focused concentration, from an elevated perspective, over a prolonged period of time.  Especially because much of this work will be done sitting in front of a computer, habitually checking email threatens to distract me from moving forward on these commitments.  

There are costs to the presence, choice, efficiency and effectiveness I will experience as a result of this shift.  People have grown to expect quick responses from me and may be disappointed if they don't here from me.  There will still certainly be times when responding to a time-sensitive email will influence a social or work situation.  In order to readjust people's expectations and also encourage them to contact me by phone for urgent matters, I follow Ferris' suggestion and use an auto-response that explains my new policy.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Please Support me in my 2014 Street Retreat

Please consider supporting me to participate in a street retreat on May 8 in New York City.  As a participant, I commit to fundraising $500- part of which goes to support the service agencies that care for us on the streets.  After you donate, I will add your name to a bead on my mala bracelet, so you will be with me on my journey.


Why am I returning to do a street retreat for the 4th time and, in November, an Auschwitz retreat for the 6th?  Looking back on my reflections from my May 2013 street retreat (below), I see how:

  • The retreat provided me with a powerful experience of deep listening
  • My May retreat resonated with me through my year
  • The practice of listening reveals to me greater levels of depth every day
  • I could really use another experience of intensive practice   

Then and Now 

Last May, I was nervous about people managing Stone Soup for one weekend in my absence.  Since then, I let go of roles that were't right for me and moved into new ones.  Today, there is an active Leadership Team who has been making meal management better and better each week.  

Last May, I was working on the Café full-time, nervous about what would happen when my unemployment rant out.  Today, I receive a part-time salary while we serve a growing number of people each week, sometimes surpassing 100 guests.    

Last May, I decided to leave my men's group in order to initiate teaching a Dharma in Action workshop series.  I taught the first session to 9 students last Sunday.  

Last May, I was completing a certificate in non-profit management and considering business school.  Today, I have started studying more closely with Bernie to complete my Ministry ordination and I am launching a new organization to support additional Cafes around the world.  

Thank you for supporting me on this path of letting go of stale roles and stories, tuning in to the creative field around me and waking up to new opportunities, again and again.  

May 2013 Street Retreat Reflections

The theme of this street retreat for me was listening to the manyness.  My intention was to plunge as deeply as I could into the three peacemaker tenets of Not-knowing, Bearing Witness and Loving Actions.  Listening to the manyness is about bearing witness to the whole.  Meditating in Washington Square Park, hearing a saxophone player in the distance, dogs barking, birds chirping, construction clanging, kids laughing, people talking... a giant symphony, a beautiful cacophony and all of it so alive, so perfect and my likes and dislikes and emotional reactions, all of them teachings. 

Our retreat liturgy defined Not-knowing as “the source of all manifestations.  Seeing all manifestations as the teaching of not-knowing.”  How do I treat my teachers?  I listen carefully to what they say, with my heart and head.  Can I treat all manifestations like that?  Can I treat all people like that? 

Listening to the manyness of Washington Square Park, my struggle to listen to some of my colleagues came to.  Tears shed, with a little opening.  Leaving meditation, the whole universe was a bit softer, my step lighter... tender and present.     

I witnessed my own reactions, empathy and annoyance, fear of saying the wrong thing and the joy of laughing with old friends and strangers.  I got to know my street allies, sharing deeply about work and love.  I listened to a man tell me how drugs brought him from earning $70,000 a year to living on the streets and how he quit drugs, but is still working on quitting alcohol.  I watched a fist fight erupt and get broken up.  I saw a Muslim argue with the preacher at the evangelical services required of guests in order to receive a meal at the Bowery Mission. 

As a meal program administrator, I was sensitive to the minute differences in logistical solutions to the challenge of feeding people on a tight budget.  I was sensitive to the relationship between program logistics and guest experience.  I was sensitive to the relationships among and between guests, staff and volunteers.  I saw that program staff and volunteers are on a stage with a spotlight shining on them and that they set the tone for the whole room, whether stressed out and yelling to hurry up or sharing a relaxed smile.  I noticed how different locations handled wait time.  I considered freshly logistical considerations at the Stone Soup Café and my drive to create meal programs that honors the dignity of all was invigorated.   

Thursday, January 09, 2014

First Session Teaching Yoga at New Gig

I prepped for my restorative class.  I asked my roommate to bless me, so I could be grounded in the confidence that who I am in the most important thing I offer.  I had a pretty gentle attitude with myself and with the teaching.  I basically used the Iyengar restorative sequence straight out of my teacher training manual.  I kept people in poses for 3-5 minutes.  

Base Sequence (included a few more poses

Baddha Konasana3
Adhoa Mukha SvanaHands wall; head block & blanket3
Setu BandhaBlock5
Viparita KaraniBlanket5
Twist right and left3
Supta Baddha KonaStrap, blankets5

I gave some instructions to follow the breath, drop into the body, let go of thoughts.  There was still some restlessness.  I tried to listen and adjust.  My stuff was definitely too much for one woman.  I later noticed the description promised "very gentle".  I asked for feedback.  There were 5 students.  Most said they liked the challenge level and they liked a few poses in particular: supported setu bandha, supta baddha konasana and viparita karani all received accolades.  One recommended I start off with asking people their names and trying to get some info on what is sore on them or what brings them to class.  I like that.  They said the previous teacher did "cat and cow" and also "thread the needle."    

In my training, restorative is very inward, meditative practice capable of invoking deep states of relaxation.  Poses are held for prolonged periods of time, like standard Iyengar style, but more so.  Props are used to find the perfect level of repose/stretch. Next time, I might explain this "perfect level" more.  It can't be too intense nor too easy.  I might also give a better overview of my sense of restorative, instead of just diving in.    

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was having less rigorous options in case someone couldn’t do what I asked.  A good teacher should be able to cater to various ability levels.  In a way, the first class served as something of an assessment.  Of the five students, two seemed to be around my age and three were probably middle aged.  The younger folks were probably just fine with the rigor and could have used more.  As it was, I considered the class to be of low to moderate rigor. 

This raises an important question: do I cater to the students who have a certain expectation based on what the prior teacher did or do what I think works best and allow students who are the wrong fit to filter out while perhaps new ones would come in for whom the previous classes were not rigorous enough?  There is also reality that “yoga” and “restorative yoga” mean different things in different contexts, namely at a gym vs. a yoga studio. 

At one moment, I looked in the mirror and saw myself teaching.  While I taught history and took yoga classes, I fantasized about teaching yoga.  It took me a couple years after getting certified, but I’m finally doing it!  And that makes me happy.  I like giving instruction.  I like getting feedback from students.  I like hearing about their challenges and problems and just listening to them.  I like seeing what works and what doesn’t.  I like bringing them fitness and peace.  I like sharing what I have experienced.  I’m really glad to be doing this and to teach the Dharma in Action workshop in the Spring.