Slow Experiments: Lessons and meta-learning

So far I have experimented with daily meditation and abstaining from coffee. Interestingly the best learnings have not been from the direct results of doing these things, rather simply from the process of experimenting.

Daily meditation

The meditation experiment very quickly highlighted that schedules do not magically re-arrange themselves nor do tasks magically disappear, just because there is something important you’ve decided to do. Of course this was not a surprise, but optimism and enthusiasm sometimes get in the way of realism. It was a quick reality check in just how busy I am. The fact was that on most days I was ‘doing’ from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. So I soon compromised and decided that doing any form of meditation for whatever length each day would suffice. It definitely is important to make new habits achievable.

The other logistical challenge was noise. I do not particularly like meditating to music or guided meditation tracks. However often if I was home during the day there was construction noise and at night the drone of a reverse cycle heater both of which just drive me crazy if I’m trying to meditate. So there were limited slices of time where meditation could be more than the practice of not becoming overly frustrated. These two barriers – time poverty and noise – are symptomatic of modern life and were really quite substantial barriers.

To avoid the barriers, meditating at the beach was great and, probably not as ideally, meditating right before sleep was the other option. Often I do a gratitude practice where I remember three things I am grateful for that happened in the day, so I combined it with a heart-centred awareness, sustained long enough to feel like I’d dropped into a meditative state. It actually was a lovely way to end a day.

Of course old habits did get in the way as well and the days I did not go to work in the office I often still didn’t meditate until the evening even though I could have done it earlier with a bit more of a focussed brain. Changing the priority on the task list is something for me to work on.

No coffee (but more relaxation)

I was feeling pretty unenthusiastic about this one, but I knew I’d have to tackle it at some stage. With my typically fiery constitution, coffee is a common contributor to imbalance. It is habit that I normally run on a daily basis (in the form of a big plunger and/or double or triple shot espressos) and would benefit from being a bit more discerning about. But it is a habit I enjoy!
Then I reflected on the stress I have been feeling lately and realised that giving up coffee would be supportive of a higher goal – to reduce the tension in my system. So I took the opportunity to at once give myself the challenge of forgoing coffee, but also the ‘unchallenge’ of considering how I could benefit from bringing more relaxation into daily life.

I went the first week with no coffee at all and felt pretty smug about it. Then I had the horrible realisation that I had three weeks to go and all of a sudden giving up coffee completely just seemed cruel. I began adding coffee back in but only when I was going to really be able to enjoy it (which I believe counters some of the negative effects) or on Mondays, when I just need some caffeine to get through the day.

The result in the last 3 weeks was that in the I drunk probably half as much coffee as I normally would, I still managed a couple of days each week without any coffee, the coffee I did drink I appreciated and enjoyed a whole lot more and I felt like the coffee I did drink was not to my detriment.

Meta learning (learning about the process)

I quickly became aware of the paradox of forcing myself to do Slow things. The design of the experiments in terms of ‘everyday you must…’ or ‘everyday you must not…’ makes it easier to examine the behaviour in question but is not particularly aligned with Slow. I’m not entirely sure what I am going to do about that going forward with the experiments. Parts of the process that do seem valuable are reflecting and inquiring within myself ‘what is it that my being needs most this month to be Slow?’ There is definitely a role for placing your attention on those parts of the self that need a shift. Especially with the coffee experiment it wasn’t the adherence to the habit change that seemed to matter the most, it was the fact that I had listened to my self and brought a habit into awareness and let it shift where it seemed to want to go. This felt quite different to forcing.

I also began to wonder if I was calling in lessons unexpectedly. May and June had thrown me a lot of curve balls. It was unexpectedly challenging and not in nice ways. I got robbed, a friend passed away, university bureaucratic processes caused a delay with the phd, there were relationship challenges that brought me pain, I needed to find new tenants, there were chicken health problems etc etc. Everything felt too hard and I decided that I needed to embrace non-doing and just not try to achieve anything. It took a while! I definitely became aware of how results-driven I was, totally frustrated by feeling like I was not getting anywhere.

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