Daily Habits Checklist (June 12th – July 9th): Fulfill with love the most common and obscure duties

It wasn’t a great month with respect to scores, but it was a great month with respect to new experiences, travels, new friends, and career realizations.

Some other thoughts:

I find myself, again, waffling back and forth on the importance of publishing something as a daily habit. I don’t want to publish a post just to check it off, yet there is value in a forcing mechanism to share your work with the world…

The longer I meditate, the better I feel, both in its immediate aftermath and for many hours after. Sometimes, just sometimes and just for brief moments, within the meditation you tap into a source of wonder and truth and awe that just makes you understand, this is what it’s all about. This transcends. This stuff overwhelms.

I gave to the nonprofit Save the Children this month, which was recommended by Bill Gates in a tweet. But I have decided to replace my monthly giving habit with an annual one instead. So one lump sum donation each year instead of one small donation each month. Yes, this is more efficient, but my primary concern was not the hassle but rather the risk of handing over my personal info (eg, my address, my credit card) again and again to a new organization every month, many of whom are underfunded and unfamiliar with the latest in data encryption and data security.

There is no one in the world who cannot arrive without difficulty at the most eminent perfection by fulfilling with love obscure and common duties. – P. de Caussade

Here’s why I track habits this way.

Thank you for reading!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Daily Habits Checklist (May 15th – June 11th): A painter, who became Picasso

Another good 4 weeks and the progress I believe is starting to show, at least in private. The big gap in late May was due to a family cruise which was a great time. And all that white space on Friday May 26th was the result of a delayed flight. I suppose I *could* meditate and do back stretches while waiting at the terminal, but am averse to public attention…

My music habits have been moved to their own category. These include practicing the piano and guitar, and writing song lyrics. Thus they aren’t here, on the main list. But maybe I’ll include them in future updates. My goal is to start publishing songs soon. They probably won’t sound very good :/

Some thoughts on the habits…

Waking early: Your partner’s sleep schedule has a big impact on yours. If your sleep and wake cycles aren’t in sync, then one of you (usually both of you) will suffer. If you can’t get in sync, consider sleeping in separate beds and ignore the social stigma…? :)

Pushups: Seeking ways to “exceed my level”, in the words of Bruce Lee. In this case, eg, decline pushups

Meditate: Still remains hard, after all these years. Why?

My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.

Here’s why I track habits this way.

Thanks for reading!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

My Daily Habits Checklist (August 8 – August 21)

Daily Habits Checklist August 8-21

The second week hit a personal best of 93%. Impossible to maintain, though, because it means I can only miss AT MOST one habit every day. So every day I’d need to wake up before 8am and write for 2 hours and etc etc, which also means I can’t stay out late or drink a lot of alcohol, etc etc. Of course 90+% is the long-term goal, but I’ve gotta stay realistic :)

Since August 5th I’ve upped the writing requirement to 2 hours. I may knock it down to 1.5 hours as a more manageable bump from 1 hour. My eventual goal is 3-4 hours of focused daily writing. From what I know of successful writers and artists, it seems few are able to sustain more.

The meditation criteria has increased, too, to 15 minutes. I’m slowly, very slowly, maybe too slowly, raising the bar. 10 minutes feel easy now. So it’s time to challenge myself again. The dream would be an hour every day. I’m almost giddy thinking about how focused yet calm it would help me become. :P

I removed cold showers from the list. This is almost an automatic habit now. I might even prefer cold showers to hot ones. It would be easy to switch back, since hot showers feel better in the moment. But cold showers almost always feel better afterward. Kinda like the process of exercise and meditation.

Thanks for following along! Here’s an explanation of what I’m doing.

What habits do you monitor? Which habits would you like to develop? Email me anytime.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

11 excerpts from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse: “Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else”

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I recently finished Siddhartha [Kindle] by Hermann Hesse and highly recommend the book. It’s a fast and flowing read and a powerful story, especially if you’re into Eastern philosophy and Buddhism. Siddhartha is the story of a man, a seeker of wisdom and truth, whose life parallels that of Gautama, the original Buddha. Hermann Hesse has a wonderful and unique writing style and I wanted to share some of my favorite excerpts from the book.


“Siddhartha,” he said, “why are you waiting?”
“You know why.”
“Will you go on standing and waiting until it is day, noon, evening?”
“I will stand and wait.”
“You will grow tired, Siddhartha.”
“I will grow tired.”
“You will fall asleep, Siddhartha.”
“I will not fall asleep.”
“You will die, Siddhartha.”
“I will die.”

The Brahman fell silent and remained silent for so long that the stars in the small window wandered and changed their relative positions, ‘ere the silence was broken. Silent and motionless stood the son with his arms folded, silent and motionless sat the father on the mat, and the stars traced their paths in the sky.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else…Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

“Govinda,” Siddhartha spoke to his friend. “Govinda, my dear, come with me under the Banyan tree, let’s practise meditation.”

…this smile of Siddhartha was precisely the same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama

“What is meditation? What is leaving one’s body? What is fasting? What is holding one’s breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape, the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk…”

He soon saw that Siddhartha knew little about rice and wool, shipping and trade, but that he acted in a fortunate manner, and that Siddhartha surpassed him, the merchant, in calmness and equanimity, and in the art of listening and deeply understanding previously unknown people.

Slowly, like humidity entering the dying stem of a tree, filling it slowly and making it rot, the world and sloth had entered Siddhartha’s soul, slowly it filled his soul, made it heavy, made it tired, put it to sleep.

“Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf, which is blown and is turning around through the air, and wavers, and tumbles to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars, they go on a fixed course, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their law and their course.

“It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Meditation: an update on doing zen meditation for three years

meditation-raccoonIt’s a good time to review my meditation practice. My first essay about meditation was published in early 2013. An update came in late 2014.

The important lessons and insights haven’t changed. There just don’t seem to be any new wow moments:

  • It’s still most enjoyable to meditate in the morning (when it also has the greatest benefit for my mood and productivity)
  • Ten to fifteen minutes is still my sweet spot. Anything longer, and I create excuses to not do it. Anything shorter, and its effects aren’t as noticeable or consistent.
  • I still practice a simple form of meditation: what could best be described as zen meditation, also known as seated meditation or zazen. I sit down and empty the mind, allowing thoughts and feelings to arise and depart without judgment or attachment, until my iPhone timer rings
  • I still worry that even as meditation minimizes the emotional lows, it also dampens the highs and, possibly, through this mechanic, curtails your ambition, reduces your energy, numbs your healthy urges…

That’s not to say the time has been wasted. There have been a few new realizations about meditation as a daily habit:

  • Research shows that meditation dampens activity in your pre-frontal cortex, which is the brain region that creates a boundary between yourself and the world around you. Maybe this is why, after a good session, I feel a strong bond with everything around me: trees, strangers, the fresh air. It’s similar to the effect of certain drugs, but cleaner and more peaceful
  • Meditation’s impact is mixed. Some days are good, most days are meh, and some days feel wasted. But occasionally, on the great days, very occasionally, the impact of meditation is instant and obvious and washes over me like a two hour swedish massage. My eyes will be closed. I’m trying to relax. Suddenly, instead of seeing a vast void of blackness, suddenly, I’m looking right in front of me, at the here and now of the darkness, right at the front of my eyes, the back of my eyelids. This is often accompanied by visualizations – dim shifting and fractal patterns of light – even as my mind and body slide into a deep calm
  • The moments of stillness, of being centered, of feeling at peace, that sometimes come in the session and stay for hours…when your rushing thoughts and bubbling doubts and frantic scurrying leave your mental house and the door’s shut firmly behind them and they can’t get back in…that’s what makes it all worthwhile
  • I’m not a fan of guided meditation. Yes, I agree that it’s probably better than no practice, but, if you’ll excuse this ragged analogy, guided meditation is like learning to appreciate silence by listening to classical music. And by substituting a “good enough” solution, without a plan to remove that crutch, you deny yourself the chance to experience something deeper, purer, more powerful
  • Jerry Seinfeld has done transcendental meditation for decades. In an interview, he compared a session of meditation to a great nap where you awaken and feel refreshed and recharged
  • Human beings are animals. In a way, meditation is an absolute denial of our animal nature. Instead of thinking, we unthink. Instead of feeling, we don’t feel. Instead of moving, we are still. We simply be. And if meditation’s benefit comes from denying our animal nature, then logically, if we push this thinking further, maybe any activity that challenges and opposes our animal nature – such as fasting or celibacy or religious devotion – will achieve the same results, push us toward the same spiritual, divine, uniquely human unknown

Finally, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in recent years: your mind is like a young dog. It can bark at friendly strangers. Chase pigeons wildly and chew up sandals (yes, my dog does all of these, sigh). But meditation is useful because it trains your mind, the crazy dog that it is, through repetition and effort and growth, to become calm, to control itself, to separate real from fake threats, to conserve energy for important things, like cuddling with its human.

And if a habits genie granted wishes on my daily routine, wish #1 would be to guarantee that I meditate for 30 minutes every morning. Without fail. Alas, no such luck. But the benefits would be tremendous…

Thanks for reading, as always. Love to hear from you if you meditate or have any reactions to this essay. Thank you!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.