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Oct 2016 30 Day Writing Challenge

September 2017 Monthly Review

Each month, I am doing a public monthly review and preview for the next month as part of my writing commitment. It’s not quite clear yet how these reviews will help with my writing skill. At least, they serve as an accountability review. I’m writing this one a bit in haste, you’ll see why in the October plans section. So, let’s map out the categories for this month:

  • Monastic Academy: my job, home, and practice community. Reflecting back on big pieces of the past month: lessons, insights, and challenges.
  • Psychology/Healing: challenges and changes over my self healing and psychology.
  • Meditation: how’s my meditation going?
  • Circling: how’s circling going? Both as a student and teacher.
  • Misc Life: anything else that doesn’t fit above.
  • October Plans: how’s October looking?

MONASTIC ACADEMY

Vision Quest – We finished our vision quest early September with our guide Darren. This was my 2nd vision quest. It was a really great experience with perfect weather. The quest involves several pieces including building a sweat lodge, lodging with the other questers, and questing out in the woods for several days without food or shelter (get a tarp and sleeping bag). The primary medicine I got from the quest was that I want more joy in my life and specifically my relationship to work to be more joyous.  I fantasized about food and wanting to bake bread and cook good food. After the quest, I baked my first two loaves of bread ever! At the end of the quest, I made a commitment to revisit the forest each week to stay in connection. So far, I’ve kept the promise and it’s been a good source of physical and mental refuge.

Renovations – The building and property we purchased for the Monastic Academy is amazing and beautiful however it’s not suited for year round residence. We’ve begun doing needed renovations to the building including a new pantry room and winterizing the building. Still a lot to do. It’s interesting to learn how to call up contractors, figure out bids, and navigate this whole project. I really didn’t want to be the lead person on this but neither did anyone else.

Coworker – We hosted a month long coworker in September, a developer from Silicon Valley. He had a great time, and interesting to see a lot of his positive experiences were learning tangential things from residents like proper posture. It’s good to know that our community and product does really work. It’s just a tougher sell to have people physically come here for extended amounts of time.

Shinzen Retreat – We hosted our first week long retreat with Shinzen Young. I was nominated as the retreat manager months ago. It was the biggest retreat we’ve ever run, at least as far back as I’ve been a resident. Including the residents and teachers, we had about 30 folks. I had a lot of concern and worry working up to this week. After initial bumpy day of minor tweaks, everything ran really smoothly. Guests had life changing moments, Shinzen had a great time, and no emergencies came up. It’s nice to have the confidence to know I can and have run a great retreat from scratch. Of course, I had a lot of leadership and help from my fellow residents too.

PSYCHOLOGY/HEALING

I joined the monastery partly to work on intimate relationships. My family growing up was dysfunctional, and I’ve found all my relationships in my life lacking in some intimacy regard. I felt a deep loneliness and separation. I felt that when times got tough that people including myself would eject and leave the relationship. Even the dharma communities I was part of didn’t go into the discomfort territory. I thought a monastery would be a place where people were committed. They couldn’t and wouldn’t just leave when it become tough. I was right.

Recently, I stumbled upon this thing called Complex PTSD. Pete Walker has the best site on the topic. “Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder thought to occur as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic” (Wikipedia).

My parents, bless their hearts that they did the best they could do, neglected my brother and me a lot. Whatever traumas they suffered in their life carried over to us. I was never physically abused. I always had enough food to eat, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. But I never got enough emotional sustenance. My family argued a lot as far back as I can remember. Coupled with my brother who was my best and only friend for a long time leaving for college when I was 12 or 13 and being often the bullied Asian kid, it was a rough childhood.

I can see a lot of symptoms of CPTSD in me. The denial and minimization of my negative feelings. The inner critic of perfectionism and unworthiness along with the outer critic of judging others failing to do their part. The emotional flashbacks back to knotted tense stomach around relationships. Viewing intimacy and relationship as dangerous rather than nourishing.  The constant hypervigilance and fear of intense engagement with others assuming it will go poorly.

For the past year or more, I’ve often felt this stuckness, this tension, ball of trauma in my gut, perhaps my small intestine. It can relax sometimes when I grieve or do a lot of meditation, or fall asleep. But it’s often present especially it seems if I’m nervous or anxious. Although it getting better, it’s still a mess.

There’s a lot to say here. I’ve been working on it both in my meditation practice and doing therapy.

MEDITATION

Always feels like a struggle between worrying about monastery responsibilities and letting it all go to focus on awakening meditation. Practice has been in somewhat shambles. Haven’t done a real meditation retreat since July. I had a lot of momentum and dedication in July that I’m hoping to work back towards. At least, I know now it’s just mundane working the concentration back up. I know how to do it, I just need to focus and have time to do it.

CIRCLING

I’m continuing to lead a monthly circling event in Burlington and our weekly night at the Monastery. I’ve been heartened to see that the other residents are starting to lead their own birthday circles and do it well. When I first brought relational practices like circling to the monastery, I felt a lot of resistance from others and didn’t feel very confident. It’s nice to see that circling is now just a part of the culture here and people often want to do it more than me.

It’s funny to see this weakness of mine in terms of relationship has been continually getting exercised probably for the last decade starting in college. It’s becoming my strength and what I’m most interested in helping others and myself with even more so than meditation or business or technology. I have qualms about how far I can lead though with my intimacy challenges and trauma still present.

MISC LIFE

Nothing for now given time constraints.

OCTOBER PLANS

So, busy October!

First, I’m doing a solo retreat starting tonight! Since I was the retreat manager at the last retreat, I’m making up for it by going into the cabin for several days. I’ve never done a solo retreat ever before! So, I’m very excited and a little worried about how that will go.

I’ve got several circling events planned this month including a week-long meditation and circling retreat at the monastery!

Oct 2016 30 Day Writing Challenge

2017 : Writing Commitment Again

I have wanted to be a good non-fiction writer since I was 21.  I don’t enjoy the writing process itself. Nor do I aspire to reach the heights of storytelling like Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis. Rather, I want to improve my clarity and expression of ideas. These days the ability to write down one’s ideas is a standout and rare skill. As Jordan Peterson said, “The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.“ I have a lot of ideas I want to share and writing is a powerful vehicle for spreading ideas.

I have a new plan to master writing and publishing after a year of silence. Last year, I set a 30 day writing challenge to publish a daily new post. It was really challenging, but I did it. I was frustrated though that I found myself often writing and revising my posts in 30 minutes or less. It was not very sustainable. This  year, I aim to work smart to overcome the past limitations with an emphasis on improving my process of writing.

LIMITATIONS

Time and energy are a limited resource at the monastery. My days are regimented from 4:30 AM to 9 PM with a two and half hour break in the afternoon. Often, I find myself working during those times too. By the time, I begin writing in the afternoon, I’m drained from already spending ten hours of doing my best work.

GOAL

I plan to do more writing starting in October. This is my second October writing challenge. First, I am going to start slow and gradually do more. I’m aiming for quality over quantity. I’ll start by committing to a monthly review of how the past month went and what the next month holds. I’ll track a few areas including the Monastic Academy, meditation, circling, general life attitude/psychology shifts, progression on habits/commitments, and so on. I haven’t finalized the categories. I feel cautious about how much I want to share publicly. What’s off limits? Is it okay to name other people? It’s a continuous not knowing. Eventually, I want to include long-form essays as well as more open, vulnerable posts that aren’t polished. A mixture between essays and more journal-like entries.

HOW & TOOLS

I’m following a cue from Sebastian Marshall and using the classic writing system method outlined in Extreme Productivity of separating the writing process into brainstorm, categorizing, outline, writing, editing, and publishing. I’ll also utilize Jordan Peterson’s template on writing essays.

To counteract the low energy of afternoon free time, I’ve decided to automatically go take a 20 minute nap at the very beginning of free time no matter what. I use AutoHotKey Windows program to automate setting up a WorkCycle: it launches productivity music, sets a 25 minute counter, and opens my work tracking spreadsheet. I also use ColdTurkey Writer for brainstorming when I want to write minimum 700 words and can’t do anything else.

Finally, I’m looking for writing accountability feedback partners, clear rewards/celebration for success, and clear penalties for failure. Last year, committing to donate money to my least favorite politician always motivated me enough to publish something. That was a good stick approach. But I want to add a carrot, a reason to look forward to publishing these posts. I’m also looking for more accountability and feedback partners.

So, I’ll publish a monthly review soon reviewing September and commit to doing that until at least January. Then, I’ll begin writing more regular well written pieces.

I encourage you to follow me on my writing journey and contemplate writing more as well.

Oct 2016 30 Day Writing Challenge

30 Day Writing Challenge Complete

With this post, I’m done my October challenge of daily writing.

First, I’m happy to say that I did it! I didn’t miss a single day. I set a goal on one of my busiest months and completed it. Despite having a week long retreat, a weekend retreat, and a weekend circling immersion, I was able to pop them all out. Not to mention only having two hours of free time in the monastery. Towards the end, I was popping these out in thirty minutes or less. It’s interesting to see that a lot of my daily conversations turned out to be great writing material.

For constructive feedback, I would say my writing quality was all over the place. I definitely didn’t edit and polish my posts to a great quality. Especially towards the end, I only checked for obvious spelling mistakes and otherwise just did stream of consciousness typing. I’m not proud of the quality at all. But I do think each post has a real gem, but it could be much more refined.

There’s a lot of topics I didn’t cover. I wanted to write a lot more about my past experiences including finishing up my RV travels, living in Boston, circling, Mondo Zen, and more. But I felt I couldn’t do them justice in the time I had.

Going forward, I still want to continue writing but definitely not on a daily basis. For now, I’m taking a break at least for a few days.

I also would like to go back to some of my posts this month and rework them to flow better.

If you’ve enjoyed any of this month, please do let me know. It makes a huge difference.

Oct 2016 30 Day Writing Challenge

Mirroring and Empathy

I’m finishing my last day of the circling intensive in Austin. I’ve been contemplating empathy.

A lot of times in circling, there’s a blurring distinction that happens between what one person is feeling and what I’m feeling. What the group is sensing and what I’m sensing. How much of it is a projection, how much of it is real? It’s hard to say, maybe impossible.

When someone is going through something it’s possible to tune into them like a radio station. My mirror neurons take them on.. And I can “become” them to some extent. This would be empathy, feeling what they’re feeling.

This is an embodied, physical action. One of my teachers has said, “When the Buddha meets a sad person, the Buddha is sad. When the Buddha meets a lonely person, the Buddha is lonely.”

Once both people are tuned into this same feeling, same “radio station”, you can be in their world and point things out.

Yet, this is not what most people do. Instead, they want to “understand” a person from a mental cognitive point of view. “Oh, you’re this type of person.”

But, what I’m finding with circling is the importance of empathy, to feel where they are at with my body first and foremost. Then I can understand them. It’s still a lingering question how long I need to keep the physical embodiment. But, the less clear or tuned in to how that person is, the more I need to stay with the embodied empathy.

There is this lingering question around burnout. My sense is that this capacity can be developed and trained more and more to be able to hold more and more. And that as long as I stay in presence and awareness instead of reactive, unconscious identification then even the negative, painful emotions don’t have to burn me out and can even energize me and make me feel more alive.

The willingness and surrender to take on another person’s world at this embodied physical level is a willingness and trust to let go of myself. Ultimately, my heart cannot be broken as Junpo would say.

Oct 2016 30 Day Writing Challenge

Compatibility

Seeing people through the lens of compatibility includes both self and other.

Often times, people go into situations focusing only on themselves or the other person.

The idea of compatibility originally stuck in me when I read Mark Manson’s writings on dating and relationships. So, let’s use dating as a metaphor.

Some heterosexual men focus only on the woman, particularly the woman’s physical beauty. Often times devaluing themselves and actually just looking to compensate or boost their egos by dating a beautiful woman. While there is nothing wrong with being attracted to a beautiful body that isn’t enough for a relationship. And, frankly, boring for most women for men to only see them as a body to possess.

On the other hand, there are men who focus on themselves too much. This shows up as insecurity, hesitation, anxiety, inadequacy, and so on. This shows up in interactions as agreeing with the other person on everything, name dropping, putting others down, and so on. In this case, it’s all about proving one’s value with the starting belief that my value must be lower than this woman’s. Or the flip side of negging where you try to put a woman’s value down to your level or below.

Most of the time, people feel like they always have to be able to “close” or “win” every single interaction. But, dating, is the one place where you don’t have to win every single time. In the end, you only need one partner (unless you’re aiming for polyamory). Better to quickly find out compatibility and move on to the next person if it’s not compatible.

In all these cases above, it’s not about compatibility. It’s about either me or them.

From a sales perspective, you could say this is the difference between features and benefits.

When selling a product or service, a lot of people try to just list off all the great features they have. But, what everyone cares about is whether or not this product/service will help me? How will it help me? In that case, the starting point isn’t to just list off a bunch of features but question and learn more about the person’s vision, needs, pains, and challenges. Figure out what they need and then how your product is compatible in helping them. I look for the areas where we are compatible and focus on that.

Likewise, when I did resident recruitment, not everyone is going to become a modern monastic. It’s pointless to even try to do that if not unethical. I simply needed to get in front of enough faces and people to find the ones who were already searching for what I had to offer but didn’t know it existed.

Once you change the point of view from “I have to close every single interaction or else I’m a failure” to “My job is to get to know this person and express myself to find if we’re compatible”, a lot of the stress and anxiety goes away. It’s no longer about just me or just them. It’s a relationship.