Monday, September 26, 2016

Updates!

I'm sure that you've all been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear about the projects I started a couple weeks ago. Well, I thought I'd try to be a good blogger for a change, and present you with some timely updates.

Meditation
This goal has been going relatively well. I've managed to meditate between 10-12 minutes for 6 of the past 12 days. It doesn't sound that great, but compared to 0 days of the past 35 years of my life, I'm proud of how well I'm doing! I found a much better app to use to track my new practice than Logster, too. (See one of the useless graphs that Logster produces below.)

So as you can see here, the number went up and down - fascinating!

The new app I'm using is called HabitBull, which is free, but does offer premium features (aka cost money) which are way beyond my needs. The free version lets you track 5 habits (which is probably more than I can try to instill in myself at one time anyway!) by setting both a daily goal, which is measured by either a yes/no or a number, and a streak goal, which is how many days in a row you want to do the new habit before you succeed. They recommend 66 days so that's my goal.

We were in Berlin for the weekend, during which time I ignored the reminders and failed to meditate, so I had to start over with a zero day streak. It amazed me how much more difficult it was to stay focused today, after just 3 days without practicing. The thought "how much longer is there?" popped up in my mind several times, which hasn't happened since the first few days. It reminded me of dieting or exercising - it's so much harder to get "back on the wagon" than it is to start fresh with a new habit. Why is that?

Berlin was lovely, by the way

Reading list
Psychology: The Truth Behind Your Behavior and How You Can Take Control of Your Life by Steve Blackman was a waste of time, money, and anticipation. It belongs on the "Do Not Read" list. Then again, it was only 99 cents, a true sign of top-notch quality in the publishing world. Keep my 99 cents, Steve, you earned it - you found an easy mark.

I haven't gotten all the way through Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams by Charley Morley yet. After Part I, which focuses on how to become lucid, Part II starts to delve into what to do during lucid dreams, and I don't feel like I need to read about all the cool stuff I can't do yet. I did realize once that I was dreaming (hooray! Step 1!), but when I tried to change the dream, it turned into a gray wall, like a screen locking up or static on the TV, and I couldn't go any further. I figured I still have some work to do becoming friends with my subconscious, so I've focused on meditation for the time being.

I also started re-reading Lucid Dreaming, Plain and Simple by Robert Waggoner, another leading figure in the world of lucid dreaming. His book contains even more suggestions of how to become lucid than Charley's book; Charley, as a practicing Buddhist, teaches inner awareness and meditation as keystones of becoming lucid, while Robert offers many other techniques. Some of their techniques overlap, of course, and both of them recommend using lucid dreaming as a way to explore the self. (Robert's other book is Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self.) So my hunt for lucid dreams continues.

Bonus: Canada!
Alex and I have been waiting to hear back from Canada on our visa application since we applied in mid-April. It has been a struggle to stay patient, as I'm sure you can imagine. We ordered a copy of our immigration file last month, and we just received it - it seems to say that we are approved, which is great news! However, we still haven't gotten our "Passport Request," which is the last step of the process before we can move.

We expect to get it by mid-October, which is 6 months after our application and in line with Canada's average turnaround time for visa applications, but of course we're hoping to get it even sooner. We're already selling off our furniture in preparation, and we've gotten quotes on the cost of shipping Neko over. Finally, the long wait seems to be nearly over, and I'm ecstatic!

The land of Terry Fox, the Gimli Glider, and Justin Trudeau...they've got it all!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reading list and recent thoughts

I haven't been posting much because it doesn't feel like I do very much, not much worth writing about at least. Sitting around my house in Villeurbanne streaming my way through all 7 seasons of The Mentalist doesn't provide much fodder for thoughtful reflection. However, I've been on somewhat of a reading kick lately, so I decided to put my latest musings out there. This is partly so I can hold myself accountable, but it might also trigger curiosity in one of you, which would be neat.

My handsome-yet-formulaic muse

The books I've read recently:

Fringe-ology by Steve Volk: This was written by a journalist who goes out in search of the "truth" behind ideas on the fringe - UFOs, ghosts, near death experiences, lucid dreaming, etc. He skewers both believers and skeptics, arguing that the people on both sides of these phenomena engage in emotionally-driven arguments, which at best ignore, and at worst purposefully conceal, the existing evidence. I like his approach very much; he's open-minded but demands some kind of evidence, whether "explainable" or not. Now, I know that lucid dreaming is real, because I've done it. I haven't had personal experiences with the other topics though, so his even-handed treatment was intellectually satisfying, and the writing is high quality. I highly recommend this book if you are at all curious about "out-there"/paranormal/unexplained ideas and events. I blasted through it in a few days; a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Chaos Protocols by Gordon White: Most of you will shake your heads at this one, and that's fine. It's written by a blogger who lives in London, and it covers two topics: 1) how to perform magic spells and make otherworldly connections in order to improve your life, and 2) the economic downfall currently in progress vis-à-vis unsustainable debt loads, the shrinking middle class, and technologically-driven changes to the global economy. The half of the book that is an economic treatise is clearly his own worldview, and he makes a decent argument for it, although I loathe the James Altucher references. The magic itself I haven't tried yet; when I do, I'll be sure to let you know the results! Regardless of the efficacity of the magic, I found his ideas thought-provoking, and if nothing else, allowing myself to see the world and my place in it through a different lens was an interesting and useful exercise. Mr. White's blog, too, looks like a rabbit hole I could happily fall into for months.

How to be Creative by Malcolm Hughes: This is a tiny (and cheap) e-book, with just 5 chapters, or "steps," to help you become more creative. Is it a vast oversimplification of how to trigger creativity? Yes, of course. But I wasn't looking for a different version of The Artist's Way - I wanted a quick and dirty reminder that I could pick up and read in a couple hours. Did it fit the bill? Yup. For $2.99 I feel satisfied.

So, having read these books in the past month or so, a few themes have arisen:

First, the importance of meditation. I've heard over and over, from so many different sources, that meditation is good for you. Even WebMD has an article about the health benefits meditation provides. But both Mr. Volk and Mr. White heartily recommended meditating, so I decided that if it can help me lucid dream AND do magic, it's worth starting a meditation practice. Since you get what you measure, I downloaded a free app called Logster, so that I can keep track of my meditation; specifically, how many minutes per day I meditate.  I'm hoping to keep myself on track by doing this. My goal for now is 10 minutes/day, eventually getting up to 20 minutes/day. 

Is it ironic that I got this graphic from Business Insider?
Second, the importance of doing. I'm sure that sounds basic to a lot of people, but I have a tendency to read and study and think about things without ever getting into the meat of trying things. What's the point of learning if you don't act on what you've learned? (Assuming you think it's worth acting on, of course.) In other words, I procrastinate too much, and I'm trying to be less lazy. A worthy personal goal, wouldn't you agree? Hence the meditation - putting into practice what I've been reading about.

Third, the interplay between the conscious and subconscious mind. I'm going to do more reading on this because one of the topics in Fringe-ology that I found really fascinating was the idea of Consciousness. What is it, and where does it come from? Is it the result of a series of electrical impulses in the brain? Or does it arise from something deeper than that? I'm also fascinated with the idea of the subconscious mind, and the potential it holds. I want to lucid dream so I can interact with my subconscious, and if possible, I want to tap into its creative power.

Finally, human psychology in general. What makes people tick? This is the influence of my latest binge watching; Mr. Jane makes me want to know more about people's motives. It's also the case that I'm someone who considers herself a writer, at least on some level, yet I don't feel that I understand people well, which makes for poor character development in my fiction as well as less effective personal communication in my own life.

I have the following books queued up on my kindle for the next phase of research:
Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams by Charley Morley (I've read this book once before, but I'm hoping to glean new insight out of it now)

And in between reading, meditation sessions, and episodes of The Mentalist, I'm hoping to come up with a great idea for a book. Please feel free to leave a comment and share your experience with any of these topics, since I'm always interested in hearing other people's stories!

-Lucy