I’ve decided that I’m going to blow up my freshly created 2020 goals, and tighten them up so that this year I strive for immersive/passionate focus into just a couple of things, rather than pushing a number of larger goals forward incrementally.
The main driver for this change was reading Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness‘s excellent book, “The Passion Paradox” One of the main concepts in the book is that balance and passionate pursuit do not coexist.
“Balance” is more often than not an illustion, especially for someone who is wholly absorbed in a passion. Instead of striving for balance, then, the passionate person should stribe to be self-aware. Self-awareness … is the only force strong enough to counter passion’s overwhelming inertia.The Passion Paradox, p. 163, Stulberg & Magness
It’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to put a passionate focus into self-awareness this year. Meditation and mindfulness training will be my biggest area of personal focus this year, because I’ve come to believe that this learning and growing is foundational for every other part of my life.
In January of 2019 I started a humble practice using Sam Harris’ meditation app – Waking Up. For the first half of the year I was doing a 10min guided meditation nearly daily, and for the last half I’ve been getting in a few sessions a week. Even with this minimal investment of time and attention, I’ve seen a remarkable change occur in my daily experience. I’m able to be less reactive, more calm, and generally more engaged with the present moment. More importantly, I am able to see that these changes are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible in meditation practice.
What does this mean for me, practically? For now, it means that I’m committing to daily meditations and studying meditation beyond what’s included in Waking Up.
I’ve started Jack Kornfield’s free guided meditation course, “Mindfulness Daily” and will continue that for the full 40 sessions.
I’ve started reading “The Craving Mind“, wherein (from the jacket) “Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist who has studied addictions for twenty years explores how bad habits are formed, why they are so tenacious, and how the practice of mindfulness can help us to conquer the most stubborn addictions and step into a new way of being.which covers using meditation practice to break addiction and bad habits.” So far it’s incredibly insightful.
Undoubtedly, as i move forward in this pursuit my plans will shift and change, but I’m committed to making this year one of huge growth in self-awareness.
As I was reflecting on the work I’m doing right now and my painting plans for this year, I became very certain that my primary goal is this: I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.
The most important thing about framing the goal this way is that it prioritizes exploration, experimentation, and learning over outcomes. In other words, this is not strictly about making landscape paintings that Ben likes, or somebody else likes or wants in their home or whatever—this is about making paintings in service of discovering how Ben makes landscape paintings.
In light of this realization, I’ve decided to spend one or two more sittings with the current painting and call it “done” because i’ve learned about everything I am going to learn from that painting. My next plan was to do a different scene with the same process, but I’ve changed my mind. My next painting will be the same scene, but with different constraints:
- shorter painting sessions
- limited overall time
- limited brush sizes (not too small)
- paint direct from photo source (as opposed to painting source)
Know what? I’m excited.
Over the last few months i’ve been practicing guitar at least 5 times a week, in an effort to regain the abilities I lost by neglecting to play or compose music the last ten years or so. It’s been exciting to see how fast it can come back by simply practicing consistently and challenging myself. What i’d really like to do is get back in shape enough to start writing music again—and I’m pretty close. As i was writing in my journal the other day, it occurred to me that what i was thinking about in terms of my creative process for writing music hadn’t evolved in twenty years (which is the last period of time I was writing regularly). I just expect the inspiration to strike and whatever comes out to work or not work.
I’ve learned a lot about making things and harnessing my creativity in the last twenty years, and I’m excited to apply what i’ve learned to music writing for the first time. In every other creative discipline i’ve actively pursued, my process has evolved to include a lot of research and planning and more formal iterative processes.
Right now, I’m just at the beginning. Instead of jumping in on a new song, I’m taking some time to listen to the songs that move me the most, and observe what i like best about them. I’m writing sketches and short ideas without judgement and without diving into them deeper to force them into a song. I’m laying the groundwork, and it’s fun.