About once a week, on my way into work, I stop at Pamplemousse to have their “French Breakfast”. That’s a picture of it above: it’s just a sliced, warmed-up baguette, with butter and jam. And it’s my favorite part of my weekly commute routine.
There are lots of little things I like about it. The food is simple and good. The cafe is a lovely space where I always feel welcome. The table is just the right size for me to sit at alone with my food and my book. (Even if I’m reading a large book, as in the picture above!) The table is attractive, the chair is comfortable. The window looks out onto a commercial street that’s surprisingly quiet despite being right next to the train station. And it gives me a few extra minutes of quiet time on mornings when I feel like I need it, or when I just don’t want to put down my book after I get off the train.
Stepping back, though: being there makes me feel whole. It feels like the right thing to be doing, it feels like the right place to read and eat. The book pictured above is The Phenomenon of Life; quoting from p. 355 of that book:
In all these tests, the observers use observations of their own inner state, when comparing two systems A and B, to decide which of A or B is the more alive.
Some of the possible questions are:
- Which of the two seems to generate a greater feeling of life in me?
- Which of the two makes me more aware of my own life?
- Which of the two induces (as asked in Aikido) a greater harmony in me, in my body and in my mind?
- Which of the two makes me feel a greater wholesomeness in myself?
- Considering my self as a whole that embraces all my dimensions and many internal opposites, I then ask which of the two is more like my best self, or which of the two seems more like a picture of my eternal self?
- Which of the two makes me feel devotion, or inspires devotion in me?
- Which of the two makes me more aware of God, or makes me feel closer to God?
- When I try to observe the expanding and contracting of my humanity, which of the two causes a greater expansion of my humanity?
- Which of the two has more feeling in it or, more accurately, which of the two makes me experience a deeper feeling of unity in myself?
And, indeed: those breakfasts do generate a feeling of life, they feel harmonious in body and mind, they expand my humanity.
Actually, I feel good about my whole morning routine. In general, I’m not a big fan of alarms, but with Widget, having the alarm go off at the same time every morning (including weekends) works well. So the alarm goes off at 6:45, I get greeted by Widget and take him out briefly, then I shower with Liesl, then I walk to the train station (listening to podcasts), then I take the train (reading a book), then I walk from the train station to work (generally stopping of at Pamplemousse to pick up something to eat along the way, even if I’m not sitting down).
I like the contact at the start of the day, I like walking, I like trains, I like reading, I like the food. I’m not thrilled with the route from my house to the train station, and there are a couple of streets that I walk along on the other end of the route that don’t exactly expand my humanity, but those are minor issues. And I actually feel slightly conflicted about my podcast listening these days; mostly, I’m glad I do it, but sometimes I think I should fill those walks with thinking, observing, or just being. At any rate: it’s a good morning routine.
Traveling home is pretty similar; though because I don’t have to meet a train, I can take a slightly nicer route home from the train station. (And no stop for food along the way, for better or for worse.) About half the time, I walk Widget when I get home, and about half the time, Liesl has beaten me to that and I just have a bit of quiet time. Either way, Liesl and I cook dinner together and then we all three eat together, which makes me feel whole from both a family and a food perspective.
Evenings after dinner can be a bit off, though. When I’m sitting down and writing, that’s great. Or if there’s a game or a movie that I want to take in in a focused way, then that feels right as well. Too often over the last year or so, though, that hasn’t been the case: I’ve spent too much time in a combination of watching something random on TV with one eye and reading through random stuff on the internet with another eye, and that generally leaves me feeling not quite right at the end of the evening.
Sometimes I’ve been doing that because I’ve been tired: allergies have occasionally been problematic this year. Sometimes it’s because I’ve had other, less rewarding tasks filling up enough of the evening that I’m not left with a large enough block of time to feel like I can focus: for example, I volunteered to be on the board of my HOA this year, and while I won’t say that I regret that decision, I don’t like how frequently it eats into my evenings. And, too often, I’ve been annoyed or even angry at something: when that happens, I absolutely don’t feel whole.
Weekends are a little more similar to evenings than I would like. There are definitely parts of the weekend routine that are great: Friday evenings, when we generally order a pizza and watch a movie together; Saturday evenings, when we sometimes sit and home and watch a movie and sometimes go out to eat at a good local restaurant (of which there are many!); Saturday mornings, when I take Widget for an hour-and-a-half long ramble around the neighborhood; Sunday mornings, when I get to sleep in while Liesl takes Widget for an hour-and-a-half long ramble around the neighborhood; grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons; cooking a dinner on Sundays that we might not quite have time for on a workday; practicing guitar for a couple hours on the late mornings both days. And then there are times when those routines don’t work out quite as well as I’d like: when grocery shopping (and paying bills) leaves me feeling like I don’t want to cook something on Sunday that’s not pretty basic, or when I only feel like practicing guitar for an hour and when that practice is rote.
But the main issue on weekends is Saturday afternoons and the parts of Sunday afternoon before I go grocery shopping. Those are my biggest chunks of free time all week: I should either use them to relax or to focus on something that needs more time. But instead, all too often, I spend them partly chipping away at a few small things in a not-very-rewarding fashion, and partly doing things that are just using up time without letting me either feel relaxed or focused. And that’s not nourishing.
One basic issue there is that I’m being a little bit too todo-list driven without really asking myself whether those items are items that I’ll feel more whole by doing them. So the upshot is that little tasks accumulate; sometimes I take care of them, but don’t feel nourished by them, while sometimes I don’t take care of them, and then I feel bad about that as well. I think I would do better if I had fewer, more rewarding items; then I’d feel happy about doing them, but I’d also have more space to just do whatever crossed my mind. Better GTD, in other words; and I should probably consider ignoring or seriously curtailing my use of the Today list that Things provides.
That leaves work. Which raises the question: what would work look like if it were to make me feel more whole? I think I like programming the most when I’m figuring out something about the structure of software that I hadn’t seen before, while making the software better in some externally-visible way.
And, honestly, my current job is pretty good at that. The software is a large-scale distributed system with a variety of different components; it’s been around long enough to give me material to understand how the structure wants to be; and it’s been around long enough for even the initial guesses at that structure to be hidden in many places, giving me some digging to do, without having it be completely ossified. And I generally am working on projects that let me move the software forward in externally-visible ways, too. So when that all comes together, it can be pretty neat.
Of course, producing software is a social affair. And, while there are many social aspects of work that I like quite a bit, they’re not generally the ones most closely tied to the actual production of software. I would prefer to be part of a smooth (or productively differing!) cross-functional team; it’s not something I have at my current job, though. Which isn’t to say that teamwork is absent—actually, there are some informal teams that I’m part of at work that are pretty important to me—just that there’s room for improvement.
But my commute has also taught me that the physical aspects of my day are important, as are the rhythms. And work is not great on either of those fronts: I spend too much time sitting at my desk, and I also haven’t done a great job of differentiating my day in ways that make me feel better. And, from a physical space perspective: it’s fine, but nothing special. (This is maybe something that the open office versus individual office argument misses: my individual office at Stanford made me feel better, my individual office at Sun made me feel worse, the details of the space matter.) The physical aspects have been worse than normal over the last couple of months: we’re growing, so right now we’re crammed into a single floor while we build out the other floor. So there are lots of people, fewer random quiet spaces, no free standing desks; the buildout is almost complete, so that will get better soon. But still, I’m going to be spending most of my time at my desk, and my desk is not an environment that makes me feel more whole.
Room for improvement. But there’s a lot in my life that’s going well, and if I can improve my sensitivity as to why they’re going well, then I can try to spread that to parts of my life that are a bit off.
- July 5, 2015 @ 21:02:48 [Current Revision] by David Carlton
- July 5, 2015 @ 21:02:48 by David Carlton