2017-05-26

Thinking vs. Being

Many of us human beings are actually human doings, especially in our days. Those of us who are not enlightened spiritually, including, of course, myself, are addicting to doing, including thinking, instead of focusing on being in the present moment and enjoying it non-judgmentally.

The more I practice mindfulness, first and foremost in the form of meditation, but also in an increasing number of areas of my daily life, including davening, running, and swimming, and the more I read about mindfulness, the more keenly I realize how my mind, including my thoughts and emotions, has hijacked myself. We can realize the existence of something only when we experience its non-existence. Only after I've started to experience short-lived glimpses of non-mind, so to speak, through mindfulness, I feel even intuitively how my life has been controlled by my mind.

Except when I practice mindfulness, my mind doesn't stop working even in those contexts in which it does more harm than good, thinking and feeling, mostly negatively, about the past and the future, and judging others, again mostly unfavorably. But on the other hand, in those contexts in which I need my mind, it can't work in a focused manner.

I've known of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for quite some time, but I haven't taken the trouble of reading it, dismissing it as yet another shallow bestseller. When I started to read it this week, I understood I was totally wrong. It's one of the most amazing books I've ever encountered in my entire life. It doesn't deal explicitly with mindfulness, but no other book I've read seems to capture the essence of mindfulness better than it.

I (and probably many other people) have been indoctrinated to think that we have to think constantly. Descartes went even so far as to say, "Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am')". But as Eckhart Tolle explains in the above mentioned book of his, nothing seems to be more distant from the truth about our thinking and being. Our thought, he says, is nothing but a part of our consciousness. Unfortunately, I can neither understand nor feel this consciousness beyond thought and the state of being without thinking. This is a new self-imposed mission in my life - to become spiritually enlightened by attaining these two states. This must be an important step in pursuing the purpose of my life - to train my soul in my physical body.

2017-05-19

Lifelong Learning

Since I started my daily mindfulness meditation about three weeks ago, I was looking for a frum Jewish teacher of this meditation method in Jerusalem. Yesterday morning I stumbled upon an announcement about an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation starting on the very same day and immediately arranged my registration, feeling as if it were bashert. We had our first weekly session last evening.

The greatest benefit of and my main reason for participating in such a course is that one can't acquire skills, including mindfulness meditation. fully and accurately, only from books. In our first weekly session I could confirm that my practice of mindfulness meditation based on books is alright.

Since I consider training of the soul as the main purpose of my life, I find lifelong learning crucial and have always like to learn new life skills in various aspects of life first by myself and then sometimes also formally. The life skills I tried to acquire in the past ten years this way include navigating in the sea of the Talmud (I spent a year learning it at Ohr Somayach, a haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem), Chi Running (from a private teacher), Total Immersion Swimming (from a private teacher). I also continue practicing these skills in order to improve them for my spiritual and physical well-being.

After I was diagnosed with OCPD, I started to take an interest in acquiring new life skills for my mental and emotional well-being. Mindfulness meditation, which is recommended in a number of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectal and behavior therapy, it was the first life skill I decided to learn formally.

Now I'm seriously thinking of learning three more life skills formally in the next several years not only for myself but also hoping to share my newly acquired practical knowledge to help others, mostly spiritually and physically: Conscious Transformation (in an online course), life coaching (at a school in Jerusalem, probably during my next sabbatical), and shiatsu (at a school in Jerusalem I can attend in my free time). I have no plan of leaving my present occupation and start working exclusively as a life coach and a shiatsu practitioner, but I feel like learning these life skills systematically now even if I have few or no chances to practice them for others immediately after completing formal learning and receiving certificates. I have been interested in shiatsu as both its receiver and (non-professional) giver since I was a child, whereas my interest in life coaching is very new.

I feel I'm at an important turning point in my life now. Especially since I got married last summer and was diagnosed with OCPD a few months afterwards, I've been looking for more and more ways for my self-empowerment not only for myself but hopefully and eventually also for others. I'll probably encounter other life skills I want to learn formally to complement my lifelong learning.

2017-05-12

Scrivener Workflow

Unlike 99% (or even more?) of my colleagues and students in linguistics and Jewish studies, who use Microsoft Word or some other word processor for every imaginable sort of writing with a computer, I don't use these bloatware programs for the same purpose. When I tell this to them, they are shocked first, then ask me immediately what software I use if not Word, as if it were the only writing tool on this planet. I use EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor for note taking, where physical layout is irrelevant, and Scrivener, which I call "integrated writing environment", for writing academic articles. I also use these two powerful (commercial) tools with MultiMarkdown.

Since I stumbled upon and started using Scrivener several years ago, I've been preaching its benefits. But the number of fellow researchers who started using it as a result of my preaching is only one so far, who is very computer-savvy. Now I'm in the middle of showing my wife how to make smooth transition from Word to Scrivener for writing her PhD dissertation before she starts writing it with, God forbid, Word.

If you had experienced the benefits of Scrivener, Word or any other word processor would seem so stupid and inefficient. But even if you've been convinced of these benefits, the migration from the stone age to the 21st century isn't so easy because of the steep learning curve of Scrivener, especially if you also want to use MultiMarkdown, which is natively supported by and incorporated in Scrivener.

Since I started using it several years ago, I've been thinking of sharing my workflow, especially in combination with MultiMarkdown, publicly so that more people will stop torturing themselves with paleolithic writing tools. I'm finally doing this. This workflow can also be a good reminder for myself. It's based on the Windows version of the software, but it must also apply to the Mac version.

Preparation

  • Learn MultiMarkdown syntax through MultiMarkdown Guide.
  • Reach Chapter 21 "Using MultiMarkdown" in Scrivener's built-in User Manual, which you can open by pressing F1.

Interface Customization

  • Hide "Format Bar" by going to "Format" on the toolbar and unchecking "Format Bar" in order not to be tempted to change physical formatting locally as in a word processor.
  • Open "Inspector" by clicking the "i" icon on the right top corner.

Project Structure

  • Split the project, which is equivalent to a single document in a word processor, into documents, each of which corresponds to a chapter of a section.
  • You don't need to plan all the chapters and sections in advance. You can add and rearrange them any time later.
  • Put those documents that will be a visible part of your end product under "Draft" and those that are only references under "Research". In the Inspector window of each of these latter documents uncheck "Include in Compile".

Actual Writing

  • Concentrate on the semantic structure of each document instead of being distracted by its physical formatting by marking up the semantic structure of each paragraph by choosing the appropriate syntax element of MultiMarkdown instead of changing its physical formatting locally.
  • You can split the screen either vertically or horizontally to open, for example, a "Draft" document and a "Research" document simultaneously.

Compilation [the most complicated part]

  • You can use the same Scrivener project in order to convert it into multiple output formats.
  • Let's suppose you want to convert your project into ODT, Word, and/or PDF formats.
  • Press the "Compile" icon (the one with a rectangular arrow).
  • Choose "Compile For: MultiMarkdown to OpenDocument Flat XML (.fodt).
  • Press "Save".
  • Open the saved FODT document with LibreOffice Writer.
  • [Optional] Open a blank ODT document from your own favorite OTT template, if any, and copy and paste the content of the above FODT document there.
  • Convert it to ODT format by saving it as an ODT document.
  • [Optional] Modify the physical formatting of non-default paragraphs not by manually changing each of them locally but by changing the associated "Styles" by pressing F11, choosing the style you want to change, clicking "Modify", and modifying the details. This modification will globally change the physical formatting of all the paragraphs associated with this specific style.
  • You can convert this new ODT document into Word or PDF format with LibreOffice Writer.

2017-05-05

Financial Recovery and Fitness

Now that I've already been working on my emotional and mental well-being in addition to my physical well-being, I've decided to start working on something I've been postponing for a long time - my financial well-being - or to be more precise, achieving full recovery from some serious temporary financial "disease" and maintaining financial fitness for years to come through some "workout". Of the several self-help books about personal finance I've found Financial Recovery by Karen McCall and The Net Worth Workout by Susan Feitelberg especially helpful.

The most important advice I've learned from the first book (and started to try to implement) is distinguishing between need and want. She write, among others:

A need, when filled, sustains us. A want, when filled, entertains us. Attempting to substitute wants for needs eventually drains us. [...] The urge to buy on impulse is a good indication that something is a want, not a need.

Now I realize that the main reason why I haven't been so successful in saving money is that I easily give in to the temptation of satisfying wants, especially when they are books and/or cost a small amount of money, and these wants sum up to quite a large amount after a certain length of time. This financial urge may even be compared to addiction.

What I like best in the second book are the physical metaphors it uses in talking about finance. The author uses the term "workout" to refer to a series of efforts we are supposed to make in order to recover and maintain our financial health. She makes the following metaphorical comparisons:

  • Earning = metabolism
  • Spending = calorie intake
  • Saving = strength training
  • Investing = cardiovascular workout

Since I've been doing various physical workouts, these metaphors help me estimate my current financial "shape" even intuitively, which is already a progress for me. But the harder part is how to set my financial goals and make plans to attain these goals. Unfortunately, being a total novice in financial workout, I still don't know exactly how to accomplish these two tasks. I'll probably have to read these two books again (and again) and/or even take a course in financial planning as I've never taught it as part of the school curriculum or in any other formal setting. Another important thing I've been planning (and postponing) to do is to start using a personal financing software program (such as GnuCash) to track what comes in and goes out and in what forms.