Sunday, October 23, 2011

Self improvement

I've been thinking recently about why Kenta and I have started this routine -- twice a week, take a free hour we don't really have, run to the top of East Rock, and meditate.  By the way, my roommate Guillaume came along last time and showed us a great route that takes a wooden trail there instead of streets...we're excited to use it in the future.

Anyway, for me, the objective is to break free of something, some atmosphere that permeates the inside of the Yale bubble.  Not that it's a bad atmosphere -- I love it inside the bubble -- but sometimes you just need some fresh air.  And I think it's the atmosphere of self-improvement.

I'm addicted to self-improvement.

It isn't even a conscious effort, really.  There's probably hidden motivations -- I want to show off to other people, I want to get approval from society, whatever.  But at its core, the addiction arises out of a simple idea: why wouldn't I want to make myself a better person?

Many Yalies probably have similar personalities, and that's why we're all here, filling our days with self-improving activities.  Doing reading all day to improve our critical thinking skills, jockeying for exec-board positions to improve our "leadership skills" (hopefully the last time I'll ever use those words in a blog post), or being on the soccer team to improve our athletic abilities -- these are all self-improving activities, and I think we're all aware of that fact while we're engaging in them.

A smug satisfaction sits in the back of my head saying, "Hah.  You're getting ahead of all the slackers."

I don't have a problem with this philosophy in itself.  We're only here for four years, and it makes total sense to cram as much personal growth into that time as we possibly can.  But maybe some of us haven't thought enough about what it means to grow.  I know I hadn't until recently.  (And I'm not pretending I know the answer yet either.)

At the least, most of us have realized that studying all day isn't the answer.  There seems to be a culture at Yale of making fun of people who stay in studying 24/7, and I think this is a really healthy thing for the college.  But what we turn to as an alternative is often still in the same general category: "things I could put on a resume".  Not that we're all doing them because we want to put them on our resumes...but they still fit in there.

Later in life, I think, resumes will matter.

These other activities can be really awesome -- I personally love my extracurricular groups -- and I think it totally makes sense to fill up most of our lives with them.

But they're not everything!

What about friendship?
What about happiness?
What about relaxation?
What about empty time (gasp) -- no iCal appointments, no goals, just life?

My professor for one of my classes this year went to Yale in the '80s, and upon walking through the Silliman courtyard at 8pm on a Wednesday night he remarked: "It's so quiet...what happened to this place?"

Anyway, maybe that's what this running routine is.  Something we can't put on a resume.  Sweaty meditation with a beautiful view makes me feel calm and happy, and that's enough.

Or are we just running and meditating and writing this blog to get better at running and meditating and writing...?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Being a slacker.

 Whenever I run a long distance, I think about how things would be a little easier if life was more like a long distance running. There are moments in life that make me feel like I'm running up the steep hill on the way to the top of East Rock. My abdomen is aching, my throat is getting dry, but I know that even after climbing up this hill there's another 5 miles to go before I can stop running and drink a bottle of water. 

When I'm running, it's relatively easy to bear and keep running. I just tell myself "You gotta run to that big tree right there and you can stop." I run to the tree, and then when I'm just about to reach the tree I tell myself the same thing again. For some reason, I'm stupid enough to not realize I'm being completely tricked by myself. I just keep running. I get really pissed sometimes, but it's weird because the person who's telling me to keep running, is myself.  

In life, things are not that easy. I can't set a fake short goal and force myself to keep working. Whenever I find a easy-way-out, I just take it.  Maybe this is because life is so much more complicated than just running, and my brain subconsciously knows that it's not a good idea to follow my fake cheer. Or maybe it's because I'm a slacker. Either ways, I feel like in actual life it's more difficult to set a short term goal one after another by myself. 

About 10 minutes up into the East Rock there's a little stairs that you can take as a short cut. Every time we run, I try to take the stairs and Geoffrey doesn't. He always takes the long way around and catches up with me. For me, not taking the stairs is not even an option. My body just reacts like a reflex to take the easy way. After all, It's a choice between doing an extra 2 minutes of running or not, and I don't know if this behavioral difference shows anything significant. But it just makes me feel really shitty about myself (which is good), and I just wanted keep a record of it just in case one of us becomes really successful. The next generation can then learn from this post that naturally being a striver is the key to success (or maybe not hehe!).

I really feel this running project is making me both mentally and physically healthy. I can concentrate and think better. I don't get stressed out as much, because every time I close my eyes on top of East Rock I feel all the small things I care in life, like girls not texting me back or a spanish quiz that I bombed, are very trivial. Maybe it's working a little too well, but we'll see. 

At least my Instagram skill is improving, and that's for sure.


Friday, October 14, 2011

East Rock, Day 2

Today we had to shift our run/meditation from the scheduled morning time to late afternoon because of a midterm.  I think that still counts as sticking to the routine, although morning remains the ideal.  Already the challenges of executing a project like this in a busy college environment are becoming apparent, but exposing and overcoming those challenges is kind of the point.  This running routine, and whatever others we'll be trying out in the coming weeks, are a personal reminder that life still exists.

Meditation is pretty damn hard.  Have you ever tried it?

Blank your mind, Geoffrey.  Stop processing information and just live for a few seconds -- wait.  You've got it!  Blank mind achieved.

That's not blankness.  That's thinking about blankness.

So how to halt the constant churning of the brain?  I think that Kenta was onto something in his last post -- just listen.  Perceive but don't process.  The sounds of New Haven float up to the top of East Rock, but they're transformed.  A thousand cars form the roar of a rushing river, and the wispy hints of a cheering soccer croud become birds tweeting.

The distance is perfect because it's natural.  I love the eerie silence you feel looking down upon a city through a glass window from the 50th floor, but this is something else.  We're propelling ourselves with nothing but human power up to the top of a rock that was put there by the Earth millions of years ago.  It's a timeless act.  We could be the man in this painting (if only we had a badass hunting dog).

East Rock in 1872

And maybe it isn't necessary to completely blank out either.  There's something nice about letting the brain run free and seeing what happens.  I love falling asleep on planes and trains, because I often enter this weird state between wakefulness and sleep where I'm conscious of the crazy things my brain is pondering, like a half-dream.  You know what I'm talking about.  And in a world where every free moment is intercepted by ambition -- "What task needs to be achieved next?  Devote full brain power, and go!" -- relinquishing the reins feels healthy and refreshing.

Maybe it's just placebo, but I'm generally starting to feel a little better about life already.

Let's keep it up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

See, I always think too much to decide the title and never actually start writing the blog itself...

I didn't know that Blogger had a function to auto save the draft every few minutes. Actually, I just realized that because I've been staring at my screen for more than ten minutes without typing a letter. This is fucking unfair. You know what? Having to write blog posts in English every Tuesday and Thursday and being judged by Geoffrey and Maggie, and ONLY by Geoffrey and Maggie, is a lot more of a hell to me than to sacrifice an hour of my sleep and run up to East Rock twice a week.


Whenever I go back to my hometown Fukuoka, I visit my Zen Master. He has been my mentor since  I was 13. When I visit him, we would discuss life, drink green tea in his beautiful garden, play around with his Bonsai Trees, and meditate.  I remember him telling me once that the first step to reach the state of "Emptiness" is to listen to every single sound around you when you medite. So today I tried. On top of the East Rock, I sat down with Geoffrey and closed my eyes. And I listened. 

I was surprised that there were just so many sounds around me that I never paid attention to. Not all of them were necessarily pleasing, but it felt like I opened a secret door to the hidden backstage of life. It was such a refreshing experience to find out the sound of Geoffrey scratching his knee, tires of a car scratching the concrete ground, a piece of leaf falling down on the grass, and the morning breeze penetrating my Tshirt. I had believed for the longest time that the world  would be way less vivid and attractive if I was blind, but today I was able to think that it might be not as bad as I think. On the way back I tried listening to my iPod so that I could maintain my speed, but after listening to all the beautiful sounds of life and earth, even Michael Jackson sounded too noisy and unpleasant. 

Maybe the world without vision is as fascinating as, if not more fascinating than, the world with both sound and vision. Who knows?  I don't want to miss out on these beautiful sounds around me that I can always listen to anymore. It's so much more interesting than Pandora or Spotify. Starting today, I'm going to start listening. 

"Shit, it's already 1:30? fuckkkkkk" I'm listening to my suite mate in our common room. Indeed, I need to study too. 

32 hours till our next Run. 

35.5 hours till my math midterm. 

9 hours till my morning class tomorrow. 

6 hours worth of work to do tonight. 

Fuck my life. Seriously, this blog is such a pain in the ass.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An early challenge

At this early juncture, already I face a test of dedication.  It's 5:30 AM (not an unusual bedtime for me), and my first class isn't till 11:35, so I'm giving up about two hours of much needed sleep to make this run happen.

I think it's worth it though.  Something about the commitment, the ritual, makes it seem even more healthy than sleeping.  Besides, if we give up every time we're sleep deprived, we'll never get around to any of this stuff.  I find myself surprisingly excited at the prospect of waking up in less than four hours.

Time to sleep.

Staying foolish

Stay hungry, stay foolish. -- Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Now is the time to experiment.  In college we have no commitments, flexible schedules, the energy that only people below legal drinking age have.  And experiment we do -- we experiment with ideas, with friendships, with love, with alcohol, with drugs, with sex, with doing laundry.

But what about experiments on life? 

Sometimes it seems that "quality of life" is just thrown by the wayside here -- ∞ hours of work will trump all, nothing else matters, not friends, not sleep, not LIFE.

Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of the environment we're in.  But I figure that, at the very least, we can mess around a little, mix things up, and see what happens.

In eight hours, my friend/suitemate Kenta and I will run to the top of East Rock, meditate for a bit, and then run back home.  Silently breathing in the morning air has to do something good for you, right?  We'll repeat the same thing every Tuesday and Thursday for the next few weeks, and then go from there.  Perhaps replace that routine with another one, add on others, who knows.  

Catch you later.