A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I had to make a difficult choice. I could do something that was risky to me on many levels but very beneficial to somebody else. The situation was such that the decision was entirely private. There was no social pressure of any kind. I could either do this scary but helpful thing or just go about my life, and nobody would know the difference.
That experience and its outcome lead directly to the configuration of this year’s PauseOnError. I thought I would tell the tale in the hopes that it might encourage some folks who might be on the fence about trying something different at Pause.
This decision was one big thing going on in my life at the time. There were, of course, many other things happening as well, all interwoven and intertwined in the usual manner of any human life. Another one was that I had been struggling with learning new computer languages. I have spent the better part of 25 years building FileMaker apps, but given the incredibly rapid pace of change in our industry, I thought it would be good to branch out.
But it was hard. Much harder than I expected. I had lots of opinions about what was wrong with other languages I was trying to learn. I didn’t like text editors or using the terminal. The kids I’d watch on the internet coding were so fast I could barely follow. I felt clumsy and foolish, and old.
I started to think perhaps I was just too old. Maybe, like my eyesight, my brain power was getting weaker. There may be some truth to that. But I also felt like some part of it was just a mindset. I just needed to find the right perspective.
Meanwhile, the big question I hinted at above was this; do I donate a kidney to my nephew? Or do I just let the doctors tell my family I am not a match? Which they will do If I tell them to. That’s how it works. You have complete cover if you choose not to go through with it.
I’d like to tell you that I never thought of doing anything but saying “yes”. But that wouldn’t be true. I thought a lot about saying “no”. I can say that at least I was struggling with the question. I didn’t dismiss it out of hand. I wanted to help my nephew and his family, but I also knew that things could go wrong, and at the very least I would have a month-long recovery from major surgery. Frankly, I was scared.
I had been practicing meditation on and off for many years. I had read many books on meditation and had developed an affinity for Zen Buddhism. I was reading a Zen book by John Tarrant, Ph.D., called “Bring Me the Rhinoceros.” In the book he described a situation where he had to make a choice; try something new or just do what he had always done. He described choosing the unknown path in such way that it seemed incredibly alive. Suddenly “who knows what will happen,” felt completely free and easy and even exciting.
When I read the section, I started to cry. I knew, instantly, that I would donate my kidney. There was no more doubt. It felt like a gift; an incredible chance to participate in something amazing. So I did it.
My nephew and I came through the surgery just fine. He is doing better, and I have no ill effects from having only one kidney. It was an amazing experience. Part of me lives 3000 miles away in another body. How cool is that!
I wrote John Tarrant, the author of the book I was reading and shared briefly about what had happened when I was reading his book. He wrote back, and a few months later I was participating in week-long meditation retreats lead by John and other Zen teachers.
I continue to attend long retreats a couple of times a year, and make regular meditation meetings in my area. I meditate most days, sometimes with a koan given to me by John or one of the other Zen teachers I work with.
There are many things I could say about what having a regular meditation practice is like, but in the interest of sticking to the goal of this post, I’ll just say that I have found meditation very helpful when trying new things, like learning a new programming language. Once you notice that your mind often labels things as “hard” when really they might just be “new,” it gets a little easier to cut yourself some slack for not knowing everything before you begin. “Not knowing” becomes a more friendly place to be.
Often at the retreats I go to, people take time out to paint or to take photos of the wildlife. Meditation tends to open things up and let ideas in from unknown directions, so creative activities are a natural offshoot. I like to take time out to learn new technical stuff. This has been so fun and so helpful, that I began to wonder if there might be an interesting way to combine a meditation retreat with a FileMaker Tech conference.
It seemed like a good time to try. The next version of FileMaker represents the beginning of a paradigm shift in our community. There are lots of new things to learn, and if my experience was any indication, this was going to be a challenge for many people. Maybe a conference dedicated to the very idea of trying something new could help?
I mentioned this idea to John Sindelar. He loved the idea and suggested he would like to help put it on as a PauseOnError. John’s vision for Pause as “part art project” had always impressed me, and seemed to fit with the goals, so I agreed.
I then reached out to John Tarrant and asked if he thought any of his direct students might be interested in coming to such a conference and helping with meditation. John Tarrant runs Pacific Zen Institute and has a busy schedule, but I figured one of his students might be interested. I was quite surprised when he responded with something like “Sounds fun. I’ll do it.”
We found a great location, added another featured guest Jonny Lee to teach Chi Running and started filling up the tech session slots with great topics. Next thing you know we have Pause Los Gatos, a meditation retreat, tech conference, and art project.
It’s a new thing; an unknown thing. But so is every single moment of your life. Maybe you can’t do it wrong.
Come join us!
CEO, Geist Interactive