Developing the RESTful mind
For all you fellow nerds out there: sorry, I won’t be using REST as an analogy here. It’s just a pun.
The RESTful mind is not a mind that tries to control everything. Sam Harriss refered to meditation as thought control, but I don’t agree. Meditation, when it works at its best, is about noticing your thoughts and letting them pass. You’re not trying to quench them. Fact is … you can’t. Even the greatest meditation masters can’t stop thoughts from arising. (At least not according to Mingyur Rinpoche, who I considering being one of them.) Thus, you cannot control thoughts. But if you practice meditation, you get better at letting them go. Watching them. Choosing if you want to chase them or just let them pass.
Not control, but rather freedom.
As for work environment, this is super mega important. Thoughts pop up for all of us, all the time, but in a tech company your attention is being sought from so many places at once. Let’s just start with the computer. You have your email client, Skype, Hipchat, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer. And then there’s the phone with all the new Snapchats and whatevers. iWatch. Google Glasses. An army of beeps and notifications will be coming at you.
The ability to remain calm and focused in this noise is worth more than knowing the latest Rails gem inside out. Because if you can’t keep your attention on the code — if you can’t finish that feature — then what good is the gem? Focus is our new currency and I want you to be rich.
All these feels
Our meditation practice is also about improving emotional intelligence. Getting to know our feelings — icky word, I know, but this is necessary — is paramount to staying cool and getting shit done. Let’s say someone is bothering you. A project manager with Zeus complex. A client that’s filing bug reports on your Google Fonts not rendering in an Internet Explorer version from like 2003. If you haven’t done your meditation homework, chances are you will spend the majority of the day hating that person. Not getting anything done.
You’re giving that person rent free space in your head.
A skilled meditator would notice the irritation: where in the body the irritation makes itself known. Noticing it, breathing properly, and shifting his or her awareness to whatever he or she chooses to be more important. Sometimes, we do want to get angry, and then we should. That’s healthy. But you always want to have the choice of not letting your thoughts and feelings rule your behaviour.
Chade-Meng Tan made an analogy of a rider and a horse. If you haven’t trained yourself in emotional intelligence, you’ll go wherever the horse (your emotions, that is) wants you to. You’re on a diet and someone brought triple chocolate brownies to work? You’ll not be able to control yourself. Your in a meeting and a coworker is trying to get out of his QA duties? You’ll not be able to control your anger. But if you’ve practiced, you’ll stay cool.
To the benefit to him, the team, and to yourself.
The importance of continuous deployment
A meditation retreat can be a great start, a great push, and a great way of getting to know yourself and your mind. However, just like with physical exercise, a ten day bootcamp won’t keep you fit. What you need is continuity. Set the bar low. Five minutes every day before breakfast or after lunch or before working out. Set a timer and make a schedule and stick to it.
And just like working out the results will be there for you in the long term.
Agile meditation planning, or: the not-to-do list
Remember: whenever we add a new item to our backlog, something else will get pushed down and probably out. This means that if you want to keep your meditation practice going you’ll need to stop doing something else.
A common mistake is to think that time will present itself. You know you have spaces, time you’re wasting anyway. But don’t get fooled by this. Your willpower is not strong enough to just replace the unproductive stuff with productive stuff. None of us can do that. Rather, make a conscious choice for your self. Write this down:
“I will meditate for x minutes every day, at [time], instead of z.”
You’ll be more likely to develop a RESTful mind if you do.