Do the work, books as support

Seth Godin posted a list of books to help with motivation and getting things done

One has stood out for me and I spent a whole £6 and bought it: Do the Work by  Steven Pressfield. Short, brief and to the point it helps you get that project done.

Do the work

Do the Work

by Steven Pressfield

A taster of the book in my own words:

Resistance is at the top of the list of the forces gathered against us completing an enterprise.

Activities that most commonly elicit resistance:


1. The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance or any creative art.

2. Any diet or health regimen.

3. Any program of spiritual advancement.

4. Any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals.

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favour of long-term growth, health or integrity.

If this sounds something that could apply to you then I think you might enjoy it as much as I am.

Jack Kornfield, supportive writing

Jack Kornfield’s writing has been a huge support for me over the years. He discusses Buddhism through western filters. I have read the Wise Heart and A Path With Heart. I am reading Bringing home the Dharma and plan to read as many more as I can. I will leave with you a quotation that I also intend for my daughter because loving someone is good and great but that can mean a lot of things to different people.

Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control. We can love and care for others but we cannot possess our children, lovers, family, or friends. We can assist them, pray for them, and wish them well, yet in the end their happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and actions, not on our wishes.
– Jack Kornfield

Geoff, the Buddha and me (and my phd)

I don’t write too often (ever?) about the PhD I started and didn’t finish. It was an awful time. It was the most ego- and spirit-crushing time of my life for which in a way I’m very grateful because it made and makes all other bad times feel like a temporary breeze. Almost a zephyr really.

The PhD years also brought me to Buddhist teachings and zen practice. I also listened to, on my morning commute, this rather helpful story about the Buddha, Geoff and Me. The “me” is Ed, not me Joanna, whose life isn’t going the way he would like. He meets Geoff and in a very humble and interesting way learns all about Buddhism. Or a bit about Buddhism.

This isn’t like that rubbish book Sophie’s World where we get a rip-off of all the major philosophies in what is meant to pass as a novel. This is actually good.

From the website:

Ed is having a hard time – at work, in his love life and, well, generally. Then he meets an unlikely Buddhist – who drinks and smokes and talks his kind of language. Bit by bit, things begin to change… Ed doesn’t always take Geoff’s advice. Or, when he does he lapses at the crucial moment. His path to understanding is not a straight one, especially as life keeps throwing more and more ‘stuff’ at him. Often he fails – like most of us, in fact. But sometimes he manages to get it right. And when he does, surprising things begin to happen.An absorbing story of everyday city life, where the characters stand out with all their human strengths and weaknesses, and the ending brings Ed – and perhaps all of us? – a hope we didn’t necessarily expect.

The Buddha, Geoff and Me – for anyone who’s ever begun to wonder what the whole damn thing is all about…

First week done, how did I do?

I did ok for my first week of resolute living. I have posted every day even if I haven’t remembered to write down one good thing for each of them. I haven’t run much apart from a hundred metres or so up a hill to get to the supermarket but that isn’t what I meant when I wrote my resolutions so I won’t let it count.

I got an article published even though it was a day late.

My biggest success has been my search for spiritual and creative support and it seems to have come up everywhere. I have enjoyed the Osho teachings, a man described as more dangerous than Jesus by Tom Robbins. I have discovered posts and tweets by friends which have helped me explore creativity, habit forming and randomness, and all at the right time.

Jose wrote about habits and provided useful tools for organising himself. He inspired me to wake up early and do useful things with my time. The lifehacker article he links to makes a great point about how successful people seem to wake up early to get things done. Also Joe’s Goals is a site I’ve used before where you add in your goals and then check off whether you’ve done them or not. A great way to hold yourself accountable.

I then read Matt’s post about Project 52 and got so inspired about being creative, or learning even more about being creative, that I immediately downloaded The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron.

Matt mentions two things about which I am already excited: 1) the morning pages which to me seem a bit like meditation – write three pages of uncensored prose of anything entirely-up-to-you-whatever and then get on with your day; and 2) the artist dates which are time specifically set aside for creativity. This is also something that I want to do this year and I was talking about it with Ben on Twitter.

Not only did he support the idea of randomness but he also had suggestions of authors to read: Brian Eno, Shannon, Turing, Gödel. How synchronicitous. So I have plenty to work on.

I think I need more specific tasks for my writing because while I keep going on about a novel, I have managed no additional words at all. My new resolution is to add at least 1000 words a week. I have also done no real exercise apart from carry my daughter around town for hours on end. I will have to ponder on what to do about this but I don’t have the motivation yet.

Instead I will leave you with my latest personal lesson which is to spend the night away from my tiny little girl for the first time ever as she is staying with her father for the first in a series of sleepovers. So not only do I have plans but I also have some loneliness and some time.

Let’s see how that goes.

Is up the only way?

Osho, a resource for support

In the 1960s, Jown Bowlby outlined the approach to human development that he called attachment theory. He helped us recognise that from the day we’re born, our brains are biologically designed to respond to the care and kindness of others. This transformed parenting to support the emotional needs of babies and toddlers as they grow up.

People in affectionate relationships show lower levels of stress hormones and higher ones of ‘happy’ hormones than those in relationships characterized by conflict.

The way we relate to ourselves – whether we regard ourselves kindly or critically, in a friendly and affectionate way or hostilely – can have a major influence on our ability to get through life’s difficulties and create within ourselves a sense of well-being.

This comes from Paul Gilbert’s the Compassionate Mind and it corresponds nicely to a video of Osho I was watching at 4 o’clock this morning. He speaks of selfish being a beautiful world because it is about loving yourself. How can you love other people when you are not happy with yourself? His example is of beggars looking for money from other beggars and not getting what they want because the other person doesn’t have anything to give.

So here is my support and suggestion for reflection. Being my own best company. Kind of. I have been my own best company for a while now so I am a bit unsure of how I would do this any more than I already do but listening to others speak on it – like Osho – is helpful.

Also that word selfish is something that stuck with me. There is a cultural conditioning that women should be “nice” that we should give and not expect much back. Selfish goes against all of this so it jarred with me but now I find it tasty and delicious to think of being selfish and just doing things for me. Apart from the fact that it feels nigh on impossible it still feels fresh and exciting to think of it.

So here’s to devoting myself to me. To being a very kind friend and my own very best friend. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it’s a great part of the supportive journey I am on.

p.s. The following is also quite interesting, dreams as your unlived life. Apparently Osho doesn’t dream.

How the baby went from mine to ours

For a few days in January I thought that I had lost my unique selling point of being a single mother doing it alone and making all my own decisions.

I chose the baby’s name, where we lived, what religion, what activities, what school the baby attended etc. It was all mine. My baby, my choices and no one else to worry about.

Then there was an evening where the baby’s dad told me he wanted to be a dad and be involved in the baby’s life. I was initially a little wary but started to picture how having someone else share the decision-making responsibilities could be a relief.

I wanted him to play a role and at the same time I didn’t want to share ‘my’ baby. I think I said no to every suggestion he made that night about baby’s middle name and some other things.

I tried to work the words ‘our baby’ in some sentences. I wanted to see how it would feel. For certain things it was wonderful. I had so many dreams and aspirations for the little one and it felt different talking about it with someone who had as much interest as I did. Things like taking baby to Greece to meet grandma and grandpa and pick up some of the language, to visit Brussels and her auntie who lives there, take the baby swimming, to the library, and various other things.

I would be up at nights reading about women who had killed their children through neglect and email to tell him never to leave the baby in the bath alone. Never, ever. I sent him articles about newborns and what to do, I told him about the clothes my parents and friends had given me and I wondered whether he’d like to pick out baby’s first outfit.

For a few moments it was nice to share all of those things. One of my worries, about burdening the baby with an absent father figure, was starting to disappear and I was getting more comfortable with the word ‘our’.

Then two days before my due date he came over so we could talk. It turns out there wasn’t to be as much sharing as I had anticipated. The dad’s involvement would end at getting to know the baby and he would not necessarily be there for the responsibilities, the decision-making, the day to day commitments.

In one conversation, in which admittedly I spent more time listening than talking, the baby went from being ‘ours’ and back to being ‘mine’.

My intention was to love as much as I could, all the parts of the baby’s life, and this included the father, his family and all the wonderful things they brought to the equation. It feels a bit more of a challenge now but much less than before he wanted to be involved.

At the end of all that, baby still gets to know a father, which is great, and I got to see how much I wanted someone to share the decision-making and the responsibilities. I had lost track of how much love and support I already have and became a little too wrapped up in believing that I couldn’t handle it all. It will still be ‘my’ baby but this was a lovely reminder that I was never doing it alone. Now I just have to deal with all the thank you cards once little one arrives. There will be many.

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