A View of the Valley from the Rainy Mountains: San Diego County, CA
A while back we decided to get out of the city and do some RV camping in the mountains outside San Diego, CA. Our intent wasn’t to “rough it.” (“Been there, done that” back when I was younger.) Instead, we were simply going to hang out and explore the nearby village, apple orchards, and countryside from a relatively comfortable base camp. Shortly after we were all settled in, we discovered that the RV park we reserved was unable to provide the internet and TV it had promised. Worse, our cell phones wouldn’t connect unless we drove 6 miles to town! However, after checking our alternatives and finding all the other parks nearby were booked solid, we decided to stay put and go “cold turkey” on our connections to civilization.
No ‘Net, No TV… Nothing!!
So there we were. Five days in our reserved spot with a weather forecast calling for mostly rain for the entire period! For a few hours the quiet was a welcome contrast to the bustle and noise of our home in the city. After a while, however, I got restless. It was almost like I was going through withdrawal… too much silence, lasting too long. Too little stimuli, too much nothingness. No matter how many laps I walked around the campground, an overwhelming sense of wet and rainy emptiness seeped into my awareness. My mood began to be indistinguishable from the gloomy weather!
Then I remembered something I had heard Eckhart Tolle say in a podcast: You must learn to surrender to the moment. Embrace it for what it is. Be here, be now. So I decided to give that a try. (If nothing else, it would give me something to do — something to challenge and engage that yammering brain of mine!) At this point my fledgling meditation practice made itself useful. Using my meditation mind-set as a starting point, I just let my brain drift, thoughts bubbling up unchallenged, popping into nothingness, disappearing.
Eventually, the world around me seemed to come alive, as though awakening from a soggy slumber. Where there had been nothing worth noting, there was now an intricate set of branches glistening with rain drops and bouncing in the breeze. As my eyes traced the route of the branches to their intersections, I witnessed the emergence of larger branches, rougher and tougher bark, and a sturdy, wet trunk. I began to sense the ineffable, living presence of the bushes and trees around me. My ears registered the distant echo of a bird song and the sound of rain on the RV’s awning. Some odd-looking insect zipped along the ground, avoiding a rivulet of water that had chased him from his resting place. And finally, after nearly an hour of stillness, I was rewarded with the site of a family of shy wild turkeys that dared come out of the woods and begin a tentative, twitchy-cautious investigation of the park.
My Wild Turkey Visitors: Joining Me in the Stillness
Now the great thing about my awakening to this world around me was that once it began, it was hard to stop… and almost impossible to reverse! For the next few days I lived in this place of wetness with no connections to civilization, but lots of other connections to the aliveness of the world around me. Ironically, these days spent “unplugged” ended up plugging me in to the the world around me. And this changed my consciousness. It was as if I had pressed the “reset” button on my own awareness.
Residual Benefits: The After Effects of Pressing “Reset”
So now, weeks later, what remains of this mountain-inspired shift in consciousness? Here are some “before and after” examples to illustrate:
* Before: While working in my home-office, take a break in my backyard and ruminate on my troubles, never really noticing my surroundings.
* After: Take a break and seek out the aliveness of my wife’s gorgeous flowers, the cacti, and our palms, while actually hearing our singer-in-residence, that brash and noisy mockingbird.
* Before: Listen to political talk & analysis while warming up for my workouts. (And get all stirred up by the rants of talking heads!)
* After: Listen to soothing or lively music… or listen to nothing at all.
* Before: Check the news several times a day.
* After: Turn on the news only to find that it’s noisy, voyeuristic, gossiping, and jolting to my sense of well-being. Then quickly turn it off.
* Before: Listen to business or technical podcasts while exercising.
* After: Exercise in silence, counting reps or working on my “be here, be now…” by truly hearing, smelling, feeling, touching bark on a nearby tree, feeling my feet hitting the ground, etc.
* Before: Get the creative urge (discover insights, concepts) to solve a problem, create or write something a couple of times a week.
* After: Enjoy having new ideas bubble up throughout the day, every day, welcomed in by a more peaceful consciousness that makes plenty of room for them.
* Before: Find it difficult to deal with other peoples’ issues, problems, etc. (And feel little patience for them.)
* After: Have more psychic energy to listen patiently, really hear and then help others.
Techniques for Keeping the Peace: Unplug on a Regular Basis
Having tasted these deeper levels of peace and reaped the benefits, both professionally and personally, I have become determined to retain as much of this quiet mountain state of mind as I possibly can. Here are some techniques I’ve found to be helpful:
- Meditate at least 20 minutes every day.
- Read or meditate before going to bed instead of watching TV.
- Seek out, then access some welcoming, natural place in your neighborhood.
- Consciously lose the gizmos, gadgets, media feeds for at least one period each day. (Can you hear the birds? … see the flowers? … feel the sun and wind?)
- Dare to do absolutely nothing for 1/2 hour or more.
- Make an effort to find at least one new welcoming, natural place every week.
- Commit to spending at least a few hours or so in one of these natural places.
- Turn off the TV at least one full day a week. Just turn it off… Go for a walk, visit a museum, visit a park… anything. Just cut the media feeding tube.
Have an Intensely “Unplugged” Vacation
- Go without all media feeds for at least 3 or 4 days. (Pay attention to how this feels… what you think about… what you focus your attention on.)
- Go to bed when the sun goes down. Then get up at dawn. And eat only when you’re hungry. (Synchronize your rhythms to Mother Nature’s.)
- Read material that’s inspirational and brings you peace of mind.
- Go for long periods in silence, stillness, just noticing your surroundings.
- Record your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
What’s This Got to Do with Project Management?
Managing a project can be a high-stress undertaking. And if you’re going to make good decisions, you need to be present…. fully present… to see clearly what’s going on and to hear clearly what your team is trying to tell you. This demands a clarity of consciousness that can best be maintained by occasionally “unplugging” from the ongoing stream of stimuli. In short, you need to “be here, now” with your team if you’re going to keep your project on track. And the best way to “be here, now” is to unplug and develop the habit of pressing “reset” regularly.
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