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December 2013 Posts

SNOW!!

Michal and I will be spending our first Christmas in San Francisco this year. And where I am looking forward to being stationary, I am really missing snow. Coming from the east coast, we didn’t always have snow around Christmas. But when it did it brought that connection to the Christmas of movies and ads you can’t get at 65 sunny degrees.

Last year we spent part of the holidays digging out a sled path down a trail through the trees in hilly Maryland with family. Yes, I am in my 30′s and not too proud to dig through the snow for fun. And yes, it wasn’t smart to slide down a hill on a low friction surface on an uncontrollable piece of cheaply manufactured plastic with hands to steer… But it was great. And it was cold. And it was snowy around Christmas. What more could you want?

In early October I hiked around the Sierras for a few days. I ended up around 10,000 feet and found my self in snow ranging from ankle to knee deep. It felt great. That unmistakable crunch under my feet and cold in the air got me in the mood for a real winter.

So to you on the east coast, may Christmas be cold and clear with a little or more change of snow. Think of us if you see flakes falling. And in my t-shirt walking in the spring-like weather, I’ll get a little chill and think of colder days.

 

 

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Camera Lucida

Alfred Stieglitz Photographing on a Bridge

Alfred Stieglitz Photographing on a Bridge

 “When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not (i)emerge(i), do not (i)leave(i): they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.”

― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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The Importance of Being Mindful at Work and Home

I have practiced meditation on and off for close to one year now. In that time I have had moments of deep insight, calm release, anxiety, and insight. I find meditation interesting for a number of reasons, both academic and personal.

When I started meditating I thought the goal was to clear my mind. After a few sessions I spoke privately with a local Zen master and proudly proclaimed that I had been able to clear my mind – if but for a few seconds! He laughed a little and asked why I would want to clear my mind. I had no real response. I had to ask what I should do. He explained and showed me that I was approaching this from the wrong angle. I should not try to clear my mind but rather understanding what I think and feel.

Unfortunately the feeling portion took a while to understand. I started working with a koan, a simple phrase that takes on an intuitive meaning after some time of conscious and subconscious pondering and reflection. The koan I selected was simply “count the stars”.

After a few weeks I thought I understood what the statement meant and brought my answer to the local Zen master. Again he began to laugh a little. He told me that I thought too much. I was trying to delve into the rational and define the statement. He asked me if I had a clear memory of looking at stars. I told him I had spent several evenings lying on a frozen lake in the interior of Alaska on clear, -40F nights in a place so quiet and remote I could hear the snowflakes land on my down parka. The sky would be overwhelmingly full of stars. It was a penetrating, overwhelming view of a sky so massive and so far from home that a flash of light, that seemingly instantaneous expression of energy, no matter how intense, will take thousands of years to hit us. I thought of SN1054, also known as the Crab Nebula, a super nova so intense that it lit up the Medieval sky as bright as the moon for over a month.

But I felt and I accepted the feeling. An experience isn’t just seen, it is also felt. And to be mindful is to witness and process both. And in a mindful state I realized that I wanted to know how to meditated without asking what I was looking for.

Meditation can lead to a state of mindfulness. Mindfulness has an array of definitions, but is often understood to be the ability to keep one idea in mind despite the circumstances around you. But there is more to it: to be mindful is to keep the big picture active despite the continually shifting emotions our thought is built around. This is not to ignore emotions, but rather to notice and consider but not immediately react,

Mindfulness does not involve belief or the pursuit of knowledge. It does not tell you what to do or what the future holds. What it does offer is the opportunity to truly process your life as it comes. Your emotions are not eradicated but rather processed and understood. Your experiences become more meaningful in that you begin to understand the effect experiences have on you.

To be mindful is not to be relaxed or asleep but awake and aware. It is to see a situation for what it is, not what it does to you.

To see clearly, to think clearly, to feel clearly requires effort and patience.

This Is a challenge in a workplace bombarded with blogs, tweets, emails, conflict, stress, and a workload that never ends. Mindfulness can lead to an understanding of the big picture, which can keep one from drowning in the millions of messages that surround us. Mindfulness can lead to new understandings, a clearer view of a client or customer needs, a perspective on what was truly asked of you in an assignment. It can help one process resentment, conflict producing anger, and misunderstandings.

In better understanding ourselves we become open and aware to the plights and needs of ourselves and others. We see the need for what it is, not the reaction to an expression.

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Perfect Day: Great Advertising from PS4

This is a brilliant piece of advertising that really gets to the core of the gaming experience.

That said, I’m not a gamer.

It is interesting, this notion of game and play. When we remove the images of weapons and armor and photo-realistic sports cars, this play is a deeply consuming activity in a format that is difficult to disengage from reality.

Our minds have not evolved to see the images in play as not “real”. We are the subject attacking the object, the one surviving the conquest. This is play as in that of childhood, of practicing for the real thing. But the practice involves elements that feel and look real.

So when one comes home from a busy day and plays, the play is both cathartic, “real”, and practice.

I once read that the Master Chief character in Halo was intentionally obscured in order to allow for the player to impose their image into it’s place. You are there, you are experiencing. And then you turn it off.

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Playing the Infinite Game

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

There are few situations in life that are not improved through viewing from a bigger picture. A moment is a moment, but it is part of a larger narrative. What is critical is not just how we view it but how we then live it.

This is, of course, the application of James P. Carse’s short but challenging “Finite and Infinite Games”. The theory is partly semantic and partly perspective. It is an acknowledgment of the continuation of all things despite our innate ability to wrap borders around each portion of our life and actions.

But lets back up a minute. What is an infinite game?

Let’s start with a finite game, such as Scrabble. I sit with my wife and play Scrabble at a pie shop every few weeks. We talk, we battle over letters (nerds!), and ultimately we add points. The game has a beginning and an end. There are rules and boundaries that cannot be crossed. It is in effect a finite universe in which order is needed to balance the equation. I perform a deed, she performs a deed. Every action effects the other as we progress towards the end point, a place we both know is coming.

A few years ago I played a version of Uno with a little girl that Michal and I were close to and who was one of three children in our wedding. She and I devised a style of Uno in which the rules were temporary and changing, the boundaries quick to move, and the purpose was simply the continuance of play. In the end there was most often a winner or we simply gave up. What is striking to me is that we were, in effect, entertaining a small portion of an infinite game.

In an infinite game players do not try to control the game or predict outcomes. They do not look for what will happen and do not set an outcome at the beginning. Where finite players play with the rules, infinite players play with the rules.

This, of course, has got me thinking about the art of business and interaction. Am I viewing my projects as finite, bounded, and regulated or part of an infinite game? What is my perspective on the big picture? How am I playing the game? What game am I playing – finite, infinite, or finite within infinite? One critical aspect of a career is how you work with people. Do I change the rules so that all are invited to play a part or take the work and credit on my back? What would work look like if all players were playing the infinite game?

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