Learning to count and preparing for a year of insight

This last week I completed 14 weeks worth of Coursera courses in business analytics and data analysis. My brain is fried. But in the tasty kind of way. This is my special kind of fun. I take Coursera courses the way other people might watch reality TV: mindlessly, indulgently, and often without discretion or concern for my sanity.

As the statistician introduces the material for week 15, my eyes accidentally close for just long enough to nearly doze off. Shit, he lost me. Right now my eyes burn. Blinking hurts a little bit. My body aches from sitting in the same position all week. It’s cold in our bedroom and the heater is lodged under 300 yoga mats in the garage. I can’t believe the sun is already set for the evening. What happened? Tomorrow is Thursday! I look at the two boxes under the desk, jokingly wrapped in One Direction wrapping paper. Christmas is coming.

It was just last week that I decided to start teaching myself data analytics, and yet I suddenly cannot remember what spurred the sudden interest. Last month I read something like 8 books, including 2 by Elizabeth Gilbert, an author I’d somehow managed to put off all these years, so I needed a break from my Kindle. But not from my brain.

I must have been scrolling through Coursera courses, deciding what to study next and where to focus my curiosity and restlessness. I really don’t remember, but one way or another, here I am, practically cracked out and addicted to data science. Except that I am definitely done for the day.

According to RescueTime (my favorite app of all time, second only to Yelp, which I am literally–and I use that word correctly–addicted to), I’ve logged more than my daily goal for “Very Productive” time. So I deserve this break. I earned it.

Christmas is in a few weeks and it’s simultaneously my most and least favorite time of year. I love the spirit of Christmas. I love the snow, which we don’t have in the SF Bay Area, but which we better have wherever we move to next or else I will literally–again, I use this word correctly–throw a fit. I love the Christmas music, which I have played exactly as often as I’ve remembered to: 0. I love the lights and decorations, even though ours are in a box in a garage in a city 100+ miles away, waiting for an actual white Christmas. I even love the cookies, which I usually don’t eat but Tyler made some last weekend and I ate more than you’d suspect a 5’5” 125lb woman is capable of. I had like 15 on Saturday alone. Is it ok to admit these things? I love Christmas.

But I fucking can’t stand the commercialism that surrounds it. But do we really need another rant on consumerism? Probably not. But let the record reflect that I, Ashley Celey-Butlin, do not like buying useless crap for people who don’t need it, just to “prove” my love for them.

And after Christmas is the New Year, which I never know whether or not to capitalize because it seems like a proper noun to me, but also not. I love the new year because it symbolizes new beginnings and there’s nothing I love more than new beginnings. Not even Christmas.

Starting on or around my birthday (Oct 1), I start to think of areas of my life I could improve, change, or measure for optimal performance. I start to think of ways that I can grow and develop, starting in the coming year. This year, I do not yet have my answer to that question. I try to consider the mind-body-spirit trifecta when planning my challenge but somehow gravitate toward the body because it seems easiest to control.

For example, in 2015 I went the entire year without eating any added sugar. In 2012 I flossed my teeth every single day. All the years between and since I didn’t do much, but in 2018, I think I want to do something for my spirit. My mind seems pretty well covered, considering my only real hobby is furthering my education.

One idea I have is to wake up at the asscrack of dawn and meditate every day for an hour. Have you ever tried to do that, even for just a day and just for 10 minutes? I’m always like, I’ll do it tomorrow. Or next Monday. Yes, I will try that next month. Between now and then, I will mentally prepare for what is sure to be the most transcendent decision of my life.

But waking up early just for the sake of meditating is like running a marathon just to post it on social media: nobody cares and it’s fucking unnecessary and maybe even bad for you. Why sacrifice sleep and restfulness for a challenge? Because meditating will somehow change my life?

A few years ago I did one of those 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreats in Thailand. I never wrote about it at length, but I did share a brief status on Facebook about my experience. In short, I learned practically nothing and almost went insane. I did not come out of that experience any more enlightened than I was going in (which was not at all). I might do it again, but not because it was that transformative. I might just want some peace and quiet.

But there is science behind meditation and I do not pretend to be above that. I embrace it. I want to experience this alleged measurable increase in joy and happiness. Can I please have that, to go?

There’s this great app called Insight Timer that I sometimes use. I keep it on my home screen as a reminder to meditate, but it’s been there so long it just kind of blends into the background of my screen. That’s why I periodically rearrange my apps and change the position of my home screen calendar. It forces me to notice these types of things. It’s like a little measure I take against complacency, and it seems to work.

So maybe next year I will try to just use that damn app at least once a day, for however long and at whatever time. I don’t need to wake up at the asscrack of dawn to reap the benefits of meditation and I do not need to sit in lotus for an hour a day to gain insight. According to the to headlines of research papers I’ve seen on the Internet, you only need something like 10 minutes a day of mindfulness to start to feel the difference. I can do 10 minutes, right?

Of course I can. Perhaps 2018 will be the year of Insight.

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