View from the Beach

We are loosening our grip on home with a trip to Washington and Oregon, preparing for our daughter’s wedding and enjoying some space from packing, packing, packing. It is helpful to have the space from our work and travel preparations. We are so blessed to be able to travel before the Big Trip. Yesterday we drove from Walla Walla, Washington to Seaside, Oregon, driving through the Columbia River Gorge and Portland. I was in a drowsy state of mind for the drive; a little uninspired. Perhaps it was the grey weather, perhaps the recovery from all the travel and the wedding planning. Not that I’m a central figure in the planning. At any rate, I was inspired once I could see and hear the beach. And while the air was cold and the sky was grey, the sight of it all has been awakening. This morning we woke to a calm and clearing sky. The blue is increasing and the grey receding. I am sitting with a birds eye view on the sand and surf, along the promenade of Seaside.
What a great view it is.
While I am enjoying the time away from the planning and prep for our upcoming trip, I continue to reflect on the details as well as the mysteries of our journey. We have done our best to nail down the details of our travel; the basics of flight, lodging and other transportation. But the realities of life in Nepal remain a mystery This is despite the reading and conversations we have had with experienced travelers and our Nepali hosts. No matter how much we think and talk about our trip, it won’t be unveiled until we are there. Then we will “know” what Nepali life entails. Life is like that isn’t it? We spend hours speculating about some endeavor or project, only to truly figure it out when we are in the thick of it. I’ve experienced this at work on project as simple as wiring a camera. I can either spend the morning poking my head in ceilings, looking for the best location or what might be, or simply get to work. Granted there is value to thinking ahead but too often it is overdone; a great tool of avoidance.
Now… back to speculating. We are now 2 months from our scheduled flight from St. Louis to London, the first leg of our trip to Kathmandu. While I have at least 30 days of work to do when I return, my main job will be pulling together the items that will be my living kit for the duration of my trip. A set of clothes; shirts, underwear, socks, shoes, jackets, hats. These items need to be versatile and capable of an easy wash. While I intend to limit the number of items that I bring (I don’t need to impress anyone), these need to be appropriate for work in the monastery, comfortable and useful in a variety of settings. In addition to clothing, I will bring camera equipment that will allow me to tell the story of our journey and experience. I would like to give my family and friends some idea of our daily life; a little window into the world of Nepal. As I have found in my research, even the Internet of pictures and stories doesn’t adequately paint a picture of our destination much less our work. I am hoping to chronicle our life there and give a sense of the people and our relationship to them. Accomplishing this is more easily said that done I expect, since there are the practicalities of employing my camera, video and or microphones at the right time and in a way that doesn’t get in the way of our relationships. This is difficult around family and it will probably be a similar challenge in our Nepali community. I don’t anticipate that I will want to record extensive segments of life in Chobhar but snippets of sound and sights. Choosing the most appropriate equipment (not too much or too little) to accomplish this will be the trick. Storage will of course play a role as will methods for moving, editing and sharing the data. I will want the best lenses for the places we visit. Flexibility, durability, useablity are key.

Road to Nepal – Preparations

Sitting at a bus stop in Glenwood Springs, I am on my way to Denver for a mini reunion with High School friends. My friend, Maureen, is hosting the gathering in honor of my impending journey. It has been quite some time since my last post – as has been the norm for this blog. That said, I am committed to providing myself and others more detail on my process and experiences along the way to Nepal.

The last months have been full of preparations. Everything from buying tickets and booking hotels to cleaning the garage and every drawer of every cabinet. In addition to these activities, there have been some unexpected turns in the road. As all travelers know, the path is seldom without it’s obstacles and unseen opportunities.

Joni and I are deep into cleaning and purging the house in preparation for renting it. The process of sorting, musing, discarding, recycling, and donating can be quite time consuming. I have to come to grips with old memories and determined how precious “things” are to my existence. Usually the object is of little import, save that it is an interesting spark to some old memory; sometimes all the way back to childhood and elementary school experience, high school or college endeavors or sometimes a more recent (but quickly passing) artifact from my girls. I have found grades, awards, letters, photographs, journals. These take me back to mostly fond memories and`sometimes to regrets of roads not taken. Despite their value for reflection and a brief feeling of attachment, most of the artifacts are not worth keeping. Casting out these and other less precious receipts, letters, and such has tripled the flow of paper out of the house through trash and recycling.

This process of sorting and discarding has many benefits. The most obvious is that it has simplified the clutter in my house and consequently settled my mind. I’ve always appreciated the calm that comes with little acts of organization. I recall nights in my adolescence when I would be agitated, altered and/or full of thoughts. Cleaning my bedroom was always a good antidote for my restlessness. It brought me back to in touch with my body and senses and chased away my insecurities. While I am not as disturbed as in my youth, my housecleaning brings me a similar sense of calm. There is something about the act of sorting, classifying, storing or discarding that is centering. Perhaps it takes us back to earlier human acts of “nesting”. Activities we engaged in early civilization or cave dwelling days. Or perhaps it is the concentration, the sensation in the fingers, the looking and connecting with the object, the intention… one thing at a time. I realize that this could be a frenetic exercise if I took a different approach. I could wildly throw things to the wind. But for me it is a sort of mind training – a tool for bringing my awareness on to a single thing.

In addition to the organizing items of personal history, Joni and I have taken a deep dive into the various knick knacks, tools, cleaners, paints, cosmetics, and clothes. Every drawer and cabinet in the house has an collection of the relics of living; similar and sometimes odd bits from the large to minute, the useful to the outdated. It is a wonder how many paper clips, nails and tacks I’ve gathered up, refugees from various projects. I can spend 2 or 3 hours focusing on a location. Afterward I might feel quite accomplished or I may feel like I have created a bigger mess. Through the process I’ve learned to live with messes and piles of items with no immediate home. In the end even these “hanging chads” finally find a cohort of like items and eventually find a resting place either in the house or in the “out box”.

This household purging is ongoing but I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. That’s a good thing because time is growing short. Our original rental goal was the first week in June so this leaves only 30 days to completion. Due to time constraints and the improved simplicity of the indoor landscape, we are moving into the phase of storage only. We hope to rent the house with our furniture in place and the most valued items stowed into safe corners of the basement, shed or garage. In addition to stowing the final items, other preparations continue; decide exactly what we need to bring within the weight limit of 35kg (77 pounds).

The Journey Begins

This is my attempt to begin to chronicle our trip to Nepal. On September 23rd we interviewed and accepted a volunteer position at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Monastery, teaching english to young nuns. We had been thinking about this possibility for a couple years when we first met Tsoknyi in Steamboat and got a presentation of their work there in Nepal. We are “scheduled” to begin our work there in September 2017 and will finish at the end of January 2018. While we have about 10 months to prepare, there is much to do, learn and familiarize ourselves with before that time. We are traveling to a new culture, with sometimes difficult living conditions. We want to do our best in providing the girls with effective instruction in English. We want to take time to enjoy the people and the area around Chobar and the rest of Nepal. We need to schedule flights, understand visas, get the required immunizations, understand money, bring appropriate clothes. On top of preparations for being in Nepal, we need to make preparations for our home here in Glenwood Springs. At some point, we would like to rent the house. We would like to use this opportunity to clear out (declutter) our house so that we have less to pack away and less to be concerned about.

This series of blog posts will help me to clarify what is happening and what is left to do. It is both an outlet and and inlet for ideas, emotions and insight into the trip. The journey has already begun. Perhaps my process will be of benefit to other people with similar dreams.

This trip combines many aspirations. First, it provides a way for me to work in the service of these girls and my Teacher. I feel very dedicated to support the projects of Tsoknyi. It is clear from his discussion of the school and his presentations in the promotional videos that he is dedicated to the needs of these children; helping support their basic needs and become educated and empowered. It is rather subtle but he is also aiming to provide a community of learning that is kind and nurturing while being enriching, structured and constructive for the students. Kind and nurturing is foremost in his mind it appears. He repeats this often in his description of the school. It is consistent with the principals he describes in his teachings of Dharma and mediation. He truly believes that we are overly harsh in our push for results – that we need to listen to our resistances – our monsters. Beginning with understanding and kindness in our practice and in our relationships will help us to heal our sensitivities and bring about better results in our practice. If we are to make peace with our monsters, resistances, fears and such, we can begin by having more compassion for ourselves as things come up. While this might vary somewhat on the personality/temperament of the person, most of us can benefit from a gentler approach to our demons. Rimpoche describes the hand shake practice that helps us address issues as they pop up in our lives.

My personal experience with this approach has been most helpful. I have been able to apply my mediation practice; resting with what comes up, sitting WITH it rather than pushing my fears, attractions, resistances, images, etc. away. The ideas of bringing this kind approach to students and adults in a school also makes sense. A community of people who take this approach to their personal demons, may bring compassion and kindness to each other. When a community speaks the language of kindness, they can help one another promote inner and outer kindness.

My aspiration to work at TGL has developed slowly and surely as I have become familiar with Tsoknyi Rimpoche’s teachings and his person. While I realize that going to Nepal will not miraculously take away my fears, cravings, biases, and other baggage that I carry, I know that I am entering a community where growth is encouraged. I intend to make the best of this opportunity for polishing my rough edges and developing a more open heart.

Choosing Tools – Part 2

tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific purpose. Tools that are used in particular fields or activities may have different designations such as InstrumentUtensilImplementMachine, or Apparatus. ~ Wikipedia

“Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.” ~ Alan Kay

Technology is so pervasive in our lives that it is nearly impossible to grasp. If we consider all the innovations within the time of human development, we would have to include fire, the wheel, and even culture itself. With a scope so large it becomes very difficult to summarize. As we consider present-day techniques (technology adoption), it is helpful to acknowledge this long history. The fact that we use the tools we have inherited and use in unconscious ways (tools, technology and methods of mental organization) is a testament to our ability to adapt. We are capable (required really) of adopting new tools and methods, use them and forget what and how we learned them. We also forget that we “stand on the shoulders of the giants” who developed these tools. Habits are just that; routines that we have committed to physical and mental memory. Behavior that comes “naturally”.

While this blog is devoted to a broad range of tools, this series of posts explores the “cutting edge” of technology; which requires effort, makes us uncomfortable and requires choice. I am interested in the influence that technology has in our lives. Old and young, business-women and house-husband, teacher, developer, grandparent, and small child. Whether we like it or not, we are pushed and pulled by technology. I want to understand the influence that technology, digital tools, has on us. It makes sense that understanding the irritations and benefits of digital tools can help us choose more wisely. That is the crux of my exploration.

Most familiar to me are the basic digital tools that help us communicate with each other and organize our interests and work. I admit I have drank from the fire hose of technology at times. Sometimes this force feeding has been required within the responsibilities of my job. Sometimes I’ve chosen to explore some new tool and sometimes I’ve simply gotten carried away.

Digital technology and it’s adoption can be informed by other (non-electronic) technologies and applications. There are diverse aptitudes and inclinations for tools of various kinds. The woman who can’t begin to use a computer may have mechanical aptitude, woodworking aptitude, horticultural aptitude, social aptitude. Remembering the arc of innovation that preceded the “digital revolution” can help us understand common threads between the development of digital and traditional tools. Familiar, traditional trades and tools shaped the people who designed the first computers. Familiarity with hand tools, art and craft were an asset to developing skill with digital tools, giving the developers confidence and a model of practice. While there may be many examples of people for whom one aptitude fails to inform the other, skill in one field can inform another. For example, I know a number of musicians that are incredibly versatile with technology. When I help someone understand their computer I try to employ their other skills in the process.

I began this series of posts with a quote from Kevin Kelly:
“I began this book with a quest for a method, an understanding at least, that would guide my choices in the technium. I needed a bigger view to enable me to choose technologies that would bless me with greater benefits and fewer demands.”

Kelly’s sentiment spoke to me, in part because I rely so heavily on technology in my work. More generally it speaks to my desire to find balance for myself and the people I support. My mental and physical health improve when I am observant and disciplined in my practices. Given the amount of time I spend with my computer, phone, camera and other devices, managing them well will improve my quality of life. As a bonus, managing my personal use can help me help others lead a more sane digital life. I must admit that observing others is a great source of entertainment and curiosity. While it is sometimes comical to watch people discuss and use their digital tools, it can be painful, even tragic. In this light, my hope is that my exploration of this topic will help me bring understanding and happiness to people as they make digital choices.

A favorite topic of dinner party discussion these days is technology. The conversation begins when someone comments about their new phone and how it helps or confuses them. Someone else offers advice or explains the alternative they prefer. Before long there is an eruption of opinion, emotion and advice on what is best, what is coming, or why one person hates or resists the incessant marketing and development of new technology. While the conversation is somewhat dependent upon the demographic of the group (and the amount of alcohol consumed) any and all social occasions will suffice; a wedding, holiday gathering, reunion, or coffee klatches. Technology adoption is a hot topic of conversation.

While adults (45 and above) are especially uneasy with the innovation around them, everyone feels the push of innovation; propelling us out of our comfort zone and into change. Whether we accept the challenge to adopt the latest technology or not, everyone accepts the trends and the difference between adoption among children and adults. While there are claims of a “digital divide” that separates older luddites from dialed-in youth, I believe these claims are exaggerated. Granted, our children and grandchildren are more willing to pick up the new method or tool. But this willingness does not often translate to insight and knowledge of the tool or trend. The affinity and willingness to adopt is more related to need, desire, lifestyle and priorities. Regardless of age, those who are willing (comfortable)  to “play” and experiment advance with more ease.

Technology adoption is more reliant on personal necessity than aptitude. One’s depth of understanding and knowledge of the mechanics of a tool is pushed by a need and is supported by various levels of curiosity and persistence to resolve the need. For example, if my daughter only responds when I send her a text message, I will either learn to text or be frustrated and live in isolation from her. Many adults have learned to text for just this reason. We adapt at various rates as the necessity and/or curiosity hits us. There is no question that our sense of competence with a tool may loom large but I find that desire can help us overcome such bias. As with the texting example, the desire to be in contact/communication with my daughter can be a powerful influence for overcoming my lack of aptitude. If my social status or connection revolves around a system of communication and I don’t adopt that method, I will miss the opportunity of association. What began as a tool for teenagers to connect instantly has evolved into a method of touching our children.

As we continue to explore the imperative to adopt and methods for choosing tools, it is useful to remember the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention”. It is also the mother of adoption. In this case, the necessity for digital tools is the result of a desire to be connected with one another. While it is important to recognize the unintended consequences that it may have (Turkel, “Alone Together”) belonging is a predominate motivation for technology adoption.

Choosing Tools – Part 1

From Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants
“I began this book with a quest for a method, an understanding at least, that would guide my choices in the technium. I needed a bigger view to enable me to choose technologies that would bless me with greater benefits and fewer demands.”

I think this quote summarizes what many of us want; greater benefits and fewer demands. A common complaint of adults is that technology confounds, confuses and overwhelms them. While the media celebrates the announcement of the latest iPhone, the general public appears to struggle under the weight of the latest version, app and innovation. Social and business pressure implores us to ADOPT! The question is no longer, “What’s your phone number?” but, “How do you like to be contacted?” Email, phone, text, Google+, FaceBook?

In my former life as technology director I was responsible for implementing a wide range of devices and software, intended to help teachers and students organize and learn. I didn’t presume to choose what was best, but was responsible for implementing whatever was dreamed up. Driven by mandates from the state of Colorado and leading to well-intentioned choices to meet the learning needs of students in our District, technology was identified, chosen and implemented rapidly and incessantly.

School Districts are clearly caught between a rock (demands for higher achievement and accountability) and a hard place (a diversity of tools with a range of function and sophistication). Not only is there pressure to find magic bullets, there is the challenge of sifting through the options. Due to outside pressure or a lack of time and resources, most districts do not take the approach that Kevin Kelly aspires to. The opportunities and benefits of technology are lost in the demands of quick fixes and short timelines. The demands are evident in the face of teachers who are overwhelmed with the requirements and the technology used to meet those requirements.*

In the book from which the aforementioned quote is taken, Kevin Kelly describes alternative methods for selecting and implementing technology. The most notable is the approach of the Amish. Contrary to popular opinion, the Amish do not reject technology off hand. First of all, different parishes of Amish take different approaches to technology adoption. Kelly has found many of them to be “ingenious hackers and tinkerers, the ultimate makers and do-it-yourselfers.” I have made reference to the Amish and Kevin Kelly in previous posts.

I am fascinated by the Amish model of adoption that is described by Kelly. I am quoting and paraphrasing Kelly’s account  of them as it contrasts with popular approaches to technology adoption and it shines a light on alternative methods of adoption. First and most important, Amish practices change over time but technology is embraced at their own rate. “In contemporary society our default is set to say yes to new things, and in Old Order Amish communities the default is set to “not yet”.”

My support of the Amish method of adoption does not extend to an agreement with what they adopt. Whether I agree with what they adopt is not as important as the fact that they have standards by which to measure acceptance and a method for review and adoption. Here is Kelly’s summary of the manner of their slow adoption:

1. They are selective. They know how to say no and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ignore more than they adopt.
2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
3. They have criteria by which to make choices: Technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
4. The choices are not individual but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.

In the posts that follow, I intend to explore the practice of technology adoption. What are some helpful guides for deciding what is right for us or for our enterprise or for the people we manage? What can we learn from our own and others (like the Amish) experience? How can we make technology work for us, not the other way around?

It is clear to me that there are more choices available than one person can practically employ. The flood of new devices and software will not abate; on that we can depend. Moore’s Law and Kryder’s Law describe the phenomena from a purely physical perspective. The most promising approach to managing this inevitable development is to manage our choices, manage our personal consumption of tech tools. Personally I would like to achieve greater benefits and fewer demands. I hope this exploration will be of benefit to you.

* On a different but (sadly) related note, technology is employed by adults to meet traditional educational goals rather than as a tool that students use to transform their learning.

Moore's Law Graph
Moore’s Law from Wikipedia

Continue to Part 2