My room sits on the 3rd floor of the Shedra. From my window I see the old Lakhong (temple) on the left, with the shell of construction of the new Lakhong to the right. Below me pass the Anis from the school, Shedra and Trasang going about their daily routines.

In the distance between the buildings is the city of Kathmandu. Around 8 kilometers into the city, as the crow flies, is Tribhuvan International Airport where people begin and end their Nepali adventures. Most days, the Monastery is in the flight pattern. From my window I can see planes leave the ground, turn, and circle directly over us here in Chobhar one after the other. Sometimes I picture the people feeling a little nervous, the angle and lift of takeoff pushing them into their seats. I sometimes take a moment to wish them safe travels.

Once every morning and afternoon I sit on my bed with this scene spread out before me for meditation practice. In the early morning and late evening the lights of Kathmandu fill the scene. One morning I saw most of the lights disappear in a blackout along with the lights of my lamp in my room. Each morning I follow the instructions given to me to settle my mind and body and generate a compassionate and an unbiased attitude, to let go of fear and hope to just “let it be”. This doesn’t mean that I have no thoughts or that strong emotions never arise in me. Meditation is a practice fraught with paradox. While it includes effort, it is aimed at effortlessness. Rather than chasing thoughts away, the instructions are to let them settle until they are like passing ships or clouds that don’t require tending.

Meditation isn’t perfect (or should I say, I’m not a perfect practitioner). Somedays my mind is very busy or disturbed, in anticipation or in fear. But the practice reminds me to “let it be”. There were times when I wondered, “What’s the point of all this sitting and doing nothing? I could be out getting things done.” But despite my doubts I have persisted, coming back every day. In the long run I have found that this “nothing” has brought more peace and made me more equipped to deal with impermanence and the unexpected. At the same time, it has helped me appreciate the “good things” in my life; family, friends, good conversation, food and drink and such.

I believe that Mind is everything. By that I mean that we (no one else) are the masters our experience – our perspective. Obviously, we aren’t always in control of our circumstances. I’ve written quite a lot about how my circumstances here in Nepal are dynamic and sometimes difficult. My mind, my perspective on this roller coaster of life determines in turn how I respond/react; my emotions and my thoughts about it. When Buddhist talk about purifying Karma (a topic that often is misconstrued), they are talking about confronting and releasing old habits of mind, taking a new perspective; one that is based on compassion for oneself AND others. Ultimately we work to respond with more insight and skill. So, the “goal” of meditation is to develop a new perspective. I encourage you to try it. I’ll spare you the full quote, but the Buddha was clear in saying that one should not just accept that a practice (like meditation) is worthwhile but one should try it and determine if it has merit. It can be done in the spirit of whatever religion or non-religious perspective you might have.

Speaking of challenges and perspective… I now have my computer up and running again; in a fashion. That grey box that you see connected to the computer is now the brains of the computer. Using the hard drive delivered from the US and some random flash drives that I brought with me, I spent the week diagnosing and fashioning a system that works. It is pretty or convenient but it works.

As promised in my last post, I will now set to work on the photos that I took during my trip to Pokhara and Muktinath.

Sitting on top of the world. Peace – out.

Our Inner Toolbox

My most recent blog posts have been devoted to technology adoption and use from the 10,000 foot level. My investigation is making me aware of the research on adoption from the perspective of business, education, and the individual; considered by age, confidence, background, socio-economic status, interests, affiliations and need. Suffice it to say, I have a lot to learn about this research; the conclusions people have made as well as unanswered questions related to adoption.

In this post I present some practical, tangible, and personal practices that support technology adoption and competence. I offer some insights for managing your personal approach to technology.

My Tools

Managing technology has been a professional and personal evolution for me. My personal evolution began in 1987 with an introduction to computers in graduate school. My initial fascination with them grew from writing, spreadsheets and general organization to networking, email and file sharing. I quickly learned that my fascination was not shared by others and that my curiosity marked me as the go to guy when someone needed support. Clearly this was not due to my superior knowledge – I had very little. It was more a question of my willingness and persistence. I valued the resource and had a sense that it would pay off over time.

Institutional Adoption

Fast forward ten years – I found myself working in an advisory capacity to the technology director for the Roaring Fork School District. 5 years later I was hired as the director. My years with the department and as technology director put me in the position of leading software implementations (not to mention software development). I had the opportunity and sometimes dubious task of convincing people that new applications would be useful and worth the time required to learn them. My first assignment was to implement a new phone system across our 11 school sites. Within this project and others, there were a variety of considerations, complications and forces at work. I will delve into these at some other time. Suffice it to say that mistakes were made, and with each project, I learned a lot. One key lesson was that compulsory adoption can put people in a defensive position and create resistance even when skill is not an issue.

Not withstanding the missteps we made in promoting / supporting some computer applications in the school district, I sincerely believe that there is great value in computer applications for institutions and individuals. This belief drives my curiosity to help people through their own adoption process; beyond personal resistance and/or technical confusion. Helping people adopt a new technology or make better use of something they are vaguely familiar with allows me to extend my personal quest with tech tools. Thank goodness I’m no longer expected to make large numbers of people adopt applications without their expressed consent. Now I can work with the willing. Even when knowledge and skill are lacking, consent is a powerful force.

Helping People Choose

I enjoy helping people use technology – they choose; technology that can help them communicate, be creative and informed or that allows them to automate or streamline a task. By virtue of asking for my help, my clients are a step ahead of my former captive audience. They have already made a commitment on some level. They have chosen a particular computer, application and/or goal. They may not be happy with tools they are working with. But they are motivated on some level.

Once a commitment is made, it is important that support and methods are available to overcome inevitable barriers. It’s technology after all! While we can picture the solution working, it doesn’t often work the first time. First there are barriers of time, skill, confusing menus, unfamiliar concepts, and a host of other technical issues. Though the technical barriers can be substantial, the proper frame of mind can help us persist through the learning process. The way we think about our tools, our confidence and learning strategies are essential to our success. A positive attitude, the right environment, adequate focus and self talk strategies come in handy. When I talk about “tools4mind”, I am referring to the software of our brain as much as the hard digital tools. The mind is a much overlooked tool.

Attitude Counts

While we may not consider our frame of mind as important to our success, there is mounting research that lends credence to it. A series of studies were conducted in the 60s and 70s by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. His longitudinal  study found that children who were able to delay gratification showed greater competence / success later in life. Evidence in a 1988 followup study of these children showed:

“Delay of gratification, assessed in a series of experiments when the subjects were in preschool, was related to parental personality ratings obtained a decade later for 95 of these children in adolescence.… Specifically, children who were able to wait longer at age 4 or 5 became adolescents whose parents rated them as more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress.”

In 1990, other follow up studies of these children showed that the the children who waited scored higher on SAT tests.

The original “cookie” study has been replicated and refined. Results have suggested while these traits are pervasive over time, there are environmental factors that mediate the delay of gratification. In other words, if we fail the marshmallow test at 5 years old, we aren’t destined to be an under-achiever. One such study found that previous experience matters:

Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer—12 versus three minutes—than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations.

Changing the environment by making it more unreliable or reliable had dramatic effects:

“…Children who experienced unreliable interactions with an experimenter waited for a mean time of three minutes and two seconds on the subsequent marshmallow task, while youngsters who experienced reliable interactions held out for 12 minutes and two seconds
…provides strong evidence that children’s wait times reflect rational decision making about the probability of reward.
…If you are used to getting things taken away from you, not waiting is the rational choice.”


Nature or Nurture

What are the implications of this study for computer users like you and me? My observations (of myself and others) lead me to believe that persistence is one of the keys to learning technology. In my role as technology director, I supervised 6 technicians of varying technical ability and background. The most common characteristic of the 6 was their desire and focus. While their persistence wasn’t uniform or consistent across all domains, it was evident most of the time. Constantly faced with novel problems, they would hunker down and, through repeated iterations of testing, uncover the secrets of problems and applications. While I didn’t always grasp the content of the problem they were solving, I clearly followed their process. They were pit bulls on the pant leg of technology.

Were my staff born with the ability to focus and persist through digital problems? Or did they develop strategies over time that facilitated their success? Perhaps it was a little of both. Perhaps they were born into secure environments where they trusted that waiting would yield greater satisfaction. Perhaps they were born with brains that favored planning over impulse. My guess is that it was both.

As an adult I have one choice; to find ways to adapt and improve my innate abilities. There is no going back. Brain surgeons and the pharmaceutical companies cannot help me change my brain. Learning to learn, sharpening our brains can make a difference. It is a process of discovery, of practice, and progress. Stay tuned for more.

Antonio Damasio – On Consciousness

Here is a wonderful and concise description of consciousness and the self. I am listening/reading by Antonio Damasio‘s book “Self Comes to Mind” and then found this video. I’d recommend the book. The video is a good preview.

The following text comes from the TED transcript of his talk. Thanks to TED for the multi-modal presentation. It helps me learn and I think you will find it helpful as well. Look for the transcript button just below the video screen for more.

You could rightly ask, why care about this?… First, curiosity. Primates are extremely curious — and humans most of all… why should we not be interested in what is going on inside of human beings?

Second, understanding society and culture. We should look at how society and culture in this socio-cultural regulation are a work in progress. And finally, medicine. Let’s not forget that some of the worst diseases of humankind are diseases such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, drug addiction. Think of strokes that can devastate your mind or render you unconscious. You have no prayer of treating those diseases effectively and in a non-serendipitous way if you do not know how this works. So that’s a very good reason beyond curiosity to justify what we’re doing, and to justify having some interest in what is going on in our brains.

And we could take a very simple view and say, well, it [consciousness] is that which we lose when we fall into deep sleep without dreams, or when we go under anesthesia, and it is what we regain when we recover from sleep or from anesthesia. But what is exactly that stuff that we lose under anesthesia, or when we are in deep, dreamless sleep? Well first of all, it is a mind, which is a flow of mental images.

But what about the self? The self is really the elusive problem. And for a long time, people did not even want to touch it, because they’d say, “How can you have this reference point, this stability, that is required to maintain the continuity of selves day after day?”

So let me tell you just a little bit about how I came to this. I came to this because, if you’re going to have a reference that we know as self — the Me, the I in our own processing — we need to have something that is stable, something that does not deviate much from day to day. Well it so happens that we have a singular body. We have one body, not two, not three. And so that is a beginning. There is just one reference point, which is the body.

Brain Stem-Cortex-Body connection

So what is the picture that we get here? Look at “cerebral cortex,” look at “brain stem,” look at “body,” and you get the picture of the inter connectivity in which you have the brain stem providing the grounding for the self in a very tight interconnection with the body. And you have the cerebral cortex providing the great spectacle of our minds with the profusion of images that are, in fact, the contents of our minds and that we normally pay most attention to, as we should, because that’s really the film that is rolling in our minds. But look at the arrows. They’re not there for looks. They’re there because there’s this very close interaction. You cannot have a conscious mind if you don’t have the interaction between cerebral cortex and brain stem. You cannot have a conscious mind if you don’t have the interaction between the brain stem and the body.