The pros and cons of screens in bed

It occurs to me that I don't really organise my day. Instead one or two particular circumstances give it a shape, and that may or may not help me to achieve goals for a given 24 hour period.

During my recent five week stay in Tokyo, my bed was a thin foam mattress on the floor. It was comfortable for sleep, but not to sit up and look at the screens of my tablet and phone.

So when I climbed into bed, I fell asleep almost immediately. When I woke up, I got up and went for a healthy eight kilometre power walk around the lake. I avoided the discomfort of being before a screen and so did not read and write in bed.

That was good, especially if there's truth in what they say about looking at screens in bed being detrimental to our general health and wellbeing.

sleep weekly overview pre-Tokyo

The sleep data in my Fitbit app showed that I was getting up to an hour's more sleep than when I'd been in my screen friendly bed at home. Comparing the 'before' and 'after' graphs (above and below) shows that staying away from screens in bed puts me on the cusp of being in the blue 'recommended' zone for my age group.

But it was not entirely good. What I'd done previously when I woke up was to research and write my blog. Doing the blog was no longer a natural wake up activity and instead became something of a chore. I'd have to choose to write later in the day and it would compete with other enjoyable activities such as sightseeing.

sleep weekly overview post-Tokyo

Nevertheless when I returned home to Sydney, I made a new rule for myself. No screens in bed. As a result, I've maintained my improved sleep patterns. Instead of walking around the lake in the morning, I've been exercising at the gym, something that had fallen away in the winter months before I went to Tokyo.

The blog writing is having to compete with other activities during the day proper. But I take the view that it is something I need to nurture like a plant that has been moved from one part of the garden to another.

But whatever happens, it will then be shaken up once more, when I transplant my life to another city for two months from early October.

Digital disruption fails to diminish Camino pilgrimage

This morning I read two articles. One was about the prospect that software and artificial intelligence will disrupt most traditional industries and professions within the next few years. The other was about the eighty fold increase over the past three decades in the number of pilgrims travelling the various routes of the Camino to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Camino article from La Croix

The first is one of those presentations on disruption that itself sets out to disrupt the way people feel, think and act, and relate to each other. It has a deliberately scary title: 'Must read article on how our lives will change dramatically in 20 years'. It suggests that some people will have their way of life destroyed while others will benefit from access to new opportunities to improve their lives, especially in health and education.

What uber and airbnb have done to the taxi and hotel industries is just the beginning. Many lawyers and health professionals will lose their jobs as tools such as the IBM Watson natural language question answering computer system take told.

Must Read article on digital disruption

We'll have legal advice 'within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans'. Meanwhile solar power will give us cheap electricity, and that will give us abundant water with desalination. Everybody on the planet will eventually have as much clean water as they want for nearly no cost.

The shift to reliance on software and artificial intelligence is largely a transition from the analogue to the digital world, probably the most dramatic change in the history of human civilisation.

But we're faced with a condundrum. Our problems are solved in a flash but our lives have become less satisfying because we are less tactile and grounded in the way we live.

Perhaps this has something to do with the statistic about the eighty fold increase in the number of Camino pilgrims. that I read in the article in La Croix International. In the digital age, spiritual quest and our continuing need to put 'boots on the ground' are still important for most people.

Camino pilgrims graph

What is most interesting to me is that only a third of the Camino pilgrims are doing it 'strictly for religious reasons'. That refers to observance of the Catholic rituals associated with the Way of St James that dates back to the Middle Ages.

I infer from this statistic that the two thirds majority have either a non-sectarian spiritual purpose, or they're using it as a digital detox, literally putting their boots on the ground.

This month the French and Spanish bishops issued a pastoral letter that expressed both their alarm at the Camino statistics' evidence pointing to dechristianisation, and excitement at the opportunity this represents to evangelise the non-believing pilgrims.

They want to 're-spiritualise' the journey by promoting a 'Christian' hospitality that is distinct from ordinary non-sectarian hospitality. I hope it leads to much conversation between believers and non-believers. Also market research on the part of the bishops, as they seek to find out why the Camino is relevant to the majority of the pilgrims but the Church is not.


Links: Camino disruption Wikipedia

Morbid fascination for the recently deceased

Yesterday I enjoyed Eureka Street's article about a writer exercising his 'morbid fascination for the recently deceased' by reading the death notices in the newspaper.

'[They] offer up the real inhabitants of our world - our neighbours and bosses, our friends and partners, our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents... These people are not the airbrushed celebrities, political blowhards or violent predators that often adorn the front pages.'

Sydney Morning Herald Death Notices

I have a similar morbid fascination. In today's Sydney Morning Herald death notices, I read about Barry. He was 'a unique man who faced life with positivity, determination and a smile that could light up a room'.

He will be 'greatly missed', but the notice promises that his family and friends will 'remember his wacky jokes, shaggy dog stories and universal theories'.

I wish that I too could enjoy some of Barry's jokes, stories and theories. But death notices don't go beyond the bare bones of the person's life. This kind of detail is shared only if the person is famous, and it's in the obituaries rather than the death notices.

SMH front page

Unusually today's obituary is on the front page because of its particular poignance. Its subject is not an airbrushed celebrity but the much loved blind Aboriginal singer Dr G Yunupingu, who died this week at the age of 46.

The obituary quotes a music critic's estimation that Yunupingu possessed 'the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded', one 'so beautiful and so emotion-laden that it invest[ed] every song with a passion and pathos which [were] quite overwhelming'.

In a way the complementarity of having both the paid death notices and the featured obituaries works well. Unfortunately, in terms of accessibility it does not fare well in the transition from its more intuitive presentation in print to obscurity in the now more significant online versions of the newspapers.

Sydney Morning Herald Obituaries

The death notices are very difficult to find, at least in the Sydney Morning Herald. You need to scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on 'Tributes' under 'Classifieds'. Sadly the message of this is that the deaths of ordinary people don't matter.

But the same can also be said for the lives of the famous that are written up in the obituaries. Curiously you need to click through to the 'Comment' section and go through to the second tier of the submenu there to find the 'Obituaries' link.

Worse than that, the obituaries page - headed 'Timelines' - no longer appears in the print edition every day. But only when there is space to fill. The Herald admitted as much to me when I called them a year or two ago to ask why they were not appearing every day as they had in the past. I was told they were not a priority: 'We don't always have space for the obituaries'.


Links: morbid notices obituaries

Escape from the time famine of modern life

This morning I was interested to read an article in The New Daily about time poverty. The headline was 'Money really can buy happiness, if spent on the right thing - time'.

It's based on a global study that found working adults reported greater happiness after spending money on time-saving rather than material purchases. It said this helped them escape the 'time famine of modern life'.

hourglass

I don't particularly like the idea that busy rich people can buy their way out of time poverty by employing servants. But it is good to hear it said that those who are chronically unemployed have the upper hand in time wealth, and that time wealth is a more likely path to happiness and well-being than material wealth.

The article quoted local experts, including Dr Melissa Weinberg of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University, who said the study is not about saving time, but the freedom to choose how we use our time.

'Time is a precious resource and the busier we are, the more valuable our time becomes, so it's important we feel that we are in control of how we spend the time we have.'

The implication is that those who are materially poor but time rich could develop a greater sense of self worth and empowerment, and make good use of the freedom they have to choose.

IMG_20170719_054540

They might say that they can't do anything without money, and that is true in relative terms. I would not like to see these ideas about time poverty used to excuse government policies that are increasing material inequality.

But there are many life-affirming activities that do not require us to be cashed up. Such as spending time with family and friends, reading books from the local library, and bushwalking. Even study. Most people with primary degrees are not aware that Australian universities don't charge fees for post-graduate research degrees.

People who are time poor simply don't have time to read and study, and there is a huge opportunity cost in that in terms of their total well being.

Kichijoji airbnb in Tokyo

Two years ago I retired at the age of 55 because I valued my time more than the wage and diminishing satisfaction that I was getting out of remaining in a job I'd been in for ten years.

I've chosen to use the time to get fit and to travel. I've found simple ways to do these things, so that I enjoy doing them for longer periods of time at less cost. That's why I'm leaving next week to spend five weeks living in Tokyo renting very basic airbnb accommodation that most people would look down on (pictured).

The material values of our society have conditioned us to think that we can't do anything without money, but the truth is that we can't do anything without time.


Links: New Daily study

My new best friend

For years I've had patchy wifi internet coverage in my long narrow inner city terrace house.

The connection with the Optus cable is at the front. It is very fast, usually between 60 and 100 mbps. That's faster than I'll get when the NBN arrives. I consider myself very lucky.

However by the time the wifi signal gets to my living room at the back, my connection has been very weak, often as low as 2 mbps and therefore practically unusable. I've tried various gadgets to try to strengthen the signal but none of them has worked. Until now.

Google Wifi

Last week I read about Google Wifi, a small round white box which was being released in Australia on Thursday. At first I was skeptical and did not pay much attention. But I was passing by Officeworks and thought that I would take it home to see if it worked.

It turned out that it was as easy to set up as they said in the advertising and it worked spectacularly. I now have between 60 and 100 mbps in every part of my house. I was so impressed that I went out and bought the other Google product that was released on Thursday, the Google Home speaker.

That is Google's equivalent to Apple's Siri personal assistant, in the form of a neat cylindrical box. She doesn't have a name but I suspect she's even better at her job. She has an Australian accent and can readily understand mine.

She's there on the shelf beside my bed, to answer questions and to play music and other content from the radio and from streaming services such as Spotify. If I ask her, she'll even turn on my wifi enabled Philips Hue lights.

Google Home

Hey Google! What's the average temperature in Tokyo in August? Do I need a visa to enter Japan? How do I get from Narita airport to the city? What's the population of Tokyo? How bad is Tokyo's air pollution?

Just as Google's wifi signal makes it into every crevice of my oddly proportioned house, it seems its helpful assistant gets into every corner of my life. She's there, paying attention to my every sound and utterance, in order to help me live my life.

But I'm not the only one she's helping. If I open the Google Home app on my phone, I can see a transcript of everything I've said to her. That's a reminder of what she knows about me. Moreover what she knows, so do her real human colleagues at Google and whoever they choose to pass my details on to.

So Google heaven is not necessarily the heaven where I'd like to be. My privacy is up for grabs, and so is my independence and natural human resourcefulness.

But Google's goodies are part of the convenience of modern life. Few people will say no to things that appear to make their life easier. Including me.

I won't be breaking up with the Google assistant anytime soon. But I have discovered a command that can deliver a surprisingly pleasing result: 'Hey Google! Can you give me silence'.

Feeling comfortable in the clothes I wear

I'm always fascinated by comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne. On the weekend I came across an observation about men's street fashion, from blogger Giuseppe Santamaria.

'Melbourne is a lot more experimental, more artsy - its arts culture is reflected in the people who live there, and how they express themselves. They take more risks. Whereas in Sydney, you see more of the trends.'

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

Wherever we live, the clothes we choose to wear are a form of self expression. They say a lot about our values and who we are.

I don't wear suits. I bought an Aldi suit about ten years ago for a particular occasion. I wore it just once or twice before discarding it when I was culling my wardrobe. My previous suit had been bought for me by my mother in the 1980s. I discarded it only a couple of years ago, and surprisingly it still fitted me.

Nor do I wear ties. I bought one from an op shop for an event in 2012, and I have only one or two others in my wardrobe that date from the 1980s.

Occasionally I receive invitations to functions that my old school holds in Sydney. I always rule out attending because it is compulsory to wear a lounge suit.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I don't own a lounge suit and feel strongly that I would not want to buy one for a function like this. Moreover I think the particular dress requirement is a sign that I don't belong there.

That is something I used to resent. But now I think it's just a sign of who I am, or who I have become. I have moved on from the cultural norms of my old school, even though I respect those who still feel at home with them.

Dress is perhaps our clearest and most socially apt form of self-expression. If I wear clothes that I feel I do not feel comfortable in, it is self-censorship rather than self-expression.

In the past I've paid little attention to what I've worn. Fundamentally I've been risk averse and timid (that in itself has made a powerful if unintentional statement). But as I've moved towards a greater degree of self-possession, I've begun to make more deliberate and striking choices. I'm less reliant on comments and advice from friends.

My choices are in the interest of uninhibited personal definition more than style or fashion. I'm proud of having lost weight, so I tend to wear skimpy clothes to show that off. I also wear Icebreaker merino clothes that rarely need washing, for environmental reasons and also practicality when I travel.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I like bright colours, but I'm only beginning to pay attention to aesthetic and ornament in the way that I dress. I've never ever worn jewellery, and haven't even considered how such details as belt buckles and the style of my watch can influence how I feel about myself.

But I was interested to browse through the photos of Giuseppe Santamaria in his blog Men In This Town, which I've copied here. Inspired by the New York Times' unassuming longtime street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who died last year, he is a street photographer who steals photos of male passers by whose dress attracts his attention.


Links: comparison blog Cunningham

Taking control of life through bodybuilding

Last night I watched Destination Arnold, a documentary about indigenous woman bodybuilders Tash and Kylene. It was on ABC iview after having been screened earlier in the week on ABC2 and before that at several film festivals.

Still from Destination Arnold

It's a warm, entertaining and completely unpretentious film about setting goals, personal empowerment and overcoming trauma.

Kylene is a mother of three who is picking up the pieces of her life after having lived with a violent partner who once broke her jaw.

'They make you feel like you need them, and in all honesty, you don't. You just need yourself to pick yourself up.'

The two women are working to make it to the Arnolds, an invitation-only bodybuilding competition being held in Australia for the first time. It was a far cry from excess eating as a child.

With Arnold

'Here I was, a fat kid. I thought I could never do that. Now I am doing that.'

In many ways it parallels my own experience of overturning poor body image. In recent years I have discovered the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind as the secret of good self esteem and quality of life.

I was a fat child. Then as a younger adult, I was quite doctrinaire and counter-cultural in my outlook, as I associated attention to body image with the excesses of the consumer society. Lack of attention to the shape of my body and the clothes I wore represented the particular virtuous statement I wanted to make to the world.

Still from Destination Arnold

Now I lift (lesser) weights at the gym most days, but the particular goal that I've proudly managed to achieve and maintain for nearly two years is normal weight and double the recommended number of steps. I have no ambition to make it to the Arnolds.

Mostly what I would like to take from these two inspiring women is their cheerful and honest spontaneity in the way they frequently stumble but always manage to pick themselves up. They don't think too much about what they want to say and do. They just act.

There's also the self-knowledge and the ability to challenge each other. When Tash gets close to dropping out, Kylene tells her exactly what she thinks. Tash knows her weakness for Nutella ('Nutella I love you') and struggles to keep it under control. But in the end she does.


Links: iview Destination Arnold

Harm minimisation and judging the behaviour of other people

Late last week tabloid columnist Andrew Bolt berated the 47 year old Greens Deputy Leader Scott Ludlum, who 'broke the law' when he used recreational drugs while he was in his 20s.

The details of Ludlum's past were gleaned from an interview with Ludlum in the latest issue of the men's magazine GQ.

Bolt was accusing Ludlum of being hypocritical in taking a hard line against tax evaders who break the law while being unrepentant about having broken laws against recreational drug use.

Scott Ludlum in GQ Magazine

My view is that Ludlum's personal testimony that recreational drug use 'didn't do a lot' for him is more powerful than any attempt to prosecute drug users.

He talks about the dysfunctionality of his life when he was in his 20s and he experimented with drugs. I could talk about the dysfunctionality of my life when I was in my 20s and I experimented with religion.

They're the things that you fall into. They might give you a certain dubious or perhaps real quality of life, or they might cause you harm. I'd suggest they do both. Ludlum doesn't seem to regret that he tried drugs and I don't regret that I tried religion.

I don't know whether he's completely sworn off all mind altering substances, but I haven't given religion away. In fact Pope Francis' 'Who am I to judge?' attitude informs and affirms my approach to behaviours of other people I find hard to accept.

But back in my 20s I was 'driven', and I suspect he was as well. That's what happens before you eventually settle down from the excesses of your 20s. What we do while we're young sets us up - for better or worse - for our middle and later years, and makes us the people we become. Hopefully we like the people we have become. I do.

It doesn't seem fair that Ludlum's experimentation was regarded as a crime, while mine was at the time associated with a position of honour in the community. That's why I believe in harm minimisation and the prosecution of drug dealers but not than the users they exploit.

It wasn't always that way. I remember struggling with radio talkback programs on Triple J that treated recreational drug use as normal. I was still at a stage when I would 'judge' drug users, as I think they would have judged me for my choice of a religious way of life.

I came to appreciate the value of harm minimisation strategies, whether it was the advice of experts on the radio or the medically supervised drug injecting centre that the Uniting Church established at Kings Cross in 2001.

Now I like to believe that nothing should be off limits but everything should be subject to a harm minimisation strategy. But that kind of thinking belongs to an ideal world, and in reality certain actions like tax evasion and drug dealing need to be proscribed by laws that ultimately judge those who carry them out.

The alternative to ambition

I spent last week at a men's group retreat in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. One man I got to know said something about a friend of his that had me thinking about my own attitude to competition.

He said his friend 'works in a factory and lacks ambition' and could do much better for himself.

20170406_082219

Years ago I had a colleague who would stop at nothing to get ahead. He was very inexperienced in his profession and with mixed aptitude. Since then he has capitalised on his not insignificant strengths and risen to the top.

If necessary, he's pushed others out of the way, as you do in a sporting competition and most corporate work cultures. It's his thing, and I respect that. Good on him.

But as for me, I've always avoided competitive sport and have considered myself lacking in ambition. Looking back, I'd say that instead I had - and still have - more of a sense of enjoyment of the moment.

I'd talk about getting to a particular place, but essentially I'd enjoy doing what was within my grasp and 'felt right'. At my best, I'd land somewhere congenial and then I'd play at things and involve myself in a particular project I'd enjoy and - importantly - believe in. When I'd exhaust possibilities, I'd move on to something different.

One of the retreat facilitators mentioned a book which I subsequently purchased to read on my Kindle. It was Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by British-American poet David Whyte, who runs an institute dedicated to what he calls 'conversational leadership'.

Consolations- The Solace Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

What he writes about ambition accords with my own philosophy of life and work. He says ambition 'takes willpower and constant applications of energy to stay on a perceived bearing'. This is set against a serious vocational calling that 'demands a constant attention to the unknown gravitational field that surrounds us and from which we recharge outselves, as if breathing from the atmosphere of possibility itself'.

He concedes that it's good and natural for youth to be ambitious. But holding on to ambition for too long 'makes the once successful into an object of pity'. The only object becomes 'the creation of larger and larger empires of control'. The more ladders you climb, the more ladders you discover that need to be climbed to get to what will inevitably be a lonely destination.

I'm quite sure that my friend at the retreat does not wish this on his friend when he says he would like him to be more ambitious. I imagine he means that he hopes he will be moved to energetically inspect the menu of the possibilities that his life has to offer.

Eating chocolate as Embodied Spirituality

I have just read Newtown Nutrition's latest blog inviting us to 'tune into food textures'.

One of their nutritionists writes about hot cross buns. She says we can enjoy their crunch by toasting them. Or we can use the microwave and savour them by appreciating their chewiness.

Hot Cross Buns

The principle applies to all foods. We can munch on raw carrot sticks with hummus or some other flavoursome dip. Or we can enjoy the sweet honied sensation that comes with steaming our carrots.

She's encouraging us to consider how we interact with food in order to maximise our sense of pleasure and nourishment in eating. It's about trying to undo the damage some people have done to their relationship with food through a long history of self-denial with dieting.

Recently I recalled some advice her colleague gave me a few years ago, which was to eat 'raw' chocolate. It happened as I was waiting at the checkout at Harris Farm Markets in my local shopping centre and I spotted a strategically placed selection of raw chocolate. So I made an impulse buy, a good one as it turns out.

Raw chocolate is minimally processed so that it offers a higher level of antioxidants. It's also expensive, with six tiny squares costing $6.49. That means you buy less of it and consume it thoughtfully over a much longer period of time. I eat one square at a time and savour its firm outside and soft interior and the flavour that endures for hours.

Raw Organic Chocolate

I find myself wanting to fit ordinary daily activities such as eating into 'the right order of the universe' by studying spirituality and remembering my past exposure to it.

I recall the Application of the Senses in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. He suggests that while contemplating scenes from the Christian Gospels, we might 'smell the infinite fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness'.

Ignatius also stresses the need to take time out during our day to identify moments of heightened awareness, which obviously include taste sensations.

Recently I've been reading about 'Embodied Spirituality', which focuses on bodily sensations as stepping stones towards our experience of wholeness as human beings.

The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis speaks of the 'warm physical body which smells of sea, soil, and human sweat'. He then puts it in the context of Christian spirituality. 'The Word, in order to touch me, must become warm flesh. Only then do I understand - when I can smell, see, touch.'