Monday, October 24, 2011

Scattered Reading Habits

Hmm, while looking through the list of books I've read over the last six years, it's come to my attention that strangely enough for someone who professes a primary interest in the subjects of health and fitness and longevity, I've only read five books on those topics since 2006. Isn't that odd?

Of course, this list only mentions completed books, and not books I may have browsed through but not read from cover to cover; or magazines and websites related to health and longevity; or books I've read prior to 2006.

But still, for someone who reads a lot, it is peculiar to me that I haven't read more on these subjects. Is it because I feel like I already am well educated in these matters, that I no longer need to read books about it, because I already know all there is to know about health and longevity? Well, if that were the case, I better start writing about it then, right? But no that's not the case. So what is the conclusion then? That I better get cracking; meaning that I better start reading some health and longevity books soon.

Of course my problem, as far as independent study goes, is that I tend to jump around. I lack focus. I get bored easily. As soon as I read one thing, I find something else to read that is extremely interesting to me but completely unrelated to what I just previously read. It happens every time. When it comes to my education, I really don't have a definite plan, or specific goal. All I know is that I like to learn, and enjoy reading about whatever interests me, which changes from month to month.

Which means that I acquire a basic understanding of several different topics, but attain mastery of none. Instead of reading five good books on one topic, I read five good books on five different topics, and then I read five more books on five other topics, and then after a few months maybe I'll read a book on a topic I've already read about. It's sort of a scattered approach to learning; it's a very slow and unfocused process.

Although the more I read, no matter how different the subjects, I suppose it's improving my overall reading proficiency, my vocabulary, reading speed, and comprehension, which I hope is also carrying over into the way I think and communicate, and especially in the way I write. As they say, if you want to become better at anything: practice, practice, practice. If you want to become a better reader, spend more time reading. If you want to become a better writer, spend more time writing. If you want to become a better speaker, spend more time speaking. If you want to become better at anything, spend more time doing it.

It's really as simple as that. So while reading a lot of unrelated topics may not give you mastery of those topics, it will improve your general knowledge, your reading skills, as well as your overall competency with words, whether that be reading, writing, or speaking. But, reading in itself, is not my primary goal. The goal is knowledge, understanding, wisdom. Reading is the means, not the end. If you are interested in health, it pays to read a lot about health. If you are interested in business, it pays to read a lot about business. The more you concentrate on a specific thing, the more you read about it, think about it, speak about it, write about it, the more you will learn about it, the more you will know about it, and the more successful you will be in this subject.

In other words: the more you concentrate, the faster you'll learn; the less you concentrate, the slower you'll learn.

This is so obvious that it probably doesn't even need to be said. And yet, despite being so obvious, why is it so difficult for me? Why do I continue to jump around? Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because my mind is so active, and has so many different interests, that if I don't add variety to my reading I become easily bored.

This I think explains my lack of success, or rather my lack of mastery of any single topic. The fact that I jump around a lot, means that it could take me years to master one topic that someone else could master in months.

I think besides having an overactive mind, another reason for my scattered reading habits is due to indecisiveness, of not being able to make up my mind of what I want to master. I'm over 30 and I'm still struggling with the idea of what I want to be when I grow up. Am still conflicted over whether or not I should integrate my passions and interests (which are just as scattered and unfocused as my reading habits) with my employment, or if I should continue to keep them separate. The idea of the latter, being that you develop a business plan that would enable you to make more money working fewer hours, which doesn't necessarily need to be a job you love, but would be lucrative enough to give you an abundance of free time to pursue your real passions in life; like what The 4-Hour Work Week guy suggests.

The second of the two options is what I've unsuccessfully been attempting to do over the last few years, but unfortunately the income has not been lucrative enough to give me the time I need. Instead of working 4 hours a week, it would be 40 hours of hell, multiplied by several months, all done with the aim of taking an extended vacation to pursue doing the things I love. This plan works out all right the first or second time around, but as the years go by, you find out that you're still spending more time doing what you hate, than doing what you love, which is not a very healthy long-term plan. Option two only works if you have a lucrative business or skill.

So you basically have three choices: you either have to figure out a way to make a lot of money in a short period of time, or a job that enables you to have fewer hours with higher pay, which will give you the free time that you need to pursue the things you love; or you have to love what you do regardless of how little you make; or you just make the best of your situation and stop complaining about it.

And what does this have to do with my scattered reading habits? My scattered reading habits are a reflection of my scattered employment habits. The difference between having a focused goal and not having a focused goal, is the difference between having a job you hate and a job you love.

Successful people are focused people. They have goals, and they achieve them. Without a plan, what have you got? Chaos. Weakness. Uncertainty. Indecisiveness. Being lost. Not knowing where you are, who you are, or where you're going. Very easy to be taken advantage of or manipulated in such a situation. The strong shepherd the weak, but the strong are not always your allies, the strong do not always have your best interests at heart. The strong have their own goals, they know exactly what they want, and will use other people to get it. Which reminds me of the Occupy Movement, a mob without a clearly articulated goal or unified objective, is easy prey for outside manipulation from those who do know what they want, but whose longer range goal may not have the mobs true interests at heart. In other words, a leaderless mob, will gravitate to a leader, any leader, even the wrong one, even a tyrant.

As far as my scattered reading habits go, it's good that I at least continue to maintain an interest in learning, that I continue reading books on my own without being required to. Surprisingly many people once their out of school, stop reading all together. Or if they do read, it's limited to magazines and newspapers and novels. Reading is certainly not the only way to learn about things, but I think it gives a decided advantage. The only danger though, is that while it's good to read, you shouldn't read too much, to such an extent that reading become a substitute for thinking. When that happens, you stop learning, and your imagination starts to die. You could read a whole library of books in this way, and not have a single original thought of your own to contribute. In fact you would become more like a robot, and less like a human. What a sad state of affairs that would be.

You want to think about what you read and apply it to your own life and your own experience, to synthesize the ideas with your own, rather than thoughtlessly regurgitating everything you read word for word like a parrot; this is the difference between thinking and repeating, and between understanding and memorizing without understanding.

So the point is that scattered reading is probably better than no reading, but you'll achieve more from your reading with focused concentration. Having a clearly articulated goal, while at the same time being flexible enough to modify your course as necessary, will yield faster, more concentrated, and more productive results than not having a goal at all.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I'm someone who's always for as long as I can remember been attuned to natural cycles. I have very strong pattern recognition skills, and the strongest patterns I see around me are those occurring in nature: diurnal cycles, seasonal cycles, celestial cycles, circadian cycles.

And I'm particularly observant of the transition points from one cycle to another. Such as the meeting of day and night, night and day, also known as dusk and dawn, the setting and rising of the sun, the setting and rising of the moon and the stars, and the changes from one season to the next. I've always felt those times to be magical, having a special quality in the air that is only present at those times. I didn't have to read about these things to pay attention to them, to value them, it is something that has always intuitively come natural to me.

I've always tried to make an attempt to be outside during those times, to be present, watching, listening, soaking it in, acknowledging the change. I don't always succeed, but whenever I do I walk away feeling blessed by something special, a certain intangible quality, like a subtle inspiration that bathes over my whole being. I walk away feeling inspired, revitalized, in awe of a mystery. Perhaps this too is key to longevity. Making the time to greet the day and the night, to bear witness to the passing of the torch, the points of transition between seasonal and celestial change, and being thankful for its continuity.

Why do people not notice these things? Perhaps because they do not like their surroundings. Maybe they live in an ugly place, where the objects of man distract from the objects of nature, where it is unpleasant to be outside. Where the streets are loud, and the buildings are oppressively large, and people are physically too close together and mentally too far apart. Where there is a feeling of separation and animosity and alienation and apprehension, and the consequential feelings of frustration and boredom. Or maybe the objects of man are architectural wonders, objects d'art, that keep us enthralled, and distracted from nature's own magical moments of artistic wonder. Or maybe you are just really busy, and would rather be inside doing whatever it is you do, paying little attention to nature's holidays, these special moments during the day and night and on certain days of the year that mark changes in the landscape, that whether we notice them or not, subtly effect the quality of our lives, the quality of our moods and frames of mind.

If you've been reading for awhile you've probably noticed that I label each post according to whatever astrological sign it was in during the time it was written. This is an experiment of mine, to see if I notice patterns in my blog posts, to see if I write about certain topics more frequently during different signs. For instance, do all the posts written in Libra share something in common, that sets them apart from other months? Libra is a sign that begins in late September and occupies most of October, pretty much from September 23 to October 23. It's a sign that is closely aligned with the advent of Autumn. Virgo is the end of summer, and Libra is the beginning of fall.

There probably are noticeable changes in my posts at this time, primarily due to the cooler weather, which is especially apparent here in Arizona, where summer lasts much longer than other places, and we are just now finally reaching the end of a long cycle of approximately six months of temperatures in the hundreds. The hot weather puts me to sleep. I become lazier, not just physically but mentally, and I usually complain about the heat and how much I dislike Arizona. I do like warm weather, but when it is in the hundreds it pretty much puts a break on all outdoor physical activity. It is simply not safe to move around much in that kind of heat. You pretty much have to stay indoors for most of the time, or stay in the shade and not move around much. Six months is a long stretch of time to be indoors, especially for someone who is very physically active and who loves the outdoors, and who doesn't drive and must ride a bike or walk for my primary form of transportation. Which means I have to go outside when it is extremely uncomfortable to be outside and is actually dangerous to be outside. Fortunately that cycle is ending, and we are slowly entering a cool down.

The cooler air that correlates with the onset of Libra, is characterized by a more logical influence, my thinking becomes clearer, I'm less likely to complain about things, my sense of humor returns, and I have more of a propensity to post more frequently, to post more pictures, especially fine art, and more likely to explore themes concerning mythology and symbolism, and topics that require a deeper level of concentration and awareness. The writing seems to come more easily too, because it is easier to concentrate when I do not feel like my body is in a vise, and like I'm slowly suffocating to death as I'm being baked alive in this desert oven. That is my experience of six months of 100 degree temperatures. Despite my proclivity for exaggeration and melodrama, the comparison to hell is really not all that far fetched.

I would say that each astrological sign is a reflection of the seasonal changes present at different times of the year, changes that alter not just temperature, but also the qualities of moisture and light. Cool, Warm, Moist, Dry, Light, Dark. There are distinct patterns that are present in each month. The essence of Libra is the essence of October, and the essence of October is most noticeably shaped by the weather patterns, by the unique seasonal changes occurring at this time. But you could say, why not just label each post by its month...September, October, November, etc.? Well the beauty of the astrological signs is that they each contain the transitions between months, they each overlap months, containing the seeds of their opposite, the cusps between one month and the next. So that Libra begins in September and ends in October, and Scorpio begins in October and ends in November. It makes it kind of interesting, I think.

Anyway, the astrological signs mirror the changes of the seasons, embody the qualities of a particular time of the season, which may be warmer or cooler, wetter or dryer, or darker or lighter. The weather effects our mood. But of the course, the weather varies from place to place. A desert Libra will differ from a tropical Libra. A northern Libra will differ from a southern Libra. But the changes will be more similar than different for those living in the same hemisphere. For instance, although the Arizona desert is still warmer in Libra than it is in Wisconsin, there is still a noticeable cool down at this time effecting both places, which gives it its unique Libra "vibe".

If you get nothing else from this post, get this: Pay attention to nature's cycles. Be present to the transition from one natural cycle to the next, between day and night and night and day, sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, star rise and star set, the changes between one month and one season and the next. And just to make it more interesting how about paying attention to the transition between zodiac signs, between Virgo and Libra, Libra and Scorpio, etc., or how about Chinese astrology, commemorating the twelve year intervals between the year of the snake, the year of the dragon, etc. If you don't like astrology, don't worry about it, but do pay attention to the natural cycles around you, and within you, that influence the rhythms of your life.

These are special times. I can feel it. They have special lessons to impart. I've been studying them all my life. They are lessons of transformation, wordless teachings that get etched into the tapestry of our experience as a sort of unspoken wisdom. I don't know why or how, but there is magic during these times of transition. They are good times to meditate with your eyes wide open, or to simply be outside, being mindful of the experience of being outside and aware of the natural landscape and aware of the subtle changes of light and moisture and heat that are especially visible during these times.