A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”
-C. R. Jaccard
Happy February my dear friends and family! This is a special edition of my little newsletter, for a couple of reasons. First, when I decided to do these newsletters, I made a promise to myself that even if no one read it, I would keep it up for at least 6 editions. This is number 6. So, what’s next? I’ve been asking myself this very question. Should I transition to blog posts (long and short form), continue with the newsletters, or focus my attention elsewhere? I would love to hear what you think.
The second reason this is a special edition is because instead of giving you a little sampler of my latest explorations, I’m going a little deeper into just one theme: sharpening the axe of your mind. Here’s a rundown of what I do everyday to keep my axe sharp.
Meditation: I first dabbled in meditation in my early 20s, had a regular practice in my mid-20s, and by 30 had forgotten all about it. However, in December of 2013, on my 33rd birthday, I gave myself a great gift: I started meditating again. (I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, I do birthday reflections and intentions). Since then, my meditation practice has grown (slowly) into a self-sustaining habit that is just as dear to me as my morning cup of coffee. I practice a form of passage meditation that I learned from Eknath Easwaran’s book Meditation. Basically, I have a few meaningful passages memorized, and when I meditate, I sit comfortably, and slowly recite a passage in my head, word by word, for 30 minutes. That’s it. Often my mind wanders off in between words, but I just keep coming back to the passage. If I lose my place, I start over. This gentle process of bringing my attention under conscious control makes the rest of my day go much smoother. I feel more present during the moments that comprise my day, and I enjoy them more. This is my antidote to that common feeling that life is moving too fast. In fact, along these lines I highly recommend another book of Easwaran’s called Take Your Time.
Journaling: I have always wanted to be the kind of person that kept a journal, but have always had trouble maintaining the practice. That is, until I discovered the 5-Minute Journal. Some people can sit down in front of a blank page and do productive journaling. I would like to get there someday, but the truth is, for day-to-day journaling, I find the lack of structure in free-form journaling to be paralyzing. However, the 5-Minute Journal has helped me journal everyday for over 6 months now. Each day you have a one-page template to fill out, with prompts and questions to be done first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. The beauty is that the whole practice takes about 5 minutes per day.
One Mindful Breath: This is really simple. I heard about this from Chade-Meng Tan’s chapter in Tools of Titans, but you can read about it in a HuffPo piece written by Tan. The idea is that you commit to taking just one mindful breath a day. I try to take one early in the day because I find it builds momentum and I tend to check in with my breathing more throughout the day. It is a simple technique that takes a few seconds and pays dividends the rest of the day. Which brings me back to the quote at the top of this page, and to the point of all this.
These 3 practices, meditating, journaling, and taking one mindful breath, are how I sharpen my axe at the beginning of the day, so that everything I do the rest of the day goes better. My thoughts are clearer, I’m more focused, more energized, more present, and happier. The best part is that while these 3 practices certainly reinforce each other, they can be practiced separately. If you aren’t ready to jump into meditation, surely you can find 5 minutes to journal, and everyone, no matter how busy, can take one mindful breath a day. It is within everyone’s reach, at all times. In fact, you can try it now.
(Stop reading and take a deep breath in and a deep breath out)
Feels nice, doesn’t it?
I want to thank you all for reading these newsletters and for all the feedback and encouragement you have given me. I’m not sure if I will continue to send newsletters monthly, or send them at all. I may focus on developing my blog, or I may scale back my online profile altogether as I strive to limit screen time and maximize green time (i.e., being outdoors). It’s hard to get over the feeling that talking so much about myself is self-indulgent and egotistical, which are characteristics that I have always guarded against. But, at the end of the day, I was convinced that to have helpful and beneficial information but not share it with others was even more selfish. In any case, I have enjoyed sharing a little bit more of my life with you, and I sincerely hope it has been useful.