Three Pivotal Websites

There’s something about Thanksgiving. Trying to put my finger on it, my best guess is it’s how it eases me into winter, my least favorite season. Also, by holiday-standards, it’s the soft, introverted celebration — not completely lost between Halloween and Christmas, but not subject to their wild commercialism either. But maybe what I like about it most is the obvious. It’s the convergence of family, friends, warmth — with gratitude as the centerpiece.

That said, I’m incredibly lucky. I have a massive number of things to be grateful for. It’s hard to pick where to start, but for this blog I’m choosing to focus on those web resources that have made a profound difference in my life.

There are three. Each has changed my life — nourishing my spirit and stretching me in ways I didn’t think possible — calming me down, building my self-confidence, helping me open into more of life, wonder, happiness.

They are my personal archetypes for The Awakening Web.

1. Zen Habits

I began reading Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog years ago — not long after it began in 2007. At first I just read and enjoyed it. A few years in, however, I began to experiment with his methods for changing habits and was amazed at some of my successes — in particular, ditching Diet Coke and reducing my sugar intake.

Then this January, I jumped in for real, joining his Sea Change program. Once again, I’ve been astonished at what it’s inspired. Not everything works for me, but those that do? All I can say is, wow. . . .

In less than a year here are the changes that have had a major impact on me:

  • Decluttering. It may sound like an exaggeration to say it’s been liberating, but, honestly, it has been. I feel such freedom in understanding that I’m not about stuff. And our house has more and more breathing room. There’s a new airiness and lightness to this 101-year-old home we’ve lived in for 33 years.
  • “Geeking in.” In September, Leo had us pick something to improve our morning routine. I happen to like my established routine and was hard-pressed to think of anything I was willing to add. On a whim, though, I decided to set aside 15 minutes every morning to “geek in.” That’s time to just do whatever nerdy things appeal to me. Sometimes it’s learning the latest Web best practices, sometimes it’s wrestling with gnarly WordPress code, or sometimes it’s diving deep into a core app (e.g., Sublime Text). To my astonishment, in under a week my languishing inner geek started to flower again. There is so much to stay on top of in my field and, with hindsight, I realize I’d slipped on one of those dangerous retirement banana peels. I’d subliminally assumed I couldn’t keep up. Well. I’m here to tell you. That is NOT so. I’m more on top of my field than I’ve been in the last five years. It’s not as though I’d stopped reading geeky feeds and listening to podcasts. But this habit was a catalyst — giving me the time to focus where I most needed and as a byproduct, boosting my self-confidence.
  • Meditation. Those two wins would be more than enough, but they don’t represent the biggest gift of all from Zen Habits. That goes to January’s habit, which restored my long-faltering meditation practice. I did just what Leo advised and started with only 2 minutes a day for the first 7 days. The following week it 5, then 7, etc. Now, 10 months later, I’m up to an average of 30 minutes a day, and I’m starting to do a little evening meditation too. On days I have time, the latter is especially wonderful. But the key is not pushing myself. I’m just letting it unfold naturally.

2. Insight Timer

Dec. 31st, as I got ready for January’s meditation habit, I blew the dust off an app I bought back in the dawn of app time: Insight Timer. (As well as having a website, it’s available for both Android and iOS.)

Originally I chose it for its meditation bells, which to this day are the best I’ve found. And that’s why I resurrected it last New Year’s Eve. But then, lo and behold, I discovered it tracked my sessions, inspiring me long past January. Not only that, I fell into a wonderful community of fellow meditators. When you end a meditation session, you see a screen with faces of people all over the world who’ve been meditating with you. And some of them have connected with me, becoming friends. It turns out it’s a very real sangha, even if it is virtual. Amazing.

As if that’s not enough, in April the rights to it were bought by two brothers. This week, their truly global team (headquartered in Bali) did an upgrade. And, oh my, is it ever gorgeous. The thing is this upgrade is only 1.5. Version 2 is due out soon and by all accounts will be a game-changer.

Last, but not least, it’s a labor of love, done by first-rate gear-heads who are into meditation. How could I not include it in this list?

3. My Buddhist Podcast Playlist

Since January, 2010, I’ve been listening to Tara Brach’s podcasts. Mostly then, as now, I love to listen to geeky podcasts. But I need respite from the hubbub of rapidly changing Web practices, the latest-and-greatest gear, and the general high jinks of this exploding sector of the economy. So, I would listen to her at night when I was having trouble sleeping. Invariably, whether or not I got back to sleep, the next day I felt at least a little better.

Then this year I stumbled across two more wonderful Buddhist podcasts. Each has a different flavor and I love how they complement each other.

So using one of my favorite iPhone apps, Overcast, I now have a Buddhist playlist that includes:

  • Tara Brach – kind and wise teacher / counselor;
  • Gil Fronsdal – kind and wise teacher / scholar;
    I discovered from reading his English translation of The Dhammapada;
  • My latest find, Jack Kornfield, kind and wise teacher / comic;
    he turns out to be very funny, with many wonderful stories from his years as a Peace-Corps-volunteer-turned-monk.

So, I’m pausing today to give thanks for each of these resources which have made such a difference in my life. With any luck, I’ll remember them again next Thursday as we sit down to dinner. But I bet my Insight Timer friends will remind me if I happen to forget.