Sunday, 22 November 2015

Review: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier book cover

This is a fascinating and unusual story that incorporates, as a built-in bonus, a usable instruction manual on meditation. For those of us who are attracted by the promise of meditation to improve focus and health, and help us feel more positive, but who are sceptical, or put off by boredom, the scientific evidence cited in this book is a powerful motivator.

Harris makes clear that meditation takes effort. He breaks the hard work down, demonstrating how to start small and manageable. The book is full of useful insights from leading experts and researchers on meditation, whom Harris has gained access to as a TV news journalist. For example, Joseph Goldstein, questioned by Harris about rumination, suggests the simple practice of asking “Is this useful?” when we notice ourselves going over in our heads possible outcomes.

The book emphasises that to get the benefits of meditation, you don’t have to achieve perfect focus: Harris quotes Sharon Salzberg explaining that gently returning your focus after it wanders is the practice.

The concept of non-attachment helps Harris cope better with the competitive professional environment he operates in. “… in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can.”

“This was a hopeful outlook really. I didn’t need to waste so much time envisioning some vague horribleness awaiting me in my future. … All I had to do was tell myself: if it doesn’t work, I only need the grit to start again …”

I would have liked advice on how to apply non-attachment to different concerns; I think it’s a lot harder not to be attached to the outcome of a serious illness in someone you love than to the outcome of a possible promotion at work. But I suspect the same ideas apply: do your best in your sphere of influence; try not to give attention to unhelpful thoughts.

Most of the teachers Harris learns from are Buddhist, but the message of the book comes across as secular. I think readers of any religion will find the information in the book applicable.

The view from my morning meditation spot

I recommend skipping the first four chapters and up to the last three pages of chapter 5. The book’s long lead-up frustratingly sustains the impression of being on the brink of introducing a solution to everyday stress, which it finally delivers on in chapter 6. If you do skip the start, you need to know that Dan Harris is a TV news reporter and presenter who suffered undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder and depression after reporting in war zones, medicated himself with recreational drugs, had a panic attack on live television (described in the first two pages of chapter 1 and which you can see for yourself on Youtube), and sought psychiatric help, which improved things, but left Harris still with problems he wanted to solve. The book recounts his journey of learning.

Friday, 2 October 2015

My bad driving

I have 28 years of driving experience. Like most drivers, I think I’m a better than average driver. Yet, this week I committed my worst ever piece of driving. Luck was with me: there was no one in the path of my car as it shot up onto and across the footpath.

I had just reversed out of an angle park and back around and into another angle park a few spaces along - this time facing towards the road so that I could cross to the other side of the road when I pulled out. I paused, waiting for a gap in the traffic. Our new car (my first automatic) beeps annoyingly when in reverse, but my subconscious is capable of blocking such things out: I thought I was in drive. When a gap in traffic came, I pushed the accelerator, and reversed instantly over the curb and onto the footpath! Reaching for the brake in shock, my foot missed the pedal. Panicking now, reaching again, this time with both feet, I finally managed to slam my left foot onto the brake, jolting to a stop half way across the footpath.

Shaking, I changed into drive and rolled forwards. Climbing out, I walked around the car, expecting passers by to be stopped on either side of the stretch of footpath I’d just driven over, glaring at me in horror. But although I could see people strolling past the shops in both directions, none of them were close by; they didn't seem to have noticed. Only the young man in the car next to mine watched me. When I looked across, he laughed at me in a friendly way, which calmed me somewhat.

Returning to the car, I took a couple of deep breaths before checking and double checking I was in the correct gear to pull out.

I don’t like thinking about myself as someone who avoided running down a pedestrian only by luck. But the thought that I could have run someone down is a powerful motivation for figuring out what went wrong and what to do differently in the future ...

First, I presume I was on autopilot and that’s why I didn’t notice I hadn’t changed from reverse into drive. Given the human brain’s tendency to wander while performing familiar tasks, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect myself (or any driver) to maintain conscious focus on driving all the time, but it seems like a great idea to practise mindfulness while driving.

Second, I think I was sitting too close to the pedals. Since we got the new car a couple of months ago, I’ve been sitting closer to the pedals than I used to in the old car, in order to have the steering wheel at the most comfortable distance from me. (The distance between steering wheel and pedals must have been different in our old car.) I think that having less space for my legs reduced the speed and accuracy with which I could move my foot to the brake. I’ve done some experimentation with the seat adjustments and I think it will be safer to sit just a little further back.

It turns out I’m not the first driver to make this mistake. Have you experienced missing the brake pedal or being in the wrong gear and moving off in the opposite direction to what you expected?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Reducing injury risk associated with auto belays

On 30 March, my husband Geoff climbed a wall at Hangdog Climbing Gym in Lower Hutt that is protected by an auto belay, as he had hundreds of times before. This time, Geoff forgot to clip in to the auto belay before he started. Ten or eleven metres up the wall, expecting to be lowered slowly by the machine, Geoff let go. Approximately 1.4 seconds later, travelling approximately 50 kilometres per hour, he hit the ground, breaking his feet, back, pelvis and right wrist, and dislocating his left thumb.

Geoff and I believe this type of accident could happen again to someone else; we think it’s dangerously easy for human beings to forget to clip in, focussed on the climb or distracted by conversation or thoughts. On the Internet, this type of accident is described as “common”. In 2013, a climber in Texas died from a fall after forgetting to clip in to an auto belay. The risk is not just to the climber but also to anyone on the ground underneath them when they fall.

This leaves us very keen to raise awareness of the risk. We suggest climbers using an auto belay check you are clipped in correctly just before you step off the ground. But we don’t think remembering to check can be relied on to significantly reduce the risk.

We suggest climbing gyms require customers to get instruction from staff before using an auto belay - instruction that includes the information that the most common accident associated with auto belays is forgetting to clip in altogether.

We suggest climbing gyms set up a barrier that the auto belay is clipped to when not in use, blocking access to the wall that the auto belay protects. We think it’s important:

  1. That the barrier blocks the entire breadth of the wall that can be climbed using the auto belay (to a height of about 1-1.5m), not just an area in the middle of the wall, to reduce the risk of someone forgetting to clip in and climbing up beside the auto belay.
  2. That the auto belay is secured close to the wall, to reduce the risk of someone forgetting to clip in and climbing up with the auto belay behind them (as Geoff did).
  3. That the wall protected by the auto belay is not used for lead climbing or other activities that mean that the auto belay is sometimes secured out of the way.

Other possible safety measures include an alarm such as the one produced by Nicros for use with auto belays, or a clipping-in set-up that requires three hands, so that another person is needed (for a moment) to help with clipping in, providing a check and making clipping in a conscious act instead of one that can be carried out on autopilot.

Thirteen weeks since the accident, Geoff is doing well. He spent six weeks in hospital and had surgeries on his feet, back and wrist, with further surgery to come. In the last fortnight, Geoff has been given the go ahead to start propelling his wheelchair with both hands (as opposed to just with his left), so he no longer zigzags haphazardly across rooms, pushing off furniture and walls. And he’s begun weight bearing on his feet, traversing the living room with his Zimmer frame.

Friday, 20 February 2015

A model student

I have access now to some of the course materials for my university papers (semester starts next week). The quantity of the work involved gives me a small knot of anxiety in my stomach.

The difficulty of the work will be a challenge too - especially with regard to the computer programming - but it’s the deadlines that make me nervous. Getting all the work done (to a good standard) in the time allowed.

I guess I should see it as a positive thing that what stresses me is the quantity of work and the time constraints: those issues are easily solved with good time management … start early, stay ahead, prioritize.

Time management isn’t something I got right first time around. I remember feeling behind at the end of my very first week of university. I never got back on top. Often I wasn’t well enough prepared for lectures to understand new material as it was taught; I took notes robotically to make sense of later. After I worked out that assignments handed in for a 5pm Friday deadline weren’t actually cleared from the box until the admin staff arrived at work on Monday, I adopted a practice of early Monday morning trips into university. I operated in a perpetual state of catching up.

My time management challenges this time will be different. I’m a bit more disciplined these days, and a bit more sensible But I have more responsibilities outside study (a house and garden) and more things I care about spending significant time on (adult children, rock climbing).

I want to be prepared before lectures so that I can make the most of them. I want to be on top of new material week by week. I want to spread out assignment work and exam preparation rather than resort to unpleasant (and unproductive) late night bouts.

I like schedules and plans - that will be helpful - but I’ll need to improve at sticking to them and avoiding procrastination. I have a tendency to abandon tasks (like finishing a blog post) part way through to go and do odd jobs around the house which allow me to maintain the feeling of being busy and productive while avoiding working on my most important task. Sadly, I can completely relate to the scene in one of the Bridget Jones Diaries where Bridget is working from home for the day. Somehow the entire day slips by with Bridget about to start work as soon as she has changed her clothes (which necessitates sorting the laundry), and trimmed her nails, and had a nap …

This year, I’m trying to lean more towards Hermione Granger as a role model than Bridget Jones.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The unadventurous climber visits Kawakawa Bay

The unadventurous climber: no trad, no mountaineering, no runouts, no highballs. Just climbing.

Lisia not climbing Coconut Bikini Arête
Photo: Tessa Jacobsen-Grocott

Kawakawa Bay offers plenty of scope for unadventurous climbers as well as for their more adventurous friends.

If, like me, you are unused to carrying a heavy pack full of climbing and camping gear, it will be money well spent to eschew the walk in to Kawakawa Bay favour of taking the boat, especially in summer when the walk over the hill from Kinloch, although pretty, is sweltering, and likely to leave you without energy to climb.

The campsite is beautiful, with little spaces for tents nestled among the trees. A toilet at the east end of the bay and another some way along mark the edges of the main campsite, but if there are boats moored along the campsite beach you might prefer to pitch your tent beyond the second toilet if you like to sleep at night, as some of the boaties come to the bay to socialize, and like to do so loudly late into the night.

The pebbly beach is narrow with just enough space to sit back and admire the view. The water is crystal clear and exactly what is wanted after a hot day’s climbing.

And the climbing itself? In amongst the trad and mixed routes and the exposed multi-pitches are some bolted gems.

Cracks Wall

Rohan’s Little Sister (16)

Stick clip the first clip. Balance moves on a slab, with the occasional positive edge and some good holds around the arête. Two of us found it scary because we felt insecure on our feet, but it is a satisfying challenge.

Coconut Bikini Arête (23?)

Rock Deluxe North gives the grade as 20, but the lower section of the route felt a lot harder than 20 to my party, so much so that we decided the guide’s instruction to “Climb left of the arête,” must be meant to be interpreted liberally, so we climbed the crack left of the face until climbing the arête became easier. This made for fun and interesting climbing, but placed the climber considerably left of one of the bolts (the 4th or 5th?). With my left hand in the crack, my feet on small edges on the face, and both arms at full stretch, I managed after 20 nerve-tingling seconds of pushing the quickdraw at the hanger to hook it in, knowing this couldn’t be what the equippers intended. Later, we learned that other guides give the route a grade of 23.

The Lower Bluff

Jug Addiction (16)

A little crux in the middle to provide interest, and comforting jugs the rest of the way. Enjoyable climbing.

Unnamed (19) just right of Jug Addiction

Enjoyable climbing.

Predator (22)

I tried the moves on toprope: very nice moves; pumpy; the topout looked to me like it would be run out on lead but no one else thought so and I approached it awkwardly - sort of crouched and side-on to the rock - so my perspective may have been skewed. I'm keen to get back to it.

Aliens Resurrection pitch 1 (18)

Big jugs all the way. Fun. Unusual rock: there are bits sticking out all over the place providing lots of opportunities for heel hooks and drop knees, but making falling an unattractive prospect. However, falling is very unlikely - there are places to rest.

Jugzilla pitch 1 (17)

Big jugs all the way as for Aliens Resurrection. And even more opportunities for heel hooks and drop knees as well as a no-hands rest I achieved by jamming my hips in a crevice! Unadventurous climbers will feel the exposure behind them when they climb out of the gully onto the face. My recommendation is not to look at the view until you’ve climbed to the chains and set up to abseil down. Only when you’ve done your checks and are ready to go, turn around and take a few moments to marvel at where you are.

Pitch 1 of Aliens Resurrection and pitch 1 of Jugzilla can be climbed together as an ideal first multi-pitch for unadventurous climbers. At the chains for Aliens Resurrection pitch 1, the leader clips a quickdraw as if this is just another bolt on the route, then traverses two more bolts to the left, then climbs a couple of metres down to the ground to belay the second at the belay bolt. The second needs to take care climbing down to the belay bolt after removing the last quickdraw, as a fall, in amongst sharp, pointy bits of rock, however unlikely, would be unpleasant.

I’ve only had a taste of the climbing at Kawakawa Bay. I’m keen to return and would love to hear route recommendations for unadventurous climbers.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Central North Island and Coromandel holiday

Sweltering walk in the heat of the day, backpack heavy with climbing and camping gear. The remedy: deliciously refreshing Lake Taupo.

High on pitch 1 (17) of Jugzilla, feeling the exposure behind me, tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention. Knowing not to turn around and marvel till I’m ready to abseil down.

A nice motel room: an afternoon nap then onto the balcony overlooking the lake to test the temperature. Cross the road for a swim. What a life!

I pass a very small boy watching his dad at their tent site 20 metres away whacking two objects together to get the dust off. The boy turns, eyes alight, to tell me, “That is clapping!” He turns back to watch his dad again and laughs in astonished delight. I don’t get the joke but can’t help joining in.

A day at the beach. Ears hurt from the cold and the wind as I leave the water. Hands over ears to warm them up. Attentive, young surf lifesaver asks if I’m ok; did I hit my head?

A half empty campground in the bush by the largest, warmest swimming hole this connoisseur has found. Everyone else prefers the beach. Makes for quiet evenings - just what we like.

A majestic cathedral built by waves.

A kingfisher dives for fish.

My first sight of a kauri in its natural setting.

Short walks, too hot for more.

A secluded swimming hole at the foot of a cascade over rocks. No togs, but Tessa won’t let us skinny dip. (Glad I’m not seventeen anymore.)

Top 10 wants $99 for a tent site for one night! We find a peaceful, shady site elsewhere.

Cool breeze but must swim: cannot break our straight now only a day or two from home - we have swum every day.

Another small child laughs in delight; this one held aloft by his dad, who is ducking under the water’s surface, only his arms sticking above, holding the child clear.

The best boogie boarding ever. Fish in the face of the wave! Like a natural aquarium, glimpsed for a moment. I cut Geoff off; I try not to but I don’t know how.

Missing my son. (But don't know how we would have fitted him in the car if he'd been able to come.)

Lovely trip. Conversations with interesting people, and nature’s restoration.