The Thin Veneer of Civilization

I am deep into a set of books by Yuval Noah Harari that contain such enormous ideas, I cannot fathom how I will summarize their impact on me. Sapiens is a look back at the history of our species, and Homo Deus is a look forward at where our species might be headed. One of the major themes is that so much of what we believe is just what we as a species have agreed to believe. Those joint beliefs – the basis for civilization that we prize so highly – are increasingly vunerable as we struggle to know what is reality, and what is fiction. Faith in the future is necessary if we are to survive as a species.

As I digest the ideas that Harari puts forward, I have a propensity to notice things on the periphery of this topic that I might have otherwise missed.

This week one of those peripheral items put itself forward in the form of a comment by Douglas Rushkoff during a Commonwealth Club interview in 2016. He mentioned The Dark Mountain Project, a “network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.” I thought the writing on their site was very engaging. Here’s a short excerpt from The Dark Mountain Project Manifesto:

” … a simple fact which any historian could confirm: human civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

Once that belief begins to crumble, the collapse of a civilisation may become unstoppable. That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.”

If it helps you see beyond the day-to-day marketing manipulations coming from our called leaders in every sphere, if you are feeling bombarded with too much information about things you know just do not matter in the long run, if you sense you are spending your career working on things that no one really needs and you hate being beholden to meaningless corporate productivity metrics, if you agree with Edward Abbey that “better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion,” you might want to follow The Dark Mountain Project blog.

I’ll be there.

It’s Friday, folks. Time to stop.

One of my ideas for making the transition to retirement less sharp, is to have an end of week routine. Fridays have been, and remain, the end of the week for me. During my working life, my partner and I usually stayed home on Friday evenings, hanging out, sharing what we had learned, heard, and seen over the week. It was a time to stop striving and just be. A time to put away the phone, go for a walk together. Ask questions. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let worry go.

The routine isn’t exactly the same now that we are living up north. However, it is in that spirit, that I offer this end of week note with a few of the things things I found interesting this week:

Some thoughts on the future of work for those nearing the end of their careers. Lots of exclamation points. I haven’t seen these kind of opportunities, but if you are in the right situation, you might be able to navigate there from where you are today.

A March 2016 Commonwealth Club interview with Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. He is energetic and passionate about the intersection of the human and the marketplace, including topics like the purpose of jobs, the game-ification of the marketplace, and the evolving dynamics between land, capital, and labor. His view is congruent with Yuval Noah Harari’s, another favorite thinker of mine. I highly recommend you spend the hour it takes to listen to this.

In the NYTimes, Jane Brody considers “Who really needs to be gluten free?” and concludes that more of us need to be gluten free than are presently. Of course, I’d go further and say lectin free.

The/Thirty offers a short summery of Dr Steven Gundry’s Plant Paradox here. As I mentioned elsewhere, I have been eating lectin-free for about seven weeks now. I have lost about 12 pounds. More significantly, I have zero cravings, and even when confronted with my formerly favorite foods, I just don’t feel interested enough to eat them again. Really makes me wonder whether my brain or my gut was making food decisions in the past.

FiveThirtyEight offers a five part overview of the state of gut health science here.

How to stimulate your vagus nerve. That is the ‘highway’ between your gut and your brain, and might be the way that a disease that begins in the gut could travel to the brain. Turns out humming is good for you!

For those of you who have had the pleasure of even one meal in or around Lyon, France here’s a summary by Food52 of how the vegetarian/vegan influencing is being manifest there. Yum.

I have been watching a lot of interviews with Dr Sachin Patel recently. I am impressed with his philosophy and the work he is doing at the Living Proof Institute. The Institute has three guiding principles for working with patients: they co-create health (as opposed to treating disease), they agree that most diseases involve what goes into your mouth (and what comes out of your mouth, or what you hold back), and they believe the doctor doesn’t determine the outcome – the patient does. They offer a 30-day program that offers a tip a day to “become proof” that you can architect your own health. Sign up for the 30 days here.

Finally, Diana Krall has a new album. Take a listen. Hum along. And enjoy your weekend!

My Morning Routine

I love reading about people’s routines. One of my favorite email subscriptions is the weekly feature sent from mymorningroutine.com. It features the same 18 questions every week, asked of a selection of working American adults. I can’t wait for them to interview me, so I thought I’d take matters into my own hands and answer these same questions now, as a baseline for myself (and maybe for you).

What is your morning routine?

I wake up when the birdsong outside my window is too loud to ignore, and when the sun is full on up. This varies significantly from summer to winter at latitude 45° north, so in theory at least, I sleep longer in the winter. I immediately put on my headphones and meditate for at least 25 minutes. Then I get up and take my Parkinson’s medicines. Because these do not kick in for 45 minutes or so, I climb back into bed after taking the meds, and use my phone to check weather, mail, news, and Instagram while I wait. I also note ideas I want to explore more fully later using the voice dictation feature in the Notes app. When my meds kick in, I rise, get ready for the gym, and use the hour or so between that time and 8:20 am to write at my desk. By 8:20 am or so, I am heading to the gym.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

About one year, and I have been evolving this routine over time. The biggest recent change has been relocating to a northern climate, without air conditioning, where the windows are open all night. It is remarkable to wake up connected to the nature outside.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

When I last worked, in 2015, I would wake up, check mail, jump up and get showered and dressed to go to work, all in a mad rush. Most of what I would have called healthy habits were ignored or postponed until I “had time.” I have been focused on a more healthy lifestyle since I stopped working.

What time do you go to sleep?

I try to get into bed by 9:45 pm and have lights out by 10 pm. I’d like to evolve both my bedtime, and my rising time, even earlier if possible. I find that the mornings are my most creative and solutions oriented hours, and I’d like to extend that time.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

My meds and my gym clothes are all laid out. I have a glass of water next to the meds.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I rarely use an alarm.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I usually drink one glass of water in the morning, and otherwise do not eat or drink until about 10:30 am when I return from the gym. Breakfast is usually a green smoothie or coconut/almond flour muffin, both from the Plant Paradox cookbook, which is the lectin-free diet I follow.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

I participate in a classes at either a gym every morning – Pilates class three times a week, yoga once per week, and a boxing class for Parkinson’s patients once per week. I try to do all my gym-related workouts in the morning. In summer, almost all the rest of my exercise comes from working in the yard, or riding my bike on one of many nearby trails.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

I do a breath based meditation for 25 minutes first thing in the morning. I also use a guided meditation occasionally when I see one that appeals to me.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I answer email as I can, depending on my mobility and the urgency of the email. I don’t segment my email time.

Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

I track my sleep with my Apple watch using an app called AutoSleep. I also use an app for meditation guidance – Insight Timer, Buddify, or Mindfulness.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I use my phone to meditate in the morning, but all notifications are turned off, and I don’t open any app but the meditation app first thing.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Meditating, and getting my medicine into my system so I can move.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water is first, followed multiple hours later by coffee or green tea.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

My partner is instrumental in enabling us to get to bed early. When she comes to bed later than me, I often don’t sleep as long or as well. In the morning, she knows my routine, and she has her own, so we support each other and check in often during the morning.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I rarely go to the gym on weekends, so I tend to sleep a bit longer.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I just go with the flow now, and because I am trying to evolve this routine to be more and more healthy, I expect it to change.

Anything else you would like to add?

Just that meditating is the best addition to my morning routine I have ever made, and I’d recommend it highly.

In a State of Flow

Today we ate breakfast at Relish in Hudson, New York. Relish is the creation of Dana Johnson, an orchestral conductor of the highest skill, one who juggles food, customers, vendors, and staff like a maestro . She cooks the orders, plates the attractive food she cooks, intuits what customers want but haven’t asked for, instructs the staff, engages vendors who are delivering her orders, and does it all with a very cool vibe.  If real confidence comes from real competence, this is expertise in motion. Watching her pirouette in front of the stove, I appreciated someone whose ‘executive function’ isn’t just intact, it is at full on power. She is at the top of her game, the Steph Curry of her court. I admired her flow, and she made me remember what being really good at something felt like (although I played a different game). 

She shared that she had been practicing her expertise for 17 years and plans to close the restaurant and retire in September. I’d recommend you visit Relish before then. The food is phenomenal but the expertise on show is really something special.

2017 NBA Championship

Watching the two team dynamics during the playoffs was interesting. The Cavs have an amazing leader with both the physical and mental strength and stamina to lead his team through personal example. LeBron James works hard to lead and to win.

The Warriors have multiple players – Curry, Durant, Green, Thompson, Pachulia – with the same attributes in the physical and mental realms. They also have each other. They also have a coach who has taught them how to play together, how to give and take from one another, how to build something much much larger out of their collective skills.

Leadership is huge. But it is not the only thing.