Catching Up

It has been many many months since I have blogged regularly about anything. As always, life has a way of presenting you different riddles and puzzles.

I have been working on a Gordian puzzle for many years now and think I may just be able to unravel enough of the problem to see the overall pattern.

So, I have decided to start blogging again.  I won’t make any commitments to the frequency.  But I would like it to be a regular post about all of those things that I love – yoga, media, language, literature, … people, and of course food.

As part of unraveling a personal puzzle, I applied for the International Center for Journalist‘s Knight International Journalism Fellowship and thanks to a group of stalwart and supportive friends, ICFJ has asked me to be one of the six fellows they will send into the world to support the development of independent journalism.

I will work with the team at the largest online news organization in Malaysia MalaysiaKini.com to develop sustainable business models for citizen participation in the news gathering, editing, verification and writing process.  The Fellowship allows me to add the Islands (Nusantara, as they say in Malay) and at least some of the Muslim conversation to my focus.  More on the global conversation in a later post.

After many years of experimenting with and using “social media”, I have added a couple of self-published items to my circle online.  You can expect to see the following:

Exchanging Hats (general life, work, love, food, language)

Roadside Attractions (life clippings and my general record of what I am writing)

Knight International Journalism Fellows Blog (postings that are directly related to my work with ICFJ and Knight.  I will set these up to repost a summary with a link to the Exchanging Hats and Roadside Attractions.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts comments and suggestions.

You can find me at all the usual places elsewhere online (Facebook, Twitter – @rsettles) a full list is included on my about page.

有朋自远方来, 不亦乐乎?

A little Confucius to signal my return to blogging.

As the Sage says,”When a friend comes from far away,  would a “gentleman” not be  happy? ”  In this day of internet and email, friends get swept away in both time and distance.  But I am happy to say that in the last 24 hours, I have found two long-lost friends from China in my email inbox.

One my Fudan University roommate, Wang G., who I corresponded with through business school.  But then in one move or another I lost touch with.  So, out of the blue, I get an email from now Professor Wang who is teaching Chinese language and literature at a university in the southeast of the US.  Running around all day today, and a little apprehensive.  What do you say after 15 years?

The second a friend from my days in Chicago.  Craig W. was a grad student at the U of C in something suitably U of C esoteric (for those from California, U of C here is in Hyde Park, not Berkeley).  But one of the most genuinely “gentlemanly” individuals I have ever known.  Hence the leap to the Analects.  Craig shows up in my inbox through another old friend who I have neglected but knew how to find me.  So, on my email I get this mobile photo of my friends in a restaurant in Beijing where they were playing the game – “Do you know…??

What does it mean?  I have always been a secret believer in signs and augurs.  If truth be told I buy Vanity Fair every month, not for the stories, not for the photos, but for the horoscope.

Not sure of the significance, but it is always gratifying that you have left good feelings among people you loved and respected along the way.  So much so that they remember you fondly enough to not dismiss you 10 or 15 years later.  As  for bigger signs, well I definitely feel the draw of  Asia swelling again.  And maybe finding these threads from China converging is not just happenstance.  We’ll see!

Career, Job, Work: Pattern #1

I find that I can pretty reliably stay on the straight and narrow, as long as there are NO obstacles or challenges. Whenever anything starts my bad patterns spinning, I am off.   I think the Buddhists would say observe the phenomenon to understand it and it will recede into the background.

It has been a year since the end of Knight Ridder and ad hoc reunions keep cropping up.  It was in one of these reunion settings that I got knocked off the path.  And the samskaric pattern at work was the one wrapped around “career, work, job”.  Everyone present (except me) was back to the 9 to 5 world, company paycheck, expense accounts.  So, the struggle began.  What am I doing?  Consulting at what?  Everyone begins to share and I of course can’t help myself.  My couple of projects all the sudden make me sound like a digital McKinsey.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have a couple of fun projects where I am learning some new skills and/or helping with some interesting companies.  But, of course, I made it sound like was changing the world.  In the course of the whole gathering I could feel a mixture of self-doubt, anxiety and envy swirling around my ankles.

So, I observed it.  I tried to catch myself.  Now I have to ask what is driving this pattern around “career, work, job”.  Here’s what I have come up with so far.  One, work is one of adult America’s organizing principles.  It drives everything for many people, me included, certainly more so than religion or even family.  After working the 9 to 5, really 9 to 7 for a long time, it is a challenge to organize the day to feel productive.  And feeling productive drives self-esteem. Of course we are valuable, look at all of the “to-do’s” crossed off today.

The second is work defines your profession which again for me has always been linked to self-esteem.   What are you?  Doctor, no.  Lawyer, no.  Salesman, NO.  Then what?  Things like this hit you at the funniest times.  Earlier in the summer a client sent me to Shanghai to work with their development team  (see I really do have clients).  The Chinese invented forms, well at least they invented paperwork.  And there on the landing form was the blank box, profession:_______.  I balked and finally wrote “consultant”?  I guess it works in China, since  Confucius was basically a management consultant for the Dukes of Zhou.  Imagine the Analects as a Powerpoint presentation.  But I have always felt like this was a little bit of a cop out and very limited self- esteem points.

Finally, work has been a buffer for me, a buffer against life.  You hear a lot about work-life balance, basically making work and life out to be two ends of a spectrum. Work bad; life good.  And so, that’s how I have used work.  I have been a workaholic, since then I had no time for life.  Over the last few months, I have talked with a couple of people who are working on ideas, because that’s what entertains them.  I don’t even think they realize that they are founding businesses.  Sometimes they are just playing around.  Sometimes they are actively trying to solve a problem or provide a service.  They walk the dog, practice their yoga, work on their idea, watch the kids.  And they do all of this seamlessly.  There is no work life balance, there is only life.  The other thing you hear is that these men and women are driven by big paydays.  But paydays are almost always a function of raising money which comes along eventually when you need a new white board or need to pay someone.   What  makes these situations special is a strength of vision or particular passion that motivates you to keep working, even when it is a little lonely and no one really thinks you know what you are doing.   The vision is there, my question is can I summon up the strength and passion to move on it.

OK.  All very heady.  What’s it mean?  Again, just be real.  You are helping a handful of companies, actively engaged in your daily yoga practice AND pursuing a few ideas of your own.

I wonder if that will fit on the profession blank on Chinese landing card?  OK.  I promise the next post will be a little more light-hearted and maybe come with show and tell.

I’m Back Blogging Again

I have been back from traveling for about 6 months and it has been a year since I set off for Bali, then Byron and then Mysore.  If you followed this blog while I was in Asia, you have realized that I stopped posting other than a very occasional experiment in using all of the new widgets and doo-dads out there.

So, what’s up?  Why stop blogging?  Partly there was nothing to say.  Partly I have been struggling staying focused on my own path, burning through my own samskaras and trying to live closer to the truth.  In Asia unencumbered by all of the expectations that surrounded me whether created by the media or my family and friends, it was so much easier to be focused.  Worries about career and companionship all receded into the background.  Everyone for the most part was in Mysore to get away from the expectations and desires that surrounded them in the “real world” and to focus on generating a little heat to burn away that crusty hull that desire creates around us.  My hull has proven to be particularly think.  So I got back to SF and quickly fell into some of my worst patterns, tried to put them aside and then fell back again.  Progress is  made, but slowly.

You know no one wants to be to overt about struggle.  It isn’t very heroic.  Doesn’t everyone want to be the romantic hero?  Certainly I do.   So, my reaction has been to simply shut down, struggle silently.  There is nothing dramatic going on, just working on shutting down past patterns.

I tried to keep a blog going by moving my comments on some media topics to a separate blog, but it felt dishonest.  The blogs I have grown to respect integrate the important aspects of their life – family, work, love, yoga – all into a single space.  Integration, that’s the goal.  It’s like we operate all of these separate lives from a distance and yoga is a process for trying to integrate them into at  more consistent whole.  So , I moved the couple of posts from the “career” blog back to Exchanging Hats and closed the other one out.  You now have a clue to some of what Elizabeth B was talking about in the poem.  We are all constantly exchanging hats to fit the expectations of those around us.  God forbid that we are the Unfunny Uncle.  But, I guess if that is the truth, then wear the hat high and wide — be as unfunny as you can.

You will see me more frequently on the things that are important to me and how I am going at unifying my haberdashery.  It may seem a little disjointed going forward, it may seem at little less than romantic but it will be my best attempt at being true.

More to come.

Happy New Year

Well, the blackeyed peas are stewing on the stove, so it’s time to sit down and send a quick New Year’s greeting to everyone.

I have never sent a year-end letter before. I always think that I will send individual notes with something personal.  That effort generally gets drowned in all the other New Year’s good intentions and nothing ever goes out.  So, this year a combined blog post and email.

Hard to believe everything that has transpired in the past year.  At the beginning of the year, Knight Ridder was in the process of exploring ways to re-invent itself so that shareholders might actually believe they would see some real growth in the future.  At the same time, the company was exploring “strategic alternatives”.  Then, it felt a little surreal.  But after 12 months and the sale of Knight Ridder, “strategic alternatives” has become a very common phrase, if you work in newspapers, broadcast TV or radio.  So, the first half of the year was consumed with frenzied effort to reinvent Knight Ridder and then the slow, numbing wait for the sale to close.   I hope everyone concerned has finally landed in new positions.

Now to my little adventure.  Starting almost as soon as my job ended, I was on a plane for Asia.  First, short stay in Hong Kong, my old stomping grounds; then a month in Bali; six weeks in Australia and then India where I was still wrestling with whether to come back just two weeks ago.

It is very hard to summarize everything.  I learned a lot.  Some yoga, some about myself — at this point increasingly they are the same thing.  I did gain a sheer wonder at how marvelous the world is – complicated, dynamic, filled with people working to solve important problems, building rich full lives and having a pretty damn good time doing it.

You hear a lot about “giving back” these days thanks to the billionaires and their foundations.  But “giving back” is when you see a problem and just dig in, no matter how intractable it seems.  Whether you see people suffering in Sri Lanka and you deliver free healthcare or you help build a latrine in a Indian boy’s home or you teach yoga to abused girls in Mysore or you help train teachers to use new online tools to teach their students, you were out there and you are inspiring.  Maybe it was a sign one of my personal heroes Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize – but all of this points me to the obvious realization that I have some skills and I need to “give back” in the New Year.

I guess I also realized that you don’t have to be solving the world’s problems to contribute.  The number of people who quietly try to live the right life – true householders who raise their children, do good work, strive for some balance. I wish I could say that I saw this in the US, but with some exceptions it was mostly a phenomenon of Americans abroad, Europeans, and especially Australians.  Again inspiring.

Finally, the year was marked by teachers.  Sure a lot of them are yoga teachers – well actually they are all yoga teachers, but they have made me a better person.  One in particular took me on, not just working me into yoga poses like pasasana, but took me on.  I hate to admit that I am not a mysterious yogi, but actually I am kind of predictable.  And every time, I would sink into a flavor of a funk. I would get one of those knowing looks and once in a while an Australian version of “snap out of it”.  More to thank there than I can say.  One of the things that troubled me during the time away was going to India.  Sure I lived in China for seven years, but India scared me.  Australians do not have a very big tolerance for fear.  So I went.  I thanked Guruji everyday and wished everyday that I had found this very peculiar practice that I do every morning ten years ago.  That is a process of surrender – to the Guru.  I think the Indians call it shraddha.  When they tell you to do it.  Do it, do not second guess it.

I am afraid I am rambling now.  Suffice it to say that my time away was SWEET.  I have had moments in the last two weeks when I wondered “what was I thinking to have come home so soon”.  Seven years in China, two months in India.  But I am back.  Traffic on 101 is crazy.  Shopping is a competitive sport – full contact, if you know what I mean.  The Devarajas Bazaar has nothing on teenagers at the Stanford Mall.  I have the opportunity to do some consulting for old friends, which is sweet.  I am trying to internalize some of what I experienced and trying to stay in touch with friends.  I am looking for a Chinese reading group to keep my Mandarin up – Skype and a group of overworked Singaporeans I think have saved me here.  And finally, I have taken a Hindi teacher.  Sanskrit is great, but how can you not want to learn the language of Bollywood. (Yeah, now in addition to my love of Kungfu movies, I love a Bollywood romance/drama/ comedy.  Do we think that telenovelas and Bollywood have any relation?)

The New Year is still unfolding.  My family is well for the first time in many years.  I have some opportunities for work in the Bay Area as well as back in Asia.  So, stay tuned.   If you are in San Francisco or vicinity, give me a call.  I would love to see you.  Check the blog to find out where I am because as long as there is airline travel, there is a chance that you will find me in Fez or Cairo or Mumbai or Mysore or Singapore or Shanghai.

Have a Happy New Year.   Write if you want more details.

Ross

Byron Bay & Untangling the Knots

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in Byron and I thought I would respond to the handful of people who have asked about the decision to go to Byron Bay instead of straight on to India.

Often you make a decision to change course in your travel itinerary or in life, not because of any well-reasoned plan, but because it feels right.  My decision to come down to Australia felt right.  It was not reasoned.  There is no grid with pros and cons to help justify the decision.  But for whatever reason having been in Australia for three weeks, it was the right decision for me.

When I set out from San Francisco I tried to articulate why I was traveling.  I even tried to craft a couple of posts about it, but nothing ever materialized.  In short, I hoped that the travel, the yoga, the change would catalyze some great transformation.  I would find peace and love in my soul.  I would overcome all of those obstacles in my yoga practice.  I would drop 15 pounds and I would look 20 years younger…   Well just in that list you can see why articulating the reasons for the trip was so hard.  Buried in all of those transformations were the knots of problems built up over years of dealing with daily life.

Travel has both a positive and negative side when dealing with these kinds of “knots”.  The positive side is that it removes you from the environment that helped form them.  It sets you lose to form new habits, create new disciplines, develop new mental and emotional musculature.  But travel also creates a whole new set of distractions that hide those areas you were hoping it would transform.  In Bali, you take Indonesian lessons, you learn about the current gossip in Mysore, you shop, you always have something to occupy your time.  You do not have to look closely at yourself or those tough spots you want transformed.  For mental distraction, nothing can beat Sydney.  Where all of the illusion creating machinery of the West is in high gear.  If you buy these jeans you’ll be sexier, if you eat at this restaurant you’ll be cooler… When I was in Bali, I could easily spend an afternoon planning different excursions around Mysore.  The trip to India would have been the ultimate distraction.

So, why Byron?  Well, first there’s Dena who knows my practice and has insight into what physically, mentally and emotionally transpires on my mat every morning.  That in itself I think was the kernel that posed the question, “why not go to Byron?”  In addition, Byron has three layers to it. There is the very rich million dollar home community that you see in town on occasion, but mostly you don’t interact with.  There are the surfer/backpacker tourists who you see everyday, but don’t interact with because they are their own isolated subcultures.  Finally there is the “original” Byron Bay.  There are a lot of ex-hippies, but more frequently there are a lot of escapees from the rat race of corporate Australia and America and Europe.  The guy that owns the local vegan restaurant is an ex-sales exec from Melbourne.  That is the Byron Bay that I am spending time in.

In the “original” Byron Bay, there are art house movies, but not a lot of TV.  There is yoga, but not a lot of glossy magazines.  There is time – unstructured and unfilled.  Now, in all honesty, the first three days I was here I thought what in the world was I going to do with myself.   I will have to go back to Sydney at some point to keep from being bored out of mind.  But by the fourth day, I had settled into a bit of a routine.  The “original” Byron created enough space to allow the knots that I wanted transformed to re-surface.  What was I going to do about these? Was travel going to untangle this mess? It doesn’t take long to start seeing all the knots linked to each other in one big busy ball.  But, how do you deal with this?  Is this what a shrink would do for me?   You quickly realize that they will not untangle themselves no matter how long I am away and how far I travel.  They will take some serious work to untangle.  Some discipline, some work, some practice.

So, I didn’t plan or understand why Byron first, then Mysore.  At the time, it was a feeling and a level of trust and comfort in Dena.  After two weeks here, Byron has helped me at least begin to remember what and where the knots are and even in some cases to know how they are inter-related.  In the end they may never get untangled.  I may just have to recognize that they are there and with discipline, work and practice live around them.

I am not sure that I will post more details about these knots.  They are personal and it is uncomfortable to go into in any detail.  But I may give a progress report on the untangling before I board the plane to Mysore in a couple of weeks.

If you were looking for more of a travelogue version of this post, i.e. where to stay and what to do in Byron Bay, I will post something more along those lines in a couple of days.

D&J: Changing Plans

Well,  I keep thinking I will sit down and write a long and amazingly insightful post about how special Dena and Jack’s retreat in Bali was.  But, something always gets in the way.  Nothing too stressful of course, but something.  Reading, eating, shopping, ….

The retreat was everything I wanted for the start of my trip.  Dena and Jack both were in fine form having just spent  a couple of months in Mysore.  She pushed a little, cajoled a little, sympathized, both in practice and in the little afternoon talks that punctuated the retreat.  For me, the afternoon talk became a mixed blessing, since I felt that D was invariably talking directly to me – sometimes about things I wasn’t really ready to talk about.  Later at dinner, I found this sentiment shared by others, each with a different twist.  Dena continued to evolve my practice (which is somewhat remarkable, since we had over 25 people in the room) in ways that left me feeling pretty ‘open’.  So much so, that I decided to use September to go and join her September workshop in Byron.  Yes, that’s right.  I am headed to Australia.   No one said that the road to Mysore was necessarily straight.

Since the shala doesn’t re-open (this according to the people who came to Bali directly from Mysore) until September 11th, I will really only miss the first few weeks.  This puts me in Mysore somewhere around the 3rd of October.

Changing plans and heading for Australia is the best endorsement I can give for Dena and Jack’s Bali retreat.  There are really three superlatives – the quality of the teaching (of course), the quality of the students (maybe because even for two weeks a trip to Bali is a real commitment) and the location (Bali, Ubud, and Ananda Cottages).  I guess I haven’t posted a longer post, because what else can you say on the subject.  Excellent.

So, if you are looking for a yoga excursion, then I would HIGHLY recommend a trip to Bali.

San Francisco is generally very well represented.  This year we had four attending, including myself.  Two years ago we had about twice that number.  So, it’s an easy flight.  Singapore is a great place to layover.  I will post later about places in Singapore to practice.

And that was the week that was…

There are certain points in a person’s life that act as dividers between two stages, two eons.  I think that I will look back on the week of March 12, 2006 as one of those weeks.  Work and life came colliding together in a week of exhausting firsts and finals.

Last Sunday, I participated in Guruji’s first led practice in San Francisco. AshtangaNews blogs about the first day of the tour here . In an earlier blog post , I talked about the community and the history that resonated through the first day’s practice.  I questioned whether work would interrupt the week.

Well, work did intrude.  Knight Ridder (KRI ), the company I have worked for since 2002 was sold to another smaller media company.  For many of my colleagues in the newspapers it will be a wrenching change, for others the new owner looks like a white knight for now.  For me, it means the end of a goal.  I have worked  on the edge of the newspaper business since 1992.  In that time I have seen many attempts at reinventing the newspaper, many sponsored by companies and executives that I have worked for.  I believed naively that we could reinvent an institution.  I know now that I was wrong.  Too much infrastructure, too much scale required to succeed.  Too much legacy inertia to make the changes needed.  People want the news, they respect and I think are comforted by the knowledge that someone is out there investing in covering the difficult questions.  But I am afraid that the public’s interest in journalism has been diluted to something similar to their interest in the environment. Consequences must be immediate and personal before anyone is willing to pay for information relevant to the issue.  Like the environment, the absence of a public journalism will not be realized until history books are written.  More has to be written before this chapter is over.  New models like New West may suggest answers.

At the same time, the week confirmed some things that I had worried about.  Yoga and the confidence to pass up some big opportunities to go to India and practice with Guruji.  If you read my earlier post you knew that I was anxious about the practice.  What if Guruji was too tough for me?  Well to paraphrase some of my teachers,”It’s just practice”.  The asana has to recede into a habit almost biological, like eating or brushing your teeth. The other thing is the whole “Guru” thing.  On Sunday I stood in line to thank Guruji and touch his feet.  It will be whatever it is, just go with it.

Then there is the community.  We have our issues, politics, gossip, but I would trust anyone in that room today.  This morning we saw a movie Guru at the Victoria in San Francisco.  It’s creator has given the community something – a snapshot of the traditions that hold us all together.  Maybe in the weeks ahead I can find some way to make a small contribution to my community in Mountain View or  more.

As always more to come.

Sadness

Change is good – or so they say.  But on the edge of change the overwhelming emotion is sadness.   Sadness is an interesting emotion, a palpable sensation of loss.  When a person losses a limb, there is a residual sensation where the missing limb used to be.  Sadness is in a sense the same for the mind and the heart.

On the work front, as Knight Ridder gets closer and closer to deciding its future, the sense of sadness is from the loss of opportunity.  Visions, ambitions and goals lost.  But, work right now is really more of an intellectual loss.  That may change as colleagues begin to leave for other companies.

This morning I woke to news of changes that have evoked a sadness on the personal front.  In ashtanga, there are the super teachers – Dom and Tim and Dena and Lino.  But, unless you live in their home towns or follow them around the world, you practice with them and then go back to your regular practice environment – your home studio where practice is refined and absorbed into your life.  Change in that world is like losing a limb.

This morning I started reading through the ashtanga blogs I follow. They are in the blogroll at the right. The two stalwarts of my practice – Anne and Phillipe – have announced changes.  Anne is moving to Portland, Oregon and Phillipe is going to stop teaching to pursue his growing internet business.  When I read Anne’s post, my first inclination was tears.  I had to miss practice yesterday because of an early work meeting.  It was Dom’s last practice, but I told myself that I would email him my huge thanks.  Now I learn that I missed a dramatic announcement that will certainly change our community.  But, no tears, just sadness.  I know this is something that Anne wants, and if so I want it for her.  I will just miss her.  If you read this blog, you know as yoga works its way through my body, my body sometimes resists.  At those times, Anne’s best adjustment is always a mental one.  A quiet model of commitment to practice.  These adjustments have kept me practicing, even when I think “that’s it, I’m done”.

Phillipe will still be the pillar of our little community.  But, juggling the roles of entrepreneur and dad is a clearly a lot to handle.  I appreciate that.  I have always marveled at his ability to handle everything seamlessly.  So, again I will miss his adjustments, but will still have his model.

According to the post on Morning Mysore, Sai will continue to help out until she and Dom head for Greece in the May.  Then Lizzie Nichols of Open Door fame is going to help out until David Roche arrives in June.

So, July.  What happens in July?  I have been talking to myself about beginning my long vac at that time.  Could be a sign.

I’ll miss the past regularity and dependability of the practice that Anne and Phillipe fostered for all of us.  I’ll be sad for a while.  And then a new pattern will emerge for us all.

Work Day, Private Day

Recently I have noticed that my day is skewed a little.  There is the work day in the middle and the private day that starts when I arrive home from the office and continues through practice the next morning, punctuated with some sleep in between.

But, given the anxiety that is associated with work these days, my work day increasingly spreads out into my private day.  The impact is subtle.  After work and a commute, I find myself needing to treat myself to some indulgence – a bottle of wine, a big dinner,  some rapid fire TV, or something else, to disengage the nerves.  I do all of this in the evening.  The next morning then I head to practice often with the intention of “undoing” the indulgence.  Sweating it out.

Thinking about Dominic’s workshop last week, I want to try to see if I can redefine the private day as beginning in the evening with practice being the culmination rather than the clean-up of the day.  It may take some work.  But, definitely something to shoot for.