concentration vs. mindfulness




meditation is very important to me. most of the time when i meditate i simply sit still for 15 or 20 minutes and practice noticing and accepting whatever sensations i feel. this is mindfulness meditation, or at least as close as i get to it. mindfulness is the type of meditation that has been the most helpful to me. at times, i can be so unaware of what i feel and how it affects me that i don’t even realize that i’m physically sore or sick or extremely anxious about something in the future. mindfulness is the antidote to that lack of awareness and refusal to accept the facts of what i feel. but mindfulness isn’t everything when it comes to meditation.

this article talks about concentration meditation. after reading it, i can see why i’ve been stuck in my practice for a long time. i have steadily improved at mindfulness, but my ability to avoid getting distracted has stayed at a complete standstill. a year ago, i could meditate for around 20 minutes before i realized i was squirming and thinking so much that i was no longer really meditating. and today, i still can only sit for 20 minutes before the same thing happens.

concentration meditation, as taught by this helpful video, seems like the answer. the narrator describes this type of meditation as going to the gym for the brain, to make it stronger. the article i mentioned a minute ago even talks about concentration as a tool, which could be used for good or evil, but is powerful either way. this practice includes some approaches that i normally would avoid, because they don’t fit into mindfulness. for instance, in this concentration practice the narrator directs you to count your breaths and say the number in your head, while mindfulness rarely encourages naming, even at the beginning stages. both types of meditation seem to converge as they improve, so that, in the end, you might be able to sit still and accept sensation and avoid distraction and not name anything at all.

i’ve also found a lot of help in metta meditation, which is a whole different type of practice that involves a lot more naming and thinking. i like the idea of having a whole arsenal of practices, developed by people thousands of years ago who had no televisions or computers but just as much of an ability to sit still and notice, deeply, what it is really like to be human. i recommend the article and video for a practice akin to lifting weights, tough, intentional, driven by willpower, which will leave you calm and all the more able to find a deeper peace and acceptance with your mindfulness practice.

Vipassana meditation is something of a mental balancing act. You are going to be cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. They pull in tandem, so to speak. Therefore it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of the factors is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of the mind is lost and meditation impossible.



Sum Greater – Get Managed on the Cheap


Sum Greater Entertainment had another beneficial meeting last week. Everyone involved has been busy making songs and websites, logos and business cards, legal work and paperwork, and generally coming up with ideas. It was good to come together to compare notes and see where we can take the organization.

Since we are just starting up, Sum Greater is still hashing out everything from our sale’s pitches to what basic services we offer. We all have some ideas of where we want to go, and how we want to get there, and so now we’ve been making strides in getting all of that down on paper so that people can actually use us as a service in the Hillsboro area. Here is some of what we talked about in last two meetings:


I wrote a song for future use by the charity. We listened to that, and inspected and edit new business cards, a mock up tour guide and drink coupons, and the new website that OC is finishing up. Lots of new stuff and things, which feels very professional. A graphic designer made us a few versions of a logo. And, with of this fun stuff there was, of course, a bunch of paperwork to go along with it.


Can’t say for sure, yet, but the rumor around town is that Influence might have just won a grant that will allow the Hall to put on a new series of concerts. Stay tuned for more on that; I’ll post about it when we know for sure. Evan, who founded the Hall and has been working with musical acts in Hillsboro for years, has agreed to give Sum Greater some pointers (a Supervisory External Coach, if such a thing exists).

Mock Tour!

Most of our meeting was taken up with discussing new ideas, and the idea that excited me the most is that of doing a tour around Hillsboro, Portland, and coast. We will get our name out there, and start to work out the nitty-gritties of how to make a tour happen for an act represented by Sum Greater. Some of our events will provide both music and live art – paintings inspired by the music by Al from ABPositive.

(P.S. If you also are excited about the idea of manageable beginner musician’s tour, organized for you by Sum Greater, then let me know. Personally, I’ve never tried it, and I expect it to be a real boost in exposure and experience.)


Thanks to Clark’s Bistro for hosting our meetings – they have great Moscow Mules, if you are in the market. Thanks to Cedar House Media, who has been doing some great work for us with the cards and flyers. And, as always, thanks to the Influence Music Hall for just being awesome.

Final Thoughts: What is Sum Greater, Exactly?

I’m not sure! We want to be what the music community in Hillsboro needs us to be. Here are our initial ideas:

Talent Management (We coordinate and book and manage tours)

Event Promotion (Posters and posts to increase your turnouts)

Openers (Providing talent to fill out the show, or even dancers and painters to back you up)

And, it is for a good cause: Social Impact, a public benefit workforce funded by Sum Greater.



Make sense? Ideas? Thoughts? Let us know on our facebook page or comment on this post.







new song:

sum greater:

cedar house:




the organized mind, and my unorganized wallet


the Organized Mind

a month or so back i borrowed an audiobook called The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin, but never got around to reading it before it expired. ironically. i tried it again, today, and it is interesting and highly applicable.

i was already thinking about optimization, because i listened to Tim Ferris talk about his new book on a podcast earlier. and that, mixed in with information systems theory and cognitive overload anecdotes, is helping me see the world in a different light.

for instance, i got several new items this evening. all of them are, broadly categorized, items that i will keep in my wallet. my wallet is a little thinking tool, a metaphor for my brain, at least a well organized wallet would be. and the more i look at the wallet and all the cards that i mean to put in it, i can understand how much data is being processed. minds are like rooms full of stuff, which are like computer desktops full of videos and documents, which are modeled off of actual desktops with actual physical folders full of files.

my wallet

about half of the items in my wallet have an undisputed, assigned location. for instance, my newest bus pass is always in the clear pocket, in front, and older bus passes are always in that same pocket in the back. cash is always in the outer fold, and, if i’ve been paying attention, organized by bill size going from ones on the inside to twenties, and beyond, on the perimeter.

those preassigned items could be seen in two different ways. on one hand, they are helpful and decrease superfluous decision making and processing: it may be better to always know where the key files are in the folder. on the other hand, if the way i keep my wallet has more importance that i realize – and so is worth more effort and consideration – then maybe these domains are a hinderance, and i’d be far better off with bills stuck in the clear pocket and cards lined up in the fold, and so on. but i can’t imagine a world in which a formerly unheard of shuffling of the contents of my wallet generate an important change, so i don’t worry about it.

the second pile of items to go in my wallet are more difficult because they are more diverse, and less related, and all of a lower tier of importance to me. i know exactly where i keep my driver’s license, because it is necessary for many things, but i don’t care so much about my safeway club card.

the wallet is also similar to a junk drawer. junk drawers come up a lot when i’m learning about how the mind works. Levitin mentions it early on in The Organized Mind. you fill junk drawers with odds and ends, often just to procrastinate making the decision to throw them away or to expend the effort of putting them in the proper place (three random screws at the back that could be stored in the toolbox, if the toolbox was just a little easier to get out from under the piles of boxes in the garage…and weren’t you meaning to pick up those boxes and organize those? so you can’t deal with the screws in the junk drawer until you go through the boxes in the garage, though of course if you organized it would only make sense to clean in there, too, because it has been a shamefully long time and there are cobwebs…)

in the case of my wallet, i had old versions of cards, like a work pass. i know i don’t want to have a wallet stuffed full of useless copies of the same tool. but can i really throw out the old one? what if i need it? should i file it away somewhere? should the card be recycled? does it need to be cut up so no one can use it? and don’t i vaguely remember the HR department collecting the old cards, last year, and won’t they be pissed if i throw it out?

incidentally, the card in question, which i did throw out, was actually for the 2015 year, not 2016, and that potential problem never once materialized. so, it stands to reason that i can dispense with giving a fuck about it and spend my cognitive calories elsewhere.

i had a pile of business cards from friend’s projects and my own side projects. individually, i had no qualms about accepting them and stowing them away. but now i have collected a pile, and it is too much, because the real estate is valuable.

some of the cards are easier, and lend themselves to sorting: a pile of giftcards, tj max, starbucks, and guitar center. christmas gifts. and a fourth, a visa gift card given as a holiday bonus. but that card has a place of in the first slot facing out. above that are three other slots, all open in rotation between a few key players, ID and debit and credit. the health card, rarely used but vaguely similar to the driver’s license for purposes of identification, gets to piggy back a special permanent slot behind it.

so what does that leave? half a dozen of my own business cards, bulky but worth keeping handy. a card with my banking number in case i forget it. a private security ID for the state of oregon, unarmed professional. these sundries will need to fight it out for space in the remaining pockets.

each decision (to store, or to discard) is a little victory, and i feel a satisfaction like an itch or a smoke. the work ID and work pass and old entry pass sort of fit together, both in that they relate to work and in that they are rarely used and only need to be in the wallet in case i need them. they can go in the least accessible pocket. of course, all my business cards go together (of course: “of course” means taking for granted, and taking for granted is the enemy of new ideas. fortunately, it is my wallet, which i’m analyzing for fun, so no loss).

cognitive-metaphysical theory of my wallet (jk)

in the end, i put the wallet away in my backpack. that is meta as shit, right? my backpack is another container that holds, stores, protects, hides, and secures different tools. one moment ago my wallet was an ecosystem filled with fauna, and now it is a singular object among many. in hand, stripped, the wallet is the sum total of cash and cards and coupons. now, it is part of the backpack, along with laptop and chapstick and papers. when i take the backpack home again it will become a singular object in a room full of bookshelves and dresser drawers and wastebaskets, all designed to hold different types of things.

but, like zooming in by powers of 10 to see galaxies and then planets and then people and then atoms, the whole process folds back onto itself depending on the nature of each item i have stored. a book, or a sock, could go missing and i might never even know. those items are relatively inconsequential, and to spend time worrying about each of them would cripple me. if a human head got smacked with a rock and the brain inside started to care equally about each possession, the person running in that brain would be as handicapped as someone who can no longer feel physical pain, or who no longer experience emotions.

but some of those items from the vast store of hundreds in my possession – more than a tribal chieftain in 1000 BCE, more than some kings in 1000 CE – enjoy special properties and responsibilities. in the apartment, in the room, in the backpack, in the wallet, is the debit card, which in itself is a system of organization for electronic numbers meant to reflect currency which is meant to reflect a gold standard. this unassuming piece of plastic pays for everything from the wall to the backpack to the room to the apartment.

tl;dr i wrote 1000 words about organizing my wallet. does this mean i’ll never have any friends ever again?

the book

so, in case i didn’t make myself clear, i recommend The Organized Mind. here is my favorite quote, so far:

The appearance of writing some 5,000 years ago was not met with unbridled enthusiasm; many contemporaries saw it as technology gone too far, a demonic invention that would rot the mind and needed to be stopped. Then, as now, printed words were promiscuous—it was impossible to control where they went or who would receive them, and they could circulate easily without the author’s knowledge or control. Lacking the opportunity to hear information directly from a speaker’s mouth, the antiwriting contingent complained that it would be impossible to verify the accuracy of the writer’s claims, or to ask follow-up questions. Plato was among those who voiced these fears; his King Thamus decried that the dependence on written words would “weaken men’s characters and create forgetfulness in their souls.” Such externalization of facts and stories meant people would no longer need to mentally retain large quantities of information themselves and would come to rely on stories and facts as conveyed, in written form, by others. Thamus, king of Egypt, argued that the written word would infect the Egyptian people with fake knowledge. The Greek poet Callimachus said books are “a great evil.” The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger (tutor to Nero) complained that his peers were wasting time and money accumulating too many books, admonishing that “the abundance of books is a distraction.” Instead, Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books, to be read thoroughly and repeatedly. Too much information could be harmful to your mental health.

The printing press was introduced in the mid 1400s, allowing for the more rapid proliferation of writing, replacing laborious (and error-prone) hand copying. Yet again, many complained that intellectual life as we knew it was done for. Erasmus, in 1525, went on a tirade against the “swarms of new books,” which he considered a serious impediment to learning. He blamed printers whose profit motive sought to fill the world with books that were “foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive.” Leibniz complained about “that horrible mass of books that keeps on growing” and that would ultimately end in nothing less than a “return to barbarism.” Descartes famously recommended ignoring the accumulated stock of texts and instead relying on one’s own observations. Presaging what many say today, Descartes complained that “even if all knowledge could be found in books, where it is mixed in with so many useless things and confusingly heaped in such large volumes, it would take longer to read those books than we have to live in this life and more effort to select the useful things than to find them oneself.”

A steady flow of complaints about the proliferation of books reverberated into the late 1600s. Intellectuals warned that people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.





new song, mostly finished, see the process:



my first song written for a paid assignment. i’m working with a new organization called Sum Greater Entertainment. we put on concerts in Hillsboro, just outside of Portland, Oregon. part of the proceeds go to a charity, and this song is for that charity.


i actually touched up the audio a bit, and added some backing instruments, but when i uploaded the .mov file to youtube it had, very oddly, stripped it of all the edits to the audio. i uploaded the file 3 times, and each time it uploaded quickly but didn’t have the edited audio. very strange. if i listen to the same file, from my desktop, it has the bass and drums. anyone know what is up with that?

i thought about writing this song for about 2 months, and i actually wrote it in 1 night. that is often how my creativity works. i picked at the idea of writing a song on such-and-such a topic and imagined how the tone of such a song should feel, for weeks, only thinking about it once every few days. 1 month in, after i had mulled a bit, i had the idea of using a riff and melody that i’d made up without the charity in mind at all, and then after a few more weeks of mulling i realized that i’d stopped imagining using any other tunes. at some point, without really realizing it, i had decided on this melody.

then, at around 2 am a few nights ago, i picked up the guitar. i didn’t think very hard or long about what i was going to write, in the same way that a boxer might study theory before the fight so that it becomes second nature and instinctive, during. once i had a mood and a free moment and the opportunity to play without anyone bothering me, i just slipped into it. i wrote the lyrics in about an hour. here is the first draft:

lend a hand in spring get one to lead you in the autumn

plant a seed and turn your back and it grows

i’ll teach you how to walk for an iou

then you can help me cross the road

spend a bit of time on it, take interest in the spinning

in the cycle as it comes back around

the best part about falling down

is getting back in touch with the ground

i don’t owe you nothing

and you don’t know me

something tells me

we’ve got more in common than not

we both know the bottom like a second home

on second thought

i guess i’d like to give it a shot

if “we’re” all “us” then we’ll always get to the top

if you shiver in the winter come inside or give the winner

nasty looks for playing king of the hill

applaud the upstart sneaking up to reign ’till they catch a chill

right now we are still designing our website, but i’ll post the relevant links we have so far:

Sum Greater’s facebook page:

my first blog post about our show at Clark’s:

buy my music:

atoms are mostly empty space and i am mostly atoms




meditation is teaching me what it is like to learn how to do something. perfect practice makes perfect, which is to say, 1. i continue to use guided meditations and read and listen to podcasts about buddhism and mindfulness, and 2. i continue to practice it as a habit for a certain amount of time most days. i decide to practice – whether i want to or not – for the sake of deciding to do it. or for the sake of the small bump of reward-endorphins i feel as i start and when i finish.

this might be too rationalist/materialistic, but it is odd to think that what i perceive as an inability to recognize and feel confidence in my own achievements might be a simple equation of low output of a certain chemical that would alter my intuitions. i hope it is more of a plasticity issue, sequences of firing neurons, and that i can fake it till i make it as they learn better sequences. and, by the way, it is very funny that i think of my neurons as “they.” what is more “I” that my own neurons? if i’m not my neurons, then who am i?

i am not my brain; i am not a captain at the helm of a ship sitting behind my eyeballs; at least part of what i think of as myself is my emotions, and those emotions are directed by chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, and there are more of those chemicals in the stomach than in the brain, so why don’t i assume “Me” is peaking out my navel?



and it doesn’t stop there: why does it feel like Me is only in my body? on the smallest scale that we know about everything is made of atoms. the things around me in my bedroom – desk, bed, blanket, book, empty glass with residue of protein powder and such and such a color and at such and such a distance from myself – are clouds of atoms. atoms are made of particles, and most of them are empty space. that empty space is a vacuum; i and everything around me and everything that i imagine still exists outside these four walls is mostly empty space. a brain takes in what it can process through the senses and uses that to build a desktop display full of folders with programs and apps and word documents named “this is what a desk is” and “this is what anger feels like,” and so on.

so if i am a pile of atoms, mostly made of nothing, and we (the atoms) are sitting on other piles of atoms (bed to floor which is the top of the next ceiling down)…well, what is stopping me from being everything?

knowledge + experience = wisdom


i grew up seeking knowledge as a way of life, and in some ways it has served me well; i can write catchy songs, i can come up with interesting stories, i can deconstruct art that i admire to determine what i can learn from it. knowledge of history and science and politics connects me to reality and society, and i can’t complain about that.

but somehow, up until now, i missed out on the middle concept in the equation i used for the title of this post. experience entails getting off the couch, putting down the book, putting yourself out there…this long list of cliche knowledge phrases that are our best vocabulary to describe the unrivaled importance of trying, in person, and not in your own head. for example: i have known for a few years that i should start going to open mics at local music venues and bars to play my songs in public. i had that knowledge, and some other basic knowledge about what i could expect and how i would feel making that first step. but i had no wisdom on the matter, and knowledge – on its own – comes up short. there are too many questions for knowledge to answer…what will it be like? who will be there? what if i am rejected? what if it is a long commute, which bus will i take, who will i talk to first, how do i find and choose the right opportunity, ad nauseam. and there is nothing to study that can answer all those questions, so the only solution is flexing the addend, and going for it.

in the last few months i have found myself becoming addicted to a marvelous new feeling. it centers around discipline and courage. i started going to open mics, and now i find myself comfortable, adventurous, and more than willing to stand in front of strangers who may or may not even be listening.  when i was in college, pre-show butterflies would make me sick for days before the first note was played. now, after just a few months of experience and the harsh shock of jumping blind into a freezing river, i am suddenly a completely different sort of person who seeks butterflies and embraces them when they appear.

for a creative person, the opportunities that arrive from making that jump are staggering. i do a decent job of online marketing. i have a website, i’m on most of the big social media platforms, i run a few ads now and then, i interact with fans of my music or drawings. but none of that ever got me a paying gig, and none of it made me a real honest face-to-face friend, and none of it ever made me so uncomfortable that i was forced to grow. and of course it didn’t; everyone with knowledge knows that humans crave interaction, and that the anonymity of web interaction has none of the visceral power of a hug. but up until recently i was not exercising that knowledge, so it was more of a burden than an indication of where i should go next.

so, where should i go next? my worldview is collapsing and expanding like my own modestly big bang. my last post was a poem about using anxiety as a tool to answer the toughest questions in life, like, “what should i do next?” it feels counterintuitive to me, as if you suggested that the secret to flying was by nailing your own feet to the ground. i am in the middle of a spurt of wisdom, and everything is topsy-turvy; if i have a panic attack while walking to the train to play at some dive bar i’ve never seen, in front of people i’ve never met, that panic is a neon sign screaming that i’m doing the right thing. i’m finding that if i want to be relaxed and free, i should kill most of my free time with exercise and meditation and chores and work and take care of myself the way i know (ledge) i should, and then i can actually enjoy the free time that remains. that i can feel slightly less happy every single day when i tell myself that it is time to go to the gym, but by some subconscious alchemy that momentary loss of apathetic comfort blossoms into creativity and energy. earlier when i mentioned jumping into a freezing river i was speaking metaphorically. but, no joke, taking ice cold showers is just another part of all this. hot water makes me warm, but lazy. cold water makes me shiver and is almost too uncomfortable to accept. but after a hot shower i am apathetic compared to this high, (genuine and powerful as any cannabinoid i’ve encountered) a fresh clean energetic high from the moment i shut the cold water off.

i want to spend more time looking at this equation, because it feels like the most exciting thing i’ve ever learned. normally i’d keep this all to myself, because i want to fully research and understand a topic before polluting the internet with my input. but that is just part of this whole new thing. now i value trying and failing over and over (edison/lightbulb), and writing before i figure out the end of the story.