Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2008 (Washington, D.C.) with:

Way Of The Peaceful Warrior - Living In The Moment, Letting Go Of The Future

By Ben Nadel on

Last week, after I wrote about acting like a warrior, Charlie Griefer was thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the Peaceful Warrior starring Nick Nolte and Scott Mechlowicz. Thanks a lot Charlie, you rock hardcore! I've seen this movie a couple of times before and was contemplating adding it to my DVD collection; so Charlie's timing could not have been more serendipitous.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Peaceful Warrior Starring Nick Nolte And Scott Mechlowicz Movie Poster. 
 
 
 

The Peaceful Warrior is a deep, complex movie and I come away with something new every time that I watch it. On this last viewing, the topic that really struck a chord with me was the concept of living in the moment; this idea that we have to let go of the past and the future and to live in the only moment that we truly have - this one.

I have trouble living in this moment. My mind is often racing over all the things I wish to get done: the books I want to read, the applications I want to program, the new technologies I want to learn, the new exercises I want to try, the friends I want to see, the movies I want to see, the ideas I want to put down on paper. It's gotten so bad that lately, I have felt unable to even enjoy a good audio book; how can I when every few seconds, I find my mind darting off on a half dozen tangents. It has become a struggle and a burden to pull my concentration back on track.

But of course, it's not always like this. There are many times when I am extremely focused on the activities at hand. When I'm at work, programming, I'm often lost in the moment and forget to eat or drink. When I'm having a deep, meaningful conversation with someone, all I'm thinking about are the ideas being exchanged. When I'm watching a movie, I sit there in a completely receptive state. When I'm at the gym, with a cold, iron bar in my hands, I am there 100% in the moment, feeling the muscles, feeling the joints, getting overwhelmed by the proprioceptive beauty of musculoskeletal system.

So why is it that sometimes my mind is like a laser while other times it is like a scatter-shot of disparate ideas? I've been meditating a lot on this conundrum today and my initial thought was that my mind races only when the current moment is not powerful enough to hook my full attention. But, the way of the peaceful warrior teaches us that there are no ordinary moments; it teaches us that there is always something amazing happening and that we have but to open our minds in order to see it.

I guess what I need to do is train myself to see the extraordinary; to see the beauty and the love that is all around me at all times. When I can do that, the past and the future won't matter because this moment - the now - will be overwhelming.

Socrates: Where are you?
Dan Millman: Here.
Socrates: What time is it?
Dan Millman: Now.
Socrates: What are you?
Dan Millman: This moment.


 
 
 

 
Peaceful Warrior - There Are No Ordinary Moments; There Is Always Something Going On.  
 
 
 


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Reader Comments

>my mind races only when the current moment is not powerful enough to hook my full attention.

>When I can do that, the past and the future won't matter because this moment - the now - will be overwhelming.

Ben,

My thought is that it isnt about the content of the moment overwhelming you or being powerful enough to hold your attention. In both those situations you are looking to the external content to keep you in the moment by distracting you from yourself.

The trick is to realise that one can stay in the moment no matter what the external situation - whether it be as boring as batshit or as exciting as lightning - by maintaining control of your mind. ie by being able to suspend the chatter and internal dialogue (eg about past wrongs and future goals) long enough to experience simply being, right now, independent of external stimulus.

Much easier said than done, however. :-)

Murray

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Have you read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle? If not you may want to get a copy. It sounds like it would fit well with your philosophy of Life.

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I've been meaning to watch the movie for a while, but I've read the book a few times over the years (the sequel is worth a read too). There's a reason they put so much Tai-chi and meditation and the like in the book - those are tools for getting a little more awareness of your mind. I find that if my minds racing, I'll just sit for a while and come back to the breath. If I'm too buzzed to just sit in meditation, something like Tai Chi works well as there are movements you can focus on, but they are simple and repetitive enough that it calms the mind down pretty quickly.

If you want to know more about those kind of "flow" experiences we all have when coding, playing a sport, etc. the best book I've read is "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszent. http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Optimal-Experience-P-S/dp/0061339202/

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"There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy NOW! Love is the only reality of the world, it is all ONE, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor, and change. There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your BEST. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too! It's all the marvelous Play of God. WAKE UP, REGAIN YOUR HUMOR. DONT WORRY, YOU ARE ALREADY FREE"

If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and read the book. The movie is great, but leaves out so much. His other books are good to.

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@Murray,

Now I just have to figure out how to calm my mind :)

@James,

Thanks - that books looks interesting; and, it's available in the iTunes store! Sweeet.

@Peter,

It's interesting that you mention that Tai Chi has movements that are simple and repetitive enough to concentrate on. I think I may be able to concentrate on them as well; my worry, however, is that when there is someone less tangible to concentrate on, will I be able to? The book you mention looks very fascinating. I'll try to pop into Barnes and Noble tonight and take a peek.

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@Ben,

The way that I have done it is by making sure I take the time to meditate every day for at least 20 minutes - prefereably twice a day. In my meditation I practice "stopping thinking" - ie just being and observing myself being, as opposed to thinking about what happenned yesterday, or the tasks for the day, etc etc. I can manage up to a minute or so of that state before I distract myself by attaching to a thought and then I notice that I am thinking and detach myself again.

The most powerful experience of this I have had was doing Vipassana meditation retreat - 10 days of meditating for 16 hours a day and not talking to anyone. It was fantastic!

http://www.dhamma.org/

Not religious, not dogma, not a sect, not weird at all! Just a space to practice a fantastic "simple" technique.

I guess what I am saying is that while the intellectual understanding of the process is important (ie "Way of the warrior" and "the power of now" etc), the change is most potent by constant practice and experience so that our old habit of a busy mind is replaced by a new habit of a calm mind. Neuroscience tells us that to rewire our brains (ie drop an old habit and install a new one) we need repetition.

Murray

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@Murray,

I've heard nothing but great things about real meditation. Meditation for 16 hours sounds quite intense :) I will look into some more of this practice. I am all about "repetition" and I agree that we need to train and re-train our brains to act a certain way.

Maybe I will make it a ritual before I go to sleep, to lay in bed and just keep my mind as still as possible. Thanks for the feedback.

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Yes it was intense and hard and fantastic!

Your idea sounds like a good one. One way to help that process is to try to keep your focus on your breathing - feel the air going in and out of your nose. That way, you are focussing on being now and since we cant think about more than one thing at any instant, you wont be thinking about the past day or the future tomorrow. You can then get a feeling for the experience of the space of not "thinking" in the now.

Best wishes!

Murray

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Or to put it another way - there is much to be gained by giving the CPU a rest by suspending all tasks and blocking the input queue. :-)

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Hey Ben, If you want to find a place to get a little experience of sitting., check out the New York Shambhala center. Not specifically religious and they have good intro to meditation sessions. If you ever want to roll over together, let me know. I haverm't been there in forever, so I could probably do with an excuse to go there!

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This sounds like a movie/book I should check out. Interestingly enough I was just talking to my Mom about this last week, she is talking a class in "hot yoga" where you do yoga in a super-heated room and she was talking about how it really clears her mind and she's able to just lay there during cool down and not think of anything else, just with a totally clear mind. I commented about how I am *always* thinking of something else, how I can seldom read a book even without constantly losing my train of thought. I've gotten terrible in fact at trying to multi-task all the time. When watching TV, I'm almost always doing something else, when working, I have music going and will often be working on hard strength from time to time, or jumping up regularly to do some cleaning or cooking. I have a hard time going to bed at a reasonable hour because there are always more things that need to be done and I can't go to bed with *so* much to do (not that it necessarily gets done when I stay up!) I too easily let stress get to me and learning to enjoy the moment would probably greatly help in dealing with that.

On a side-note Ben, you deserve a smack in the head for actually using a word like "proprioceptive", you show-off you! ;-)

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Ben,

I read your post with deep interest. Thank you! I've spent a great deal of time involved in attempting to understand this thing of "the moment". How does it happen that one enters that space. What's the path? It's been my one true passion for a long time.

The really interesting part is that it seems there is nothing to learn about it! I haven't gotten any "better" at it, not one bit, in all these years. But I have learned something about the pathway.

I suppose we are used to horizontal pathways in life, step 1, step 2, step 3, especially when learning something, or achieving something. Step 1, study up on the basics of OO. Step 2, learn Model Glue. Step 3, learn Transfer. Step 4, tackle Flex. Step 5, use these skills to "make it" in the world ...

So you would think the same strategy might work with "the moment", just you're not sure what the right steps are yet, cuz you haven't found anyone delineating them clearly, and you're not so certain where being in "this moment" actually leads!

So it's not so easy to find the steps you should take, and that's probably because, paradoxically, there aren't any.

So to me, this is perhaps the ultimate Zen koan. In reality, I'm "here and now", so no steps are needed to arrive "here and now", any steps lead me away. But the problem is I'm not in reality, I'm in "there and yesterday/tomorrow".

The ultimate Zen koan, to me, is that there are no steps that lead to the present. Now what!

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@Nando,

What you say is very interesting. Right now, I'm listening to the "Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. In it, he tries to explain much of the frustration you might be feeling. For starters, when you become fully conscious in the moment, there is no time. The Now contains all moments because you can never have a moment that wasn't in the Now (have you ever lived in the future? or the past? No, you can only ever live in the Now).

Also, as you are saying, you can't "Think" your way into the Now. What you can do is simply try to observe your thoughts and realize that your thinking mind is separate from your identity. Once you do this, you will start to disassociate from your ego and you will be come more conscious as an indirect result. But, this requires you quiet your mind, to think less. As such, you cannot "think" your way into consciousness of the moment as this is almost a contradiction in terms.

The book is a bit hard to wrap my head around. I am still a much bigger fan of the Four Agreements, which seems more a behavioral modification book. But, I am listening with an open mind.

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Ive recently seen the movie and I immediately watched it again. As much as I enjoyed different aspects of the movie, the book was by far more fulfilling. I suggest that watching this movie may be a way to entertain oneself one evening but if one is truly into the message they should read the book. Then read it again and again.

Being here now should not involve a television.

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@Mike,

I feel like the book and the movie are very different. I almost feel that its hard to compare them because the stories are quite divergent.

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Heya Ben

I realize that the movie only resembles the book. This is why I promote the reading of the book over watching the movie. I ask myself, " What would Socrates say? "

Where do you think the stories diverge? I more or less had a feeling that the movie and the book only resembled each other but as I have only watched the movie twice, both times at 2am I couldnt quite pick out what was missing. Thats why im reading the book again and retired the video.

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@Mike,

It's hard to say where they diverge. They are the same basic story, but many of the details are quite different. One of the things that I thought was quite different was that in the book, Dan has a lot of alternate-reality experiences - battling samurai, dying in the mountains, reliving his childhood; none of these are in the movie (save for the bell tower scene, which was not in the book as far as I can remember).

Again, I am not saying either one is bad - they both have the same underlying story - they are just different.

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Living in a whole mind rather than being dominated by a lateral one simply allows you to be quiet more readily. I do hope you've check into some meditation.

I'm lazy when it comes it to it. After having practiced for some time, I began to use some meditation cd's from Centerpointe which quickly took me to the state that so many want to achieve... and all you have to do is sit with a pair of headphone and just listen for a little while.

Otherwise you can always find a movement practice which creates stillness. Healthy animals have the sense to pandiculate (in what we would think is a stretch but isn't) themselves everyday and remain quite free... after all, the threat of being eaten and always looking for food is quite some stress... yet animals know a natural way to just be. They are onto something with their little pandiculations. If only to be an agile and balanced animal.

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@Eduardo,

I did go to an intro to meditation class as the local Buddhism center. It was definitely interesting. One thing that I was not quite clear on was how you address thoughts that enter your head. The teacher kept saying that you should acknowledge them and then let them go; but, she never really discussed what "letting them go" meant. It is something that I would like to try agian.

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@Ben

I have been meditating for more than 30 years so here is my take for what it is worth.

The goal of most meditative practice is to strengthen the "observer" part of our minds. What I mean is best illustrated by an example.

Imagine that at any point of the day (whether or not you are meditating) you start thinking about what you might have for dinner. You may become immersed in those thoughts as you think about the various dinner options etc. You become fully identified with those thoughts. Then, you may suddenly think: "Hey, I have just been thinking about dinner tonight". Who had that meta-thought? Your observer self did.

The observer part of you (sometimes called the "watcher") is strengthened with practice. So, what your teacher probably meant by "letting them go" was to observe the fact that you had the thought without becoming identified with the thought.

There are a couple of ways to practice this. One is to focus your attention on your breath (eg on your diaphragm) and to practice keeping the focus there. When, as will inevitably happen, you become "lost in thought" and then suddenly realise that you are not focussing on your breath, gently (ie without self-admonition) return your focus to your breath. Over time your capacity to observe your breath will strengthen. Note that by "observe" I mean simply that - do not force or willfully change your breath, just observe it as it is at any point in time.

Another way is to become aware of the gaps between the words and sentences in your internal dialogue. Try to lengthen the gaps by not talking to yourself in your head. It may be that this practice is easier once you have mastered the breath observation.

Another way is to focus your attention in a systematic way on every part of your body. eg start at the top of your head and work down to your toes then back up again. Each time you lose focus, gently return to your head and start again.

All these mindful techniques have a growing body of experimental literature to back up the long term physical and mental health benefits of meditation. I have found it invaluable in improving my life.

Go well,
Murray

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@Murray,

I appreciate your explanation. Something about it was very clear in my mind. I like the idea of trying to concentrate on my diaphragm. I'll try to do that tonight as I lay in bed.

In general, I do like to engage in deep thought about my thinking as an activity of self-exploration; but this kind of takes it in another direction, in some way.

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IN OUR OWN WORLD WE ARE VERY ALL KNOWING BUT THE REALITY IS WE ARE IN THE HANDS OF WHAT CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE NO MATTER WHAT WE THINK WHATEVER WE REALISE BASICALLY WE ARE HUMAN NOT "GODS' WHAT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE CAN ASPIRE TO ONE FIFTIETH THAT IS HALF OF THE LOVING CLARITY THAT IS AVAILABE

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IN OUR OWN WORLD WE ARE VERY ALL KNOWING BUT THE REALITY IS WE ARE IN THE HANDS OF WHAT CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE NO MATTER WHAT WE THINK WHATEVER WE REALISE BASICALLY WE ARE HUMAN NOT "GODS' WHAT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE CAN ASPIRE TO ONE FIFTIETH THAT IS HALF OF THE LOVING CLARITY THAT IS AVAILABE

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JUST CHECKED YOUR PROFILE ARE YOU INTERESTED IN COMMENTS OR JUST STRETCH[NG TO SEE WHAT COMMENTS ADD TO YOUR TECHNICAL INTERESTS TO SEE WHAT YOUR INTEREST CAN EXPAND YOUR UNIVERSATILITY

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I like the idea of a "peaceful warrior" eradicating the emotional baggage! Thanks.

Oli Hille
Author
"Creating the Perfect Lifestyle"

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Ben -

Ever since I read this post years ago, I have been reading and trying to learn as much as I can about this discipline. It is quite difficult, but every now and then when I am able to get in the moment, it is quite rewarding.

I am glad that you shared things like this in the past and am sad that you no longer write about philosophical subjects as you are so good at doing so.

Glad all is well with you after the hurricane. Keep writing!

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