Subscribe: Ben Casnocha: The Blog
http://ben.casnocha.com/atom.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
Tags:
book  continue reading  continue  day  friend  life  meditation  mind  much  practice  reading  shore  time  water  world 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Ben Casnocha: The Blog

Ben Casnocha



A blog about entrepreneurship, books, current affairs, and intellectual life.



Updated: 2017-11-27T06:00:48Z

 



Learning to Scuba Dive

2017-11-27T06:00:48Z

A couple months ago, a friend and I were wading out in the Mediterranean Sea, looking to body surf some of the light waves that were crashing down on the beach. I’m a strong swimmer, I body surfed a bunch in … Continue reading →A couple months ago, a friend and I were wading out in the Mediterranean Sea, looking to body surf some of the light waves that were crashing down on the beach. I’m a strong swimmer, I body surfed a bunch in New Jersey as a kid, and the water temperature in the Mediterranean was pleasant. No big deal. After 15 or so minutes of bobbing up and down in the water facing out toward the sea, fruitlessly trying to surf the waves that lost power just as they crested, my friend yelled over, “Hey, I think we’re a bit far out from the beach. We should probably swim back in.” I turned around and looked back at the beach. We were indeed way further out from the shore than I would have expected, given it had only been 15 minutes and we hadn’t swum out too far. I hollered back that I agreed, and we both turned toward the shore. I swam hard back toward the shore for about 30 seconds. I was definitely moving through the water. I figured I’d be at the sandy beach in no time. When I pulled my head back up to stay directionally oriented, I glanced toward the shore, and I felt a jolt of panic: I was further from the shore than before. Despite swimming strongly towards it, I was now further from the shore than I was 30 seconds prior. My heart began beating quickly and my breaths became shorter. For a few moments, I contemplated whether I’d make it back to shore at all. I’d never had the experience of swimming as hard as I could in a certain direction but being pulled in the exact opposite direction at the same time. There was no one else swimming in the ocean who could lend a hand, and we were far enough from the beach that yells for help may not have been heard. After a pause, my friend yelled out to me that we needed to swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip tide. Apparently there’s fairly common knowledge, but I had never heard of it. Thankfully, I was with someone who knew what to do when caught in a rip tide. I moved parallel, and indeed, within a couple minutes, we were back in easy water, and I swam easily toward the beach. I was happy to have made it back in one piece, but disappointed that my “panic mode” activated so quickly. # As it turns out, managing your panic impulse — not freaking out too much when something goes awry or when you feel claustrophobic — is key to becoming certified for open water scuba diving. (In the certification, they also train you to swim parallel to the shore in a rip tide!) Prior to last weekend, I had never scuba dived, and snorkeled only a few times in Hawaii. But I had heard that the coral reefs are dying due to warming ocean temperatures. I figured I better go see the reefs while they’re still alive. Scuba training is intense. Several hours of online training, Friday night orientation, all day Saturday and Sunday at the pool in the Bay Area, then another Saturday and Sunday at freezing cold water ocean in Monterey to attempt certification. Through it all, you’re being told to remember different safety acronyms that represent safety checklists, sign language (to communicate underwater), and a multitude of instructions for how to configure and operate the equipment. Along the way, you’re supposed to get comfortable breathing through your mouth underwater and figure out how to make sure your ears stay comfortable as you descend into water. Finally, you’re taught 10-15 specific skills that you have to successfully demonstrate in the pool and ocean: how to do an emergency ascent on breath alone, how to give your buddy oxygen, how to demonstrate neutral buoyancy in the water, how to clear your mask of water, and others. Much of the skills training involves emergency situations that you will likely never encounter. The purpose of these skills[...]



Book Notes: Shantaram

2017-11-25T07:05:04Z

I finally read Shantaram. A lot of people list Shantaram as one of their all-time favorite novels. Tyler Cowen put it well when he called it one of the best bad books he’s read. It’s engrossing, often insightful, often beautiful … Continue reading →I finally read Shantaram. A lot of people list Shantaram as one of their all-time favorite novels. Tyler Cowen put it well when he called it one of the best bad books he’s read. It’s engrossing, often insightful, often beautiful in its description of India, and keeps you hooked for nearly 1,000 pages. There are also cheesy foreshadows, clunky one-liners, and a bunch of other elements that would prompt eye rolls from high brow book reviewers. But no matter. I enjoyed it! Recommended for all those with an affinity (or aspirational affinity) for India. Or those who just get a kick out of a fugitive on the run in an exotic land with exotic mafia friends. The author, Gregory Roberts, himself escaped from an Australian prison and ended up joining the mafia in India before being re-captured. It was in prison that he wrote this book. Much of the novel is presumably autobiographical, though how much exactly is “true” seems to be up for debate. But knowing at least some of it is first-hand lent a certain immediacy to the experience of reading. It’s mostly a plot book, but occasionally there were highlight-able sentences on my Kindle, which appear below. The real India is up near the Himalayas, at Manali, or at the holy city of Varanasi, or down the coast, at Kerala. You gotta get outta the city to find the real India. Let me put it this way: Karla is reasonably good at being a friend, but she is stupendously good at being an enemy. When you judge the power that is in a person, you must judge their capacities as both friend and as enemy. And there is no-one in this city that makes a worse or more dangerous enemy than Karla. Even on that first train ride, I knew in my heart that Didier had been right when he’d compared India and its billion souls to France. I had an intuition, echoing his thought, that if there were a billion Frenchmen or Australians or Americans living in such a small space, the fighting to board the train would be much more, and the courtesy afterwards much less. One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you. Like outcasts everywhere, I courted danger because danger was one of the few things strong enough to help me forget what I’d lost. What I didn’t tell Karla was that the girlfriend had described me as interested in everything, and committed to nothing. It still rankled. It still hurt. It was still true. I also agree with Winston Churchill, who once defined a fanatic as someone who won’t change his mind and can’t change the subject. If you do not speak English as your first language, the word “characteristic” has an amazing sound—like rapping on a drum, or breaking kindling wood for a fire. The only kingdom that makes any man a king is the kingdom of his own soul. The only power that has any real meaning is the power to better the world. And only men like Qasim Ali Hussein and Johnny Cigar were such kings and had such power. [...]



The Quarterlife User Manual

2017-11-09T18:22:30Z

My friend Rob Montz created a 10 minute mini-documentary called The Quarterlife User Manual. Contains fantastic advice on careers and life delivered in an engaging format. It’s very much consistent with The Startup of You. Cal Newport, Jon Haidt, and … Continue reading

My friend Rob Montz created a 10 minute mini-documentary called The Quarterlife User Manual. Contains fantastic advice on careers and life delivered in an engaging format. It’s very much consistent with The Startup of You. Cal Newport, Jon Haidt, and I are featured, among others.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-IIdrGXMpeE?ecver=1" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen">

(image)



My Struggle: Book 2 by Karl Knausgaard

2017-10-22T06:28:28Z

I completed the next 800 pages of the Karl Knausgaard My Struggle odyssey. Book 2 — “A Man in Love” — is said to be the best of the six volumes. I ate it up. So intimate. So raw. So … Continue reading →I completed the next 800 pages of the Karl Knausgaard My Struggle odyssey. Book 2 — “A Man in Love” — is said to be the best of the six volumes. I ate it up. So intimate. So raw. So many insights. This book focused on falling in love, having kids, and the balancing of work and family. Also, death: frequently death. Not everyone should commit to reading a 3,600 page six-volume novel about a Norwegian writer who’s writing a 3,600 page novel. (To borrow a phrase from Leland de la Durantaye.) There’s a ridiculous amount of detail stuffed into the stories, but it’s all centered on one man, so it’s easier to keep track of than your typical 1000+ page beastly novel. And fortunately, the man has a pretty interesting inner life. My Kindle highlights below. All bolding mine. Here were my highlights from book one. People who don’t have children seldom understand what it involves, no matter how mature and intelligent they might otherwise be, at least that was how it was with me before I had children myself. She was blond, had high cheekbones and narrow eyes, a long, slim body, and she knew how to dress, but she was much too pleased with herself, too self-centered for me to find her attractive. I have no problem with uninteresting or unoriginal people – they may have other, more important attributes, such as warmth, consideration, friendliness, a sense of humor, or talents such as being able to make a conversation flow to generate an atmosphere of ease around them, or the ability to make a family function – but I feel almost physically ill in the presence of boring people who consider themselves especially interesting and who blow their own trumpets. I was with other people I was bound to them, the nearness I felt was immense, the empathy great. Indeed, so great that their well-being was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself, almost to the verge of self-effacement; some uncontrollable internal mechanism caused me to put their thoughts and opinions before mine. But the moment I was alone others meant nothing to me. It wasn’t that I disliked them, or nurtured feelings of loathing for them, on the contrary, I liked most of them, and the ones I didn’t actually like I could always see some worth in, some attribute I could identify with, or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my mind for the moment. But liking them was not the same as caring about them. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. What would it have been like to live in a world where everything was made from the power of your hands, the wind, or the water? What would it have been like to live in a world where the American Indians still lived their lives in peace? Where that life was an actual possibility? Where Africa was unconquered? Where darkness came with the sunset and light with the sunrise? Where there were too few humans and their tools were too rudimentary to have any effect on animal stocks, let alone wipe them out? Where you could not travel from one place to another without exerting yourself, and a comfortable life was something only the rich could afford, where the sea was full of whales, the forests full of bears and wolves, and there were still countries that were so alien no adventure story could do them justice, such as China, to which a voyage not only took several months and was the prerogative of only a tiny minority of sailors and traders, but was also fraught with danger. Admittedly, that world was rough and wretched, filthy and ravaged with sickne[...]



Small Example of Cultivating Awe

2017-10-01T06:14:02Z

It’s almost playoffs time in Major League Baseball and so in the theme of awe and how to cultivate it, a frequent topic on this blog… In the National League, pitchers must hit when it’s their turn in the lineup. Next time … Continue reading

It’s almost playoffs time in Major League Baseball and so in the theme of awe and how to cultivate it, a frequent topic on this blog…

In the National League, pitchers must hit when it’s their turn in the lineup. Next time you watch a pro baseball game, watch the pitcher try to hit. He almost always strikes out and looks goofy doing it; he’s a pitcher, after all. He spends all his time in the big leagues practicing pitching, not hitting.

But then think about the following. That MLB pitcher who looked utterly goofy at the plate was likely the best hitter on his little league team, the best hitter in his high school, the best hitter at his college, the best hitter in his region growing up, probably one of the most highly touted hitters of his generation. Yet, by the time he gets to the big leagues, he is one of the worst hitters on the field. He’s only in the pros because he can pitch.

It reminds you how good everyone is: truly, the very best in the world. It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe as a result, and it can be felt even if you’re a casual fan watching an otherwise meaningless baseball game.

Awe comes from being in the presence of world-class expertise. But sometimes it takes a little bit of a reminder to yourself to fully feel it. A bit of a re-frame. It does for me, anyway.

(image)



Village Global

2017-09-28T04:03:59Z

Personal update: I helped launch a new venture capital firm this week called Village Global. You can check out the Village site, or read our announcement post. Exciting adventures ahead!

Personal update: I helped launch a new venture capital firm this week called Village Global. You can check out the Village site, or read our announcement post.

Exciting adventures ahead!

(image)



Bob Wright’s Why Buddhism is True

2017-09-11T07:34:48Z

One of the delights of the past couple years has been becoming friends with Robert (Bob) Wright. For a long time and from afar, I’ve been stimulated by his writing and thinking. When I discovered that his next effort involved Buddhism, meditation, and … Continue reading →One of the delights of the past couple years has been becoming friends with Robert (Bob) Wright. For a long time and from afar, I’ve been stimulated by his writing and thinking. When I discovered that his next effort involved Buddhism, meditation, and evolutionary psychology, I jumped at the opportunity to be an ally/collaborator/thought partner. I’ve learned a lot. Over the past couple years, in various MeaningofLife.TV episodes, essays, blog posts, tweets, his Coursera course, and elsewhere, Bob has been sharing bits and pieces of how he thinks about the connection between ev psych — which he originally popularized in The Moral Animal — and Buddhism . Now, in his new book — hot off the presses! — he presents the full argument in one coherent volume. It is titled Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. It’s a fantastic book that speaks directly to a secular reader. He makes the argument that the Buddha’s diagnosis of the human condition — that we fail to see the world clearly and this causes us to suffer — is consistent with how you’d expect natural selection to “design” a human brain with the singular goal of genetic proliferation. Buddhism’s prescription for what to do if you wish to see the world more clearly, become happier, and be a more morally upstanding human being (the trifecta!) makes a great deal of sense, in Bob’s view. And in his experience, by attending several meditation retreats and maintaining a daily practice, there are some practical steps one can take to move closer to these truths in one’s own life. Here’s a photo of a discussion I co-hosted over the weekend for Bob about his book. More to come on all these topics… [...]



Emergent Order

2017-08-20T23:43:01Z

Years of listening to the podcast EconTalk has imparted in me at least one big idea: the market is a pretty amazing mechanism for coordinating human activity. Those of us lucky enough to grow up in a market economy rarely stop … Continue reading

Years of listening to the podcast EconTalk has imparted in me at least one big idea: the market is a pretty amazing mechanism for coordinating human activity.

Those of us lucky enough to grow up in a market economy rarely stop to consider how remarkable it is that our local supermarket always has enough bread on the shelves. Suppose an alien landed from outer space and you had to explain that there were two possible systems for ensuring that there’d be enough bread in the supermarkets to feed a local population. One system involved a “bread czar” who’d be totally focused on making sure every store got the right amount of bread from farmers; the other system would involve a bunch of chaotic, self-organized activity between and among all the farmers and market owners in the world and somewhere it’d all work out. Logically, the bread czar carefully overseeing everything should carry the day. But alas!

Here’s Russ Roberts, from his blog post on Emergent Order:

Understanding and appreciating emergent order, and understanding when it works well and when it doesn’t and it does not always work well, is for me, the essence of economics and the deepest idea that we economists can contribute to helping normal human beings understand the world around us.

Economists call the interaction between buyers and sellers of bread a “market,” but our charts of supply and demand, while often very powerful, don’t get at the richness of how we as human beings manage to cooperate without top-down coordination and do it so peacefully.

Indeed. The post is a companion to a short video titled It’s a Wonderful Loaf, which Russ produced, which tells the story of the would-be bread czar. I had the pleasure of seeing it debut in San Francisco.

Inducing awe is something I’ve written previously about. It’s a powerful habit to cultivate. I love being in the presence of real expertise or real impressiveness and marveling at what happened behind the scenes to manifest the expertise in front of me. Free markets and capitalistic mechanisms — while hardly perfect — for me induce a different but related sense of awe and wonder.

Thanks, Russ, for sharing your passion and sense of wonder with others. It’s infectious.

(image)



Samatha Meditation Practice

2017-07-23T17:34:47Z

During both my 10 day silent meditation retreats, there were moments where I felt a deep calm, my mind got very bright, and I possessed an ability to control my attention in a way that seemed totally profound. I don’t think … Continue reading → During both my 10 day silent meditation retreats, there were moments where I felt a deep calm, my mind got very bright, and I possessed an ability to control my attention in a way that seemed totally profound. I don’t think my experience constituted a state of jhana — how the Buddha referred to blissed out, immersive, “absorbed” states of mind. I was probably experiencing “access concentration“, a precursor to the jhanic states; in any case, those minutes of absorption were utterly memorable for me. I remember returning to my dorm room afterwards, late at night, and lying in bed thinking to myself: I have a new superpower. Like many beginner meditators who experience momentary states of profound absorption and stillness, I have foolishly quested after that state in subsequent meditation sessions. On my second 10 day retreat, I craved the state of ultra concentration that I felt during my first retreat. I intently sat late at night in the meditation hall. And then, as I felt my mind ease into a deeper stillness, I told myself, “Here it comes. Here it comes. Is this it? Is this what happened to me last time?” See ya later, still lion mind. Hello, monkey mind. On my 3 day residential retreat, I never entered deep concentration, probably because of this mental chatter around wanting it. I think I could use more practice at stabilizing the mind — without the questing and excessive effort — before I go deeper on practicing insight meditation. So I’m going to focus more on samatha over the next year or so. The samatha concentration practice involves stabilizing, unifying, and collecting the mind into what the Buddha called samadhi, or a state of concentration. With a clear and collected mind, you can begin to discern more subtle sensations, and begin to more clearly perceive the truths about your mind and reality. I recently attended a one day retreat at Spirit Rock on samatha practice. The teacher distinguished samatha from vipassana. Samatha practice is like trying to stabilize a pair of binoculars and getting them into focus. Vipassana is looking through the binoculars in order to observe reality as it actually is. Throughout the day, we practiced basic relaxation. “Release tension in your body. Now release a little more,” the teacher said, as we scanned each part of the body. With total relaxation, you can begin to quiet the mind, and focus on an object of concentration — in our case, the breath. The anapanana practice of studying the breath can become quite a granular analysis. For example, we practiced: Noticing whether breath is long or short Noticing the beginning of the breath, the middle part of the breath, the end of the breath Focusing on spot underneath nostril where breath enters Counting breaths up to 10 and then starting again at 1 On the Goenka retreats, you spend the first three days doing nothing but breath awareness, so I have some practice at it. But I never understood how object-awareness connects to broader vipassana practice until now. To deepen my understanding, I’m taking an online class at Spirit Rock on concentration/samatha practice, with 8 hours of video lectures. I want to thank a blog reader who wrote me a very helpful comment/email last year in response to my blog post about my awareness + wisdom retreat. He helped me explore the difference between samatha and vipassana. After some gentle corrections, he included this line of encouragement at the end: “Not many people have gotten as far as you have with meditation and Buddhis[...]



Time Simply Slipped Away Without Any Meaning

2017-07-15T18:31:41Z

In the Elena Ferrante series, the narrator visits her best friend after they had become somewhat estranged. She reflects: “I understood that I had arrived there full of pride and realized that—in good faith, certainly, with affection—I had made that … Continue reading

In the Elena Ferrante series, the narrator visits her best friend after they had become somewhat estranged. She reflects:

“I understood that I had arrived there full of pride and realized that—in good faith, certainly, with affection—I had made that whole journey mainly to show her what she had lost and what I had won. But she had known from the moment I appeared, and now, risking tensions with her workmates, and fines, she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied and foolish adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.”

(image)