Mindfulness in Miniature

This is my first attempt at writing a post using voice recognition software. For the past week I’ve been “training” Dragon Naturally Speaking. Or maybe Dragon has been training me.

You would think that voice-recognition software would be as simple as speaking (although that statement in itself may be an oxymoron for many of us). But the software is sophisticated enough that there’s a fairly steep learning curve–both in learning the commands and in learning to “write” by speaking. So far, I’ve primarily been using it for work tasks, which are straightforward and often scripted in nature.

Curiously, I’m finding that voice-recognition software makes the writing process both faster and slower. Faster, because my typing and in particular my ability to spell is hampering my writing considerably. Slower, because before dictating each sentence I have to pause and compose the words in my mind in a way that is very different from typing.

There’s always been something about typing that has felt like a direct connection between my brain and the words. Now, something is short-circuiting that connection. I’ve reached a tipping point where the effort to put the words into speech in order to create text is less than the effort required to type those same words. And this new process–both the relative ease and the slowness of it–has me thinking a lot about things like mindfulness and intentionality. 

Is This Mindfulness?

I’m a pretty in-the-moment person. Sometimes I’m so in the moment that I forget other moments–like the past or the future–exist.

But being in the moment feels different from being mindful. In Zen Buddhism, there is the concept of mushin or no mind. It’s a state of mental emptiness, free from distractions or preoccupations. I suspect it’s quite similar to that feeling of being completely immersed in a favorite pastime or interest–those moments when time seems to stop and we forget the world around us momentarily.

I spend a lot of time in that place, perhaps because so much of what I do for work and in my free time is related to things that intensely interest me. The problem is it’s not a very practical place to be for long periods. Or perhaps I’m just not doing it right.

Mushin, in the martial arts, is often viewed as an ideal state of being. It’s that place where everything flows, without the sort of mental friction that slows us down or causes us to struggle. That’s ideal in a life-and-death situation but maybe not so much when you’re so free of distraction that you don’t register the need to eat or sleep or attend to other basic bodily functions.

While writing by typing has often brought me close to that feeling of mushin, training Dragon has been what feels like the opposite–an exercise in mindfulness. It’s been interesting to think about how the two concepts intersect and yet how very different they are.

Mindfulness feels like it requires an extra step, in the same way that writing by speaking requires an extra step. To act mindfully I need to be both in the moment and able to observe myself in the moment. There is an additional layer of awareness that I find difficult to hold on to.

Intentional Awareness

The Scientist has been helping me out by “checking in.” Each morning he asks me how many spoons I have and throughout the day, whenever it occurs to him I guess, he asks for an update. The point, is not really for me to tell him how I’m doing but for me to check in with myself, to intentionally bring awareness to my spoon level. By being prompted to do this throughout the day, I’ve started to pay more attention to my internal condition at other times of the day too. The result has been a new set of rules based on emerging patterns.

For example, I’ve recognized that the last few Tuesdays have all been terrible horrible no good very bad days. The one thing each has had in common is that I was trying to do cognitive tasks that exceeded my available resources on that particular day. It may have been a series of coincidences or there may be something about Tuesdays that are cognitive wastelands right now. Either way, I’ve decided to plan my weeks so that on Tuesday I do work that is neither unfamiliar nor cognitively challenging. I’ve also decided that I need more frequent check-in’s on Tuesdays so that I can put the brakes on the train before it’s ever in danger of jumping the tracks.

It feels almost novel to be doing this–to intentionally think about how I feel and to make small adjustments, trying to optimize that feeling. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a Sim and visualize what my comfort, hunger, sleep, and other ‘bars’ look like. And much like playing the Sims, I’m discovering lots of new tricks. For example, using Dragon is a lot like unlocking a career reward that gives a character the ability to increase their skills at a much faster rate.

The result, in very tiny increments so far, is that I find myself giving more intentional thought to what I am doing throughout the day. Much like Dragon forces me to compose my thoughts in chunks before committing them to the page, I’m stopping more often to think before I act.

In this way, I feel like I’m practicing mindfulness on a miniature scale. There is no meditation, no breathing exercises, no greater emotional or spiritual goals. Perhaps this feels like a more useful approach for me because I seem to have the opposite problem with being mindful that most people have. Being present is relatively easy for me; being aware of myself in the present is much harder.


31 thoughts on “Mindfulness in Miniature”

  1. Your description of mushin in relation to martial arts made me think of the fourth stage in the “Four Stages of Competence”: unconscious competence, which is when a skill has become so familiar that it may be performed without thinking consciously about what you are doing.

    In contrast, with the Dragon software you sound like you’re at the stage of conscious competence where you know what you’re doing but have to concentrate to perform the steps.

    This ties in with some aspects of executive function, in particular working memory, planning and execution.

    1. That’s a great point. For quite some time, writing has fallen into the unconscious competence area for me and the dictation hard just barely made it into the conscious competence range. I think it will become more natural or at least easier with practice.

  2. I think your post is wonderful. I tried to work with Dragon many years ago, but with a bit of palsic-slur after months of work I was still not able to function well with it. As typing comes very natural to me, I gave up on the Dragon and just settled back into typing. Now I am in a position that I would not be able to use Dragon even if I had been able to as my computer is in a fairly public area of my house and my talking to it would disturb others.
    ANYWAY, what I wanted to say is I like your concept of mindfulness in miniature, and your support in having someone help you check your level of spoons throughout the day. Yesterday I ran out of spoons early in the afternoon and despite all that was done in the morning, I felt underwhelmed with what the rest of the day was filled with – basically nothing.
    Thank you for your post.

    1. I’ve noticed that I occasionally slur words (yay new symptom?) and Dragon doesn’t cope well with interpreting them so I can see how that would be an impediment to being able to use it effectively. The disturbing other people can also be a problem. I’ve taken to closing the door to my room when I use it for an extended period.

      The periodic check-ins are helping a lot. I suspect it might work just as well to set-up some sort of automated reminder on a phone or to-do app (for anyone who doesn’t have a live human being handy to do the checking in).

  3. Yup, I have the opposite problem too! (with mindfulness!) Funny how that works! I finally received your book and I LOVE It. ITs so well done. I am going to take a break from all my house renos today and read, read, read:)

      1. yes I love it too! ( the cover and artwork!) I finished it and it was delightful. Very well done. Almost every page is highlighted (almost fully) my husband asked what the point of highlighting it was if it is almost all that way:) Ha ha…but highlighting while I read is one of my stims and also I highlight everything that resonates…I guess it all pretty much resonated!
        Also the Stimtastic jewellery came today and my kids LOVE wearing them already! Fantastic:)

  4. As always, another post that resonates with me. At the risk of sounding like a “groupie”, I look forward to your blog each week and I hope you will continue to share for a long time.

    I just started a blog right after diagnosis last March, and my first posts were rather dark, as if I needed to expel some deep wounds that were preventing me from moving forward. I, like you, resisted the urge to go back and and delete or edit some of them, hoping that I will eventually be able to go back and realize just how much progress I have made on my journey. I have not been very consistent in my writing efforts for lack of time and energy but I am slowly getting rid of the major stressors in my life, one by one, with the ultimate goal of expressing who I really am from the inside out.

    I have a few book projects in mind, the first one being my own perspective on life after diagnosis and making sense of it all. I respectfully ask for your permission to quote and use your books and your blog as a reference (with full credit to you, of course).

    Love the new look!

    1. I’ve written about a lot of dark things too and right now I feel like I’m just constantly processing and reprocessing this language problem, so I get what you’re saying about needing to work through things in writing. I seriously need to find a new subject next week. 🙂

      I’m glad to hear that you’re successfully working toward having fewer stressors in your life. That’s always a good thing.

      Please feel free to quote from or reference the books or blog with credit.

      1. Thank you! I’ve also referred your book and your blog to new members in the various Facebook groups I have joined. We are all very different and it helps to have different perspectives to our challenges and “awesomeness” (I know it’s not a word, but it should be). Happy writing!

  5. Dragon Speak didn’t like my accent! It wasn’t North American. Apparently the software has improved but I won’t be rushing back yet. Like you say the processes to speak your words instead of typing them are a little different. You have to worry about enunciation and being conscious of speed, etc.
    BTW I loved your book. And yes the cover is smooth! I got it from the library, wait…. and then I bought the kindle version to read again and share it with hubby. I really want him to read it so he can understand why I do things I do. He has Aspergers too but we have different strengths. 🙂

    1. I’m not sure what version you had, but when I set it up, there were “base” accents to choose from (British, Southeast Asian, etc). Not sure how useful that feature is. My husband speaks accented English and is having a harder time getting his software trained than I am.

      So glad that you enjoyed the book and it’s great to know that it’s being purchased by libraries. There have been a few books that I got from the library and liked so much that I had to have my own copy, so I’m honored that you wanted to do that.

      1. We bought Dragon Speak when it first came out and we got the North American version. If I remember correctly we bought it in the States. It has different versions now but I still think it would be time consuming teaching it to understand ones own accent and quirks. Good luck with the progress and let us know how it goes with time.

        Your book was already listed in my library but if it wasn’t I would have made a suggestion. They usually love getting suggestions from readers. We have a brilliant network of linked libraries.

  6. It is interesting how writing, typing, and speaking bring out differences in what I communicate. I find dictating out loud difficult – maybe I am more comfortable being able to process my words in silence before I want to hear them out loud. I do well typing. I can get a lot on paper (or computer) in a short time and I am less likely to lose my train of thought. If I write with pen and paper, I find that my emotions come through better. Maybe the slower process of writing allows me to check in with how I am really feeling. Each way of communicating has its place but because I recognize the differences, I choose the communication style that best fits the task.

    1. I’ve always been more comfortable writing and never ever thought I would resort to dictating but desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.

      And I agree about pen and paper – that’s my go-to trick if I’m really stuck on a post. It seems to get the words flowing in a very different way.

  7. I usually think that my speaking processes and my writing processes come from different parts of my brain. They are related and there must be some cross-over synapses or something, but they do not have the exact same pathways. It is the same with “listening.” My speech never seems to have the clarity that my writing has. I often do not hear words or meanings accurately.

    I’m a student of Buddhism. My humble “understanding” of mushin is that it is experiential, and that an empty mind is not a trance nor a numbness to the physical world, but that one is really aware of all and nothing. There is clarity and freedom. Detached , but not separate.

    I often do not know how many spoons I have in store. I don’t know how to check in. I may think that I know my spoons, but I have been wrong so many times that I don’t have confidence that I can accurately gauge my energy.
    Thanks for the conversations.

    1. My speaking and writing operate along very different pathways as well. In a way, dictating is closer to writing than to speaking but I’m not sure I can describe exactly why I’m feeling that. Maybe because dictating shares the unidirectionalness of writing?

      Your descriptions of mushin are along the lines of what I was thinking, yes. I suspect it’s very much one of those “I know when I see it” things that defies exact description in words. As it should. 🙂

  8. oh dragon…

    This is an interestingly timed post as I just spent the weekend dictating one of my handwritten novel drafts into my laptop using Dragon. I write my novels by hand as my typing has always been very slow (very very very slow). Typing this comment has already taken me nearly five minutes because when I type My brain has to separate each word into it’s separate little letters and my fingers have never been able to remember the places where each letter lives. I have a strange urge to capitalize all of my *i*s when I type and I have to fight an urge to spell phonetically. This doesn’t happen when I use a pen. My favourite pens are Sarasa gel pens. I go through about thirty of them when I write a novel. Unfortunately over the last six months my typing has gotten worse *and* I dislocated my shoulder so now I am down to very slow one handed typing. I couldn’t type up my novels this way. Something had to give.

    So far using dragon has been frustrating for many reasons but it has increased my productivity so much that I am going to stick with it.

    Pros of Dragon:
    -fast (even with the low accuracy rate that I am currently experiencing)
    -less stressful than typing
    -I don’t lose my idea’s because I am drowning in letters
    -less physically painful than typing
    -did I mention fast?

    -dragon doesn’t really like my voice. My husband gets much better results than me.
    -I’m Canadian but the Canada setting on Dragon defaults to American spelling and the UK setting doesn’t recognize my accent. (This is my own hangup and I recognize this, but it really pisses me off. imagine steam pouring from my ears)
    -the microphone really hurts my head and I will need to buy a new one.
    -it capitalizes anything that could possibly be a name and I haven’t been able to figure out how to stop this.
    -so far the accuracy that I am getting is only about 70-80%
    -I wish that it came with a big paper manual that I could sit down and read because sometimes I don’t understand things the way Dragon is trying to teach me
    -Dragon seems to be prudish about four letter words and I haven’t figured out how to fix this yet

    Despite my long list of cons I do like Dragon, but I am eager to get to that point where I have the bugs worked out. I think that I will always be quite *aware* when I use it though.

    This comment took me forty-five minutes to type.

    1. Oh gosh, I can see why you prefer handwriting.

      I’m finding Dragon to be about 90% accurate and it seems to be slowly improving as it learns my vocabulary. I haven’t tried swearing at it, but now I’m curious. It’s too bad that it’s so American English-centric. 😦

      Weirdly, I’ve started to think of it as a kind of helpful pet. Maybe because I’m constantly telling it to “wake up” and “go to sleep” all day long?

      If it helps, I found PDFs for their printed manual (version 12 is here: http://nuance.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/6917/related/1). Would it be possible to print it out to study? I think I’m going to download it to my tablet to read over so I can learn some of the less obvious features and commands.

  9. This morning in the shower, I pop up the lid of a tube and squeeze a little of the contents into my hand… after a while something doesn’t feel quite right. I am washing my hair, but the lathering is not usual… NO… yes, I am washing my hair with the silky soothing gel-cream FACE wash!
    That is an example of what mindfulness is NOT! 🙂

    1. Yep, definitely not mindfulness. A couple of months back I realize that I had been using body wash to wash my hair for weeks. Apparently I didn’t read the label very closely. Fortunately I don’t have much hair so I don’t think it mattered. 🙂

      1. ha ha:) I love that I am not the only one! I mixed up a tube of antiseptic freezing gel with toothpaste…I don’t understand how I did this as it is WAY smaller but its white with similar printing…now I try to remember to keep all medications and antiseptics and gels in my kitchen instead of bathroom cabinet…I panicked as it did not feel nice and I wondered if I would have to call poison control ( I didn’t) but in retrospect it’s a little amusing since no harm was done in the end…(other than a burning tongue and a horrid night of worry…:)

        1. That sounds like a disorienting mistake! I’ve often had to put away tubes of things that are out lying on the bathroom vanity to be sure that I wouldn’t accidentally use them for the wrong purpose. There are some tubes that you definitely don’t want to mix up.

  10. I’m curious- since you find it easier to put your thoughts together via typing, do you think you will continue to use Dragon? Or do you think the benefit of not having to type will outweigh the challenge of composing your thoughts in the moment?

    1. I’m no longer in a place where any one way of writing is easier. It’s all hard and some days talking is actually less hard, which surprises me. I’m slowly learning how to write by dictating but honestly there’s no form of writing these days that I find easy or satisfying.

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