Life With Toast

Half-assed, revisited

Dreary eyed and eyeing his watch, one of the students I supervised last year could have passed as the latest patient in Dr. Frankenstein's Cambridge clinic. What the hell happened, I asked. "Well I had a project due today which I didn't start until last night. No idea why. Seemed like whenever I wanted to start it, I just did two or three other things at the same time." I sent the poor boy-gentleman home. He was wasting time pretending to have the capacity to learn something in that sleep'en state. At the same time, I empathised with him.

Over a year ago, on a previous blog, I wrote about half-assing. Today I will write about it again. At that time I was more focused on getting work done on my PhD than anything else. Now, in my final year of the program, I'm taking things steady, slower than before. I'm focusing on striking balance in my life, finding experiences that are meaningful while still producing high quality work. I want to do this both for my own sanity, and as an experiment for my age group in general. I have a sense that given the immensity of choices and possibilities my generation is presented with, we are failing to engage. Engage in something we find that strikes us or gives us meaning in all the cliché ways. Instead, we rely upon the crutch of the quick and bright, the unsustainable. The unavoidable draw of instant-satisfaction brand of technology that surrounds us. Apps and phones and laptops and watches that talk to us. 50 years ago none of that existed. 10 years it was growing. Now it is inevitable. At it's worst, these instant experiences suck the air out of meaningful experience. With little difficulty, we can choose to never be in a present state of mind. At the bus stop, walking the streets, in our homes, in our minds we compulsively check and move on. Click, scroll, close, click, scroll, close. It's only natural to find ourselves here. Technology developers and advertisers are experts at hitting the soft spots of the brain. Similar to the high salt/fat foods we become addicted to, technology prays on our ability to consume quick bits of information in beautiful but unrealistic packages. There were no 4g signals in the caves of our ancestors, the forest does not have a livefeed.

But we can't blame companies and culture entirely, we take the blame too, we decide to fall into these habits and perpetuate them.


I'm always going to have a smart phone. I'll always have a laptop and wi-fi connection. I'm not preaching a wire-free world in any way. Instead, it's balance that I will get up on my soapbox about. We have time for balance. Those few minutes in the subway, the car or bus ride to work. The few minutes when you first get home. The same time slots we may turn to our phones or computers, there are other things. Why should you care? To me, cell time and internet time is often half-assed: a time where we aren't sure what to do, where a slight unease comes over us and we cover ourselves in the blanket of apps and videos. Moreover, millions of people feel this way at work, so why continue it afterwards? Free time for Americans is becoming a novelty, so why not be efficient with it? 

The beauty of 'full'-assing is it doesn't take any external circumstance. No need for an idyllic scene or life shifting event. It's a redirection of attention, and it's not environmentally dependent. Awareness of what is directly around you, and not of what future worries or past anxieties. This lends itself to a form of meditation:

"Simply sit down, close your eyes, and listen to all sounds that may be going on – without trying to name or identify them. Listen as you would listen to music. If you find that verbal thinking will not drop away, don’t attempt to stop it by force of will-power. Just keep your tongue relaxed, floating easily in the lower jaw, and listen to your thoughts as if they were birds chattering outside – mere noise in the skull – and they will eventually subside of themselves, as a turbulent and muddy pool will become calm and clear if left alone.

Also, become aware of breathing and allow your lungs to work in whatever rhythm seems congenial to them. And for a while just sit listening and feeling breath. But, if possible, don’t call it that. Simply experience the non-verbal happening. 

- From Alan Watts "The Way of Liberation"

Cooking, walking, listening, talking, reading, even thinking and consuming motion video on a screen can be done in this way. It's not about the act but the intention you take with it. Are you brining your concerns and worries? All the ego? Do you need it right now? Right here? At times, yes, but most of the time? Of course not. It may be easy to understand this logically as we don't want to be unhappy, needlessly carrying our life's burden with us to do our laundry and order take out. But how aware are we of such thought processes and autonomic habits? I do it, it's only natural in the world we reside in. That only makes our duty to ourselves more important. To cherish the moments when we can. When it's a great meal, when it's a sad and gloomy day, when it's recovering from an injury, to full-ass more and compulsively half-ass less.