Why I Love this Meme

Me: « Let’s take a quick 20 minute nap, it’ll do me good. » Also me, 1h60 later:

For 3 reasons :

  1. I love the cat’s face,
  2. The caption makes me laugh,
  3. The link between the image and the caption is perfect.

I think this is the existential definition of a meme.

Majorelle and his Buddies in Morocco

When in Marrakech, I found myself at an exhibition called A Moroccan Winter, showing paintings by Majorelle and his contemporaries. I was blown away.

It's always a bit cliché to speak about light and darkness in painting but, in this case, it's what really gave me pause. I don't expect it to have the same impact on screen but take a look at this:

Eugene Girardet - Campement Nomade Biskra

What I find striking, when in front of the actual canvas, is the luminosity of the mountains in the background. It's what draws the eye and gives the painting this photographic look: despite the precision and the contrast of the group in the foreground, all these people are n the shadow while the mountain is beaming in the distance. The ancestor of HDRI.

Same here: I find it quite bold to paint the main subjects completely in the shadow, as Étienne Girardet did. Shadow that we only really see because of the sun spot in the lower left corner:

Etienne Dinet - Sous le Burnous

(But it's called "Sous le Burnous", "under the coat", so I guess it makes sense.)

He voluntarily reduced his color palette to represent the absence of light and, in an almost negligible portion of the canvas, revealed the fire of the sun.

Then, of course, there is Majorelle: shadow is no longer the absence of light but is embeded in the subject itself. All the way. This one really struck a chord with me:

Jacques Majorelle - Harmonie en Noir

Choukrane guys, choukrane.

PS: And this guy was looking at me. He looked away just when I took the picture.

10 less stupid resolutions for 2023

Not so much resolutions as general principles that I've discovered and explored in the past years:

  1. Gain clarity
    Without clarity, each decision, big or small, is commanded by our irrational fears, or subconsicous anxieties and ends up leading us in the wrong direction. Clarity should be the first thing we seek. Before a career. Before love. Before brushing out teeth. But here's the catch (22): to realize the importance of clarity, you already need to have some. That's the paradox. Unless...
  2. Really want it
    It seems simple, almost childish, but it works. Call it what you will: faith, grace, resilience. If you really want to grow, gain wisdom, become a better person, you'll find a way. It might not be visible just yet or – even worse – it might not be the path you had in mind. But you have to want it. Like: really really want it. Then no paradox, no excuse and nobody will be able to stand in your way. That's real faith.
  3. "Where?" before "How?"
    "How?" is the question everbody is obsessed with. "How can I do this? How can I get there?". To the point where we don't end up where we want, but where we can. We let the "hows?" learnt at school, at work or on TV be our only compas, instead of asking the only question that matters: "Where?". "Where do I really want to go? And Why?". The wrong direction, even when reached really fast or really efficiently, is still the wrong direction.
  4. Growth before value
    Where you are now doesn't matter. Whether you're at the bottom of a pit, on top of a mountain, or mid-slope somewhere: it's temporary. What matters is your growth rate (the "derivative", engineers would say): are you going up or going down? Are you growing or shrinking? By changing your inner slope only by a few degrees, you change both who you are and where you're headed. It might not be visible right away but it's the only way to make a difference on the long run.
  5. The solution is always inside
    The problems we have are a function of who we are. If  some genie made all of our problems disappear tonight by a snap of a finger, we'd be happy for a day and then, in less than a week, we'd recreate the same problems over again – or very similar ones. So don't blame your outide circumstances: they have nothing to do with it. Look for the cause within. That's the real source. The inner slope wich pulls you up or pushes you down.
  6. Problems before solutions
    In the corporate world, we're told one should never come to their boss with a problem without offering a solution. In life, this is foolish. Spotting a problem is the first step towards solving it. It's called clarity. Once the obstacle is exposed in all its glory, mecanisms will set themselves in motion to find a solution. It's denial that makes calamity of a so long life.
  7. Get to know yourself
    Since you don't get one at birth, you should invest in writing your own instruction manual. Observe yourself. Embrace introspection. How does anger spark in you? Or jalousy? Or fear? What deep cause motivates your actions? Which irrational fear controls your pulsions? Identifying intern mecanisms allows to free yourself from them and eventually become more deliberate in just about everything.
  8. Beware of thoughts
    Nothing really important is ever intellectual. Thinking might be fun, social, or productive, but the pillars of one's life should never rest on some logical reasoning. Our brain makes up new problems when it can't find any. By nature, thoughts are never at peace. So you should let this machine do its thing without paying too much attention while you look for balance elsewhere. In this regard, thoughts are a bit like TV: they only become harmful when you think they tell the truth.
  9. Beware of numbers
    Numbers are the same: they're never where they're supposed to be. Choloesterol is too high, salary too low, temperatures too cold, interest rates too expensive. By essence, numbers are made to quantify what is missing and what is too much, and thus represent a neverending source of insatisfaction and unbalance. Better to focus on what cannot be measured: the joy of seing someone we like, the pleasure of an activity we love, the beauty of the sky.
  10. Live in the present
    It's an overused cliché but it's also the key to the safe. Only the present exists. Past is another word for memory – often selective and filled with regret. The future is another word for imagination – often skewed by the anxiety of the day. Not living in the present means living in your head. To be prisonner of your thoughts, opinions, memories. Why not, after all? But every now and then, it's always nice to take a walk in the "here and now". To keep in touch with the world, with others, and with yourslef.

Happy 2023.

A Walk in the Medina

Found these on my phone. They were taken a few days ago on another continent.

Beldi dogs napping in pack.
Despite my infallible system, I got lost in the Souks again.
Tea time on the terrasse of the "Fnaque berbère" (a French pun of sorts)

Huberman / Willink : Motivation is useless

(Disclaimer: I listened to the podcast in english, wrote this post in french, then relied heavily on Google Translate to translate it back into english. So the original terms might have been lost in translation, sorry about that.)

Huberman is an American neuroscientist whose podcast has become extremely famous in the United States. He shares tips on well-being and productivity based on his knowledge of the brain. I listen to it from time to time, usually while driving.

Today he had a conversation with Jocko Willink (pretty much unknown in France): a former Navy Seals officer turned author and consultant. They talked about motivation, discipline, how to reach your potential, go beyond your limits, etc. A very interesting podcast. Here are some of the main ideas I took away from it:

Don't rely on motivation. Jocko Willink, who gets up every morning at 4AM to exercise (sometimes for five to six hours if you count Brazilian jiu jitsu) explains that motivation is a poor basis for action. He says (I'm summarizing and paraphrasing here):

Motivation comes and goes. Happiness comes and goes. If you rely on this to act, you won’t do anything.

He continues (still paraphrasing): “In the morning, I don't think a bunch. I don't weigh the pros and cons. I do what I have to do. Discipline is what matters.“

Words expected from a military officer, you might say.

But on many levels, this reminded me of what Rob Burbea (not a military man) says about impermanence in Seing That Frees, which I'm reading now. If you pay attention to your sensations moment to moment, he says, you realize that they are constantly changing, regardless of your circumstances. Yo go from joy to sadness, from confidence to anguish, without anyone – neither oneself, nor others, nor the situation – being necessarily responsible for it. It's the nature of things. (Although it's always easier to blame the outside world.)

Jocko Willink takes the example of walking in full gear through the desert. The first 20 minutes - regardless of training, habit, fitness - are always tough. You’re going to have a bad time. But passed a certain threshold, it becomes mechanical and you can keep walking for hours. Hence the importance of not relying solely on immediate perception for motivation.

Energy is the source of action. But not caloric energy, says Huberman. He speaks about mental energy which is related to the balance of different hormones and neurotransmitters in the system. This balance depends more on activity – sleep, exercise, rhythm, etc. – than on what we eat (calories). This implies the following paradox:

Exercise creates energy.

The idea that exercise « burns » the energy we accumulate through food is misleading. It is true at the caloric level, but fatigue, inattention and difficulty concentrating are rarely due to a lack of caloric energy. ("Have at least one good meal every 24 hours and you'll be fine," says Huberman). They are due to a lack of mental energy which, on the contrary, can benefit from fasting, intense exercise, regular sleep and rest schedules, etc.

I was so convinced by their arguments that when I got home, I dug out my bike from the cellar, pumped up the tires, and went for a ride. Then buried it back in the pile.

All my Networks in One

This website will become my facebook, instagram, twitter and youtube all in one.

I’m tired of letting a profit-based algorithm choose what I can and can’t see, and decide what my friends see of what I do. And if that wasn’t enough, Mark Zukerberg’s and Eldon Musk’s latest tribulations convinced me that I didn’t want to leave them in control of what I share.

Here, I’ll build my corner of the internet that I control from A to Z.

I’ll create a feed where I can share my texts, photos, videos, brain farts, favorite links (…) and improve it step by step to make it pleasant to read, easy to share, and a place where you and I can interact with ease.

Yes, as you may point out: I won’t benefit from the network effect that dedicated platforms bring with them.

So be it. I’ll find another way. Probably a mailing list. Maybe I’ll look into the aggregators again, which allow readers to gather several blogs in one feed that they can control. Because in the end, it’s all about control.

Also, nothing prevents me from using social networks to promote my site. But the content will stay here. The conversations will take place here. Or on *your* website, if you’re game.

I’ll have fewer readers and they’ll grow more slowly. I’m fine with that. Let’s focus on the quality of our interactions rather than on the quantity.

1 Minute of Stork and 1 Minute of Dogs

One minute of stork during Muezzin:

Café le Nid des Cigognes, Médina, Marrakech

And one minute of Beldi (undomesticated) dogs playing in the Garden of Koutoubia. At the end, the seem surprised by their friend's arrival. Thant they all leave together, leaving the frame like professionnal actors:

Fear and Comfort

Two very bad reasons not to act.

And yet: the two main causes of our inaction.

To the point where, now, when I feel I’m about to not do something, big or small, I ask myself: « am I giving up out of fear? ». If I realize that fear is the only (or main reason), I think twice about it. Or, at least, I try to analyze that fear, make it more apparent so it doesn’t control me in the shadow.

And if it isn’t fear, I ask myself: « Am I giving up out of comfort? ». Is the warmth of my cozy nest preventing me from going on an adventure? The nest in question isn’t necessarily materialistic: it can be a comfort of thought, an attachment to some habits, or an excessive satisfaction with what I already have. Here, same treatment: I try to shake myself out of it, or, at least, I try to become aware of it. Once you’ve seen the trap, it’s easier to avoid it.

Fear repels us from the new. Comfort ties us to the status quo.

Let me be clear: there are a thousand perfectly good reasons not to act. Sometimes, not doing something is the real courage. But if those reasons boil down to fear or comfort, it might be worth looking into it a bit further. 

Progress in Meditation

I could tell you the history of how I started meditating and why it changed my life but we’ll do that another time. It’s a mistake I’ve often made: when I create a new website or a new notebook, I want to start over from the beginning and explain the genesis of everything. But soon enough, I’m overwhelmed by the task and I give up.

So let’s talk about the present.

A notable progress I’ve noticed in my practice is being able to recognize more and more inner contents as thoughts.

You probably know that meditation is all about taking a step back to realize that a particular anxiety,  fear or anger is actually “just a thought” which will pass like a cloud in the sky. This shift in perspective is often enough to get rid of it. When an existential anguish is seen for what it is – a brain fart – it looses its power.

But we don’t always succeed.

If some apprehensions are soon recognised for what they are – intellectual constructions – some others are more insidious and harder to let go. As if in the game of “thought spotting”, these particular thoughts didn’t count. “This is not a thought, it’s reality.”

These thoughts which won’t let themselves be classified as thoughts are often the most intimate. The ones we’re most accustomed to, the ones we’ve been dragging around in our head for years, sometimes since childhood. They’re part of us, part of our mental construction and often play a huge role in the way we react to everyday life. They’re like a wallpaper glued to reality for so long that it becomes impossible to imagin the world without it.

Progress in meditation, for me, is the process by which we manage to put these contents into question as well.

Day after day, the frontier of consciousness expands and what we thought to be the fabric of reality, the essence of things, fatality (…) turns out to be just another item of our inner world. Just another brain fart.

Until the day when, faced with an anguish so familiar we thought it was inescapable, we find ourselves in the the position to utter these magic words:

“That, too, is just a thought.”

(PS: I wanted to illustrate this by a picture of a cloud passing in the sky but, of course, no clouds today. Just the blue sky. Not that I’m complaining. Oh well: I guess as my metaphore goes, it works too.)