How I Started Writing This Book
When I first got the idea for InfraGen I was obsessed. For a few days it was all I could think about. Every bit of free time I had I spent coding InfraGen. I didn't even give my girlfriend, Asya, a proper good bye the day she went to Africa because my mind was completely immersed in this project. We've all been there!
I had a long vacation coming up myself. A few days late, I was off to a 4 day meditation retreat at MAPLE (a Buddhist monastery), later meeting with my roommates and girlfriend in Tanzania. Up until I reached MAPLE, I had coded for at least 24 consecutive hours.
I had planned my MAPLE trip 5 months in advanced and it couldn’t have possibly come at a better time. By the time I arrived I was hours into debugging some refractors I made to the codebase. Luckily I wrote pretty thorough tests. But it became a painstaking process of trying fixes, crossing my fingers "this is the last fix before I see all green" and of course being disappointed by yet another error. Finally I put down my laptop, committing to being coding-free the entire retreat.
The setting at the retreat was beautiful and peaceful. It was an enormous house, miles away from any town, totally isolated from the rest of the world. Everything was sparkling clean and minimal. Looking outside I could not see a familiar SF cityscape. It was totally white, snow going as far as the horizon, covering a majestic mountain range in the distance. But despite this breathtaking, pristine environment, the first few days of the meditation retreat did not go well. We had a regimented schedule waking up at 4:30 AM, doing 1.5h of meditation, followed by half an hour of chanting, cleaning, and breakfast, all in silence. And at night, same thing, 1.5h of sitting, half an hour of chanting, and then silence.
I was not fitting in. Everyone seemed experienced in mediation, they must have been doing it for many years. And I sorely stuck out. I fidgeted and groaned through the mediation. The leader constantly reminded me to sit properly, be mindful of those around me, not make noise. I was sleeping at the breakfast table, dragging my body around trying to keep awake.
Even though I was constantly corrected, I felt very supported. The leader gave me a lesson on proper posture. My mentor patiently talked through possible solutions with me and said that he believed in me, and to try it one more time. So the last night of the retreat, I tried my best to not take the corrections personally or blame myself for being bad at meditation and a nuisance to others. After all the center of Buddhist philosophy is equanimity. That is not letting other people or events affect how I feel. Just do my best. If things don’t go they way I want, don't blame myself, stay unattached to the outcome. I did what I could at the time. No more no less.
Then I had an idea. I was prescribed Ritalin and Dextroamphetamine my psychiatrist for ADHD. Even though I generally have a positive outlook on pharmaceuticals, I was still resisting due to cultural stigma. I generally just took it at work, and even that occasionally. I hesitated using it "this is cheating", "I want to do it on my own". But that night I realized taking prescribed medication, with the guidance of a trained psychiatrist, is just a way of trusting and accepting help. I had to accept that my psychiatrist knows what she is doing and will make adjustment if and when needed. So I popped two pills.
After about half an hour, all my usual back pains disappeared. My mind was focused and clear. And somehow it went to the topic of InfraGen. At first I resisted, thinking "no my mind has to be clear" "don't think about work". But then I remembered, one of the best strategies is to observe my thoughts patiently, let them play out.
I don't know what caused this breakthrough. Partly it was my mentor trusting me, partly it was taking the meds. But really...it was something much much more...A bunch of little concepts and theories that I learned over time were falling into place, like puzzle pieces. I began seeing a much more vivid picture to a more content life.