Daniel Kvarn

Daniel Kvarn

Daniel Kvarn

Even since I met Glen Allison in Laos, I’ve been developing my skills as a portrait photographer. It’s harder than you would think. Really. Lighting is a technical subject. I love to read everything I can about a technical subject, understand it thoroughly, and then execute it perfectly. But getting beautiful lighting has been much harder than I would have predicted, and I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. This is because, as I’ve come to realise, lighting is not just technical, it’s an art.

When Daniel came round, I had already got my studio set-up, loosened-up with a couple of whisky and sodas, and was ready to try once again. But as I fired some test shots, I stared in disbelief. I’m turning this up, which means the exposure should be going up, but actually it’s going down. Yet again, frustrated. Is even the technical side is beyond me?

Doing what anyone who understands technology does, I restarted my camera, my radios, my flashes. Ahh, that’s better.

by Kit on . 

Cloud Atlas

I’m struggling to digest just how much I loved the film Cloud Atlas. I’ve been reflecting on it so much since watching it 24 hours ago.

by Kit on . 

Why I’m quitting Facebook

When people quit Facebook, they write a list of reasons why Facebook sucks. But I’m not going to do that, because I think there’s a lot of good in Facebook. For me, it’s like opera music. I don’t think opera is bad, I don’t need to write a list of reasons why I don’t listen to it, and I don’t feel threatened that you like opera. But yeah, that’s right, I don’t listen to opera music.

But because Facebook has become a big part of our lives, I think it’s fair that I give it some respect and try to explain why I’ve just downloaded all my account data and am about to shut-down my personal profile. Here goes.

Everything in our lives both gives energy to us and requires some of our energy in return. So to listen to music I need to invest in audio equipment (headphones, speakers etc.) as well as buy the music itself. That’s energy, because money needs to be earned. Of course if I listen to music on the radio, I don’t pay with my money, I pay with my attention to adverts. Torrenting requires minimal energy (just the time to find a good torrent), and that’s why it feels like stealing: asking for something for almost nothing.

Some things give us so much and ask for so little: positive relationships or good music, for example. Some things seem more of an even balance: I have to do physical exercise if I want a healthy body, and doing regular exercise sometimes feels like a job. But the feeling of well-being is so worth it. Some things seem like a poor deal: a relationship that gets you down, or a job that sucks away your life in return for mere money.

Facebook gives me connection with friends, which is immensely valuable, but it asks a lot in terms of my attention. There are so many adverts, and they even put these inside my feed. That’s a big negative for me. The feed itself is also crammed with a lot of noise, and it takes time to find the good stuff.

For me—and this is a very personal decision—I felt Facebook was asking for too much of my attention. But walking away, like walking away from any relationship, is not easy at all. I will miss connecting with you on Facebook. I will miss your photos. I will miss your little bits of news that let me know how you’re doing and how your life is progressing. So please don’t be a stranger, because it’s Facebook I’m giving up, not my relationship with you.

  • I check my email six days a week, and it’s the best way to get in touch with me. I love email. Send me a quick email now (my address is listed on my facebook about page) so I can save your email address.
  • When I close my Facebook profile it will be converted to a Facebook page. If you’re my Facebook friend now, you’ll automatically be made a follower of that page. I don’t know what that page is going to be like, I just know it’s going to be there.
  • If you like to hear what I’m thinking about the world, just put your email in this box to get updates from this blog:

by Kit on . 

Are you a Christian?

When Gandhi was asked the question "are you a Christian?" he answered "ask the poor."

If being a Christian is about heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, I’m not a Christian. But if it’s about transformation–personal, communal and global–then I am.

by Kit on . 

what we should be feeling

The church usually focuses on what we should be feeling or doing rather than spending time exploring, and accepting, the realities of our lives.

by Kit on . 

Anki

I’m a big fan of Anki for learning languages, or anything you like. I’ve used it for 3 years: learned 1,300 cards.

by Kit on . 

Today, I’m open

Today I took a break from every kind of work. I like to do this on Sundays. At 9am I jumped onto the boat bus, which traverses the canals that cut through the centre of Bangkok, and got off at the very end of the line. Old town Bangkok.

When you go about your daily business, you always have an objective. You’re going to work, or going home, or going to lunch. There’s always some goal in everyday life. This is normal; it’s routine; it’s fine. But it’s one reason travel is so great. Travellers don’t have so many interesting stories because they’ve been all over the world: they have these stories because they have opened themselves to whatever life has to offer.

As I get off the boat I notice an elderly monk carrying a bag. I think it looks a bit heavy, and think about offering to help him, but I don’t. This is everyday mind: I’m busy; he probably doesn’t want my help; someone else will offer.

A few paces later, I stop and look back. Today I’m open. Not sure how to address the monk, as I don’t often speak to monks and don’t know the special Thai words you’re meant to use, I offer to help. He responds in the most normal Thai I can imagine, in a way that puts me immediately at ease. He doesn’t accept the offer, and he doesn’t turn it down. So we chat a bit, mainly about how we are right in the middle of a protest area, and how he doesn’t know how he’s going to get to the temple with all the blockades. But in the end, I’m going with him.

His bag is damn heavy, and I wonder how this 70+ year old guy would manage on his own. But mainly we’re talking, relaxed, enjoying the sights: thousands of monks and nuns have come here from all over Thailand for some big ceremony. He leads me around, and everyone we pass is bowing to him. This event is huge. There are stretch limousines, Rolls Royces, and high ranking officials strutting about. He takes me in to the temple area through the ‘monks only’ entrance, chat a bit more, and then we part ways.

Later on, I’m walking, and the strap of my huaraches (home made, Mexican-style sandals) breaks. Instead of getting pissed off about how I was going somewhere and can’t be late, I think about how I can fix them. I find a hair pin from a local shop, sit down, and have just enough strap left to re-thread and re-tie the sandals. In no time I’m walking again, happy that the monk needed help and happy that I got to do some DIY that actually worked. (I’m actually really crap at DIY; just ask my wife.)

If I had been working today, none of this would’ve happened. If I even had a bunch of things I wanted to get from this day-off, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s only because I had no plans, no agenda, that I’ve had such an interesting day.

You don’t have to be in Bangkok for this. You don’t have to be anywhere special. You just need to tell yourself "today, I’m open."

by Kit on . 

Four productivity techniques to build inner calm

Over the last few months I’ve got a lot better at getting stuff done, and I’m going to share some of the techniques that have made this happen. This website isn’t about productivity, it’s about inner freedom and wholeness, so why am I writing this? It’s because of the effect that productivity, and lack of productivity, has on your state of mind.

I’ve been amazed what a difference getting on top of my to-dos has made. My mind feels more relaxed, open and calm, and a little knot I often felt in my solar plexus is gone. We often look to spiritual or psychological approaches for this kind of thing, but this can, to borrow a phrase from Thai, be like riding an elephant to catch a grasshopper. Not only is it unecessary, it’s not the most effective way to get what you want. When you’re riding on the top of an elephant you’re going to find reaching down to grab that insect difficult.

The problem

My life generates a huge amount of little tasks: a form to fill in, an email to reply to, a doctor’s appointment to make, a shelf to tidy. I guess your life might be similar. The problem is that when tasks pile up, you get buried beneath them. When there is a backlog of little things you know you should do, but which don’t have to be done right now, just some day, maybe next week, or when the next vacation comes round; oh I’ll think about it later, it’s not urgent, after all… you find yourself struggling under its weight. These little (and big) to-dos require processing by your brain. Without realising it, you’re living with a constant source of background mental noise and, at least for me, this creates tension.

I’m going to tell you the four things that have helped me get out of that trap.

1. Do it now

If you can do a task now, and you have time, do it. Your default reaction might be to a task to put it on a to-do list, but this means extra work for yourself because you have to 1) write it down and 2) review that list, and decide when to do it, which is extra mental work. Make your default reaction to do it now, unless there’s a good reason why you can’t.

One good reason why you can’t do it now is because you need to rest. Rest is an excellent reason. We need rest throughout the workday, at the end of the workday, and at the end of the working week. More on this in the next section.

2. Give yourself a break.

Lots of breaks. You will not thrive by over-working yourself. Since I’ve starting using this system I stress less and do more. Before my work day looked like this: I would sit down to my computer in the morning and come up for air two hours later wondering what exactly I had been doing, why I hadn’t completed any of the tasks I had planned for the day. I would then plunge back in for another two hours of more focused activity, but have to stop because I was feeling restless and hungry. I would do another three or four hours after lunch, without any real breaks, finishing hunched up in a poor posture, stressed, and needing a strong drink.

Bugger that. The system I now follow looks like this. You work in 90-minute periods, because that’s enough time to get a lot done, and after 90 minutes of focus you are probably ready for some kind of break. The break should be 20-30 minutes, if you’re in a job that allows that, followed by another 90-minute period. That’s three hours of real focus, and you will then be ready for a leisurely lunch. This break will preferably be well away from your work place, both mentally and physically, and last one to two hours. The afternoon has two more 90-minute periods.

If that seems like a relaxed work day, it’s because it is. I work best when relaxed and at ease, and get significantly more done in three or four of these ninety-minute sessions than I used to get done in much longer, more stressful workday. And in the evening I am freer to enjoy myself because I haven’t got stressed.

If you have a boss, she might not allow this kind of schedule, but you might still find a way to work in some of its principles. It might for example be about going to the coffee machine after a ninety-minute session and having a good chat with colleagues and not feeling at all guilty about it: it’s part of your system of productivity.

One of the keys of this system is that ninety minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. Before this, I would think “I have a whole day ahead of me, which must be plenty of time to get things done”, so I would start with email, social media, and getting lost in endless trails of fascinating google searches. Now *I only have ninety minutes*, and there’s no way I’m going to make Facebook my home base for that short length of time. I don’t check my email at the start of the day, because *I only have ninety minutes*. And I’m going to get stuff done.

The more I force myself to rest, the more I get done.

3. Inbox zero

As soon as I came across this concept, my email habits were changed forever.

inbox zero

I get peace of mind just looking at this screen.

I used to believe that checking my email was a time to read friendly messages from loved ones. Then I woke-up to the fact that almost all of the emails I receive are actually jobs for me to do. So I turned off push notifications, and starting checking my email only when I actually have time to read, reply, and do, all in one sitting. If it’s something I can’t do now, I will leave it in the inbox (for something I know I can do within this week), or file it in a ‘waiting’ folder and set a reminder to deal with it on a certain date in the future. If it’s personal, I will enjoy reading it and then file it in a personal folder. There’s no pressure to reply to these, as they’re not tasks.

Once you’ve experienced an empty inbox, you’ll never want to go back to all that chaos.

4. A book

I’m reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. People rave about it, and follow the system almost religiously, and I can see why. If you want to go deeper with this productivity stuff, read the book.

In conclusion

The techniques I’ve mentioned here might seem too rigid. But they don’t have to be. I don’t follow them like laws, rather as principles. The more often I achieve them, the better I feel, but I never beat myself up for not doing them right.

OK, I’ve been working on this long enough, time to go and get a nice leisurely breakfast.

by Kit on . 

Seeking love

If you never learn to love yourself, you will spend your whole life seeking that love from others.

by Kit on . 

faithful obedience to God stops you growing up

As a young Christian I constantly felt under pressure to discover what ‘the will of God’ was for my life. This is not so different from what people call ‘finding your passion’: it’s learning about who you are and what you most want to get out of life. But when it’s framed as the will of God, you really don’t want to fuck it up.

Creating life goals is the work of years, and for me this wasn’t the problem. It was the tiny things that got me stressed out. Did I just hear God telling me to give money to that beggar? Or to go and speak to that stranger about Jesus?

Christians know themselves as the children of God. While this metaphor has its uses, when it is pushed too strongly—and it usually is—the overwhelming freedom of the human condition is sacrificed for something less. The freedom we then know is that of a child who cannot leave his mother. It feels safe, but it’s not real freedom. We prefer this, however, because we never have to become adults, which would mean deciding for ourselves.

We were made for more than infantile clinging to what we think the will of God might be. Fear was not meant to be a permanent feature of our lives.

It is not enough to choose from a set of pre-packaged Christian options. It is not enough to hear the voice of God and trot along, the ever-faithful servant. Freedom requires that saying ‘no’ to God, or to any power that claims authority over us, be a possibility that is so real it is a razor’s edge. When we hear a compelling call to do something that we know is not true to who we are, and can say ‘no’, only then can we call ourselves adults.

by Kit on .