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I'm a software developer and a meditation teacher - ask me anything!

codingmindfully profile image Daragh Byrne ・1 min read

Having started my career in Physics, I've been developing software across diverse platforms (massively parallel computing, C/Java/C++/C#/.NET/front-end and so on) for about 17 years as a professional.

I've worked in startups that have become grown ups. I've been Dev/Senior/Team Lead/Head of Software Development/Agile Coach and currently am a Tech Delivery Lead with a boutique consultancy in Sydney, Australia.

I've also acquired a relatively dedicated meditation practice in the last ten years, and teach people how to meditate regularly through classes, courses and workshops. I take a largely secular approach but have an abiding interest in Buddhist philosophy.

I'm passionate about preventing coding burnout, helping developers find their optimal state of being to support effective coding and so on - I write about all of this at codingmindfully.com - Ask Me Anything!

PS What a wonderful community to have stumbled upon - all credit to Ben for hosting us :)

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I still have to look at your website more in depth, but I jumped on this post because what you describe are squarely my interests as well. I have a couple questions:

  1. How do you feel the developer community has so far reacted to this meditation and mindfulness crossover?

  2. You say you take a secular approach, yet have an interest in Buddhist philosophy. I personally like many ideas (philosophies) present in Buddhism as well, and reject others. I feel these ideas are important to learn about but would probably hesitate to call myself a Buddhist at any stage of the journey. What is your stance on this yourself, and how do you reconcile secularism and Buddhism?

  3. If you only answer one question, I'd ask it to be this one: how can I help? As a programming student, my ultimate goals are to teach not only code skills but effective self-care and altruism as well. My mission is to empower people to be healthy and happy, give them the skills to make a difference, and encourage them to use these newfound skills for good. I feel your project aligns well with my values, so if you have advice, I'd love to hear it!

 

What a wonderful intention you hold! This space needs voices who will guide it toward psychological safety and mental health, so figure out your way to do that and I'll certainly help where I can! I'll start with your questions.

I'm consistently amazed by how the world at large, and the tech community in general, has become sympathetic to, and curious about, meditation. There's a growing interest in the benefits of meditation - high performance, stress management, presence, emotional regulation. I've had conversations with tens of humans via Instagram (@codingmindfully, nearly 1k followers at the time of writing), received comments from many others, written articles that have been applauded many times, and started receiving signups to my website. So I think the answer is - yes, there's an interest in this material. To back it up, I spoke at a conference a couple of years ago about mindfulness, neuroscience and so on, and it was one of the busiest streams of the event.

I don't know that I have reconciled my secular worldview and Buddhism - it's a process. I think it's wise to try on the ideas you are interested in for size, and accept and reject as you see fit. I reckon the Buddha himself would have recommended his approach. Part of the interest in this type of exploration for me is the dance between my rationalist worldview (my education was in Physics and Mathematics, with coding as an add-on), and spirituality (I'm an extremely lapsed Catholic with agnostic, anti-religious tendencies and an abhorrence of cults) - teasing out the elements of what I truly believe - my own personal spiritual quest - has been part of the fascination. It's a validation cycle as well - Buddhism says something about meditation, I do some experiments (retreats, practices, mindsets and so on) and I find out whether they are true (mostly) or false - which appears to the empiricist in me. And whatever way you shape it, when I meditate regularly my life appears smoother, and that's enough for my cynical brain to be satisfied. There are parts of it I'll probably never adopt - the more ritualistic, cultural specific Buddhism will never sit well for me, for whatever reason. And the supernatural claims leave me a bit dry too.

In terms of helping - email me! daragh @ my domain. We are definitely on the same mission so let's talk about mutual support. If you have ways to publicize my Ultimate Guide to Meditation for Programmers - please put it out there!

Have a wonderful weekend!

 

Hey! Did you ever try to email? Daragh at codingmindfully !

 

Great to have you, fellow Buddhist! I was raised in the Shambhala community and have been meditating from a young age. Though I've sort of fallen off lately.

And there's my question—how do people keep their routine and get to the cushion regularly even when their various screens etc. are pulling them away?

 

Hi Ben! How wonderful to have been immersed so thoroughly for such a formative part of your life!

It's a great question and it comes up again and again. The answer I've come to for myself has several parts.

First, self-compassion is paramount. We have to accept that there are periods of our life where it's easy to stay dedicated to practices that support us (not just meditation), and periods where we might be a little (or a lot!) off track. While a certain amount of discipline is definitely useful, as soon as that voice in the mind turns to excessive self-criticism, it's time to turn on the acceptance and self-compassion - two of the abiding principles that meditation connects us with. Accept that, yup, that's where I'm at with my practice. And instead of berating yourself, treat yourself with kindness. One of those kindnesses is to nudge yourself back in the direction of your practices, gently and with ease and grace.

Secondly, having some kind of challenge or accountability can help. I started teaching meditation to those around me as a way of forcing myself to "show up" for my own practice. Gamification can help too - last year, I set myself the goal of closing my eyes for at least five minutes every day for the entire year (most days I had a proper 20-25 minute sit at least once, but it gave me leeway). I was so determined not to break my streak that I always found a way to fit it in! Having a practice community will help.

Thirdly, I tell people that little and often beats lots but rarely. Five minutes a day for a week is a better basis to rebuild your practice than one session a week. Informal practice - just taking a moment to connect with your senses - works wonders. I don't like to have a set time of day to practice, but I do like to consider when I'm going to fit my practice session in that day when I wake up. It helps that I work in a meditation studio and have access to teachers every day though!

I hope that helps, please let me know if I've missed anything. I've written the (free) Ultimate Guide to Meditation for Programmers which gets into it in some depth!

 

what do you think about #theevent ?

 

I don't know what that is?

 

hard to explain in few words, I suggest you to have a look youtube.com/results?search_query=t... the ones I most like are from "mundo Meraki"

 

How do you think that meditation can improve the quality of our work as developers?

 

Hi Roberto, that's a great question. I've seen benefits in these main areas.

(1) The first is focus, concentration and distraction management. Mindfulness meditation teaches you the cognitive skill of re-focusing your attention when it wanders. A typical meditation session is really about learning how to do this multiple times (people think it's about staying focused; it isn't, it's more about learning that you're distracted and pulling yourself back - such a valuable skill in this distraction crazy world).

I still get distracted, but I'm MUCH more aware of my mind wandering, so I'm able to pull myself back on task quicker. And I tend to stay on task longer.

(2) Meditation helps you manage stress. An excessively stressed body and mind are (a) not sustainable (b) not the best condition to be in while trying to produce your best work. Meditation practices work directly to soothe your nervous system, helping you maintain a state of being that's efficient for doing your job.

(3) Meditation helps you tap into your inner creativity. Coding is a creative act - we pull systems out of the aether and turn them into reality - it's kind like magic! After I've meditated (frequently during!) ideas flow, problems seem to solve themselves.

(4) Meditation helps you better able to handle your emotions, meaning you'll be better inclined toward co-workers and those you love. You become more aware of how you're feeling on a moment-to-moment basis, and can use that information to both understand and moderate your behaviour.

I see meditation as a skill that allows you to debug yourself. It gives you the capacity to look at yourself closely, observe how you operate and figure out in more detail how you work, when you work well, when it's less straightforward. It's an information gathering exercise, as well as offering the capacity to change your state into something more useful.

I hope that helps!

 

Have you tried vipassana? If yes what do you think about it?

 

Great question. In many modern minds, meditation means Vipassana derived practices (mindfulness of the breath/body, emotion, thoughts and so on). The modern MBSR derived mindfulness movement takes its practices from a mixture of Vipassana and Zen, so the practices themselves are deeply familiar to many people, including myself.

The common meaning of Vipassana is taken to be the popular ten day retreat format. This particular format originated in Myanmar in the 20th century as a result of a number of government and clerical decisions that encouraged non-monastic access to deep meditation practice - its influence on the modern mindfulness and meditation movement is tremendously deep. This style of meditation has become known in the west as Insight meditation (insight into the deeper nature of reality being both the result, and the direct translation, of Vipassana).

I haven't sat a traditional ten day Vipassana retreat. Instead, I've explored a number of long retreats in the Insight tradition (8 and 5 days, multiple times), with western teachers here in Australia. I've found extreme value and experienced deep challenges as a result.

My first retreat was 8 days and was practiced in silence, apart from instruction sessions, Dharma talks and checkins with the teacher. I felt that the particular retreats I chose both honoured the Vipassana practices, but perhaps provided a little more support and a little less austerity that the ten day retreats, based on what I've heard. I was especially heartened to know that my particular teachers were psychologically trained. Meditation is a mental act, and when you engage in it for a longer durations, any underlying psychoemotional challenges can make themselves known.

Sitting in meditation for consecutive days is definitely a challenge, but can be rewarding. I'd recommend bringing a degree of self awareness to your first retreat, or starting with a shorter duration (2-3 days is probably OK). If you have any recent trauma, or any mental health issues, they are absolutely going to make themselves known, so be prepared for that. For example, I sat my first retreat not long after a relationship breakup, so I spent a LOT of time processing that while on retreat.

That said, if you're prepared for it, a longer retreat can be a profound experience. Buddhist practices lay out a path towards liberation of suffering, with an invitation to try it for yourself an see what's true for you. I certainly, after a time, began to experience deep states of mental stillnes, inner peace and a certain amount of insight into the nature of myself. Your milage may vary.

Please let me know if you have any more specific questions.

 

Hi Daragh! Have you been able to bring meditation into the workplace (w/ colleagues)? If so, what do you do with them?

 

Hi Jess, yes, I started out teaching at my old workplace. I was a tech lead at a startup. In order to keep myself accountable to my own practice, I started running a lunchtime group on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Initially I thought we'd listen to audio recordings, but after the first session I realised it would be easier to just talk people through the session myself, based on what I'd learned over the years.

I found this scary at first, and had questions about my own ability and authority to do such a thing. But I soon got used to it, and people responded well - we made sure we had space for conversation afterwards. If you've been meditating for a while and feel comfortable with the main practices, go for it! Of course, you could also arrange for an external teacher to come in too - that's partly my role in life now too.

Meditation is becoming more and more mainstream these days and people are quite enthusiastic about it. So put it out there and see what arises!