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Sara's awarness journal

Published onFeb 18, 2018
Sara's awarness journal

5/12 & 14/2018 - Reflections

Reflecting for my journal I'm realizing I remember many moments in my childhood when I became more aware. Like the moment I realized other people could see and judge me without me seeing or interacting with them. I'm a little surprised I have these memories and wondering why I remember some realizations so vividly, yet completely forget others.

As the semester comes to a close I wanted to reflect on the themes outlines in the syllabus, listed here.

Themes to explore:
• Boundaries of Awareness: Self and Other
• Change
• Relational Awareness
• Non-Duality
• Joy and Happiness

I’m not sure I’ve interpreted these themes in the way Joi and Tenzin intended, but will give it a stab to reflect upon them over this past semester. Starting with the easy one: change. When reflecting, meditating, it’s very easy for me to recognize patterns and shifts and see change. Recognizing change is a catalyst asking questions, “why did this change?”, and those answers seem like awareness… Is awareness an understanding that there was change, or an understanding of what affects what, and why changes occur?

As far as handling change, and being OK with it, that’s is it’s own branch of awareness. A teacher once told my class that “change is the definition of stress”. Several people wrote extensively about stress in their journals, realizing the causes, and finding ways to calm the stress down. Realizing change, and realizing catalysts for stress are the first steps to addressing it. This semester was the first time I realized and learned that stress isn’t healthy. I know, and have known for a long time, that stress can be handled in unhealthy ways, but I’d previously thought stress itself wasn’t bad. In fact I thought it could be a good thing as it makes me work harder, learn more and have a higher impact on the world. Now I am processing how two of my core values collide; working hard and living a healthy life.

This brings us to relational awareness. My interpretation of the term “relational awareness” is an understanding of the factors which effect oneself and how various factors effect each other. Potentially, why is change happening? What causes these situations? How does what I do effect those around me? Essentially, understanding relationships.

Over the past semester I think I’ve become a bit more relaxed. I’m certainty more confident in my own abilities and need less reassurance. I’ve started to notice other peoples insecurities, potentially because I am more aware of my own. I seem to have a better understanding of some of other peoples actions. Of course it’s impossible to quantify if my perception is actually more accurate. I’ve started trying to tell people positive feedback, or reassure them, when I see they’re suffering from insecurities that seem ungrounded to me.

Boundaries of Awareness: self and others. There are limits to my understanding of what other people are going though and feeling. If I haven’t experienced it myself, it’s hard for me to have empathy, to feel the emotions others are feeling. If I can put myself in their shoes, empathy is easy and natural. This is important to realize because it shows may tend to impose my own emotions and interpretations on others.

Can I fully understand and be aware of myself? I think there may be things I don’t want to know about myself, but those are boundaries that can be broken down. We are all constantly changing, but I can be aware of the changes in myself.

Joy and happiness seem to creep up on me. One of the best things I gained from this class was the creation of the Falcone Family Happy Daily thoughts WhatsApp channel. Every day my mom, dad and I post a happy thing. Often times my sister joins in, and my brother is also on the channel and occasionally posts. There’s a lot of repeats in what makes us all happy. My sister gets a lot of happiness from her dog, my mom loves seeing birds and flowers and good weather. She’s also said “I’m happy [insert family memeber’s name] is happy”. My dad feels happy when he completes tasks and I love creating, designing, making and hands on doing stuff. Some days it’s easier than others to write something, and some days my lack of a happy thought has made me sad, but it’s also lead to changes which I think will ultimately increase my happiness.

Thanks all!

5/04-continued/2018 - Race part 2

The second memory which our class me reflect on was a time I was probably 5 years old or so in the grocery store with my mom. I remember seeing this guy, the first black person I’d ever seen. He had a walk man tape player clipped to his belt and big hair that barely left his ears space for the headphones. I was so fascinated with innocent curiosity why this person looked different from anyone else I’d known, and I pulled on my moms sleeve and asked. She shhhed me to be quiet. I remember thinking about it, probably staring in the oblivious way children do when they don’t understand and aren’t aware of their own bodies. Grabbing a gallon of fat free milk from the wall of refrigerators my mom pulls me back and tries to continue walking through the store.

When we get to the check out line he’s at another register. After he’s checked out his bag of groceries and is is walking out the door I ask “Mom does he have cancer?” She was so shocked and embarrassed and shhed me again. It must be so hard to be a parent. My mom was just trying to get groceries and take care of my brother, sister, dad and I and out of the blue there’s an opportunity for a lesson on race which she wasn’t prepared for and probably had never thought about being necessary.

As my friends are starting to have kids now our conversations are transitioning from how to be quality human beings ourselves and contribute back to the world, towards how can we raise kids and how do our actions impact the next generation. I’m not going to pretend to have any idea how to be a parent, or what that’s like, I’m just realizing how completely overwhelming and constantly challenging it must be. I’m so thankful to my parents and teachers. There are a million lessons in life, and you can’t possibly teach all of them, but I see how my mentors taught me a few good ones, and those lessons in compassion and generosity act as a scaffolding for posterior lesson I’d later teach myself, and learn from the world at large.

5/04/2018 - Race part 1

In our last class we talked about racism and Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. There are a couple memories that this talk made me reflect on.


When I was a Junior in high school Obama was elected president. I remember 3 boys in my drama class talking, interacting and fighting about politics leading up to and after the election. Hunter, Gunner, and a boy whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten, but he was one of the dozen darker skinned kids in my 1,200 student public high school in Anchorage. I remember Hunter and Gunner vividly because I thought they were such oddities in this class. Almost exclusively I took advanced classes and so was grouped with the same two dozen “gifted” kids from seventh grade on wards; drama class was the exception.

Though I’m tempted to diverge into the categorization of “gifted students” the point is that Hunter and Gunner were quite different from the students I was normally around and that very much interested me. I remember them teaching me ticks twirling butterfly knives under the bleachers in the auditorium. This was after the initial few days of shock where I avoided them after an initial lesson on the differences between switch blades versus assisted opening folding blades and a terminology and identification quiz including: blood grooves, swage edge, lock back and liner lock.

Though Hunter and Gunner’s propensity for carrying weapons scared me, it more scared me that a teacher would see us and we’d get suspended. It never occurred to me that the reason we weren’t supposed to bring our guns and knifes and bows and traps to school was because the teachers were afraid we could or would hurt each other. Over the course of that fall of 2008, as the election between Obama and McCain loomed closer, I started to see anger and hatred and discrimination well up in individuals, triggered with surprising speed and it confused and intrigued me. At 16 I wish I could say I was more aware of the world and political issues, but for the previous presidential election at the age of 12 I was a little too young to be engaged, and federal political issues are somewhat different than local Alaskan issues. This was the first election I was really aware of. I was torn and didn’t know what to think on issues like gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action and stem cell research. Everyone seemed to have a different stance, for different reasons, and their stance and their reasons seemed to be constantly shifting. In English and History we endlessly discussed, and our teachers tried to bring in alternative view points and experiences, but inevitably someone would shout something inappropriate and offensive and the discussion would be shut down followed by a lecture from the teacher trying to make us see there’s more to the world than our little chunk of the woods.

By the time we actually got to November 4th, election day, the whole school was exhausted. We’d shouted out our beliefs and fears and ignorance in the safety of our middle class white community segregated into a public school system zoned by age of neighborhood, in city only about 30 years old. By the time we got to election day I knew Hunter and Gunner harbored hatred and identified themselves by racist bravado. It was distasteful, but it didn’t seem wrong, after all that’s what freedom of speech is about, right?

November 5th we file into drama class and for some reason the teacher leaves the room for a few minutes. Everyone’s mind is on the fate of our country. Hunter and Gunner look at the one darker skinned boy in our class, likely the only person of color they were ever in the same room with. Bam! Tables are knocked, people are screaming, Hunter or Gunner or both are on the boy who’s screaming “I’m not black! I’m not black!” It’s seconds before other students pull them off. Enough time for my mind to flash back to the switch blades and the butterfly knives and internalize what a horrible thing I’d done turning a blind eye into tacit acceptance.

When the teacher came in and saw the hectic scene with tables and chairs askew she also turned a blind eye. We always considered her incredibly kind, never wanting to get anyone in trouble.

4/04-onwards/18 - Self-awarness

Realizing there are a few futures I dream repetitively:

  • Being in nature

  • working on engineering and design projects with freedom, consistency and fewer interruptions

  • teaching

  • Having more physical exercise incorporated in my life

  • Eating healthier and regularly

  • having more down time

  • being focused

Even as I write these out some of the ideas overlap and loop… It’s interesting how I realize I want these thinks in my life, which are very achievable, but don’t make motions to incorporate them in my life. I think this is because I realize I love other aspects of my life, and if I dive into something like teaching, I loose out on the other things I love so much, like hands on fabrication and research.

4/03/2018 - Relational awarness

Are dependency and addiction the same thing?

You depend on food, but are not addicted to food.

Addiction is when you can’t stop, but it isn’t healthy and you want to stop.

Sometimes I feel addicted to people.

3/26/2018 - Compassion

Thinking about compassion and I reflect on a night where I met a friend in Central and we decided to get burritos and go eat them in a park. As we were walking to the Chipotle a man on the street asks us if we have anything to spare. I told him we were about to get burritos and we could get one for him if he liked. Immediately locking arms with us he proclaimed “we shall go” and we were off to see the wizard. When we entered Chipotle we flung open the doors and while marching to the counter announced “I’m here with my friends!”. He ordered gaily. While he was distracted enunciating every item that should go into his burrito as if he were naming them at a baptism before god, I asked the other server if he came to this Chipotle often. They said they’ve never seen him before, and he was certainty not a character one would forget. When we all had our burritos he strong armed the two of us into a huddle and said “I hope you have a very sexy evening” then left with his food.

A number of times I’ve bought people food, but this was the first time anyone’s come into the store or restaurant with me. He was so over the top and self assured I really admired it. Though there were moments I was a little afraid, I was was grinning with laughter the whole time. My friend took it well too, and the experience really added to our evening. It could have gone so differently though. If our characters had been different, if we’d panicked when he first grabbed our arms, or we’d been in a different mood, I think it would have just made me uncomfortable.

3/16/2018 - Meditation

Several times though out the day I wish I could pause to take a breather, and feel like I’d be more productive if I did. I’ve been jealous of smokers in the past because they’ve habituated incremental pauses though out the day. It feels strange to take a short break for no reason, especially when I’m working with other people and my absence would slow them down. In perspective though I get to lab at about 10am and am usually here till 8pm or so. At lunch I’ll eat, but usually with my team. That’s 10 hours straight of interacting with people. Crazy! Since we have the open office layout people are constantly pinging each other, collaborating and tag teaming problems. It’s great, a lot of the time, but sometimes I wish I had a box to go to…

Since I’ve started practicing meditating this semester, and have this class to excuse odd behavior toward (started writing about this last week), I’ve been experimenting with taking breaks sporadically and meditating as needed at work. Some of the best mediating and rejuvenating moments I’ve had have been in the silk room late at might in Mediated Matter. The secret is out on this quiet calm space in the lab… there are a handful of people from other groups who make their way into the silk room to catch some peace. I’m curious about the nursing station as well, but I would feel very uncomfortable going in there, and pretty bad taking the space in case someone needed it for the intended purpose. I do love that the Media Lab has that… Working in the shop is incredibly calming for me. I basically know everyone who uses the shop, and there often aren’t many other people there. I love fabricating as well because all my focus goes into the task, and you can’t really be interrupted.

As a designer I’d like to facilitate a more public, quiet and peaceful place. Sean and I have been talking about building a “meditation cube” to put in the lobby of the lab as an experiment… here’s is a first draft CAD of a frame…

rough outline of the idea

Mnay details need to be worked out… I was excited about the planter boxes on the sides to grow bamboo or other plants. It would be fun to incorporate some sand… Optical and prismatic elements cut from shiny acrylic… Sean suggested the area below… If anyone is interested in working on this feel free to ping me; maybe we can make it happen…?

p.c. Sean

3/8/2018 & 3/10/2018 - Reflections

When I switch from viewing to editing parts of my previous writing disappear..?


My mind keep cycling back to questioning my belonging. Common thoughts my mind loops back to are missing Alaska, being reminded of the amount of time I used to spend in nature and reflecting on that absence in my life at present and over the past 7 years since I moved to the lower 48, as well as reflecting on my possessions and current life trajectory and wondering if its “the right fit”. My mind cycles back to where I fit, where I used to fit, what fits with me, and potential future fits. It is interesting thinking about fit in an MIT class. Awareness being my 44th class at MIT. MIT being a place rampant with imposters syndrome.

I find so much inspiration form the group dynamic and the individuals in our class. After the TAs left on Tuesday I go to talk to a few people in a small group and over the past few days it has given my joy. I thought about the emotion to describe this interaction and settled on joy. Other contenders were happy, curious, hopeful. It’s fascinating to me to see how this class is so different from every other one I’ve taken at MIT, where the students aren’t there for any particular need, except personal curiosity. Often times in engineering courses I feel a sense of competition, not necessarily among the class, but a feeling that everyone wants to prove to themselves how well they can do, or that they can at least get by with everything else going on in their lives at MIT. In undergrad at MIT the fire hose is real… When I talk to many of my friends form undergrad who have now spent a few years working it seems like everyone is doing some serious processing. I love seeing this class incorporated into the MIT community at large. When I was a sophomore 10% of my living group went on leave for mental health reasons. Something Joi said about “making the happy contagious” really hit me.

I noticed I’ve been expressing myself more in my day to day life, and couching statements with an explanation that I’m taking “this Awareness class”.

2/21/2018 - Minimalism

I want to respond to a thought on minimalism which I got from reading Hane’s journal. The idea of minimalism resonates with me. Over the past 5 years I’ve rented 10 separate rooms, in 9 different buildings, 4 different cities, for over a months each. Sometimes everything I owned was with me, sometimes I stored it temporarily. I did an eight month trip where I only brought a suitcase. Before I left I paired down my already minimal possessions and stored what I wouldn’t need in a trunk I’d found on a loading dock, a barrel that held EPP pellets I found discarded

2/13/2018 - my wandering mind


“There is no such thing as silence” this quote by John Cage was mentioned in class and it brought me back to the quietest place on earth, which I happened to visit last week. Researchers we met who work with the anechoic chamber at the University of Ferrara claimed they’d recently measured -20.xdB, so acoustically if this wasn’t the quietest place on earth it’s pretty damn close. Still though, this space isn’t silent.

Inside the University of Ferarra's anechoic chamber. p.c. Ed Moriarty

The physics to design absorption of sound waves is such a fascinating niche, and seeing the physics realized with 1.7m cones of foam makes my jaw drop. The space itself was also completely breathtaking, but the biggest surprise I felt was how loud it was. Every movement was amplified because the crackling of clothing wasn’t damped by white noise. I could pick out tones from the resonance of vibrations reflecting off the floor. I’d never heard anything like these pure, clean sounds, but I dind’t want to hear these sounds. I didn’t want to hear anything. I wanted silence. We all wanted silence, because it seemed like a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to really feel physical silence.


We took off all jackets and put down bag and keys. We laid back down on the ground and listened again. Why is listening an activity? We listen continuously subconsciously. The cold of the cement took heat from my body. I felt cold. I reflected on the fact that the cement is isothermal with the ambient air temperature, but its conductivity is higher than the heat transfer via conduction into the air, thus I feel more. I think back to a thermal energy question about penguins who have blood running though long veins in their feet that stand on the ice. Over winter they huddle together, their buddies providing a large layer of insulation around them, but their feet still touch the ground. At one point I calculated how much food they needed to eat in order to provide them enough energy to live, and to not freeze. It’s amazing we can genuinely describe the world around us via equations and assumptions. When I was little none of these variables seemed remotely related; eating food and being warm. When I was little I spent so many hours laying on my back staring up at the ceiling like this. When I was little I’d put on my snow suit, always making sure my gloves were tucked in under my coat so my wrists didn’t get snow on them. I’d run out into the woods by myself and jump in the snow. Every movement was so much harder because the inches of insulation padding me. Soon I’d get too warm and too tired to move, and I’d flop down onto the squishy ground and listen to the branches crackling.

When I was laying in the snow I’d reflect on my body and think if anything was too cold or wet. Growing up in Alaska I learned from an early age to be cautious of frost bite. Your body can be warm, but an exposed patch of bare skin can still freeze and die. Gear was so important. I’d put on my gloves first, then my coat. Actually, the first thing on is snow pants, because the bib… Snow pants, boots, hat, gator/balaclava/face mask/goggles, gloves then coat. It’s hard to zip up a coat with gloves on. It’s hard to zip at all when you’re six.

How has my mind wandered so far? I was laying on the cement in the quietest place on earth thinking about when I was six and I’d run out into the woods and lay in the snow among the trees. Growing up I had such freedom to be alone and to be silent. Until I was 18 and left Alaska, going places where no one else walks was part of a typical week. I’d wah-woop call so loudly and just hear the echo back. I didn’t realize how special that was.

I wah-woop called in the anechoic chamber and the noise was just absorbed, like I hadn’t called at all. To this chamber I didn’t exist. To the mountains I didn’t exist either. Soon after we came down the wind erased our foot steps, but the peace and calm and knowledge that I could survive stayed with me, at least for a few days. I wonder if it’s possible to feel the same peace and sense of belonging in the built environment I haven’t before.. Potentially, it’s possible to get there within my mind, but is that sanity?

Aashka Dave: This is the COOLEST idea. I really love it.
Anna WB: How does your addiction manifest itself? Sometimes I worry that I’m addicted to solitude…
Aashka Dave: I feel like I sway between wanting people and wanting complete silence. There are times when I want solitude more than anything else, and other times when the thought of that much quiet — and lack of other people — is the worse of the two. Do you think your addiction to people is to avoid solitude? Something else?
Anna WB: Hahaha so true. It’s a very particular sort of PTSD…
Hane Lee: The glorification of minimalism as I understand it usually comes in anti-capitalism contexts. Most of the tag lines I see from these minimalist, tidying books (especially Japanese) are something on the lines of: “Why am I hoarding all these things? Why am I anxious about owning more things? Probably because the society tells me that it is good to have things.”That said, minimalism is often a group, a category, but I find that minimalism, especially in art, comes from so many different backgrounds and rests on so many different values as well. It could mean absence, the presence of only a few elements, concentration on one element in the presence of EVERYTHING, …Linking back to the conversation you started on my pub, my minimalism only exists in the physical, material world. I am not a minimalist in intellectual property. My thoughts, ideas, and knowledge are my prized possessions, and I admit that I am rather obsessed about them. However, I do not always understand the link between obsession, or even possession, and anxiety. Maybe I have never experienced strong enough unattainability or loss; I have been lucky and privileged, I have always had a difficult time defining my wants, and those concepts are more vague in the context of thought.An overall pictorial thought: I guess that my concentration on thoughts and dissociating efforts from other things could be defined as minimalism as an active paring of materials, but I also think it might better fit the frame of obsession and lack of attention for others?I am a minimalist at heart.
Joichi Ito: I recently met Marie Kondo. ( ) She has this wonderful way of talking about this. "I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying."
Sean Hickey: I had a similar experience at Orfield. Before I went, I expected to feel completely disoriented in the chamber since there would be no surface echoes at all to provide distance cues (the Orfield chamber also has an anechoic floor so when you’re in there, you’re actually standing on a mesh wire grid above foam cones). I visited with my friend Brian and they let us turn off the lights so that we could experience total darkness and total silence together. The very first thing I noticed was how easy it was to tell where things were in the chamber despite no sound reflections. When Brian spoke, I knew instantly exactly where he was in the space since the sound was perfectly directional. So rather than disorientation, I actually found it exceptional easy to orient myself.
Sean Hickey: Ahhh!! I, too, visited a “quietest place on earth” last summer just before leaving Minneapolis to come here. Orfield Labs in South Mpls has a similar anechoic chamber which has at times held the record for lowest average sound level. It immediately came to mind in class last week when the John Cage quote was mentioned.