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Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?

internet_making_us_stupid_googleSome ammunition from Benjamin Storm for those claiming that the internet is making us stupid.

Using the internet to look up facts makes us more reliant on it in the future, Benjamin’s latest research finds. The more times people look up facts online, the less they prefer to rely on their own memories for even the simplest questions.

“As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”

In an experiment, 30% of people who used Goggle to answer a difficult question later used Google again to answer a simple question they could have used their own memory to answer.
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Empathic Charisma as a Mindful Leadership Skill

Charismatic leadership Christine LagardeSome though-provoking ideas in an article by Matthew Hutson.

In tough times, people want more in a leader than intelligence, integrity, or the ability to build really tall walls. They want someone who can make a compelling pitch and inspire a sense of urgency — someone with charisma. For decades, scholars have struggled to define this X factor, but they are developing a better idea of how it works.

Charisma is the ability to convince followers that you can get other members of a wider group to cooperate.

To lead, you must rest; fatigue saps charisma. Researchers asked students to give a speech after waking half of them hourly overnight. Viewers gave sleep-deprived speakers lower marks on charisma. They also rated speakers as less charismatic after their own sleep-deprived night.
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Mindful Dishwashing Reduces Anxiety By 27%, A Study Shows

Mindful dishwashing can decrease stress and calm the mind, new research shows.

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How Do You Know If You’re Succeeding or Failing At Mindfulness Practice?

samuel-beckett

Meditation as a “mental fast”

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

In some ways those are encouraging words. But on second thought, when it comes to finding motivation to persist at a meditation practice, maybe not so much.

Thinking in terms of success versus failure might not be helpful. An analogy that is often drawn is that Mindfulness exercises are like gym sessions for your brain. I suppose the fact that you need to carve out time and do something that you don’t feel naturally inclined to do and that feels strenuous, is similar to time spent lifting weights or grinding away on a cardio machine. But the laws that govern physical fitness, of gaining aerobic and muscular strength, aren’t the same as those covering the management of mental states or the growth and maintenance of neural networks.

For many, what makes the pursuit of physical fitness satisfying is the sense of linear progress. Most of the time, with consistent practice, one really is getting stronger and faster, with greater staying power. On a tough day of training, when one is tired or hasn’t eaten properly, it’s still possible to push through a tough session with a “force of will” and make it a successful one.

Some researchers postulate that the meditating brain grows in size and strength at the microscopic level – creating new connections and increasing the insulating covers of the nerve fibers (i.e., there is a progressive thickening of the myelin sheaths). That may indeed be happening. But crucially for the impatient or frustrated meditator, very often it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. It’s not just a case of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it feels like one step back, then another step back, then standing in place, then one step back again.

If an inability to stay fully focused on one’s breath and hold distracting thoughts completely at bay counts as “failure,” then failure – or at least, not succeeding – comes with the territory of meditation. It’s helpful to reframe the challenge in more neutral terms. A fruitful Mindfulness session is one where you repeatedly notice mental wandering, and you come back to your breath, again and again and again. Yes, it’s a Sisyphean task, but inevitably so. A lot of life is like that.

In these frustrating moments it might be helpful not to think in terms of whether the session was “successful” nor whether one is “succeeding” at a Mindfulness practice. The positive results might be very subtle or not even discernible at all from one moment to the next. But usually the benefits are lurking somewhere. For example, a friend of mine says she sees positive effects “seeping” into her life in unexpected ways over time. Being able to stay calm and courteous during a frustrating encounter with an incompetent customer service person on the telephone is one example.

It may be more helpful to see one’s practice as similar as one’s “eating practice” — one’s daily diet. This is because there are so many external factors affecting whether a session feels like progress. For instance, how calm the emotional environment is around the practitioner, the atmosphere at home, the state of the extended family, and what’s happening professionally?

Consistency with one’s meditative practice is as important as it is with one’s diet. It does little good to eat one super healthy meal and then binge on junk food for several days after that. The key is sustainable steadiness.

Perhaps even more useful than the eating analogy is a *non* eating analogy, i.e. fasting. In many cultures and religious traditions a period of abstaining from food is considered purifying and restorative. Shorter “intermittent” periods of fasting have recently been shown by research to enable people to lose weight, boost their immunity to illnesses and to increase their energy levels.

In this way, time spent *not* thinking, emoting, evaluating, criticizing, blaming, feeling like a victim etc. is like *not* eating unhealthy foods. It gives the system a rest; it provides welcome relief and enables natural processes of recuperation. But for many people, fasting isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s painful. A person in a fasted state might feel agitated or irritable. But that doesn’t mean they are failing; often it’s quite the contrary.

So maybe see a meditation session as a “mental fast.” When it doesn’t seem to have gone “well” or when we don’t seem to be making “progress,” it’s often helpful to be gentle and non-judgmental. Try saying something like: “I’ve done what I needed to do today. There’s a lot going on around me. I am caring for myself. I trust this is having a positive effect over the long-term.” Keeping score with wins and losses, successes and failures might be counter-productive.

Key terms: Mindfulness practice, meditation; what constitutes succeeding or failing, brain fitness versus physical fitness, meditation and diet analogy, mental fasting

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The Modern Mind and Meditation

The Human Mind Isn’t What it Used to Becool-buddha-modern-meditation
That’s why I think it’s problematic in many cases to use the same techniques in the year 2016 that were developed to use on monks living in a monastery 2,500 years ago. And I suspect that’s why “classic” forms of meditation don’t appeal to many people who try them.

This is the difference between a modern person who sits at a desk 8-10 hours a day, and eats factory-made calories at sea level and a person who spends a lot of the time outdoors, highly physically active at 8,000 feet above sea level, eating nothing but all-natural food.

I’m not talking just about the human brain. The brain and the mind are separate things. That’s why we have two different words for them; they aren’t synonyms.

The human brain – most physiologists and neurologists would tell us – has changed very little if at all in over the past 2,000 to 3,000 years since we’ve had Buddhism and other contemplative practices.

This blog is probably not a good place for going into the nuances evolutionary neurology. Certainly we don’t have access to the pure human brain – absent of human culture – in a meditative state. Perhaps if we could compare a typical 30 year-old computer programer to a 30 year-old raised exclusively by a tribe of gorillas in the African bush and having lived all his life there, we might come close to a clean experiment. But such a “human” has never been known to exist.

The blog also isn’t the place to spend too much time pondering the “nature of the mind” which philosophers and psychologists have been speculating about for several millennia as well. Here’s a simple-enough working definition of the human mind: It’s the brain plus about 100,000 years of human culture, including of course human language, art, music, geography, physics, history, mathematics, etc.

And let’s not forget the influence of religions and spiritual rituals in the surrounding “milieu” of the brain. By the time the average adult human brain turns itself to attempt a bit a of meditation, it has been continuously surrounded in a world of sounds, symbols, ideas and beliefs for 25, 35 years or many more.

Of course how a human thinks and feels is a function of all she or he has experienced and been taught to experience before. What humans have been experiencing over the past 150 years or so is nothing short of a radical transformation. If we imagine the kind of live most people were living 2,500 in the lands now known as northern India, where Buddhist meditative practice first arose and compare them to living conditions in for example Chicago, Illinois in 2016, pardon the pun, but the mind boggles.

Here a just a few of the key differences, which go some ways to explain why the modern mind needs to develop different ways of meditating than those the Buddha taught:

Life was lived primarily outdoors, surrounded constantly by fresh, clean air
Sleeping patterns coincided with 8 to 12 hours of complete darkness; including much more sleeping during winter months than now.

– Movement while was nearly constant, with even basic activities such as food gathering, washing, defecating requiring effort
– Entertainment took the form of talking face-to-face, dancing, and focused listening to story telling
– To further belabor Point 4: People had to listen carefully all day long; their sit-quietly-and-listen “muscles” were highly developed
– One’s position at rest was often lying on the hard ground or sitting in a squat
– Food was gathered and hunted extremely close to its original source and usually eaten at its freshest state
– A nearly every day part of life was walking in the woods in intimate contact with trees, leaves, grass, soil, etc.
– A constant awareness of births, deaths, sicknesses and the finitude of life

When one sat down to meditate 2,500 years ago, all that above was the starting point – in many cases a healthy body, well nourished and surrounded by a clean environment.

Here a just a few of the aggravating factors that the modern mind has to contend with:
– Pre-conceptual and intrauterine environments that may have included numerous neuro toxins / environmental contaminants
– A loud external world with constant sounds of radio and television, emergency sirens
– Access to in-depth, up-to-date information about almost everything
– Constant, highly compelling interruptions while working
– Instant supplies of entertainment, highly stimulating games, pornography etc.
– Daily work loads that are 3 to 6 hours longer than in ancestral hunter-gather societies
– Highly sweet, synthetic foods that rush energy to the brain and then create energy crashes 30 to 90 minutes later
– Low amounts of natural essential fatty acids from fresh oily fish and pasture-raised animals
– Factory-produced and plastic-packaged food lower or absent entirely of live beneficial bacteria
– A sense that with the right medical interventions death can be prevented and controlled

More on this later. But this is hopefully a start for those thinking how to reach the kind of pure states of contemplation with their modern minds. Spoiler Alert: Sitting quietly under a tree probably isn’t sufficient in and of itself to cultivate the modern meditative mind.

Topics: The modern mind, meditation, current life stresses, contemporary mindfulness, modern mindfulness, updating Buddhist practices

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Going Analogue for a Summer Break: The Doable Digital Detox

a0032-000037A lot of the problem with technology is the shear volumes of it we are consuming per day.

As with many things “the dose make the poison.” For example, some people have severe problems drinking alcohol; they need to quit entirely and stay “sober.” However, others just need to cut back. Maybe they need to cut back a lot, but there’s a big difference between drinking a half-bottle of wine every single evening and having one or two glasses twice a week or so.

Similarly it’s not the same effect subsuming oneself in e-mail, texting, social media and other screen-based information 14 hours a day versus just 1 hour a day.

So this summer vacation period I suggest you try this simple experiment. Limit yourself to all non-urgent uses of your computers, phones, etc. to just one 60-minute period per day. For example from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. only. Yes, you can check the weather on the internet. What about texting? Every time you can possibly use your voice, try that instead.

You might be amazed to discover that with merely on hour a day of serious screen time, you can stay in touch at a minimal, basic level with everyone who is truly important to stay in touch with right now. You can keep projects moving forward *and* regain your sanity.

I’ve carefully chosen the 5 p.m. to 6 p..m time period because it’s late enough to not interfere with a good day out at the beach, fishing, hiking, horse riding, etc. It’s also still early enough to not interfere with dinner or with evening entertainment. At around 5pm, the blue glow of your screen doesn’t send false signals to your brain about daylight hours, thus enabling you to go to sleep faster and sleep more deeply at 10 or 11 p.m., i.e. four to five hours later.

By the way, for your 60-minutes per day, I’m not counting time spent reading one low-tech tablet, i.e. the very most basic Kindle, just in black and white, and not connected live to the Internet. We all sense the difference between using a tablet as a book or magazine substitute and using it to reconnect with the internet by stealth.

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Continuous Partial Attention: One Man’s Struggle

continuous partial attention digital distractionWhat a superb article by David Roberts in Outside Magazine!

If you read only one work-related thing over your summer break, can I suggest it be this?

Here below are a few of my favorite sections of David’s detox article, but the mere extracts don’t do justice to his elegant narrative flow. Read the full article.

“…I tweeted to them around 30 times a day, I belonged to that exclusive Twitter club, not users who have been “verified” (curse their privileged names) but users who have hit the daily tweet limit, the social-media equivalent of getting cut off by the bartender. The few, the proud, the badly in need of help. I was peering at one screen or another for something like 12 hours a day.”

“…It wasn’t always this way. There was a time — it seems prehistoric now — when I started the workday by “getting caught up.” I’d go through my e-mail, check a few websites, and start on the day’s new tasks.
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Even in Deep Water, All You Can Do Is Swim

steven_wright2A brilliant example of reframing a problem into a manageable life strategy, by renowned comedian and Mindfulness Master Jerry Seinfeld.

If you’re swimming in the ocean, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is. All you can do is swim.

This was attributed by Seinfeld recently to his fellow comedian Steven Wright.

The context was a discussion about whether it’s particularly difficult to perform in front of large audiences.

We all have challenges that have varying degrees of difficulty. But if you focus on the uncontrollable factors – like how big the audience is, or how steep the hill is, or how big the line-backer in front of you is, then you lose your focus on what you yourself can influence.

As in the Zen Buddhists saying: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”

When you’re in deep waters, keep your head, neck and spine in line and keep on swimming.

Numerous world-class coaches call this “controlling the controllables.”

Source of the Jerry Seinfeld reference: http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/?gclid=CIbq48Ka5bsCFY47MgodzWYAJw

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Mostly Likely to Succeed or Most Likely to be Happy?

taylor_swiftAre there any high schools that give out the award: “Most Likely to be Happy in Life?”

The majority bestow the title “Most Likely to Succeed” and that usually goes to someone who is quite bright, but also a bit of a “go-getter,” popular with the in-crowd and perhaps with a bit of entrepreneurial flair. Or in some cases,  it’s someone demonstrating obvious acting or singing talent over and above the average for that age group. Taylor Swift is the best case in point, and Miley Cyrus before her.

But what characteristics would we be looking for in 17 year-olds to find the school’s winner of  “Most Likely to be Happy?”

Here’s a quick and somewhat slapdash list:
1-      Makes friends easily
2-      Maintains and builds relationships
3-     Helps others; volunteers
4-      Enjoys spending time outdoors
5-      Eats a healthy diet
6-      Has a religious faith and/or a spiritual practice
7-      Is academically intelligent, but not excessively
8-      Keeps fit but is not fitness or body-image obsessed

So generally a well-balanced, calm person who probably doesn’t stand out much during his or her last year of high school. Certainly not somebody Hollywood usually makes movies with or about.
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High-Performance Stress Reduction: A Newsman on a Quest

Mindfulness-Dan-Harris-10-Percent-Happier

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story, by Dan Harris

A great read. If you’re even vaguely interested in this many-splendored thing called Mindfulness but you’re a bit skeptical, maybe even at times cynical about it all, this book is for you.

It’s the story a young, ambitious and successful TV journalist, war correspondent and semi-professional hypochondriac — combined with a bright and breezy guide to meditation. You’ll also learn a lot about religions in America, from Born-Again Christians, Reformed Judaism to contemporary Buddhism, particularly of the “Ju-Bu” (Jewish-Buddhist) variety.

You won’t find too many public figures near the cusp of a rising career (Dan is one of the most prominent anchormen on ABC News) courageously confessing his own idiotic and dangerous slide into drug abuse. It’s a slide that culminated in an on-air panic attack in front of millions of TV viewers.

Initially, Dan wanted to call the book: “The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole.” The real title is almost as good, albeit not as concise.
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Leading The Quiet But Informed Life: Mindful Self Management

saint_paulWe here at Mindful Your Own Business are religion-neutral. We’re super keen on wisdom though. And certainly there is a lot of wisdom contained in many of the world’s spiritual traditions, not just Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, the three that tend to be most typically associated with Mindfulness and meditation.

What about the more common phrase that has inspired Mindful Your Own Business, namely the exhortation: “Mind your own business!”?

The command usually is taken to mean: “Respect other people’s privacy” and/or “stop meddling in what does not concern you.” However, some etymologists think the phrase might have its origins in the Christian Bible (i.e. The New Testament).

St. Paul advises in I Thessalonians 4:11 to 13 that followers should lead an undistracted, focused life. The Greek phrase attributed to him is “manage yourself.” The full quotation is:

“We urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. Behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. But do not been uninformed.”

Key topics: Contemplative traditions, the quiet life, religious mindfulness, non-religious mindfulness

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Before There Was Mindfulness There Was Thoreau

henry_david_thoreauThis is not literally true, of course. But for many Americans, including me, this is the author who lit the flame, somewhere around 8th grade.

To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
– Henry David Thoreau

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Simple Breathing Exercise With No Mumbo-Jumbo Whatsoever

Mark_Williams2This is adapted from Mark Williams and the excellent book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World, co-authored by Danny Penman.

If you have a mind, it will wander. (I love this – it’s very reassuring!)

The goal is a calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

– Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.

– Direct your attention to your breathing.

– When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them. Give them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.

– When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that your attention has drifted, and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

It’s OK and natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.

As Tara Brach, one of my favorite meditation teachers, puts it: “The mind secretes thoughts like the body secretes enzymes.” And, of course, nobody would seek to inhibit the secretion of enzymes.

Themes: Breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation for people in business

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Duh! Mindlessness is the Opposite of Mindfulness

The term Mindfulness hasn’t yet fully entered mainstream vocabulary. Not everyone understands what is meant by it.

But the opposite term – “Mindlessness” – is readily and fully understandable.
texting while driving
A basic definition of Mindlessness: Doing one thing while you’re thinking about something (or many things) else.

Some further synonyms of Mindlessness: Senseless, Foolish, Forgetful, Distracted, Zoned-out, Spaced-out.

We welcome your thoughts on useful definitions of Mindfulness. Here’s a simple one: “fullness of mind.”

The Urban Thesaurus defines it as “an incredibly deep form or state of being in the mind which allows one to be truly united with the soul… Being Mindful is viewed as being one of the most sexy or appealing things to a female.” But that sounds a little like over-selling to us…

 

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Have More Sex and Two Other Rewilding Tips

Mindfulness sex & happiness

Using the full breadth and depth of your personal knowledge, what three concise tips would you offer to someone wanting to live a highly successful life?

It’s a question that often yields very illuminating and practical answers on Dave Asprey’s Bullet Proof Radio Show.

The little package of advice given by recent guest Daniel Vitalis, a “rewilding” expert is particularly inspiring and practical.

In its most concise form Daniel suggest that most people need to:
1- Spend more time outdoors
2- Move in more varied and challenging ways
3- Have more and better sex.
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Digital Distraction: The Constant Pinging of Devices is Driving People Crazy

A recent article in The Economist explores the surging interest in Mindfulness among people in business.

The first reason: The constant pinging of electronic devices is driving many people to the end of their tether. Electronic devices not only overload the senses and invade leisure time. They feed on themselves: the more people tweet the more they are rewarded with followers and retweets. Mindfulness provides a good excuse to unplug and chill out—or “disconnect to connect,” as some Mindfulness advocates put it. A second reason is the rat race. The single-minded pursuit of material success has produced an epidemic of corporate scandals and a widespread feeling of angst. Mindfulness emphasizes that there is more to success than material prosperity.
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Just as the Body Secretes Enzymes, the Mind Generates Thoughts: Meditation Practice

Tara_Brach

It’s helpful to remember that getting distracted is totally natural. Just as the body secretes enzymes, the mind generates thoughts. No need to make thoughts the enemy; just realize that you have a capacity to awaken from the trance of thinking. When you recognize that you have been lost in thought, take your time as you open out of the thought and relax back into the actual experience of being here.

…Attitude is everything.  While there are many meditative strategies, what makes the difference in terms of mindful awakening is your quality of earnestness, or sincerity.  Rather than adding another “should” to your list, choose to practice because you care about connecting with your innate capacity for clarity and inner peace. Let this sincerity be the atmosphere that nurtures whatever form your practice takes. – Tara Brach
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It’s Probably Just a Problem, Not a Crisis

keep-calm-it-s-not-a-crisis-it-s-just-capitalism

Non-crisis management & Mindfulness

Identify which emotions you’re feeling about the problem and how strongly each one is being felt – anger, fear, disappointment, sadness, etc.

Disengage emotionally from the problem. Breathe in. Breathe out. Tell yourself: “My emotions don’t help me here.” Breathe in. Breathe out.

Remember it’s a problem, not a crisis. Breathe in. Breathe out. “Work” the problem in a professional manner.

Unless you’re a member of the emergency services or other “first responders,” most things you have to deal with can wait five or ten minutes, sometimes five or ten hours and even occasionally five or ten days.
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Meetings Should be Mindful But Not Necessarily Fun

mindful_meeting_cristina_fernandez

Productive meetings

There’s a burgeoning trend in some management advice circles. Employees are disengaged, so the thinking goes, because the work environment isn’t stimulating enough. They don’t participate in meetings because they’re not fun. Tell some jokes, devise some games, bring in snacks, a bit of music and then you’ll get more energy in the room. Make meetings more like a cocktail party and people will want to attend them.

Sorry to be a pooper, but I’m not a fan of putting fun first. Attendance in a party-style meeting doesn’t usually make the meeting productive. It might make time pass more quickly for some and for many others – your best employees – it might just cause irritation and frustration.

“Fun” meetings bring to mind the television series The Office. Both the British and American versions feature an office manager who is entirely unfocused, undisciplined and quite attention-deficit-hyperactively-disordered. He spends most of his days recounting recycled jokes and hackneyed comedy routines and forcing impromptu festivities on his employees, most of whom just want to get on with their jobs, sell some paper supplies and ensure their long-term livelihood by helping the company succeed. So it is with many employees in the real world.
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Simple Mind-Taming Tips from Comedian Ruby Wax

Stress management and happiness tips from Ruby Wax, comedienne and now Mindfulness-based therapist (M.A. Oxford), author of Sane New World: Taming the Mind:

Find your braking system

When you’re in high anxiety mode, feeling stressed out, your mind racing and your heart pounding, focus on something in the present: a sound, taste or smell. By becoming aware of what’s around you, you will calm down and can focus more. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you: I send my attention to my feet and their contact with the floor. As soon as my focus goes from thoughts to a sensation, the red mist drains from my brain and I can think again. You might need to do this 100 times; it’s how to tame your mind.

Stave off the darkness

Only eat what tastes good and fill your life with things you like. Surround yourself with true friends, but if you find entertaining stressful, don’t invite them for dinner all the time. How can you talk to your friends properly when you’re busy panicking that you’re not a good enough cook? Go to a restaurant instead. And don’t force yourself to go to other people’s houses, it takes energy to adjust yourself to their way of living.
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Mending Your Ways to Contribute a Verse: Whitman and Mindfulness

97r/36/vica/8084/03Walt Whitman’s poem “O Me! O Life!” throws out numerous challenges to its readers, particularly people in business who have endured thousands of hours traveling to and from work in cars, buses, trains and planes. And spent even more hours than that working in offices surrounded by unwise and unskillful people.

The challenge Whitman poses is how well do we really know ourselves? With as much humility as possible are we open to new self discoveries? After all this time and toil, who have we become? But also — more hopefully — what are we still capable of becoming? How can we fulfill our potential?

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Paraphrasing the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield: The challenge of our lives is continuously turning our internal compass toward true north; turning toward compassion.

Listen to your heart. Listen out for your own particular gifts and capacities, Kornfield advises. Listen to the cycles of your life for what it is time to do now with what you have been given. Bring your heart and your whole being into the present and respond to what is in front of you.
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Cool, Calm and Collected at Work

cool_at_workStress management is a lot about treating email as a hot medium.

Most people aspire to working in a state of being that can be summed up as “cool, calm and collected.”

The meaning here of “calm” is fairly obvious. “Collected” less so. In this context it probably means “focused” – a mind that is centred, and grounded, not distracted nor agitated

What is meant by “cool?” That’s a term that has been in common use since the 1930s, often referring to jazz musicians.

The phrase “cool as a cucumber” goes back to 1880s England.

In the 1960s it even became the last name of the alter ego of Snoopy, the rakishly loveable beagle in the Peanuts cartoon – “Joe Cool.”

In its comical representation, cool looks a bit arrogant and indifferent. And those are potentially the risks of an excessively cool posture. But for people who try to cultivate an authentically cool way of being, it can manifest itself as balanced, relaxed, untroubled, adaptable and resilient. The term in English often used by Buddhists to describe this type of cool is “equanimous” from the noun “equanimity.”
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Your Mother Was Right: Go Outside and Play

go_outside_and_play
Most of us – especially if we grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s – heard this exhortation from our mother on a regular basis: Go outside and play!

Four words packed with almost infinite wisdom.

And yet many of us rarely or never do so, not even on the longest days of the year, which in the Northern Hemisphere are now here for our nourishment!

A true story, although admittedly we’re talking about an extreme case: Somehow last week our teenager managed (and somehow we let him) avoid almost all direct exposure to the sun’s rays for a 24-hour period, except for 20 minutes sitting outside during lunch. He did leave the house to watch a soccer game at a sports bar in the late afternoon, but direct outdoor exposure consisted of 5 seconds from house to car, and another five seconds from car to restaurant and vice versa.

Sitting near a window in your home or office doesn’t count as direct exposure to the sun’s rays, no matter how bright the light coming in. Nor does driving. In both cases, the glass windows filter out the parts of the visible spectrum that have health promoting effects.
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How Busyness Can Kill Creativity

Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein
business_creativity
Many of us are familiar with the notion that our biggest strengths can simultaneously be overplayed and turn into weaknesses. So it might be with the ability many highly productive people have to schedule themselves, to keep themselves busy. Their own hyper-efficiency may be part of the problem.

New research suggests that children who are kept extremely active by a string of school and non-school activities are less creative, less autonomous and less self-confident than those with fewer activities. Kids who aren’t being rushed into a car to drive from one adult-directed event to another are more able to adapt to various environments, invent games and creative projects.  A link to the study is below.

But what about adults? How much space is there in our days and our weeks for unstructured, creative thought?

I know various people in business who are proud of their meticulously planned Google or Outlook calendars, some of them with days divided up into precise 15 and 20-minute slots. A successful day for them feels like one in which all the items have been “done.” Of course the next day is constantly looming large with yet another series of meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to return.

Much of this busyness is reactive rather than proactive, of course. It’s responding to the agenda items of other people, who in turn are often just responding to what others have asked them to do, in an endless, mindless chain.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that time and task management is the key for many of us to get the things done in a day that need to be done. Without structure, without plan and lists, and left to our own devices – including our electronic devices – we might waste our lives clicking around from one website to another all day long.
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Mainstream Media Becoming Mindful of Mindfulness

Woman meditatingA superb, quite long and discerning article about Mindfulness in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper.

Here are some edited highlights:

…This meditation isn’t about relaxing, emptying the mind or filling the head with peaceful thoughts… The intention is to be aware of physical sensations of the body and also simply to notice what the mind does.”

…”The mind wanders and it entertains itself with all sorts of things. All we are required to do is notice these thoughts. We are not suppressing them or ’emptying the mind,’ or making the thoughts go away.”

“It’s a preventative treatment – that’s what makes it different,” says Professor Mark Williams. “People usually seek treatment when they’re depressed or anxious, and cognitive therapy is one of the major success stories in treatment. But cognitive therapy is used when people are ill. What we wanted to do was extend this to teach people skills to stay well that they could use before depression threatens.”

Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn calls Mindfulness “paying attention on purpose, moment by moment, without judging”. Practitioners argue that the brain’s habit of reliving past stresses and worrying about potential problems can become an obstacle to mental health.

“A good example of how it can work is when you’re kept awake at night thinking,” says Williams. “You toss and turn and you get angry because you can’t sleep. The anger doesn’t help, but you can’t seem to stop it. Mindfulness isn’t about suppressing those thoughts, but about enabling you to stand back and observe them as if they were clouds going past in the sky. You see them and you cultivate a sense of kindness towards them.”
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Is Your Self Perception More Accurate Than the Rest of the World’s?

Marshall GoldsmithThere is almost always a discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self the rest of the world sees in us…often the rest of the world has a more accurate perspective than we do. If we can stop, listen, and think about what others see in us, we have a great opportunity. – Marshall Goldsmith
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Leaving a Little Earlier Could Buy You a 1/2 Hour of Free Mindfulness

Mindful_driving_2Many people would like a bit more Mindfulness in their lives. The reason they don’t is because, let’s face it, there is a cost. That cost is usually time, although sometimes the cost is energy as well as time. A lot of us have time to spend an hour or two “vegeing” out on the couch, watching vapid entertainment on the television or flitting about from one gossiping piece of news on the internet to the other. In this case, what we lack is the *energy* to sit up straight, concentrate and focus on our breathing.

And yet there are times of the day when most of us are energetic enough to immerse ourselves fully in the present moment and gain the clarifying, head-clearing benefits that fully concentrated awareness often brings. But how often do we unnecessarily leave things to the last minute so that the result of our actions is needing to proceed at the greatest possible speed from one place to another?

Driving is a great example. Typically ahead of any excursion, I try to determine how long it takes to get from Place A to Place B. Sometimes I’m even meticulous about it and use Google maps to calculate the travel time. Let’s say Google tells me it takes 23 minutes, under “normal” traffic conditions. I then round the time down to 20 minutes, ignore the fact that I’ll be driving in the middle of rush hour and hey presto! I’m now running late, well before I even set out. Add to this a tendency I have to answer “one more” e-mail in my in-box and clear out “one more” task on my list before leaving, and before you know it I have 15 minutes to accomplish a trip that actually require about 25 minutes.

Now here’s the “Mindless” part: Because I now realize I’m running seriously late, I jump in the car and am in full-on “flight” mode, with adrenaline and other stress chemicals starting to pump. Eyes bulging now, muscles twitching. Instead of driving calmly, safely and legally, I am now searching frantically for short cuts, intensely worried about making a wrong turn, annoyed at traffic lights, tempted to run them, and, of course, outraged at every minor error and unskillful maneuver made by the drivers around me.

But did it really have to be this way? The benefits of driving calmly are considerable. I could have floated over the road, listening to some beautiful music, or basked in perfect quietude. I could have glanced around the countryside, I could have marveled at the wonders of a finely tuned car that drives so smoothly. The cost? Stopping all my usual “busyness” about five minutes earlier than usual. In a 16-hour waking day, that’s not actually a big investment.

Mindfulness practice and time management

 

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Five Tips for Mindfulness Every Day

Simple Mindfulness practices for every day, edited extracts from Elephant Journal.
Mindfulness_meditation_face1. Know that the red light is not the enemy.
This driving metaphor comes from Thich Nhat Hanh. When you reach a red light, instead of seeing the halt in movement as a hindrance, take it as an opportunity to be still and to breathe. Instead of the anxious energy anticipating arrival at your next destination, thinking about where we will be instead of where we currently are, breathe more deeply into the present moment

2. Notice noise
External sounds are a great way to remind yourself to breathe. Any time you hear a church bell, a phone ringing, a cuckoo clock, or a car honking—take that as a reminder to breathe and reconnect with your body. We are constantly projecting our energy to move outwards, to create, to connect, to give off the frequency we’d like to attract and magnetize back towards us. To be aware of what we are manifesting externally—constantly checking in with ourselves internally, is essential.

3. Look people in the eyes
This encourages clarity and truthfulness in speech. Whether you are speaking or listening, looking at people in the eyes will bring more presence into the conversation. It grounds the erratic mind and stabilizes the heart. The human mind is flighty if not trained and controlled properly.
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Bill Bryson: You Really Are Special But You Still Need To Be Extremely Nice

Bill_Bryson

Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By most astounding stroke of luck and infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

For endless eons there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.

But not that special. There are five billion other people on this planet, everyone of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don’t ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you – to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.

― Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

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Getting Started With Meditation For Those Who Find It Challenging

Most people find it difficult to establish a daily meditation practice. We know it would probably benefit us, but how much? Is the “cost-benefit” ratio really in favor of meditation? How much pain of sitting quietly must we endure for the gain of increased calm and focus? Daniel Rodic outlines his quest to meditate for 100 days in a row.

Stress is motivating in short-bursts, but long-term sustained stress leads to burnout, exhaustion, strained relationships and general unhappiness. Daniel realized changing his environment didn’t work because he needed to focus on changing his mindset.

Knowing this was a new habit Daniel was attempting to form, he started with something very easy to do (listening to a 3 minute song) and progressed to his goal of daily meditation (12 minutes every night using a guided meditation recording) over a span of 45 days. This step-by-step progress motivated Dan, as he felt like he was getting better every day as he migrated from music to guided meditation. These are the stages Daniel went through:

Stage 1 (Day 0 to 3): Before using guided meditations, Daniel tarted listening to a favorite song each day. It was an enjoyable experience that he knew he would look forward the meditation exercise every morning.

Stage 2 (Day 4 to 6): Daniel developed a morning habit whereby he listened to an upbeat song, while at night he listened to a slower song. This trained his body to wake up or go to bed when I heard these songs. Daily repetition was key.
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