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Mindfulness Isn’t About Ignoring Your Thoughts

woman-meditating-city

From “How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Mental Health” in The Huffington Post UK:

…Mindfulness meditation seems to have taken the business world by storm, with so many of us becoming more in tune with the notion of being “present”

It’s one of the oldest forms of meditation and is based on the idea of being consciously aware of yourself and the world around you.

Mindfulness isn’t about ignoring your thoughts but acknowledging and accepting them while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

The ABCs of mindfulness:

A for awareness

B for “just being”

C for creating that gap between experience and reactions

Five key points about Mindfulness, from Dr. James Arkell:
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Multiple Simultaneous Partial Presence or Mostly Absent? Happiness at Work

Constant Multi-Tasking and Zombie Executives

Meeting

Meeting

I increasingly see this in my coaching practice working with highly successful but highly stressed senior business people.

They are trying to leverage technology so that they can operate simultaneously in several locations. For example, they try to spend time with their kids while checking e-mail or having “quick” business negotiations on the phone while driving… I find that from one day to the next they often forget the details of what they said and what they committed themselves to.

These people are living zombie-like lives in which they move forward, sometimes with devastatingly killer intentions, but they aren’t fully alive. They seem to be driven and controlled by an external force that often contradicts their heartfelt desires – to be loving and supportive with close relatives, to make a genuinely positive difference in the world, to enjoy themselves and to stretch and grow their abilities and talents.

Many of these themes are echoed in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review: Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks

A few excerpts:

…many professional jobs, expectations that one be an “ideal worker”—fully devoted to and available for the job, with no personal responsibilities or interests that interfere with this commitment to work—are widespread. We often think of problems with these expectations as women’s problems. But men too may struggle with them.

..They complained to me of children crying when they missed their soccer games, of poor health and substance addictions caused by how they worked, and of a general sense of feeling “overworked and underfamilied.”
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Maximizing Meditation by Using the Power of Three

three_minutes
Let’s try to keep it simple. And quick. And therefore achievable.

Here’s a way to get started on a meditation practice. Maximize the Rule of Three. It’s one of the most pervasive organizing principles throughout humanity.

A mother, a father, a child. The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. Let’s throw in the Three Stooges, the Three Blind Mice, and The Three Musketeers while we’re at it. The list could be endless.

But what does this have to do with meditation? Answer: It’s about setting up a pattern of behavior that is sustainable and self-reinforcing. Let the Power of Three fuel your Mindfulness practice. Set out on a journey, like a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and then cyclically starts over again the next day.

Morning, noon and night.

Three minutes of meditating – focusing on the breath moving in, and the breath moving out. Three times a day – morning, noon and night.

The simple, sustainable route to a meditation practice.

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In Search of the “Original” Mindfulness

phil jackson nicks mindfulness meditation

Words evolve; they change meaning over time. Get over it!

Virginia Heffernan has written an eloquent but ultimately convoluted critique of the Mindfulness movement. Some of her more amusing and insightful comments are reprised below, but let’s get to the heart of what’s problematic about her article.

Had Ms. Heffernan been alive in Elizabethan times, one imagines she would have panned Shakespeare’s plays for their impure “Continental influenced” language. The Bard rather brazenly borrowed and invented words, and developed disruptive forms of theater that initially annoyed many in the establishment.

It was ever thus and ever shall it be. Meanings of words, of entire concepts change from decade to decade, from century to century and, of course, from widely different culture to another.

What exactly does the word “jazz” mean in 2015 – especially compared to 70 or 80 years ago? How about the word “gay” or “queer”? Another example of a word that has changed its meaning over time: “artificial” — it used to mean “full of artistic or technical skill.” In the realm of religion, just consider the Catholic Church’s concept of “indulgences” in 14th and 15th centuries and compare it to the way the word is used now.

Yes, we don’t use Mindfulness in the same way a related word might have been used in the Pali language 2,000 or more years ago any more than we use the word “angst” as Goethe used it in the original German in the late 1700s.

More to the point, wide-ranging concept like “self” and “mind” have always had meanings that are contentious and highly dependent on context, in time and in place. In fact most people would struggle to compose a succinct definition of the word “mind” right now, without confusing it with the word “brain.” And how does the concept of “mind” relate to the concept of “cognition”? All this is fodder to endless academic debate.
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A is for Awareness and Other Awesome Words

Structured Mindfulness

Awareness
A is for Awareness because that’s the key to it all. Only by being aware of where we are, in this present moment, being Mindful, can we focus on what reality actually is and then what the full range of our options are. Skilful action starts with fully immersed awareness.

Coincidentally there are six other words starting with “A” that can guide us in working through a challenge. Let’s call them the Seven Skillful Samurai:

1. Allow

2. Aware

3. Acknowledge

4. Accept

5. Abide
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Five New Myths of Mindfulness

Buddhism_in_disguiseThere’s a nice, comprehensive overview from Mindful magazine. Here’s my summary:

Myth 1: Mindfulness fixes something that’s wrong with you

Your mind is naturally capable of mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion. It’s not in need of fundamental repair.

By gently repeating a simple habit, returning to an anchor for the mind, such as our breath, bit by bit a steadiness emerges allowing a better view of what’s happening in our mind and more opportunities to make choices about how to respond.

Myth 2: The result of meditation is a boring, bland, cult-like calmness and complacency

It’s so easy to confuse the practice of meditation with what the results are presumed to be. Meditation doesn’t require you to manage or police your thoughts and sit passively at home. The point of slowing down during meditation practice is to allow one to see how one’s own mind operates.

Myth 3: Mindfulness is just Buddhism in disguise

Buddhist practitioners have extensively researched the subject and the many Buddhist traditions offer wide-ranging insights, but that doesn’t mean Buddhism owns mindfulness any more than Italians own pasta or Greeks own democracy.
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Mindfulness Without Action Risks Creating Inertia

action awareness yin yang circleMindfulness can be a great way to tackle stress and generate a sense of calm. But isn’t there a danger that if we only live in the moment, we don’t address the causes of the problems we were are trying to overcome, asks Thomas Webb.

Be careful that Mindfulness isn’t being used as a distraction technique or otherwise get in the way of concrete behavioral change. If we want to complete projects and launch positive follow-up initiatives, then we may need to look beyond the “now” and tackle the roots problems that underpin how we are currently feeling.

Fight inertia: Create plans that specify how to achieve your good intentions. Identify a good opportunity to act, a suitable response to that opportunity, and link these two things together in an “if X happens, then I do Y” format, which often helps people achieve their goals.

Planning ahead has the advantage that it is a problem-focused coping strategy that attempts to tackle the cause of something rather than purely focusing on alleviating its symptoms. While Mindfulness may help to foster the necessary mind-set required for change, problem-focused strategies like planning ahead must be put in place to determine what needs to be done to move something from where it currently is to where you’d like it to be in the future.

 

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The Ability To Be In The Present Moment

abraham_maslowI can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be (fully) in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. – Abraham Maslow

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Mandela: Gratitude for an Unconquerable Soul

Nelson Mandela

Among the many things the world has to be grateful for the life of Nelson Mandela is, of course, his indomitable spirit. A spirit that inspires us to overcome huge resistance and endure many tortures along the way to fight for what is right.

The notion of an “unconquerable soul” comes from the poem Invictus by the English Victorian writer William Ernest Henley. We learned in Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and in the film Invictus that he recited the poem to himself every day of the 27 years he spent imprisoned.

The poem begins:

Out of the night that covers me / Black as the pit from pole to pole / I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul.

And concludes:

It matters not how strait the gate / How charged with punishments the scroll / I am the master of my fate. / I am the captain of my soul.

What a life. Well worthy of an epic opera – if one hasn’t been written already – to celebrate him. A journey toward ultimate human fulfillment in the archetypal sense that psychologist C.G. Jung described: From athlete, to warrior, to statesman to sage.

 

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Rosa Park’s Ability to Just Sit is Mindfulness in Action

Jack Kornfield: Sitting Meditation

Rosa_ParksThis day in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to obey a Montgomery Alabama bus driver’s order that she give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.

Jack Kornfield has charmingly observed that Rosa Park’s power came from here ability to just sit, albeit amid tremendous pressure to  move.

By extension, Jack challenges us to “just sit” in quiet fortitude, regardless of the forces that line up against us – distractions, competing desires, request and demands from colleagues, friends, relatives for our time. It often seems we are up against pressures that make it impossible to “just sit,” even for five minutes. But of course we’re not up against the kinds of pressures felt by Rosa Parks.

Some thoughts from Rosa:

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”

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There Are Only Two Tragedies in Life

Living lightly
oscar_wilde
Talking this morning over the breakfast table about cell phones, their uses and abuses.

My 11 year-old daughter is under a lot of peer pressure to get a phone, but she needs to convince her parents. So far she has not succeeded. And she has to admit that one of her friends – who spectacularly received a top-of-the-line Apple iPhone a couple of months ago – often forgets to take her phone with her and generally seems not to be so excited about it anymore.

It reminded me of the quotation from Oscar Wilde, which nicely reflects some of the Buddhist notions of “non-grasping” and “non-attachment.”

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

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Thanksgiving: It Works Around the Boardroom Table Too – Gratitude

Gratitude isn’t just for the dinner table anymore
workplace-gratitude
Try it with your colleagues — whether you bring in pumpkin spice lattes and cranberry cupcakes for the meeting or not.

People get over the slight discomfort pretty quickly and soon realize that showing gratitude and appreciation isn’t specifically a religious act – it’s a human act that resonates with almost everyone.

As usual, the leader should go first, with a brief, bright and tight, well-though-out 60 seconds of key contributions from the team she or he is thankful for. Ideally someone else has been primed to go second – it doesn’t have to be the next in the chain of command; it can be a trusted assistant or a friendly colleague. And from there it’s pretty much automatic – everyone goes for 30 to 60 seconds.

Nothing grandiose is required – just sincerity and — ideally — some specificity. For example “I am so appreciative that Dana and Jason pitched in on that short-notice deadline we were given by Client XYZ” works very nicely. By contrast, “I just love all you guys – I’m so blessed” is rather too general and invites some cynicism.

But what’s the point of all this appreciative effort – is it worth it? In a word, yes. Here’s some more information.
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Just Be Cool: Equanimity Defined

equanimity_calm_woman_faceThe one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. – Margot Fonteyn

Equanimity is a funny word. It seems at once mysterious and self-explanatory. It has the quality of a “where have you been all my life? I’ve needed this word.” And yet there is something pedestrian and obvious about it. “Oh, yes, of course – that’s a state of mind I often strive to be in.”

Let’s create an operational definition, cobbling together the best of what is already out there in dictionaries and Mindfulness tomes:

Equanimity is an even and composed frame of mind, neither elated nor depressed. Balanced, poised; calmly sure of oneself.

The adjective form is “equanimous” – as in “I find myself in a pleasantly equanimous state of mind.”

It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind; not being overpowered by anxieties or agitation. In one’s interactions with others, one acts from a position of receptive curiosity in order to more fully understand what is happening right now.
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Busy Leader? How to be Left in Peace for a Week: Email Management

Email management, work-life balance

leadership-work-life-balance-email-managementWho is your key administrator and/or operations officer? Have a brief chat with him or her about three business days before you are due to go away on vacation. That gives them the time to get urgent issues and documentation that require your attention in front of you in the days before your break.

Explain to your key administrator that you want to be left in peace for a week. No further explanation required. Yes, it’s that simple! The vast majority of human beings understand the need for rest and relaxation.

Then send your own version of this email template (below) to the two or three key day-to-day administrator/operations people in your working life:

Hi Guys,

During my holiday from Monday the 11th to Friday the 15th inclusive, I’m aiming for as little disruption as possible.

Generally “Elena” (my lead administration/operations person), in consultation with Richard and Sophie (two senior leaders who aren’t on vacation that week), if necessary – should be able to handle any on-going issues during the week.

Please note that I will *not* be checking any e-mail addresses during the week.

There is an “out of office” message on my e-mail addresses telling senders that I will respond to their message on the 18th of August and if the matter is urgent, to contact Elena by e-mail.

Thanks and best regards,

Glenn

What do you think? How would this work for you? Drop me a line at: glenn@mindfulyourownbusiness.com

Key topics: Email management, stress reduction, workplace communications, work-life balance, vacation planning

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A Glorious Injection of Testosterone

sunrise_runCombatting Complacency

The video linked at the bottom is a bit on the macho side, I know. Or as a good female friend responded when I sent the link to her: “What a glorious injection of testosterone!” I think she meant it (mostly) in a good way.

This is where Mindful Your Own Business is a little bit different than many other meditation-oriented sites. Sure we believe in non-judgment, in going with the flow, in letting things happen at their own pace. Yes, sometimes the best approach to a difficult day, month or year is simply to “chop wood, carry water.”

And sometimes action is needed. Right Action. The Right Way. And the Right Way is often the most difficult way, the way the requires the most discipline, the most focus, the most delaying of gratification and with no guarantee of reward.

Here’s the full text:

Rise and shine.

6am and your hand can’t make it to the alarm clock before the voices in your head start telling you that it’s too early, too dark, and too cold to get out of a bed.
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Listening Mindfully Even When it Feels Like it Might Kill You

Sometimes the most difficult, most generous act of Mindfulness you can carry out in a day is to listen fully to another human being. It’s especially difficult when that person doesn’t seem to have anything to say that is inherently interesting to you. And even more challenging when that person speaks in a halting, sometimes convoluted way.

The struggle is to turn down the distracting, diverting thoughts in your head. These thoughts are bubbling around because what you are hearing is so predictable or deadly dull that it seems like the experience of full-focus listening might actually kill you. Certainly it feels physically painful.

But, with practice, you build up your listening muscles. This listening strength includes the power to stay focused intensely on what that other person is actually saying and also why they might feel the need to say it to you at this particular moment. Listening strength is also the endurance to hang on, to listen patiently, even encouragingly for 10, or even 20 minutes at a time.

But your active engagement with this person is a gift and maybe one that might be reciprocated by your counter-party feeling understood, enabling them to clarify their own thinking, to open up further, to perhaps drop some inhibitions and become more trusting and closer to you.

Topics: Mindful listening, listening mindfully, listening skills

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Top 10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Mindfulness

My favorites are:
question_manFull presence lasts on average 4 seconds. That means a mind that is absent of distraction and digression. It’s very rare. With practice, 4 seconds can become 5 seconds and instead of only one instance of full presence per 10-minute meditation session, two or three experiences of full presence. Be gentle with yourself and don’t demand high performance, just steady improvements on average, with occasional back-sliding.

Mindfulness is a part of all major religions: samadhi in Buddhism and Hinduism, recollection in Christianity, zikr in Islam and kavanah in Judaism.

Here’s the rest of the eight little-known things, from Ryan M. Niemiec at Psychology Today.

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Have you been drinking Hate-orade?

hatoradeMy kids brought this home the other day. I love it. It’s a provocative but playful response to the casual and unnecessary cruelty that human beings inflict on each other, especially teenagers. Try it. It won’t work on everyone, but it might make an accidental bully become a bit more empathic – and we can all be accidental bullies sometimes.

What I particularly like is the question neutralizes the blame game and externalizes in a comical way the source of the problem. It’s not that this person is permanently horrible, nasty or despicable. It’s simply a case of him or her having ingested a toxic substance – Hate-orade!
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Cool Heads Prevail: Caring For Your Brain in the Summer

woman-standing-showerHere’s my new tip for dealing with the summer heat. The whole idea is to cool things down. If you want a fancy name for it, call it the “anti-inflammatory cerebral hydro-therapeutic protocol.”

Now that temperatures are often in the 90s Farenheit (30s Celsius), I’ve been experimenting with 10-15 minute showers that are progressively cooler. I start with a normal warm shower and reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Farenheit every 30-60 seconds until it¹s just above the tolerably cool threshold. I stay at that threshold for 2-3 minutes. Then I get out of the shower but leave the water on and reduce the temperature by another 5 to 10 degrees. Outside of the shower, I lean over and hold only my head under the nearly cold stream for 60 seconds or so.

Improving your cognitive and emotional self-management, it all start with the health of the brain.

Topics: Cooler heads prevail: Caring for your brain in the summer; cool heads prevail, brain health

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It’s Very Hard to Have a Healthy Mind If You Don’t Have a Healthy Brain

healthy_brainThis is obvious, but very often overlooked. People spend hours of their day, their month and their year cultivating their minds through meditative practice and other Mindfulness-type exercises. But what about the grey matter, the mass of neural networks that process these thoughts and feelings?

For many of us, the difference between the brain and the mind is a head-scratcher (excuse the pun). But a distinction is necessary. The human brain is an organ and one not very dissimilar to a gorilla’s brain. But the human mind? That’s another thing entirely! My short-hand definition is that the *mind* is the human brain (evolved over about 100 million years) plus human culture, i.e. language, norms and customs, art, beliefs, religious practices, science, mathematics, sport, law, norms and customs, etc. Human culture has been evolving too, of course, but it’s much more recent than human physiology. Let’s pick a nice round number like 1 million years since the beginning of human culture.

In theory at least, a human with a human brain could be dropped off in the jungle at birth, and raised in the wild by gorillas. But contrary to what you might have been led to believe by the Tarzan cartoon series, 10 years later this creature would not have a human mind, and certainly wouldn’t be able to do algebra or play chess, or write interesting short stories, as my friend’s 10 year-old already can.

There is the individual human mind and what is sometimes called the “collective mind,” which is, by the way, one way of seeing the Internet. But let’s focus for now on the individual mind. It exists inside a human body, with a specific concentration in the brain (as well as, perhaps, within the gut, the heart and other organs).

This human brain can be healthy or unhealthy or something in between. The health of the brain is dependent upon many if not all of the same factors that drive the health of other organs. And it’s especially vulnerable to inflammation and its deleterious effects. So what inflames the brain beyond that which inflames other organs? Answer: highly elevated stress levels, unproductive conflict, lack of sleep, lack of rest, lack of play, lack of quietude, lack of time in nature, lack of beauty, lack of art, lack of music, lack of poetry, lack of story-telling with loved ones by the fire.

Sure, many of us can get by with semi healthy brains that get minimal amounts of brain nourishment. And we can do OK most of the time with substitutes, for example watching TV in the evening instead of sitting around the fire telling and listening to stories. But at some point in the absence of most of these sources of brain nourishment, inflammation increases and the brain become overwhelmed, inefficient and even incoherent.

The human mind kicks in to try to fix things, but often this merely results in a hyper state of arousal and anxiety. The mind is trying in vain to fix the brain when what is first needed is the whole human being seeking out and receiving nourishment from a benign natural environment.

In summary, a healthy mind starts with a healthy brain. And to keep that simple, a healthy brain is developed with: sleep, good food, sunlight, fresh air, and exercise – ideally every day. It’s that simple and that difficult!

Topics: Healthy brain, healthy mind, mental healthy, Mindfulness, inflammation, stress reduction, hyper arousal, sleep and the brain, brain health

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Jeff Bezos On Cultivating Courage to Slow Down and Seek Certainty

jeff_bezos

An excellent article from the Huffington Post about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ approach to Mindfulness. My favorite is:

“It takes courage to say ‘wait. Slow down. Get more information.’ Perhaps even (gasp) ask for help. Begin to unhook from cultural expectations of how to do it (whatever it is), and instead, cultivate the elegant discipline of getting at the deeper truths. Take your business, and your life, into your own hands with a mindfulness practice.”

 

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Change Your Life in Less Than One Minute

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change A Lot, by Richard Wiseman

It’s based orichard_wisemann the premise that quick techniques can sometimes be surprisingly effective at helping us to change.

Highlights include that:

–       Spending money on experiences is a far more effective way to make yourself happy than spending it on things

–       Punching a pillow to relieve anger actually increases your anger, while sitting quietly and thinking about how you might have benefited from an negative experience has a positive effect

Top 10 Tips from 59 Seconds

1. Develop the gratitude attitude
2. Be a giver
3. Have a mirror in your kitchen
4. Buy a potted plant for the office
5. Touch people lightly on the upper arm
6. Write about your relationship
7. Deal with potential liars by closing your eyes and asking for email
8. Praise children’s effort over their ability
9. Visualize yourself doing, not achieving
10. Consider your legacy

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Demystifying Mindfulness: Why So Much Mumbo Jumbo?

Keeping it Simple

It is the goal of this site to help make Mindfulness immediately accessible to everyone. That means keeping the mumbo jumbo to a minimum; ideally pruning it out completely wherever it pops up.
demystifying mindfulness sign
By mumbo jumbo we mean “a belief in practices based on superstition and rituals intending to cause confusion and/or using languages that the speaker does not understand” (from Wikipedia).

And from Wester’s Dictionary: “A complicated often ritualistic observance with elaborate trappings, and a complicated activity or language usually intended to obscure and confuse.”

Eliminating Jargon

In weeding out the mumbo jumbo there is a necessary process of demystification. I recognize that mystification is often a deliberate act by leaders trying to gain followers by dazzling them with their alleged superior knowledge. This is done first and foremost by religious leaders, but there are also numerous example in science, medicine, law and politics. Most of the world’s major religions are punctuated by rituals and words that are impenetrable to outsiders. Only true believers – the fully initiated – appear to comprehend. But how strong is that understanding really?
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If You’re Not Making Mistakes, You’re Not Taking Enough Risks

Taking-risks-learning-from-mistakes 29jun15That’s a great quote from Debbie Millman cited by Daniel Dennett’s in his book: Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. … The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark, Dennett writes.

He continues: “We have all heard the forlorn refrain ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Anyone who says, ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

A unique hallmarks of human intelligence is our ability to remember our previous thinking and reflect on, learn from it, use it to construct future thinking. Reminding us to beware our culture’s deep-seated fear of being wrong, Dennett advocates celebrating the “ignorance” that produced the mistake in the first place:

“So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity.”

“You should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.” — Daniel Dennett

Links:
http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/29/intuition-pumps-daniel-dennett-on-making-mistakes/

Topics: Taking risks, learning from mistakes, self-awareness, mental toughness, resilience

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It Will Never Be All Good And That’s OK: Social Authenticity

have_a_nice_day_tshirtClosely aligned with Mindfulness are the notions of honesty, sincerity and authenticity. Mindfulness is partly about – to use the hippy vernacular of the 1960s – getting real, being real and keeping it real.

But many of us start the morning and continue throughout the day telling others and ourselves little untruths. Sometime they’re called “social lies” or “white lies.” Many consider them harmless. But are they? Or do they cause little distortions in our social system that accumulate like little bits of malignant bacteria, resulting in distance and even alienation from others and even from ourselves? Do they make our day-to-day lives less genuine, more fake?

When asked “How are you?” most people will respond along a boisterously positive and narrow continuum that starts with the base position “fine,” escalating to “excellent, “great” and ultimately to “fantastic!” A lot of this is culturally dependent. The inflation in reporting positive mental states is particularly prevalent in the U.S.

Insincere social niceties are often very different elsewhere, with some countries expressing quite a bit more negativity when responding to another’s greeting. In Britain, many people also reply “fine,” but a sizable minority say “not too bad.” That’s a curious response because taken literally, it means things are indeed negative, but they are bearably so. In Germany, people will frequently tell it exactly like it is, occasionally with too much information. Asked “how is it going?” quite a few Germans will say “it’s a bit difficult at the moment” and sometimes continue with a litany of highly specific complaints.

Social authenticity

Back on the relentlessly sunny shores of the United States, an even more insincere – and frankly annoying – reply has emerged in recent years: “It’s all good!” But this state of affairs is very, very rarely literally true. Except maybe for rambunctious twenty-somethings in perfect health and in fulfilling, secure employment who are so self-absorbed that they don’t understand what’s going on in the lives of their less lucky friends, their older relatives and their countrymen inhabiting different social milieus.
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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 suggests that most people need to:
1- Spend more time outdoors
2- Move in more varied and challenging ways
3- Have better sex, more frequently
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You Don’t Know My Story! The Fundamentals of Empathy

You_Don't_Know_My_Story_TshirtIt’s become a running joke in our family. Whenever anyone makes a critical remark, a negative judgment of someone we don’t know personally, our 18 year-old son loves to sneer and exclaim (somewhat mockingly, in a way only teenagers can) “You don’t know his story!”

And you know what? Almost always he’s right. We don’t know enough about the person’s background, their challenges, their family of origin issues, the burdens they have to bear.

We don’t really know what kind of “moccasins” they are walking in, let alone have tried walking in them ourselves.

The roots of empathy grow by learning the stories of anyone important in your life, anyone you need to get along with, anyone you have to collaborate with in your work, by choice or otherwise. This includes neighbors, colleagues, people in front of you at the post office.

It brings to mind a couple of useful quotations. The first a paraphrased version originally by Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren (1850 to 1907):

“Be as compassionate as you can be because nearly everyone you meet is involved in some kind of struggle.”

And the second by American botanist George Washington Carver:

“How far you go in life depends on your being compassionate with the young, the aged, the striving, and the weak. Because, someday you will have been all of these things.”

How would you react to someone wearing a t-shirt with “You Don’t Know My Story!” on it? Or what about someone driving a car with the same slogan on a bumper sticker? What if they had just cut you off (possibly) by accident?

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Making Things Better: It Always Starts With You

grumpy-cafe-baristaMindful customer service

I frequent a local café. It’s very close to my home, the coffee is good and the prices are fair. The service, though, is… meh. Sometimes worse than meh. A lot of the staff are 20-something hipsters with a busier-than-thou attitude. Too hip to muster up a sincere smile or engage in jovial small talk. I usually leave feeling indifferent about the place. I’m not the only one – this cafe gets decidedly mediocre reviews on social media sites.

I’m writing this post a few minutes after I entered the place, having just had a little encounter that epitomizes the customer experience. As I approached the entrance I noticed that one of the main managers of the cafe was a couple of feet ahead of me, about to open the door. He made no eye contact, pushed open the door and held it for a second or two for me to pass through as almost any other human being would do; a basic bare minimum level of politeness. But he’s the manager of the place! I’m a regular customer! It certainly wouldn’t have killed him to say “Hi, how you doing?” And then he could have held open the door for me to enter *ahead of him.* He could have added a “good to see you* and I would have been over the moon. It might seem a little obsequious and subservient by hipster standards but most customers would find it charming. And people like me, born long ago, in the 1960s, would see it as just decent hospitable behavior. I don’t think our perspective is entirely irrelevant; I’d guess at least half the patrons of this cafe were born in the 1960s or earlier.

If your business is not quite as successful as you think it deserves to be, before you go around diagnosing the problem as being caused by this or that employee or this or that external factor, look in the mirror first. Oh, did I mention that the owner of this cafe is usually absent but when he’s around he often look grumpy and is minimally communicative. Pro tip: If you’re a pronounced introvert, don’t go into a business that’s built around social connection. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about coffee, or beer or wine or whatever if you’re not even more passionate about making people happy.

Making things better – it starts with you. Is your behavior excellent and exemplary at all times. If not, what can you do on a continuous, sustainable basis to improve? And are you regularly seeking out frank feedback and courageous constructive criticism?

Mindful customer service

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Perfection Is Not a Prerequisite For Anything But Pain

contemplate2Why wait for your awakening?
The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.
Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?
Would you deliver your litany of sins like a child’s collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?
“No, I can’t step across the threshold,” you say, eyes downcast.
“I’m not worthy. I’m afraid, and my motives aren’t pure. I’m not perfect, 
and surely I haven’t practiced nearly enough.”
My meditation isn’t deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.
I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator 
isn’t clean.”
Do you value your reasons for staying small more than the light shining through the open door?
Forgive yourself.
Now is the only time you have to be whole.
Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.
Please, oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief.
This is the day of your awakening.
 – Danna Faulds

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The Value of Accepting Your Own Difficult Emotions

From Mindfulness and Meditation for Dummies: How is it possible to see the wonder of the present moment if you’re feeling down, upset or annoyed? In these situations, don’t try to impose a different emotion on what you’re experiencing. Be in the present moment and open up the emotion as best you can. Remember that all emotions have a beginning, a middle and an end – try seeing the feeling as a temporary visitor.
listen_to_emotions
Additionally, see yourself as separate from the emotion. The emotion rises and falls but you maintain a sense of stability and greater emotional balance.

Imagine someone turns up at your front door and rings the doorbell. You decide to ignore the sound. The bell rings again and again. You get frustrated and try all sorts of ways of distracting yourself from the sound of the doorbell, but you can’t. By simply opening the door, you can stop all your avoidance strategies. You’re facing your fears, rather than running away.