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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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 those who have 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 discoveries about ourselves? After all this time and toil, who have we become? But also — more hopefully — what are we still capable of becoming? How can we fulfil 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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How Busyness Can Kill Creativity

Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein
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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Nobel-Prize Winning Productivity Strategies From A Whacky Physicist

richard_feynmanRichard Feynman was one of the most creative and iconoclastic scientists of the past century. A glimpse inside his approach to productivity is provided by Samuel Bacharach:

For Feynman, productivity was less about getting tasks done and more about exploring problems that intrigued him.

1. Don’t worry about what others think
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish,” Feynman asserted. “I don’t have to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

By adopting this attitude, you free yourself from paralyzing second guesses, doubts, and uncertainty. Work in your own way and don’t let other people’s criticisms delay you.

2. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do
“Fall in love with some activity, and do it!” Feynman advised. “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

3. Stop trying to be a know-it-all
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong,” Feynman said. “We should try to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we make progress.”

4. Get off the computer
Feynman avoided computers whenever he could because they were distractions that dulled his ability to investigate the world.

“There is a computer disease,” he said. “It’s very serious and interferes completely with creative work.”
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Jerry Seinfeld: Meditation and the Path to Perfect Sleep

Many have wondered about Jerry Seinfeld and his post-TV series life.

Why doesn’t he make new shows? Why didn’t he form a production company and crank out series for other people? He could be making a fortune…
The short answer is: Because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t feel a need to. He’s happy with life the way it is. The longer answer is that he has a crystal-clear understanding of what makes him happy and what makes him miserable. Spending lots and lots of time on administration and on convincing other people to do what they are reluctant to do makes him miserable. That’s at least 50% of what film and TV production is about, he says. He likes doing stand-up comedy and currently performs about 75 shows per year.

Where does this clear sense of purpose come from? This ability to cut through noise and distraction and focus on what really matters? Meditation of course. He says it makes stress float away. In a superb podcast interview with the actor-producer Alec Baldwin, Jerry explains that he has been meditating regularly since he was 19 (he’s currently 61). Here’s an edited excerpt from the interview:
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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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Carpe Diem with a Mini Morning Constitutional

carpe_diem_pluck_the_dayA couple of summers ago, during a somewhat hectic and often rainy camping trip with family and friends, I finally realized what I most like about sleeping outdoors.

It’s the early morning walk to the lavatory. Slipping out of the tent, breathing in the freshest of air, often with no one around. A quiet moment to take in the wonders of the outside world, clear my head of sleep and open it up to the possibilities of the day.

Back at home a few weeks later it occurred to me that I could partially replicate the experience in my own suburban neighborhood. Doing just that most mornings for the past year or so has been the most satisfying of my various Mindfulness exercises.

Of course older generations have been getting out for a walk, no matter the weather, usually the same route each time. It used to be called a “constitutional.” Good for body and soul, they said, and of course they were right.

But we over-burdened, over-busy 30, 40 and 50 somethings tell ourselves we don’t have the time our grandparents did. We’ve got coffee to brew, e-mails to check, phone calls to make, from the very earliest moments of the morning until late into the evening when our bodies can’t take any more. By nightfall, we have no energy for outside movement, only just enough to pour a glass of wine or three and sprawl out in front of the TV.
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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.