High-Performance Stress Reduction: A Newsman on a Quest


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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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


Just as the Body Secretes Enzymes, the Mind Generates Thoughts


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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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 (acceptance of) them.”
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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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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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How Just One Breath Can Help

meditating stream just one breath photoSome evocative writing from Gary Snyder:

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation – even just a “one-breath” meditation – straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment – is a refreshing island in the stream.

Although the term meditation has mystical and religious connotations for many people, it is a simple and plain activity. Attention, deliberate stillness and silence. As anyone who has practiced sitting knows, the quieted mind has many paths, most of them tedious and ordinary. Then, right in the midst of meditation, totally unexpected images or feelings may sometimes emerge, and suddenly there is a way into a vivid clarity.
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Top Ten Questions Everyone Asks About Meditation

Concentrated meditating confident girl sitting on the floorLots of good advice in an article by Tara Healey on the top 10 questions that everyone asks about meditation. Some edited excerpts:

Q: Should my eyes be open or closed?
A: There are no hard and fast rules. Try each style. If open, not too wide, and with a soft, slightly downward gaze, not focusing on anything in particular. If closed, not too hard, and not imagining anything in particular in your mind’s eye.

…While meditating, we don’t have to fight off distractions like a knight slaying dragons. If your dog or cat comes into the room and barks or meows and brushes up against you or settles down on a part of your cushion, no big deal. Let it be.

Q: Is it possible I’m someone who just *cannot* meditate?
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Seven Ways to Carve Out Time to Meditate

Some very practical tips by Alex Orlov for creating more moments for Mindfulness.

1. Type it into your phone calendar
Instead of simply hoping you’ll be able to squeeze in meditation on the fly, try setting aside a specific time for it. Rather than thinking of meditation as another item on your to-do list, think of it as a gift to yourself.

2. Do it in the morning
Especially for parents with young kids, doing it before the day gets underway is your best bet for fitting in some “me time,” she says. Don’t set goals too high in the beginning. “If you can do five minutes, that’s better than nothing.”

3. Start with one breath
A tiny habit should be a behavior that requires little effort and can be performed in less than 30 seconds. That seed of a habit can grow into a full-blow tree.

4. Do a bit of meditation after an existing habit
For example, breathe mindfully for 10 seconds after you go to the bathroom at work. This is called anchoring. Chose a daily occurrence or existing activity to remind yourself to meditate.

5. Use headphones
There are four ways to meditate: Walking, standing, sitting or lying down. Get a pair of noise canceling headphones to meditate in airports and on planes.

6. Divert time away from discretionary activities
Make a commitment to spend 25% less time on every e-mail you write or respond to. Only read urgent *and* important articles right away; all the others put in a “Read Eventually” folder. Schedule meeting to be 15 to 20 minutes shorter than usual – instead of 10 to 11 a.m., schedule it for 10 to 10:40 a.m.

7. Practice when you’ve got time to kill
Resist the urge to scroll through social media the moment your dining companion heads to the bathroom. Have some moments in the day where you’re just being rather than doing. Look around, smile at other people and enjoy some momentary calm. While it’s not the same as doing a seated meditation, being fully present during these small moments can help you feel more comfortable confronting the thoughts rattling around in your mind.

Meditation, broadcaster Dan Harris says, is “fighting a lifetime pattern of letting your thoughts lead you by the nose… “Don’t put the pressure on yourself that you have to do it forever,” Harris says. It’s okay if you fall off the wagon for a few weeks, so long as you muster the grit to return to your practice. The power of meditation, he says, is derived from practicing daily.

The article on finding time to meditate, prioritizing mindfulness practice:


Seven Minutes of “Free” Meditation Time Every Morning

When we’re in the shower, we aren’t on the phone or the computer, or watching TV. Generally we’re not being interrupted by anyone. That’s a great opportunity for some start-the-day-off-right “free” meditation time, notes Dina Overland.
We’re simply standing under a stream of water with the goal of becoming clean. But it’s not just our bodies we can clean while we’re in the shower, we can also clean out our minds and our thoughts.

Instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly (e.g. “what should I make for dinner tonight?”), you can consciously shape your thoughts to be more positive.

There are two parts to my shower routine to start each day with peace, gratitude and joy.

I begin with my “I ams”
– I am whole
– I am enough
– I am worthy

I take a few deep breaths as I think them, to make sure they really sink in:
– I am generous
– I am willing to change
– I am forgiving

So even if I am hating on a family member who hurt me last month or struggling with a cold, I repeat these positive statements several times.
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Why Meditation Practice Isn’t Really Comparable to Physical Exercise

meditation_time_mindfulnessMany people start off with goals for meditating that just aren’t realistic. While a meditation practice might be similar to a physical exercise practice, the analogy is limited.

The reality for a lot of us is that getting out on a bicycle or making our way to a gym is the hard part, but once we start, we can usually last for 30, 40 minutes or more. That’s especially true when happy chemicals get released into our brain triggered by our physical efforts.

Not so for the practice of meditation. For many people, there is no immediate “runner’s high” type of payoff. The benefits of mindful breathing, for example, accumulate gradually and aren’t always felt in the moment, but rather hours or days later.

What’s required to get started with meditation is first: The suspension of disbelief. That doesn’t mean permanently turning off your faculties of discernment and skepticism. It’s OK and sometimes quite useful when you approach life with an analytical mindset. This can prevent all manner of mistakes, getting trapped by trickery and wasting your time.
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Three Minutes to Contentment: Let’s Keep This Simple

Mindfulness_meditation_faceSet your phone timer for 3 minutes.

As you breathe in, count “one, two.” As you breathe out – count “one, two, three.”

In other words, the exhalation should take about 50% longer than the inhalation.

It’s that simple – and that hard. Just keep practicing. Be patient and persistent and gentle with yourself. Turn any self criticism way down.

Of course hitting free throws in basketball is quite simple too. The trick is to hit them consistently, under pressure amid lots of distractions.

You lower stress, attain contentment and get to play first violin at Carnegie Hall in the same way: Practice, practice, practice.


The Tastiest Meditation Practice You’ll Ever Have


  • Get a small piece of your favorite chocolate or other candy (about half the size of your thumb)
  • Find somewhere cool and quiet to sit
  • Sit up nice and straight in a dignified manner, but not tense or stiff
  • Set your timer/stopwatch for 4 minutes
  • Pop the candy in your mouth
  • Focus on the flavor of the candy until it fades away
  • For the remainder of the 4 minutes, focus on your breathing

That’s it!


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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Mindfulness Isn’t About Ignoring Your Thoughts


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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Maximizing Meditation by Using the Power of Three

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.


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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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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A Spooky Halloween Meditation: Mindfulness for the Dead and the Living

halloween-om-mindfulness-and-halloween-pumpkinHalloween wraps fear in innocence, as though it were a slightly sour sweet. Let terror, then, be turned into a treat. — Nicholas Gordon

Breathing in: The wind is blowing
Breathing out: The leaves are falling

Breathing in: All is changing
Breathing out: All is shifting

Breathing in: The leaves wind is blowing

Breathing out: The leaves are falling

Breathing in: All is dying
Breathing out: All is growing

Breathing in: The days are shorter
Breathing out: The nights are longer

Breathing in: The season’s changing
Breathing out: The world’s still turning
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How Do You Know If You’re Succeeding or Failing At Mindfulness Practice?


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


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