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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Anderson Cooper explains it all

Anderson Cooper: I don't feel I'm very present in each moment. I feel like every moment I'm either thinking about something that's coming down the road, or something that's been in the past.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: So ultimately all this preparing is for what? For the next moment, like the last moment, like, and then we're dead (laugh) so in a certain way...

Anderson Cooper did a segment on mindfulness for "60 Minutes." If you're curious about what it is and how it works, he (and Kabat-Zinn, credited with popularizing mindfulness meditation in the West) explain it.

You can read the script or watch the video here

Also check out the "extra" on how mindfulness has changed his life.

It can change yours too.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let peace be part of your life

"When I talk about peace, people sometimes mistakenly think that this means detaching yourself from the stream of life. They view peace as if it were something strange, maybe a numbed or sleepy feeling, or being spaced-out and in a different mental zone. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You can be ‘‘peaceful’’ when you are asleep, but that is only the absence of consciousness. The way to truly heal your life is to be awake to its simple joys and to develop an open, welcoming attitude toward all your activities and encounters with other people. You should enjoy yourself and be fully engaged in what you do.

Notice when you feel open and peaceful. Be aware of any feeling of freedom. Awareness is the key. If you are aware of peace, it has a chance to become part of your life. When you feel peaceful, enjoy it. Don’t force your feelings or chase after them or stir up false excitement. There’s no need to grasp. Simply be aware and let the feeling blossom and open. Allow it to expand. Stay with any positive feeling; allow your mind to relax in it. You may find your body feeling peaceful, too. If your breathing feels more relaxed, or you feel a sensation of warmth, pause to notice that as well and enjoy it."
 - Tulku Thondop

Friday, November 28, 2014

Trending

Two recent items show that meditation continues to move to the mainstream:

Suze Yalof Schwartz, a former Vogue and Glamour editor, opens what she hopes will be the first in a chain of meditation studios on the west side of Los Angeles. It's named Unplug, and she calls it “a SoulCycle for meditation,” a reference to the exercise-and-empowerment chain. Her slogan is “Hurry up and slow down.” Inventing a Drybar for Meditation
“The people who need to meditate are lawyers and bankers and stressed-out mommies,” she told me, smiling sweetly. “And those people get turned off by the Buddhas and sage and all the woo-woo talk. I wanted Unplug to be meditation for Type A personalities: clean, modern, secular, effortless to attend.”
The Times also offers a story about people using meditation groups for networking, How to Find a Job With Meditation and Mindfulness. 

There could not be two less compatible concepts: the quiet of the ancient practice of meditation and the heart thump of striving New Yorkers looking for the next opportunity. Now, meditation studios and conferences catering to Type A Manhattan careerists are becoming a new hub for networking without the crass obviousness of looking for a job. It is hard to quiet the mind in a city where competitive cab-hailing is a blood sport. So why not look for a little stress relief, or start-up financing, among empathic meditating friends?
...What makes meditation palatable to entrepreneurs and executives these days is that it is perceived as a tool to help increase productivity. A quiet mind more easily recognizes unexpected business opportunities and is poised to react more astutely.
Meditation is a tool, certainly, but expecting it to increase productivity or to bring business opportunities is to miss the point. In fact, if you expect it to bring you instantly to a state of mental relaxation, you may be disappointed. Many new meditators notice instead how busy their minds are -- which is the first step toward watching thoughts instead of being pushed around by them.

What you find in meditation is yourself -- the self that is spacious, clear, and kind, first of all to yourself. You have to be willing to be with that person before you look for an investor or a mate at your meditation class.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meditation promotes creative thinking

Meditation doesn't just create a sense of calm -- certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking, even if you have never meditated before, according to a study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato and Dominique Lippelt at Leiden University, published in Mindfulness.

The study is a clear indication that you don't need to be an experienced meditator to profit more from meditation. The findings support the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we conceive new ideas. Besides experienced meditators, also novices may profit from meditation.
The study found that after mindfulness meditation -- "being receptive to every thought and sensation" -- study participants' developed multiple solutions to a problem. Concentration meditation, or focusing on an object, didn't have the same result.

Read more here


Monday, November 3, 2014

Mindful City: Winooski, Vermont

When you go on a retreat, there's always a talk near the end about transitioning back to "the real world." You've been in a place where people are mindful and intentional, less stressed by the details of daily life. You're about to re-enter the rat race, and you're not up to speed.

But what if life could be more like retreat? What if people in ordinary life were mindful -- present and attentive and grounded in the situation ... how would life be different?

Winooski, Vermont, is out to find out.

The Vermont Community Foundation has awarded a grant to the Center for Mindful Learning to teach mindfulness to core institutions in the city, Vermont's public radio reports.
Mindful City Project Consultant Lindsay Foreman said community support is the key to the project. “Mindfulness gives us the skills and motivation to care for ourselves, each other and the planet." she said. "It is not easy to do, so we need a community to support us."

The Center for Mindful Learning will work with the Winooski Police Department, the Winooski School District, and Centerpoint Adolescent Treatment Services to implement the citywide mindfulness initiative. Mindfulness training -- does that mean meditation? -- will also be available to parents, community members, and businesses.

The initiative came about after CML did a yearlong mindfulness training program at one elementary school in Winooski.The Modern Mindfulness program uses an online curriculum that guides teachers and students in a five-minute daily mindfulness practice, CML says. One third-grade teacher told CML the program has been "life-changing for my students and myself.” 

The middle and high schools wanted to follow suit, and the idea came up to extend the program citywide.

The effort started in October. You can follow its program on CML's blog.


Image shows a poster at JFK ELementary School in Winooski, Vermont

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Should you meditate?


meditation infographic
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Seeing the forest in the tree

Autumn in New England is justifiably famous for its spectrum of colors -- the leaves on the (many) trees turn hues ranging from soft gold to intense scarlet. Think postcard or calendar views of a church with a white steeple surrounded by hillsides covered in a tie-dye of yellows, oranges, reds, and golds.

Or you could look at it differently.

Christopher R. Martin, Connecticut's official state forester and director of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's division of forestry, offers a different perspective:

When out for a look at the fall foliage, enjoy the overall display of color, the panoramic big views, but don't neglect a good close look at a single showy tree at the peak of its fall color.

"Don't miss the moment in front of you," Martin said. "Individual trees can be as spectacular as a 30-mile view."


Look at one tree, and see how not all leaves are the same color. Look at one leaf, and see the perfection of that. See variations in color, veins, position, size. Without cataloging it, just appreciate that it is both perfectly unique and part of the totality of the tree and the environment.

You can bring that same attention to your breath. Each breath is part of your own living organism, but it's also part of the environment of your body and of existence. Your breath and the tree inter-are, giving each other the type of molecules each needs.

Can you look at one leaf? Can you be with one breath? And you see the whole forest in that one tree, the totality of existence in that breath.

It's there.

Friday, September 26, 2014

If a tree falls

I often tell meditation students that there is no perfect place to meditate. We meet in a beautiful, serene room -- where we hear yoga students "ommming" in the studio next door, the beeping of the crosswalk sinal, and the skateboarders in the parking lot.

But last weekend I was in a place that was as good as it gets: A former Shaker mill in upstate New York. The room where we practiced had wide, worn wooden floors and large windows that opened onto a view of trees whose leaves were kissed with yellow. A brook flowed down the hill, providing the constant -- yet constantly changing -- sound of water flowing over rocks that spas and therapists try to simulate with fountains to borrow its calming effect.

We were doing body-centered practices, relaxing into the earth, listening to the voices of nature, feeling our toes, one by one, and it was as smooth as the floors that had seen a hundred years of wear. We went outside for walking meditation, filing silently to a relatively level place beside the brook. And we were met by the buzz of chainsaws.

People on the neighboring property were cutting down trees, massive trees that had stood for years and years. As I reached one end of the path, getting ready to turn back, there was a mighty crash as a tree hit the earth. Before we went back inside, another tree was down, thudding its weight into the ground.

Back on our cushions, the leader dinged a bell. "Chainsaw meditation," he said.

People obviously had strong feelings about what happened. Some simply stopped and stared at people with the chainsaws, angry expressions on their faces. My feelings were mixed. We'd just taken down a tree at our house that was dying (and planted a new one), and I'd gotten in the habit of noting dead branches on trees as I moved through the world. There was a tree along the stream that was dead and dry and undoubtedly will fall into the water this winter when the weight of the snow settles on it. That, in turn, will change the stream in some way.

I'd been to this same center in the spring -- the teachers and other students were all different, the water in the brook was higher, the leaves were new, not getting ready to die.

Everything changes -- the yoga class moves on to stretching silently, the crosswalk stops beeping and traffic moves, the chainsaws finish their work for the day. Meditation is about becoming aware of what's there in the moment -- the external phenomena, the internal thoughts, and the interplay between the two -- and resting in the awareness that says, "right  now, it's like this." That's where calm and wisdom abide.
When we speak of "calm abiding," we are not referring to a calm situation, such as meditating in a quiet, beautiful place. We are speaking of a mind that stays steady in the midst of fluctuating circumstances. -- Yonge Mingyur Rinpoche



Monday, September 22, 2014

Mindfulness eases migraines in study

Meditation might be a path to migraine relief, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“Stress is a well-known trigger for headaches and research supports the general benefits of mind/body interventions for migraines, but there hasn’t been much research to evaluate specific standardized meditation interventions,” said Dr. Rebecca Erwin Wells, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study published in the online edition of the journal Headache.

The study was designed to assess the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a meditation program, in adults with migraines.

The study was small, only 19 people, but it found measurable differences in headache frequency and severity between those did the MBSR training and those who did not -- 1.4 fewer migraines of shorter duration. Meditators also had increases in mindfulness and self-efficacy -- a sense of personal control over their migraines, Wells said. There were no adverse events and "excellent adherence.”

"For the approximate 36 million Americans who suffer from migraines, there is big need for non-pharmaceutical treatment strategies, and doctors and patients should know that MBSR is a safe intervention that could potentially decrease the impact of migraines,” Wells said.  

Read more here. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meditation instructions from Guru Bill Murray


A reporter at the Toronto Film Festival, which designated Bill Murray Day, asked Murray: What is it like to be you?

His answer is a gem, and a really good four-minute meditation.

Take three conscious breaths to bring yourself into the moment. And listen to Bill Murray.

Here's the transcript, from Vulture.com:

What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?. So you’re the only one that’s you, and we get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, Dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard. If I can just feel, just think now: How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs and try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. Parts in your feet and parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There’s just a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate up and down, from your top to your bottom. Up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile, that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself.
 
So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.



 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Different methods have different results

Scientific research into meditation typically has focused on mindfulness meditation -- connecting to what's happening in the present moment, particularly the breath -- and has found that it calms the mind and the physical body, reducing the stress response. A new study, however, finds that while that's true for Theravadan methods, it's not the the case with Tibetan or vajrayana practices. 


Researchers at the National University of Singapore looked at two types of  meditation -- shamata, or calm-abiding, and vipassana -- typically associated with Theravadan schools of Buddhism, along with Tibetan practices of visualizing oneself as a meditational deity and open, unfocused awareness. Using EKGs and EEGs, they found that while the Theravadan practices produced a state of relaxation, the Tibetan methods had the opposite effect, a state of arousal.

The researchers had also observed an immediate dramatic increase in performance on cognitive tasks following only Vajrayana styles of meditation. They noted that such dramatic boost in attentional capacity is impossible during a state of relaxation. Their results show that Vajrayana and Theravada styles of meditation are based on different neurophysiological mechanisms, which give rise to either an arousal or relaxation response.
The findings suggest that Vajrayana methods could be beneficial for peak performance -- as in a competition -- while Theravadan techniques are more useful for relaxation.
Researchers noted that Vajrayana meditation typically requires years of practice. They're doing further research to try to determine "whether it is also possible to acquire the beneficial effects of brain performance by practicing certain essential elements of the meditation. This would provide an effective and practical method for non-practitioners to quickly increase brain performance in times of need."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How much meditation is enough?

A bevy of research studies have found measurable results from meditation: reduced blood pressure, changes in brain activity and heart rate. It's undeniable that working with your mind has physical effects.

But how much meditation does it take to see results?

Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University have found that 25 minutes of meditation for three consecutive days alleviates psychological stress.

"More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits," said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
For the study, 66 people age 18-30 years old participated in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a three-day mindfulness meditation training program where they were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.

After the training, participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.

The participants who received the meditation training perceived less stress related to the speech and math tasks, but showed greater cortisol reactivity.
 "When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task," Creswell said. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."
Researchers are looking at the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences said in a press release. - See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/07/10/25-minutes-of-mindfulness-meditation-alleviates-psychological-stress-study-shows/#sthash.EaLVAwjz.dpuf
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences said in a press release. - See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/07/10/25-minutes-of-mindfulness-meditation-alleviates-psychological-stress-study-shows/#sthash.EaLVAwjz.dpuf
New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences said in a press release.
- See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/07/10/25-minutes-of-mindfulness-meditation-alleviates-psychological-stress-study-shows/#sthash.EaLVAwjz.dpuf
New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress. - See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/07/10/25-minutes-of-mindfulness-meditation-alleviates-psychological-stress-study-shows/#sthash.EaLVAwjz.dpuf
New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology,” the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress. - See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/07/10/25-minutes-of-mindfulness-meditation-alleviates-psychological-stress-study-shows/#sthash.EaLVAwjz.dpuf

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Turning inner aversion to friendship

Researchers at the University of Virginia found that two-thirds of men and one-quarter of women were so averse to sitting with only their thoughts for 15 minutes that they chose to administer an electric shock to themselves that they'd previously said they would pay to avoid after first experiencing.

In a series of 11 studies, U.Va. psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues at U.Va. and Harvard University found that study participants from a range of ages generally did not enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder or daydream. The participants, by and large, enjoyed much more doing external activities such as listening to music or using a smartphone. Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think.

“Those of us who enjoy some down time to just think likely find the results of this study surprising – I certainly do – but our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time,” Wilson said.
Wilson notes in his paper that broad surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world, and, when they do, they do not particularly enjoy it. These surveys indicate Americans spent their time watching television, socializing, or reading, and spend little or no time “relaxing or thinking.”

Is watching television engaging with the world? Or is that a way to avoid knowing what's going in in your inner world?

Wilson observes that without training in meditation techniques -- "which still are difficult," he adds -- people have a hard time being alone with their thoughts.

Why don't people want to spend time alone with their thoughts? Maybe it's like that Rodney Dangerfield line: I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member. We'll sit with fictional characters, with games, with 140-character conversations.

Imagine being able to be at ease with yourself, to listen to your thoughts with open-heartedness and assurance you'd give a friend. Imagine finding ease at being with yourself rather than running away from yourself at every opportunity. That's what meditation offers.

"Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we already are." Pema Chodron

Friday, May 30, 2014

Meditation is Value Neutral

Bloomberg Business Week ran a recent story about a Wall Street trader who uses meditation to make more money. It reports that hedge fund manager David Ford does 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation each morning, a mantra repetition practice he's done daily for two years.

“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” Ford, 48, says. “I have more patience.”
He also has more money. Latigo Partners LP, his event-driven credit fund, climbed 24 percent last year. He almost beat the surging stock market with a bond fund. Ford is part of a growing number of Wall Street traders, including A-list hedge-fund managers Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones and Michael Novogratz, who are fine-tuning their brains -- and upping their games -- with meditation. Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb, who once likened a chief executive officer to a drug addict during one of his frequent public rants, in February praised meditation while sharing a stage with the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C.

 This has created some consternation in meditation circles, where it's believed that meditation will lead to a lessening of desire -- and less interest in hedge funds.

But meditation is a tool -- like exercise increases your strength, which can be used for different ends, meditation trains your mind. How you use that is your choice.

Bloomberg reports:

Most people misunderstand meditation, says Jay Michaelson, author of “Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.”
“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” Michaelson says. Not so. “Samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he says. So too did kamikaze pilots. “It’s value neutral,” Michaelson says.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Laughter is not the best meditation

"No time to just sit and breathe? Then at least pull up a quick YouTube video of “goats yelling like humans”—a good laugh now and then may give you a mental boost similar to meditation, suggests new research."

That's how Time reports on a new study that found that joyful laughter produces the same brain waves as meditation.

Researchers at Loma Linda University measured the brain waves of subjects while they watched videos. Funny videos produced the gamma waves, the same as those produced during meditation.

“Gamma is the only frequency that affects every part of the brain,” says Lee Berk, lead researcher of the study and associate professor of pathology and human anatomy at Loma Linda University. “So when you’re laughing, you’re essentially engaging your entire brain at once. This state of your entire brain being ‘in synch’ is associated with contentment, being able to think more clearly, and improved focus."

And the more you laugh, the more you should notice these perks. “It’s similar to the way regular exercise reconditions and reprograms your body over time,” says Berk. “With regular laughter, you’re optimizing your brain’s response to this experience.”
The problem with using laughter to retrain your brain is that it's short-lived and unpredictable.  It's a brief hit of synchronizing your mind and body, a great release. But true laughter isn't something you can plan.

Meditation, on the other hand, is something you can plan to do and can do for sustained periods. Regular meditation is like going to the gym regularly and building muscles, changing how your body looks and what it's capable of doing. It's sustainable.

Of course, you could meditate and look for ways to experience joyful laughter. Here's some goats yelling like people:





Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Resting your PCC

Researchers at Brown University used meditators' reports of what they experience in mindfulness meditation to discover subtle effects. The purpose, according to the researchers, is to better identity which techniques may work best with particular psychological issues.

For example, while focusing on the breath is a widely used technique, researchers found differences between meditators who focused on the breath in the belly and those who focused on the breath at their nostrils -- both traditional techniques used in different schools.
"We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations," the researchers wrote in their conference abstract. "When students described practice experiences related to a focus on the nose during meditation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, specifically how their attention 'felt' when they sensed it."

Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown's Contemplative Studies Initiative and one of the researchers, said researchers would expect to find that the belly-focused group would have more "ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity ... across different parts of a large brain region called the insula that encodes visceral, somatic sensations and also provides a readout of the emotional aspects of so-called 'gut feelings'."

Which would mean less emotional reactivity.


That seems to be the finding of a team of researchers led by Kathleen Garrison at Yale University, which included Kerr other Brown researchers, which worked with experienced meditators to correlate the mental states they described during mindfulness with simultaneous activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), part of the limbic area of the brain that's been linked to pain and episodic memory.

When meditators reported feelings of "effortless doing" and "undistracted awareness" during their meditation, their PCC showed little activity, they found, but when meditators reported feeling distracted and having to work at mindfulness, their PCC was significantly more active. When they were given the chance to observe their brain scans as they took place, some meditators were able to control activity in the PCC.

"You can observe both of these phenomena together and discover how they are co-determining one another," researcher Juan Santoyo said. "Within 10 one-minute session they were able to develop certain strategies to evoke a certain experience and use it to drive the signal."
That's not surprising. Experienced meditators know that noticing distraction, letting it go, and returning to the focus can stop a train of thought that's picking up speed. The scans just provide a more-subtle clue to when that's starting to happen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Can Thich Nhat Hanh win the mindful competition?

In the world of corporate mindfulness, Google -- which is so ubiquitous that its name is synonymous with "search online" -- has an equally impressive teacher: Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as he is known by followers, has sold more than 2 million books in the U.S. and is deeply admired and respected.

He recently spoke to The Guardian about his message to Google and other tech companies.

It doesn't matter, he said, if companies begin promoting mindfulness to make their workers more effective of increase profits. If they are practicing "true" mindfulness, it will fundamentally change their perspective, opening the door to greater compassion.

"If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you'll appreciate that and it will change you.

In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way."
Thay's optimism that mindfulness will transform business people rather than corporations transforming mindfulness isn't universally shared. David Loy and Ron Purser write that   "McMindfulness," the watered-down, stress-relieving version taught in some companies, is not what the Buddha intended.

According to the Pali Canon (the earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha), even a person committing a premeditated and heinous crime can be exercising mindfulness, albeit wrong mindfulness. Clearly, the mindful attention and single-minded concentration of a terrorist, sniper assassin, or white-collar criminal is not the same quality of mindfulness that the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist adepts have developed. Right Mindfulness is guided by intentions and motivations based on self-restraint, wholesome mental states, and ethical behaviors -- goals that include but supersede stress reduction and improvements in concentration.
Their essay was published on The Huffington Post, whose founder, Ariana Huffington, a meditator herself, wrote there about using yoga and meditation to reduce work stress. "I do want to talk about maximizing profits and beating expectations -- by emphasizing the notion that what's good for us as individuals is also good for corporate America's bottom line."

Huffington pointed to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who practices yoga and meditation. Bertolini was paid $30 million in 2013. How can you be mindful of $30 million? Aetna is headquartered in Hartford, Conn. If you head a few miles east, you'll come to Bolton, a town whose entire budget is less than $20 million.

Thay told the Guardian that if executives are in the practice for selfish reasons, then they are experiencing a mere pale shadow of mindfulness.

"If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose," he says. "It may look like the practise of mindfulness but inside there's no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It's just an imitation. If you don't feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness."

As he puts it: "If you're happy, you cannot be a victim of your happiness. But if you're successful, you can be a victim of your success.
... What is the use of having more money if you suffer more? They also should understand that if they have a good aspiration, they become happier because helping society to change gives life a meaning."

But how is suffering understood in these corporate environments? Or happiness? Do these meditators get the idea that happiness cannot be found in impermanent, material things but only from within?

Here's Huffington: There's nothing touchy-feely about increased profits. This is a tough economy, and it's going to be that way for a long time. Stress-reduction and mindfulness don't just make us happier and healthier, they're a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.

Mindful competition. So much for releasing the idea of being No. 1.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mindfulness helps prevent relapses

Learning mindfulness meditation reduced the risk that people in substance-abuse treatment programs would relapse, a study by researchers at the University of Washington says. Mindfulness may work better than group meetings or education because it helps people understand what's happening when they have cravings, researchers said.

The study looked at 286 recovering addicts who were divided among three groups: a program that involved group discussions, one that taught relapse prevention strategies (such as avoiding triggers), and one that included mindfulness meditation. Researchers note that 40 to 60 percent of those in recovery relapse.

After six months, participants in the strategy group and the meditation group had a reduced risk of using drugs or heavy drinking compared to the talk-only group, the study said. After a year, those in the meditation program had used substances on fewer days and had a reduced risk of relapse, compared to both other groups. This suggests meditation may have a more lasting effect, researchers said.

Study researcher Sarah Bowen, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences , and her colleagues designed "mindfulness-based relapse prevention," which she described as a "training in awareness."

In this program, each session is about two hours, with 30 minutes of guided meditation followed by discussions about what people experienced during meditation and how it relates to addiction or relapse, Bowen said. The meditation sessions are intended to bring heightened attention to things that patients usually ignore, such as how it feels to eat a bite of food, or other bodily sensations, as well as thoughts and feelings.

The mindfulness program may work to prevent relapse in part because it makes people more aware of what happens when they have cravings.

"If you're not aware of what's going on, you don't have a choice, you just react," Bowen said.
Livescience.com quotes Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., who was not involved in the study, who says people with addiction often have difficulty regulating emotion, resulting in states like depression, anxiety, or self-harm. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with those feelings.

Mindfulness meditiation helps teach people to "tolerate feelings of emotional distress, so when they feel like they're going to use [drugs], they don’t," Krakowe said.
 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You are not your craving -- and neither is the chocolate

A new study by Canadian researchers says that mindfulness can reduce chocolate cravings.


Lead study author Julien Lacaille, a psychologist at McGill University in Quebec, told Reuters that practicing mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes identifying and distancing oneself from certain thoughts -- without judging them -- weakened chocolate cravings among people with a self-declared sweet tooth.

It's an interesting study for reasons that go beyond simply decreasing food cravings. The researchers worked with almost 200 subjects -- who admitted they were prone to strong cravings for chocolate and wanted to diminish them -- to determine which aspect of mindfulness had the greatest effect. 

Participants were divided into five groups, four of which received training in mindfulness meditation techniques and were told to practice specific ones when they craved chocolate over a two-week period. Those in the fifth group were told to distract themselves when craving arose.


The researchers focused on three distinct aspects of mindfulness meditation: Awareness (simply noticing one's thoughts); acceptance (not passing judgment on one's thoughts), and disidentification (seeing thoughts as separate from oneself.) Participants were assessed before and after the study to determine how effectively they practiced the techniques.

After two weeks, participants were given a piece of chocolate to unwrap and touch for one minute; after it was taken away, they rated their craving. Those trained in disidentification reported less-intense cravings, the study found. Further analysis showed that the specific craving for chocolate, as well as the general state of craving, was reduced for who learned to see cravings as thoughts.

While that's an interesting breakdown of skills, it doesn't suggest to me that you should train only in recognizing thoughts. Awareness and acceptance are keys to being able to do that skillfully. Without first seeing that the thought exists, you can't recognize it as a thought. If you don't accept it but try to push it away or deny it, you're still attached.

Several Buddhist teachers, including Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg, teach a process with the acronym RAIN -- Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-attachment (which equates to disidentification).


The extra step -- Investigate -- refers to giving yourself a chance to explore the thought: Is it habitual? When does it arise? How does it feel in the body? What does chocolate represent -- an indulgence, a reward, a hug?

It's also important to note that there's nothing wrong with the chocolate -- it's our attachment to it that may benefit from modification. As long as you know that the chocolate won't bring lasting happiness -- and enough of it over time may lead to added pounds -- go ahead and enjoy it in the moment.



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meditation is not entertaining

Meditation is not entertaining. That's kind of the point -- our constant craving to be entertained distracts us from how things actually are. Meditation is about getting in touch with that, finding calm by seeing the ways we stir up chaos so we can be entertained.

But lack of entertainment in the practice is deterring some people from trying it, says David Romanelli. “It’s still just a very old practice, and most people can’t relate to it,” he tells Well&Good.

So Romanelli, who helped popularize yoga with his Yoga and Chocolate workshops, is out to make meditation more entertaining. He's partnered with Happier.com to create a seven-day Meditation Vacation "that will teach you to soothe your mind, embrace or enhance a meditation practice, and have a BLAST in the process," the class description says.

"Dave’s fun and thought-provoking stories will capture your attention before he guides you through a series of short, sweet audio meditations, all set to soothing musicscapes created by East Forest."

And if it reminds you of Stuart Smalley .... well, the similarities are there.

The Buddha flat-out said that sarcasm is not Wise Speech, so I'll speak plainly. Don't do it. If you're taking an entertainment break, be honest and play Angry Birds. Watch a music video. Don't confuse entertainment and meditation.

Meditation is about getting rid of the entertainment and distractions to see the truth of who you are and what the world is. It's about listening to and questioning your self talk, not new-agey piano music. Being bored is a valuable experience, most Buddhist teachers would tell you, because it teaches you to sit with discomfort and find the clear blue sky behind the cloud of distractions.

You could look for shapes in the clouds -- or you could relax into the endless clarity of the sky.

Trungpa Rinpoche used to praise boredom in sitting. He said that you have to sit to the point where you’re just bored. You’ve worn out all the entertainment value and you’re just bored. And you have to go through the restlessness of boredom. Because boredom is just another word for this fundamental restlessness--it’s hot, you want to get out of there. And he said you have to sit through with as much loving kindness towards yourself and compassion, relaxation, anything that enables you to kindly and gently and continually stay present. Learning to stay with the boredom. Until, at some point, it shifts to what he called cool boredom, which is that it doesn’t make you want to jump up anymore or fill up the space. -- Pema Chodron

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I am not my job description

You have opportunities every day to step beyond your role at work and act like a whole human being, offer a helping hand, learn the skill outside your scope of work, allow yourself to be helped by others. This will make your life more humane and deeply fulfilling.
-- Sharon Salzberg, "Real Happiness at Work"


This was my intention for the week: Find ways to act like a whole human being, not a job description.

-- Nicely asking someone who called on an intense deadline to call back in 20 minutes rather than snapping at him. He doesn't know my schedule.

-- Hearing out a long-winded regular caller without getting impatient.

-- Doing a task that needed to get done without claiming credit.

-- Asking for help from others instead of becoming a steaming pot of snotty resentment.
I appreciated that final phrase -- "allow yourself to be helped by others" -- since that's a part of being a whole human being I skip over. That also means speaking up when you need/want help (it's OK to help with something that you technically don't need help with) because other people don't necessarily know what's going on in your head.

I confess, I found the last chapters of "Real Happiness at Work" a little too heavy on how to be happy in your job, no matter how bad the conditions. I was hoping for some guidance on how to work toward improving a work situation, not just improving your attitude toward a work situation. Sometimes dropping your stories and seeing clearly shows areas that are in need of change, but since others aren't dropping their stories, it's difficult to acheive that.

There are stories of people who left their jobs and found their true calling elsewhere, but there's also value in changing the culture of a workplace so that work that is fulfilling can be done in a place that is supportive of your growth. I would like to be a whole human being working in a humane system.

But maybe that's another book. This book offers a wealth of explorations and contemplations for being personally happier at work, and that is a treasure.

The Real Happiness Meditation Challenge continues for another week -- or for 28 days from whenever you start. Read more -- and more blogs about people's experiences -- here.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Real Happiness Week 1: Meditation in the maelstrom

I am already pretty happy at work. I like what I do, and I like the people I do it with. I know exactly what I'll be doing, but I never know what I'll be doing. (I'm a newspaper editor, and the schedule is the same every day but the content is different.) Nevertheless, I experience stress at work. I'd like to experience it less.

So of course I clicked on a link that offered seven ways to reduce stress at work. Unfortunately, most of the tips weren't applicable. And one that suggested reducing interruptions made me laugh.

I shared that with a co-worker, who comment, "But interruptions are our business." That and multi-tasking.

Which makes concentration, the first week in Sharon Salzberg's 28-day guide to "Real Happiness at Work," a challenge. At any given moment, I may be editing a story, talking to a reporter who has an update on another story, waiting to have a page proofread, and wondering if I can hold a story for a day. And in the next moment, I'm checking email, checking the wire services for breaking news, looking at faxes dropped on my desk, and answering a colleague's question about grammar or word use (what we call "style").

Sharon notes that "human beings seem to be cognitively unable to multi-task." When we think we're tracking several things at once, we're actually switching our focus rapidly from thing to thing. Multi-tasking, she says, can "stimulate us into mindlessness, giving the illusion of productivity while stealing our focus and harming performance."

I don't need a study to tell me that. I know that I do a better job when I'm not interrupted, when I can focus on one thing. But that's not the reality of life in a newsroom.

So I've been working with one of Sharon's "stealth meditations." I can't exactly find a quiet place to meditate in the maelstrom, but I can do this: "Feel your hands. See if you can make the switch from the more conceptual thought 'These are my fingers' to the world of direct sensation -- pulsing, throbbing, pressure. You don't have to name the sensations, just feel them."

I tried that this week, in those short breaks between tasks (frantic multi-tasking is interspersed with brief no-tasking) -- just feel my hands. And it brought me out of the swirl of thoughts, into the present moment, into my body. It let me come back with more clarity, less brain fog.

During February, Sharon Salzberg runs a 28-day meditation challenge based on her books Real Happiness and Real Happiness at Work. People who are taking part post abut their experiences here. Read, comment, take the pledge, or just lurk.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Is there an Inner Grumpy Cat?

January is the Interdependence Project's Responsible eConsumption Month, and I've been observing it by not turning on electronic devices during the first hour I'm awake. The experience has been as different as the days.

For most them, it's been pretty lovely. The day is quieter, obviously. It finds its own rhythm rather than having it dictated by my choice of music. I even get out of the house a few minutes earlier, a plus. Truth be told, I'd say it was a revelation -- rather than adding to the day, my habit of putting on music was covering up the quiet.

And then there was Wednesday. The previous two Wednesdays were holidays, and I got to sleep in. This past Wednesday was a workday, the third day in a row that I was up and out of the house before the sun was up.

I was cranky. I noted this as I was making coffee and getting breakfast ready. My thoughts were on a repeating loop of why-am-I-awake? and I-would-prefer-to-be-asleep, a constant drone of pervasive dissatisfaction. Then I was dissatisfied with my dissatisfaction. What would stop this?

Music, my habit mind said.

No, my thinking mind replied. You have made a commitment not to listen to music in the first hour of the day.

Fuck that, said habit mind. I'm CRANKY. Get me music, something poppy and mindless. Unleash the true funk soldier.

Caving to habit mind's intensity, I hit the on button on the CD player. The party got started.

I turned it off.

What is the practice here? one of my minds asked. If this was happening during meditation rather than breakfast, what would the practice be?

Note the aversion. Note the repetitive thoughts. Right now, it's like this. But is this a permanent state? Is there, in truth, a solid, permanent Grumpy Cat somewhere inside me? Look for it. Can it be found. No.


Oh good, coffee. There's my mug. There's my cereal and almond milk. A clean spoon in the drawer. Life is good.

On a regular day, I would have turned on music, maybe danced a few steps between the coffee maker and the table. I would have bypassed that moment of crankiness. But this way, I realized its insubstantiality, its impermanence. This way, I didn't skip over my bad mood or suppress it or talk myself out of it, I saw it, I accepted it as how things were in that moment, and I moved into the next moment.

And that was better than the best song ever.
IDP invites everyone to become more mindful of their use of cellphones, computers, televisions, and all electronic consumption starting in the New Year.   Join the month-long Responsible eConsumption practice.
Grumpy Cat photo from Grumpycats.com

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Meditation May Ease Mild Anxiety and Depression

A new study by Johns Hopkins University finds the 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day may relieve mild anxiety and depression -- as effectively as medication.

The study looked at the degree to which self-reported symptoms or various conditions, such as insomnia and fibromyalgia, changed in people who began to practice mindfulness meditation, described as a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise attention on the moment at hand. They say it shows promise in alleviating some pain symptoms as well as stress.

"A lot of people use meditation, but it's not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything," says Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the paper in JAMA Internal Medicine. "But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants."
Goyal noted that mindfulness meditation is not just sitting down and doing nothing. "Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways," he said.

Mindfulness meditation -- emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment, along with relaxation of body and mind -- showed the most promise, he said..

More study is needed, he added.  And individuals are different -- the study looked at those with mild anxiety and depression; some people with symptoms may need more than meditation, like therapy or medication.

But in the meantime, meditation won't hurt.