Category Archives: Mindfulness

Mindfulness and Work

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MindfulnessMeditation

I have written in the past about the wonderful advancement of meditation and mindfulness practice in elementary and secondary schools and in colleges and universities. The pace at which they have infiltrated the business world may be even more rapid.

The need for these practices in the workplace should be evident. Is there any environment more prone to inducing anxiety and causing stress than the job site? As adults, that is where we spend the largest portion of our waking hours. Can meditation and mindfulness make you more successful and richer? Perhaps, but they’re greatest value is enabling you to cope effectively with worry and stress at work, which lessens the dread we connect with the daily grind (thereby further lifting our spirits), and makes us healthier in mind, body, and spirit.

However, there is a tendency, I think, for mindfulness and meditation in the workplace to be treated as the latest management fad. They get lumped in with a great mass of self-help, empowerment, how-to-succeed-in-business approaches that become super-popular for a few years and then are discarded in favor of the next big thing. Meditation and mindfulness have staying power as personal tools because their efficacy and benefits are demonstrable, even though they may eventually fall by the wayside as business tools. In truth, most successful management and professional practices contain components that are applications of both mindfulness and meditation – they’re just called something else.

The following are a sampling of recent articles about the inroads that meditation and mindfulness are making in the business world.

4 Easy Ways to Be More Mindful at Work – “Bringing more mindfulness into my working days is one of the best things I can do for my enjoyment, productivity and creativity. Rather than spending time counting down the clock, allowing frustration to grow, or taking work stresses home with me, I use several techniques to create a more mindful work environment. Four powerful ways you can also incorporate mindfulness into your working days include tuning into gratitude, taking short and regular mindful breaks, journaling mindfully at the end of the day and using a mindfulness tool.”

Just Breathe: Using the Power of Mindfulness to Achieve Peace in Business – “I first started my mindfulness journey several years ago when I was a junior in college. After getting into a car accident that left me horrified over just the thought of getting into a car again, I found myself in cognitive behavioral therapy. My prescription? Meditation – a mindfulness exercise.”

The Mindful Board – “Directors facing complex corporate governance challenges can develop their capacity to think together about the implications of their decisions.”

5 ways leaders can help their teams manage stress and burnout – “Train the brain to manage chaos. Practicing mindfulness can instill useful mental habits that enhance resiliency and productivity at work and in one’s personal life. Leaders and teams who prioritize mindfulness collaborate better, control stress more effectively and improve performance, according to the report.”

Reduce constant worry while job hunting – “Brain science has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness may actually train the brain to think in other ways. For job seekers, it potentially provides welcome relief from the stress of self-defeating, anxious thoughts, such as the fear of having left out an important point in an interview or of not finding jobs at all.”

Mindfulness: An Holistic Approach to Business – “Everyone stresses at work, and that might not be your responsibility, but you can definitely account for your own stress! Be mindful. For instance, some people use meditation to improve their work performance, or excel in life. Some have even found their true calling. So how can you be mindful? Mindful in the sense of being aware of oneself but also able to focus fully on the task at hand. This encompasses emotions and thoughts, being aware of the distractions but being concentrated on the work to be done.”

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More about Meditation and Mindfulness for Students

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More about Meditation and Mindfulness for Students

Not long ago I posted about how much students need mindfulness and meditation to cope with the stress of modern living. I am happy to say that the trend toward teaching children about meditation and living mindfully continues to grow, as evidenced by these recent articles:

One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation – “In the first year of Quiet Time suspensions at Visitacion Valley – which has 500 students aged 11-13 – were reduced by 45%. By 2009-10, attendance rates were over 98% (some of the highest in the city), and today 20% of graduates are admitted to the highly academic Lowell high school – before it was rare for even one student to be accepted. Perhaps even more remarkable, last year’s California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest in the whole of San Francisco.”

De-Stress for Tests – from Clemson University’s The Tiger – “Meditation: A few minutes of meditation is always better that none. You can even set aside just five minutes. Studies show that meditation brings stress levels down while simultaneously boosting the brain’s ability to focus, and can even improve memory recall.”

App Teaches Teens Mindfulness Skills – from the University of Arizona’s UA News – “While mindfulness-based resources increasingly are offered for adults, adolescents have received less attention. University of Arizona postdoctoral research associate Tami Turner has designed a mindfulness-based mobile app and is in the midst of a pilot study investigating the associated benefits for its users.”

Deep breathing critical to students’ well-being – “Young students have learned to control anger, stress, anxiety and fear through learning mindful breathing. Calmer Choice has many benefits for us all and belongs in the schools.”

Mantras before Math Class – “Over the past 10 years, small meditation programs have started cropping up at public schools around the country, in major cities like Los Angeles, New York,Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. They’re most often found in low-income areas, where stresses have a way of compounding…It’s hard to change the circumstances that create this kind of stress, though plenty of people are trying. But if you teach kids to meditate in the meantime, the thinking goes, you can help them reduce the stress itself. That reasoning always made sense to me, as someone who has been practicing TM since childhood and seen the research on adults, especially for stress-related problems like heart disease. Struggling schools need lots of things: better food, stronger math programs, and higher-quality teachers, to name just a few. One of those needs seems to be a way to reduce stress so kids can absorb information and go into the world as well-balanced, successful people.”

Parents and schools teach meditation to kids – “Asking a child to sit still for meditation doesn’t sound like a recipe for easing stress. Yet more families are making a few shared minutes of quiet contemplation a part of their daily routines. When handled with flexibility and a sense of humour, they say, the practice can calm their children, reduce stress and anxiety and help them focus.”

School board brings in meditation expert – “The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) is hosting a conference for Northeastern Ontario educators focused on meditating with children. Christian meditation pioneer Ernie Christie will be the facilitator of the full-day conference. A native of Australia, Christie pioneered Christian Meditation with Children, along with Dr. Cathy Day, fourteen years ago.”

Kids use meditation, mindfulness to de-stress – “The exercise at Highland Presbyterian Church Nursery and Weekday School is an example of how some schools are using mindfulness – the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – with or without meditation, to help students center themselves, combat stress and treat others with kindness. The goal is to give children “coping skills for life,” said Patricia Salem, a counselor at St. Agnes Catholic School, which has had a mindfulness program for about three years.”

Mindfulness meditation may improve memory for teens – “Adolescents assigned to a mindfulness meditation program appeared to have improvements in memory in a recent study. ‘These results are consistent with a growing body of research in adults that has found mindfulness meditation to be a helpful tool for enhancing working memory capacity,’ said Kristen E. Jastrowski Mano of the psychology department at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the new study.”

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Is there a mindful response to terrorism?

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Is there a mindful response to terrorism?

My daughter spent the fall of 2014 attending college in Paris, which gave me the opportunity to reignite my love affair with the City of Lights. Shortly after she returned home, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo occurred. My thoughts and emotions were a welter of relief that my daughter was here and not there, and heartbreak for the people of Paris. Learning the news last night of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris brought all of those feelings back in a rush and by a factor of at least 10.

Is there a mindful way to respond to acts of terrorism? I can hardly believe I need to ask that question. It is so much simpler to contemplate mindful responses to hunger, fatigue, stress, rude people, etc. Everyday things we all have to deal with. It is sad beyond description that terrorism is common enough that it requires specific consideration with regard to mindfulness. But it is a fact, and needs to be dealt with.

The aim of terrorism is not the act itself – as terror-filled as the act may be – but rather to inspire lingering terror. Nations spend untold billions of dollars protecting “high-profile targets” such as government buildings and cultural sites. The most successful terrorist acts, though, are perpetrated in much more mundane and commonplace locations – on buses, in a concert hall, at a corner cafe. It is these acts of terror that resonate and that are the most effective from the terrorist’s perspective, because each of us can imagine ourselves on that bus, or attending the concert, or eating dinner with friends.

Terror and fear are not consonant with mindfulness because they innately focus on the future, on what may happen, rather than on the present moment. More human suffering is caused by the fear what might happen to us than is caused by the things that actually are happening to us. Mindfulness teaches us to open our eyes to our present circumstances, to tear away the veil of unreality that comes in the form of fear of what might happen, so that we can focus on what truly is.

Our minds and lives are most balanced and healthy when we mindfully live in the present moment. The insidiousness of terrorism extends far beyond the immediate physical destruction it causes – it shatters our mindfulness and continues to prevent us from regaining balance. We cannot live fully in the moment when our minds are focused on what terrors might lurk around the corner. When we turn that corner and see that our fears were unfounded, we are not relieved – instead, we shift our fears to the next corner, and the corner after that.

It takes considerable effort to focus on what is happening around us right now when our fears bombard us with nightmare visions of what could happen next. I won’t suggest otherwise. But it is a necessary effort if we are going to recover our balance and re-center our lives.

Should we ignore the possibility of more terrorism to come? Of course not. Precautions should be taken. Protections should be put in place. That is undeniably prudent. Nations should work together to fight groups that wield terror as a weapon. But it will not be enough to completely defeat terrorism. As is so often pointed out, when one terrorist is eliminated, another jumps up to wield the weapon in his place.

The only lasting approach to defeating terrorism, in my opinion, is to rob it of its power by living in the present moment. Terrorism persists because it continues to be an effective weapon. The effectiveness of terrorism derives not from the guns or bombs the terrorists use to attach, but in the lingering fear the attacks inspire. If we do not let the fear of terrorism master us, if we live in the here and now with compassion for all beings, then terrorism will lose its power. This I firmly believe to be true.

Meditate Your Own Way

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At the risk of appearing silly, I confess that I adore coloring books. They represent a piece of childhood to which I unrepentantly grasp tightly – they have the same effect on me as a hot, buttery bowl of pastina. Such memories of a simpler time of pure joy bring warmth to my spirit these many years later. (Second confession: I had a big bowl of pastina last week and it tasted like a big hug from my Mom.)

But the marvels of coloring books don’t end there. I find coloring to be a mind-freeing experience. It occupies the wild monkey in my brain that threatens to derail my meditation practice. While Mr. Monkey Brain is busily scribbling between the lines and trying to decide if the next shape should be burnt umber or brick red, the rest of me focuses on meditating. When my meditation period ends, I have all the usual benefits of meditation. And a pretty picture to hang on my fridge.

Q: Why is this guy wasting my time talking about coloring books?

A: This guy apologizes if you think he’s wasting your time. I’m not always quick to the point. I am sorry. The point is this:

If it works for you, keep working it.

Why would you do otherwise? If you have found a routine that supports your meditation, and your meditation is helping you to live a mindful and fruitful life, praise be! Marvelous! Keep it up.

If you think it matters one iota to me that some people think I’m childish for playing with coloring books, think again. Darn tootin’ I’m childish! I’m also a practitioner of meditation for more than 25 years, in no small part because I’m willing to try new things (and old things, like coloring) and stick with them if they work for me. No matter what anyone else thinks. It’s my time on the cushion, not theirs.

So shake your groove thang. Lay on your back. Walk laps around the high school track. Mow the lawn. Juggle chainsaws. As long as it helps you to meditate well.

More food for thought:

The Zen of Adult Coloring Books

A Guide to Walking Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh

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Students need meditation more than ever

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My daughter is a sophomore in college. Among many eye-opening experiences I have had as a parent of a college student is discovering how stressful college has become.

In some ways, it is an exponential continuation of the experience of middle and high school, which seemed to me to be way more stressful than when I was that age. Granted, my 30th high school reunion was a couple of years ago, so perhaps my memory is dim. But I don’t think it is — I believe young people today are much more stressed in school than used to be the case.

All the more reason why students need to be taught meditation from an early age. I frequently share articles about meditation programs for students on the Dharma Beginner Facebook page and Twitter feed because I believe that meditation training is as essential — more essential, perhaps — to students as any academic subject they study.

The importance of meditation instruction and practice extends well beyond educational performance (though it is undeniably valuable in that regard). Young people need meditation to support their lives outside the classroom even more. School generally will end by the early 20s, but life will continue well beyond that.

Join me in supporting school-based meditation and mindfulness programs wherever you find them and in spreading the good word about their benefits.

Just a few examples…

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Nobody’s perfect

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I like men’s ties; buying them is a weakness of mine. I’m particularly fond of Brooks Brothers ties.

I once bought a tie at a Brooks Brothers store but when I got home and put it on, it looked like an entirely different tie. It looked like a really unattractive tie. What was I thinking when I bought it? I began to understand why it had been on sale.

I was going to take it back for a refund, but kept putting it off. It hung in my closet for months before it dawned on me why I didn’t return the tie.

It was a reminder to me that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Brooks Brothers can make an unattractive tie. And that’s absolutely okay.

I need to remember sometimes to show myself grace when I mess up. No one is harder on me than I am. I am very quick to beat myself up for the slightest shortcoming.

Meditation offers me perspective on my “errors” and helps me to see that they are usually no big deal, just a part of living and learning. Meditation allows me to be nice to myself, essentially to say to myself, “No biggie, my friend. Don’t think about it a moment longer.”

Making mistakes, taking a wrong turn, flubbing your lines – it’s all natural. We should expect to screw up. It’s truly unavoidable. Keeping that in mind takes a lot of the sting out of the moment of discovery. Rather than reacting, “Oh no! What have I done? I’m such an idiot!” we can respond, “I knew that was going to happen. We all make mistakes.”

Even Brooks Brother can make an unattractive tie. Even I can make the mistake of buying it.

 

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Meditation and Mindfulness Are Catalysts for Growth

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My daughter is taking chemistry during her freshman year at the University of Southern California. That gave me reason to try to recall what, if anything, I could remember from having taken chemistry umpteen years ago in high school. I remember something about “covalent bonds,” though I can’t for the life of me remember what they are. And I remember the term “catalyst.”

That word, catalyst, kept bouncing around in my brain the rest of the day. It occurs to me that meditation and mindfulness training are catalysts for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Meditation and mindfulness spur growth in our lives where it might not otherwise occur, and they increase the pace and magnitude of our personal growth.

The point of meditation practice, and of living mindfully, is not to be an expert meditator or to be really in the moment. Instead, being experienced at meditation and being in the present moment enable us to achieve goals in our lives that we otherwise would not be able to. The goals vary from person to person, but the “chemical reaction” is the same when meditation and mindfulness are introduced as catalysts: they empower us, strengthen us, support us, embolden us, and spur us on to do wonderful things.

Open to Failure, Open to Happiness

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The Buddha told his followers to use their own eyes and make up their own minds, rather than slavishly adhere to his teachings. So a certain degree of “prove it to me” attitude is warranted. That desire to see for ourselves, though, can easily turn into a form of skepticism that prevents us from trying new things and, thereby, discovering whether they are good for our practice or not.

It is difficult to expose ourselves to the possibility of failure. Forget failure – we can be afraid just to take a chance that things may not turn out as good as we had hoped, even if the results are really a success by any standard. Our happiness is contingent upon achieving results that may not actually be attainable. No wonder we are so miserable.

What is the solution? I can say from plenty of past experience that there is no easy remedy to a lifetime spent reinforcing such thinking. The remedy is slow, gradual. It involves “opening your eyes” to the reality of your circumstances. In other words, lean on your mindfulness practice to see things as they really are. Question the “reality” we have woven, the one in which we are unhappy failures. Are there really no positives in our present conditions, no sources of happiness and strength?

Identifying just one beneficial aspect of our current circumstances is a start. It exposes the lie we have woven that our lives are miserable and that happiness is unattainable. If there is one thing worth being happy about, then there must be two. And three things. And four things. Eventually, we come to recognize our carefully constructed “reality” as a massive fiction that we have crafted, and then the floodgates open.

When we close ourselves off to avoid experiencing the things we perceive as negative and unpleasant, we also shut out the things we consider positive and pleasant. We cannot experience what is beneficial to our lives unless we are open to the possibility of encountering things that don’t feel so good.

Why do I meditate?

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Why do we meditate? It’s a question raised in a recent column by Bruce Davis. The answer he received from Buddhist teacher James Baraz was, “Wow!” If you want to know what he meant, I encourage you to read the piece. I just want to use it as a leaping-off point for reflecting on why meditation is a part of my life.

I started meditating in my mid-20s when I was testing a calling to the priesthood. That testing had three parts: prayer, study, and action. I was praying for God to reveal the path I should take; I was studying what it meant to be a priest and spiritual guide; and I was getting first-hand experience with the work of a priest by accompanying my parish’s curate as he visited the sick and the shut-ins every Saturday. I did this for a year and, though I ultimately declined to accept the calling, the experience changed my life in many ways – not the least of which was starting my meditation practice.

As part of my studies, I began reading Thomas Merton, and subsequently Bede Griffiths and Basil Pennington, and was introduced to Eastern religious and spiritual practices. I learned to meditate and incorporated it into my Christian spirituality and I have been meditating ever since, more than 20 years later. Those books and initial meditation practice were a launching pad for a much deeper exploration of meditation, mindfulness, and Eastern religion that ultimately led me to become a Buddhist.

So, to answer the question why I meditate, I would have to say, “Because I need to.” It is as integral a part of my daily life as eating, as essential to starting my morning as getting dressed. Without meditation, I would hunger, and I would feel naked and unprepared to experience life. At least, that’s what I think I would feel like without meditation because, to be frank, I’m not sure I could truly imagine my life without meditation.

Meditation grounds me. Meditation clears away the detritus left by my emotions and thoughts. Meditation calms me. Meditation gives me the strength to handle stress and anxiety without crumpling into a fetal position. Meditation balances me. Meditation enables me to live mindfully and happily.

So you tell me: Why do you meditate?

More about Active Meditation

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If you thought my musings about meditating while shaving or snowshoeing odd, then you will truly be baffled by recent articles about meditating on the treadmill and while mowing the lawn.

Mowing may be the next form of meditation: “Researchers from the University of Queensland Brisbane discovered that a chemical released from a mowed lawn actually makes people feel happy and relaxed.”

I don’t know about the biochemical aspect of mowing the lawn, but I can personally attest to the meditative nature of lawn work in general, particularly the use of noisy equipment. Using something noisy may sound counterproductive to establishing a foundation for meditation. However, the noise of leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, and lawn mowers is kind of like a white noise – constant and enveloping, and in that way no different than wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

My condo association contracts for landscaping, but I used to look forward to autumn and blowing leaves when I owned a house and had to take care of such things myself. That sound would fill my ears, the vibration would spread from my hands, up my arms and into my torso, and I would enter a meditative state. Sometimes my mind would be mostly blank, other times my mind would grapple with arising thoughts and emotions, just like when I sit on my cushion.

Meditation made easy: How to train your brain on the treadmill: “This meditation will double the benefit of working out by connecting body and mind. It will inspire spiritual practice and keep your workouts from becoming another frenetic activity in an already busy life.”

I have no doubt that this can work as well, again from personal experience. I have done much the same thing on the elliptical machine many times. Be careful though: You don’t want to end up on a TV show when someone records you falling face-first on the treadmill when your attention wanders too far away.

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