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Mindfulness and Work

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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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Thinking about Syria

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What am I to think about the developments in the U.S. regarding Syria? We appear to be slouching closer to some type of military action and I am personally distraught at the thought.

I abhor violence, plain and simple. I cannot condone any action that the U.S. may take in regard to Syria that involves violence. But…

How can I turn a blind eye to the plight of the Syrian people? More than 100,000 Syrians have died in this civil war. If a similar proportion of Americans died, we’d be talking about almost 1.5 million deaths. Think of the effect that losing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, has had on this country: What would happen to America if 500 times that many people died? That is what is happening in Syria.

Over 2 million Syrians have fled their homeland and are living as refugees in neighboring countries. That’s 9 percent of Syria’s total population, the proportional equivalent of nearly 30 million Americans. How can I stay deaf to the cries of these victims? My heart is troubled to the point of breaking for the Syrian people and compassion is pouring forth from my heart in torrents. It is a tragedy of epic scale and – even if peace broke out today – a calamity that the country will have a very difficult time recovering from.

I believe that the U.S. and other countries should do something, but is violence the best answer? The Dalai Lama has said that there is such a thing as a justifiable war, but that one cannot know if it was justified until afterwards. “War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not.” He has also said, “Now the concept of violence, the concept of war, is outdated…Violence never seems now to produce positive results.”

That is where my heart lies, with the path of peace. But peace does not appear to be making sufficient headway to end the crisis in Syria. Is it possible to be more “forcibly peacful” without crossing a boundary into a realm of non-peace? I fear it is not. A violent reaction from the U.S. appears more and more likely, and I am heartbroken at the prospect.

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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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Tuning Our Mindfulness Dial

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Self-awareness is one of the primary objectives of meditation. Living  mindfully depends on our being aware of what is going on inside of and around us at each passing moment. Meditation sharpens and refocuses our awareness, both of self and surroundings. Debbie Gisonni talks about the importance of self-awareness in the Huffington Post. I wasn’t aware until reading her post that September is Self-Awareness Month. Our goal should be to make every day Self-Awareness Day, stringing them together to create a Self-Awareness Year and, ultimately, a Self-Awareness Life.

Meditation also reawakens us to the realization that self and surroundings are not separate but, rather, are inextricably linked. One way to define living mindfully is living in the awareness of that connection to all things at all times.

Awareness and mindfulness are kind of like an analog radio with a dial. Anyone remember what it used to be like to keep your radio on a particular station when you had to get the knob in the approximately correct position, before radio dials became LED number readouts? C’mon, don’t be shy, I know some of you are as old as I am. I won’t tell. Well, perhaps you saw one in a museum once…

During the day, awareness and mindfulness may ebb and flow, like the tuning on the radio drifting away from and then back toward the station you want to listen to. Meditation can be compared with adjusting the dial to reestablish our awareness and mindfulness so that our connection to the oneness of creation comes in loud and clear once again. Depending on how long it has been since our last “tuning,” meditation can be a very slight adjustment to the awareness dial or a more substantial twist of the knob.

Making little adjustments to our mindfulness throughout the day is a good way to keep from drifting too far away from awareness. But it is not always practical for us to practice our meditation during the day, while at work or school or traveling. One thing that I finds helps is to remind myself to breathe throughout the day; that is, to pause for just a minute to focus on breathing in and out deeply (or whatever breathing practice works best for you). I do this in two ways. First, I tacked a sign to the wall above my computer at work that simply reads, “Breathe.” Whenever I glance at it, I follow the one-word instruction. Second, I open my computer browser at the start of each workday and point it to the Washington Mindfulness Community’s Mindfulness Bell. I set it to ring every 15 minutes and, when it does, I take four long, deep breaths. But you can set the bell to ring as often or little as you like, even randomly, and can adjust the sound of the bell.

Whatever tools we use, it is important that we employ them to keep ourselves in tune throughout the day with ourselves, those around us, and the connection we share.

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Everyone Suffers

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We are apt to compare our suffering with that of others, and to think things like, “He’s in much better shape than I am. My problems are much worse.” And we somethings convince ourselves that some other people don’t suffer at all.

Everyone suffers, even the people who seem to have it made in the shade. We cannot see their suffering, so we do not, in fact, really know.

The Buddha taught that all people suffer, even those who appear to be very wealthy and healthy and happy. Those people suffer, for example, from fear and anxiety over losing those good things they have, to the point that they cannot even enjoy their blessings.

So treat everyone with compassion and, thereby, avoid exacerbating anyone’s suffering.

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Disconnecting to Reconnect

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When I was a kid, my dad called television “the boob tube.” Meaning, prolonged exposure to TV turned one into a brainless boob. The multitude of electronic distractions that we have now includes TV as only one of many, and probably down the list a ways.

There is a backlash of sorts occurring, with the aim of getting people to “unplug.” Not go wireless, mind you, but simply shut down the cell phone, computer, tablet, TV, and let your mind heal. Yes, I said heal, recover from the damage that too much “connectivity” does to our minds and spirits.

I suffer from this as much as anyone, so don’t think I’m casting stones. My glass house wouldn’t withstand a handful of pebbles. I just want to offer the suggestion that meditation is a viable alternative. We’re not talking a complete swap here — give up technology in favor of a life meditating in a secluded cave — just a relative handful of the moments that you might otherwise be using to text, chat, upload, download, pin, share, like, and so on. No one is asking for the technological equivalent of asceticism.

We have conned ourselves into thinking that we need all of our gizmos in order to connect, either because we forgot or never knew that we are naturally connected to all beings already. Meditation and mindfulness make us aware of that pervasive interconnectedness. Or, perhaps I should say, they allow us to shed the layers of interference — electronic and otherwise — that shield us from sensing our connection with the universe and benefitting from it.

Here’s a little meditation I stumbled across today about disconnecting from the TV. It’s equally applicable to other kinds of technology and media. Why not give it a try?

If you’re not already doing so, why not follow Dharma Beginner on Twitter, @dharmabeginner. I find lots of really interesting and relevant articles everyday and post links to them on Twitter. Okay, I realize the contradiction in encouraging you to unplug and then plugging my own Twitter account. But, if you’re going to be online anyway…

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