Happiness At Work #60 ~ some of this week’s highlight articles

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Here are our favourite stories in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #60  which we hope you will enjoy too…

Creativity is the Secret Sauce in STEM

Ainissa Ramirez Science Evangelist writes:

Creativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a STEM virtue. While most scientists and engineers might be reluctant to admit that, and to accept the concept of STEAM (where A is for Art), I’ve witnessed that the best of the best are the most creative.

So how do we make our children more creative?

Researchers have found that play is important for productive thought. Playing with ideas also increases learning…

Creativity is really the art of metaphor.

Metaphors create a linkage between two dissimilar ideas and are useful in the sciences because they allow information to be attained by connecting the unknown with the known.  And this is the key element to scientific creativity. Metaphors are important because they create a means of seeking answers, and sometimes they free us from the common thinking and enable scientific breakthroughs…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: nosha via photopin cc

photo credit: nosha via photopin cc

Can Artists Make The World A Better Place? (The Forum, BBC World Service)

This 44minute podcast is one of the best conversations I have yet heard about the importance and value and worth of the arts and arts education for our world.  Highly recommended:

When you think about people trying to change the world for the better, should artists be near the top of the list? Bridget Kendall explores this question at the Aspen Festival of Ideas in Colorado, in front of a lively festival audience.

She is joined by: Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet and the man behind an eye-catching initiative in inner-city schools called Arts Strike; ground-breaking designer Fred Dust, who says good design should be much more than simply creating beautiful objects; and art collector and philanthropist Dennis Scholl, who likes creating ‘happy surprises’ in the shape of Random Acts of Culture.

Link to listen to this podcast

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Don’t Just Learn, Overlearn!

By Annie Murphy Paul

Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery.

 “Why do I have to keep practicing? I know it already!”

That’s the familiar wail of a child seated at the piano or in front of the multiplication table (or, for that matter, of an adult taking a tennis lesson). Cognitive science has a persuasive retort: We don’t just need to learn a task in order to perform it well; we need to overlearn it. Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery. The perfect execution of a piano sonata or a tennis serve doesn’t mark the end of practice; it signals that the crucial part of the session is just getting underway.

Whenever we learn to make a new movement, Ahmed explains, we form and then update an internal model—a “sensorimotor map”—which our nervous system uses to predict our muscles’ motions and the resistance they will encounter. As that internal model is refined over time, we’re able to cut down on unnecessary movements and eliminate wasted energy…

While Ahmed’s paper didn’t address the application of overlearning to the classroom or the workplace, other studies have demonstrated that for a wide range of academic and professional activities, overlearning reduces the amount of mental effort required, leading to better performance—especially under high-stakes conditions. In fact, research on the “audience effect” shows that once we’ve overlearned a complex task, we actually perform it better when other people are watching. When we haven’t achieved the reduction of mental effort that comes with overlearning, however, the additional stress of an audience makes stumbles more likely.

“The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned,” says Ahmed. “We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.” In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice…

Link to read this article in full

We Feel, Therefore We Learn


According to Dr Dan Siegel, one important point to bear in mind is that every experience we have causes our neurons to fire. Another is that when neurons fire, they wire together to create associations that are reinforced through repetition. Moreover, this involves the production of myelin or our brain’s white matter. “If you lay down myelin, you are 3000 times as effective as if you were a circuit without myelin,” says Siegel.

But that’s not all. The brain, or as Siegel describes it, “the social organ of the body” which has evolved over millions of years “has allowed us to survive because we have relationships with each other. We don’t have big claws, we don’t have big fangs, we’re not that strong. So how did we survive? Because we could look at another human being and figure out what was going on with them. This is why in terms of the science of learning, learning is a profoundly social experience.”

Lin k to read the rest of this article

photo credit: schaaflicht via photopin cc

photo credit: schaaflicht via photopin cc

Human Brains Are Hard-Wired For Empathy, Friendship, Study Shows

Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves…

The researchers found, as they expected, that regions of the brain responsible for threat response – the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus – became active under threat of shock to the self. In the case of threat of shock to a stranger, the brain in those regions displayed little activity. However when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self.

“The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar,” Coan said. “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

Link to read this article in full

See also:

When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Empathy can be painful.

Or so suggests a growing body of neuroscientific research. When we witness suffering and distress in others, our natural tendency to empathize can bring us vicarious pain.

Is there a better way of approaching distress in other people? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”

“Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and the lead author of the study. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”

…“Through compassion training, we can increase our resilience and approach stressful situations with more positive affect,” says Klimecki.

The positive emotional approach was accompanied by a change in brain activation pattern: Before the training, participants showed activity in an “empathic” network associated with pain perception and unpleasantness; after the training, activity shifted to a “compassionate” network that has been associated with love and affiliation.

Their new brain-activation patterns more closely resembled those of an “expert” who had meditated every day on compassion for more than 35 years, whose brain was scanned by the researchers to provide a point of comparison. This result suggests that the training brought about fundamental changes in the ways their brains processed distressing scenes, strengthening the parts that try to alleviate suffering—an example of neuroplasticity, when the brain physically evolves in response to experience.

Negative emotions did not disappear after the loving-kindness training; it’s just that the participants were less likely to feel distressed themselves. According to Klimecki and her colleagues, this suggests that the training allowed participants to stay in touch with the negative emotion from a calmer mindset. “Compassion is a good antidote,” says Klimecki. “It allows us to connect to others’ suffering, without being too distressed.”

Link to read the rest of this article

To Buy Happiness, Spend Money On Other People

In a new video, Michael Norton shows that spending money on others yields more happiness than spending it on yourself.

photo credit: tedeytan via photopin cc

photo credit: tedeytan via photopin cc

The Essential Link Between Happiness & Gratitude


…consultant and founder of HappierHuman Amit Amin has assembled 26 separate academic articles and studies around the world that show the benefits of saying “Thank You.” Here are some highlights from those findings:

  • Expressions of gratitude reinforce pro-social and moral behavior.
  • Frequent opportunity to express gratitude leads to increased well-being, better health, better exercise habits, higher life satisfaction and increased optimism.
  • Grateful people get more sleep.
  • A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms that lasts for months.
  • Writing down one’s gratitude produces a cumulative effect that increases month over month.
  • Gratitude (which focuses us on others) and materialism (which focuses us on ourselves) are inversely related.
  • Those who are more grateful not only perceive the environment to be more benevolent, but actually make it so by helping others more frequently and accumulating social capital.

Link to the read this article in full

Happiness Increases From Giving When There’s A Social Connection, Study Shows

Giving makes us feel happy, and giving to someone we actually know makes us even happier, a new study suggests.

New research published in the Journal of Happiness and Development shows that social giving — where you’re giving to a person who you know, or your giving leads to a social connection — seems to foster more emotional benefits than giving without the social aspect…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

10 Ways Happy People Prioritise Their To-Do Lists

Marc Chernoff offers some advice for making time work for us by keeping our happiness in the centre of our lives and the way we organise and plan ourselves…

In the seven years of this blog’s existence, Angel and I have had the pleasure of meeting, coaching and interacting with hundreds of truly inspiring, happy, prolific people.  And the more we have interacted with people like this, the more we realize the similarities in how they prioritize their lives, and how their priorities align with our own.

What becomes evident is that, to sustain happiness, we must focus our attention on the right things, in the right ways.  Every growing human being (that means all of us) has resource constraints: limited time and energy.  It is critical that we spend our resources effectively.

Here are 10 ways to prioritize your life and your to-do lists for increased happiness and fulfillment:

1.  One thing at a time, with full presence.

In other words, make the thing you have chosen to do the number one priority while you’re doing it.  Focus with your full attention.  See the value in where you are, while you’re there.  Enjoy what’s happening, while it’s happening…

2.  Family and close friends are at the top.

Nurture your important relationships in such a way that when you tell the people you care about that you care about them, you’re simply reinforcing what theyalready know based on how you have prioritised them into your life

3.  Focus on importance, not urgency.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Truthfully, the most important thing in life is knowing what the most important things in life are, and prioritizing them accordingly.  Sadly, most of us spend too much time on urgent things and not enough time on important things…

4.  Keep your efforts aligned with your purpose.

Getting anything worthwhile done is a matter of connecting with why you have chosen to do this thing in the first place.

Don’t allow others to confuse you.  Don’t let them convince your heart what is right for you.  Your heart already knows.  Listen to it.  Don’t let anyone else dilute the power of your inner voice.  You’ve got to stand up for something specific, on your own two legs, or you will achieve nothing worthwhile in your own mind’s eye…

5.  Play to your strengths and delegate when it makes sense.

When it comes to tackling big projects, you can try to do everything yourself, or you can reach out and find the right people to help you.  The first choice will raise your stress and blood pressure; the second choice will raise your consciousness and effectiveness…

6.  Socialize and share with peers.

Regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s always easier if you have a group of people who understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what challenges you’re facing.  Staying in touch with these people and sharing ideas with them will accelerate your effectiveness and happiness.  Best selling author, Seth Godin, refers to these people as your tribe members.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another via an idea, movement or common goal.  For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another.  Godin says, “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”…

7.  Give what you can, as you seek what you desire.

In many ways, life is a circle – what you put in to it comes back around.  When you make a positive impact in the world, the world will have a positive impact on you.

If you want to be rich, be generous.  If you want to make friends, be friendly.  If you want to be heard, listen.  If you want to be understood by others, take the time to truly understand them.  If you want to live an interesting life, be interested in the happenings around you…

8.  Leave the past behind as you plan ahead.

Let old problems remain where they belong – in the past.  No matter how many times you revisit the past, there’s nothing new to see.  Don’t let what once happened get in the way of what is happening.  Just because you’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean your mistakes get to make you.  If something important didn’t work yesterday, figure out what changes can be made today…

9.  Commit to self-respect, regardless of the issue at hand.

Whenever you catch yourself in a rambling bout of negative self-talk, stop and ask yourself, “If I had a friend who spoke to me in the same way that I sometimes speak to myself, how long would I allow this person to be my friend?”…

10.  Leave room to breathe.

Things don’t always go as planned.  Good things can’t always be planned.  Be flexible and open to life’s twists and turns.

Organize, but don’t agonize.  Keep your space and time ordered, but your schedule underbooked.  Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

Shorter Workday Isn’t The Key To Happiness, Says Bummer Of A Study

Workaholics of the world, rejoice? We’ll all be just as unhappy with a shorter work week.

When it comes to working hours, less apparently is not more. Proponents of the six-hour workday will be saddened to hear that, as delightful as shorter days sound, decreasing work hours might not make anyone any happier.

At least that’s what new research in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests. The 10-year longitudinal study examined the impact of the reform South Korea instituted in 2004 reducing working hours on Korean workers’ happiness. While people’s satisfaction with their working hours increased, there wasn’t a significant effect on overall life or job satisfaction…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

Your Boss Is Less Stressed Than You


Several studies have now shown that autonomy – a sense of control over what we do and how we do it – is an essential aspect of our happiness at work.  This article reports on a new study that shows the higher up the pecking order you get at work, the less stressed you are likely to be, but then goes on to look at other studies that show that there are several other important apescts that help or hinder our happiness at work.

So who is better off at work, you or your boss? A Harvard study suggests that it’s your boss because your boss is less stressed. And why is your boss less stressed? It turns out that it is because your boss has control…

Results showed that leaders had statistically significant lower levels of cortisol and lower anxiety than nonleaders. The study was repeated on a second group with similar results.

The researchers then dug into what led to this lower level of stress in leaders and concluded that a sense of control, specifically to do with being in authority, was the main contributing factor…

Less stress may not mean more happiness, though.

Another Harvard Researcher, Professor Rosabeth Kanter, clearly thinks that stress is just one factor among several in overall workplace happiness. She describes the primary sources of motivation (in innovative companies) as ‘mastery, membership and meaning’ with ‘money’ a distant fourth. Mastery certainly fits with control, suggesting that the boss is indeed likely to be happier, but the other important factors do also come into play. Membership – meaning being part of a team, belonging to something bigger than you personally, can work just as well for you as your boss, perhaps even better since the manager role inevitably removes your boss from being part of the team to some extent. This also fits with the majority of people finding the people they work with as being most important.

Lastly there is valuing your work. Some of that comes from you – if you know you do a good job and are confident enough to value the work you do and its quality for yourself then you are probably in a good place. The rest comes from other people – one of whom is undoubtedly your boss.

A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, reported in Science Daily, that looked at common factors in 223 different workplace studies over a 30 year period suggests that happiness at work is most strongly linked to underlying happiness and attitude. Essentially if you are happy in your life and are generally a happy person you will be happy at work…

Link to read this  article in full

photo credit: kyeniz via photopin cc

photo credit: kyeniz via photopin cc

The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness

By Dr. Mercola

Are You Guilty of These 7 Sins of Happiness?

…identifying the seven ‘sins of happiness,’ which author Trent Hand compiled for Lifehack.  That is, the seven habits or attitudes that make happiness very hard to come by. Hand explained:

These “sins” are so deadly that we often don’t notice we are falling into their trap until we wake up one day and wonder why we are glaring at ourselves in the mirror.”

1. Comparing Yourself to Others

This will either make you feel guilty for living more comfortably than others who are struggling, or make you feel inadequate compared to those who have more. As Mark Twain said:  “Comparison is the death of joy.”

2. Talking About Your Dreams Instead of Going to Work on Them

Talking about your dreams is great, but only if you eventually follow through with them. Make a point to set short-term action steps that will help you achieve your long-term goals – and act on them.

3. Listening to People With Nothing Positive to Say

Spending time around consistently negative people will drain your energy and bring down your mood. It’s generally nearly impossible to cheer a negative person up, you’re better off avoiding them as much as possible and surrounding yourself with positive people instead.

4. Focusing on the News

Watching the news is virtually guaranteed to bring you down and create feelings of helplessness and a lack of hope, as there’s not much you can do to improve the problems you’re seeing. Instead, focus on positive steps you can make in your local community, such as mentoring a child or delivering meals to the elderly.

5. Deciding Someone Else Needs to Change

Finding fault in others, and letting them know what they’re doing wrong, is easy. Much more difficult is looking inward to see how you can improve yourself instead. The latter will pay off by leading to a better you, while trying to fix others will likely be futile and interfere with your relationships.

6. Thinking “Happiness” is a Destination You Can Reach

If you think you’ll be happy once you accomplish a certain goal (like getting married or paying off your house), this is a myth. You must learn to find happiness during the journey, on a daily basis, rather than waiting to somehow find happiness at the end.

7. Forgetting to Say “Thank You”

It’s easy to take for granted all that you have to be thankful for – friends, family, loved ones, your health, your job … By focusing on all that you have to be grateful for (jot down whatever comes to mind on a notepad, for starters), you’ll instantly feel happier.

Living in the Moment: Another Key to Being Happy

Groucho Marx may not be the first person who comes to mind for a philosophy by which to live your life, but his words come with a definite air of wisdom:

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

How often your mind wanders is frequently a predictor of how happy you are. One study found, in fact, that the more often you take yourself out of the present moment, the less happy you are.  The researchers concluded:

“ … people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and … doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

So … allow yourself to be immersed in whatever it is you’re doing right now, and take time to really be in the present moment. Practice mindfulness and avoid replaying past negative events in your head or worrying about the future; just savor what’s going on in your life now.

Link to the full original version of this article

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

Positive psychology is mainly for rich white people

James Coyne PhD picks up Barbara Ehrenreich’s retitled book and mounts a hefty critique of positive psychology his understanding of the messages it is selling.  There are important points here, despite how badly we believe these writers misrepresent positive psychology and the mission of the new economics and Gross National Happiness indexing.  See what you think…

When Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking  Has Undermined America was published outside of the United States, the book was retitled Smile or Die. The publisher was concerned that non-native English speakers might not understand the play on words in the original title. I think the retitling is actually more apt in capturing the message of positive psychology: buy our advice, buy our books, attend our workshops or die…

…Undoubtedly, rich white persons in the suburbs are more likely to score high on these measures. Positive psychology is applied ideology, not science, in encouraging them to congratulate themselves on the personal achievement the high score represents.  And if they are still unhappy or in ill health, the problem lies with the personal characteristics and their modifiable attitudes.

As for the poor and disadvantaged, the physically ill, they have only themselves to blame. As a wealthy positive psychology entrepreneur recently declared “Your attitude is the reason you are poor.” He went on to cite Barbara Frederickson:

In an article in the Journal of Business Venturing, leading positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson found positive emotions help build essential resources for entrepreneurs. Among those resources, the top three she found were social capital, resilience, and big picture thinking.

“It’s not just one of those things that’s going to matter more than the others,” Fredrickson said. “All three are part of a larger web that creates an upward spiral.”

So what is the solution to poverty and social inequality?  Poor people have to think positive, start smiling and expressing gratitude. What a program for individual and social change– or a shameful fraud. As Barbara Ehrenrich has pointed out in Bright-Sided (or Smile or Die), the downside of this ideology is personal self-blame and national denial. Reviewing Bright-SidedThomas Frank remarked:

“We’re always being told that looking on the bright side is good for us, but now we see that it’s a great way to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment, to rationalise an order where all the rewards go to those on top. The people who are sick or jobless—why, they just aren’t thinking positively. They have no one to blame but themselves.”

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

Cycling across America: lessons in sustainability and happiness

Rob Greenfield’s 4,700-mile ride on a bamboo bicycle towing solar panels taught him the power of living a simple life

…I learned the power of a bicycle. It is a relatively simple machine but it can take us great distances both figuratively and literally. Life is good when you are on a bike. Good for yourself, good for the earth, and good for the people around you.

I recognised that people do genuinely want to help and to be a part of something greater than themselves but they just need that extra little push and they need to see someone else do it first. I learned that positivity tends to create more positivity, as does goodness.

Lastly, if you live simply, you can live free. The less complicated you make your life, the more time you have to spend doing what you love and what’s good for you.

Change begins with the actions of individuals. A big action that anyone can take is to become a conscious consumer and support businesses that are doing their part to protect the environment.

Businesses will sell what we will buy so we decide through our actions what is on the market. If as an individual you want to change the way business is done, then start buying from businesses that are using it as a means of positive change in the world…

For me business is a tool to create a happier, healthier planet as well as support myself and my employees. I just hope other companies can also come to recognise this.

Link to read Rob Greenfield’s full Guardian article

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

Happiness and Gumballs

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  – from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.

The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness…

Link to the rest of this story

The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister

Susan Schneider

Link to Susan Schneider’s post about her experience of this show

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, mindfulness and self-mastery, leadership and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.

Learning Mindfulness

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

I am at the early stages of teaching myself mindfulness, and am, so far, thoroughly enjoying its practice, the ideas and research findings associated with it, and the small incremental but appreciable benefits that I am already noticing and experiencing.

What Are The Benefits of Meditation? (Action For Happiness)

There is a plethora of materials available on this subject and its application, and mindfulness shows all the signs of having its moment of zeitgeist across an array of contexts and situations, from banks and city firms, to schools, Silicon Valley technology and new media companies, to new thinking powering into a contemporary women’s leadership movement, to health and community group contexts, to creativity, to psychology and therapy settings.  In fact it might be harder at the moment to find a context in which mindfulness is not featuring or making a central contribution.

In my earlier post, Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance, I featured a number of articles that considered the merits and popularity of mindfulness for the benefits its practice can bring to our greater sense of – and actual physical, emotional, psychological, even neurological – balance.

In this post, I am concentrating more on the practical application of mindfulness.

But first here is what I hope is a helpful introduction to what mindfulness is and works as a practice, from Corey Jackson, an accredited CEB trainer, majoring in psychology and sanskrit at the University of Sydney and is the Tibetan interpreter at the Vajrayana Institute:

In Their Words: Corey Jackson & How Long Is The Peace of a Meditator?

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

It seems meditation is the new black. So many articles about the benefits of meditation reach my inbox that I have trouble finding the time to read them all – even if I delete the ones about celebrities.

Public awareness and curiosity are increasing as the scientific and anecdotal evidence mounts. People are overcoming addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol, losing weight, reducing stress as well as increasing wealth, kindness and compassion. There are many accounts of improved athletic performance, people are overcoming severe anxiety and depression, heart disease and the list goes on…

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of meditation, designed to enhance different qualities and skills. When used together, their practice is like a balanced diet tailored to each of our personal needs.

The first of these forms of meditation is the one most researched and talked, known as mindfulness, which essentially involves strengthening our powers of concentration to overcome distractions and pay better attention. In mindfulness meditation, we try to keep an object (our breath for example) in the foreground of our attention and leave all the usual opinions, chatter and activity in the background. Over time, this ‘background noise’ subsides and we become better able to focus on any object we may choose for ever- longer periods of time.

It doesn’t take long before the benefits of these skills spill over into our daily lives, making us more attentive to the emotional lives of ourselves and others. This leaves us with a much better chance of maintaining our emotional balance and not being overwhelmed by them…

An emotionless life wouldn’t just be difficult or boring, it would be pretty much impossible. Fear, enjoyment, sadness and so on are all necessary to make sense of the world around us. They are the primary way we experience life and without them we would not wish the best for ourselves and others, nor would we strive to overcome difficulties and achieve goals. But they can also cause us to say and do things we later wished we had not and for most of us, control over this kind of emotional behaviour could be life changing.

This brings us to the second type of meditation which is designed to help us understand how our emotions work and identify particular traits and habits we would like to cultivate. It involves all sorts of fun emotional experiments performed on ourselves and helps us to see the world around us with a fresh curiosity we usually lack.

Finally, we use our improved ability to pay attention and the results of our emotional experiments to set about cultivating the qualities and skills we identified as desirable. Cultivating these qualities such as kindness and compassion in meditation means they will inevitably show up in our daily lives. These qualities traits have been shown to increase the overall happiness of ourselves as well as those around us, with even physical benefits such as improving the immune system.

When we consider the full picture: Sitting on a chair or cushion during a session of mindfulness meditation is like anchoring in a protected lagoon, relatively safe and unaffected by what might be happening in the open ocean. It’s peaceful, restorative but only a temporary stop before we move on through our day. Once we are back in the open water of our daily life, the mindfulness we have developed functions like a keel, keeping us upright as we are swamped and buffeted about in the turmoil of our own emotional oceans.

Link to read Corey Jackson’s article in full

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

For me the very best, truest, most helpful teachings have so far come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of the book Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation,  which I am finding an immensely helpful and enjoyable read.

An Evening With Jon Kabat-Zinn (Action For Happiness)

If you can possibly give yourself 90minutes I really recommend this video of the talk that he gave in London for Action For Happiness in March.  I have no better introduction to mindfulness than this.  His presentation includes some moments of mindfulness practice, enormous warmth, intelligence and wisdom communicated with lightness and humour, and poetry.

Practical Guided Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

The following two videos are in fact both audio guided mindfulness sessions, the first concentrating on the fundamental practice of mindful breathing, the second involving a ‘Body Scan’ you complete with your mind and which is also a core component of building this form mindfulness practice.  Each take about 20minutes and each provide a practical introduction to mindful meditation.  If this is new for you, know that you need to feel you can give yourself and your attention for the full time of the guided session to really try them and find out what they offer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Breathscape Guided Meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Bodyscape Meditation

If you don’t have even 20minutes for either of these exercises, here is a much shorter way of tuning in and starting to practice mindfulness:

One Moment Mindfulness (Action For Happiness)

This’ll Make Your Commute A Whole Lot Less Dreadful

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

“In many ways, because it is something so ordinary — so familiar — it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness],” says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. “The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn’t require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential ‘dead-time.’ Think of it as time better spent.”

Whether you’re driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter’s mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe’s meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.

1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.

2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.

3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you’ll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you’d prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.

4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.

5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.

Link to read this article

I am combining my mindfulness practice with my Qigong exercises, the exercises that help to build and support Tai Chi.  Qigong and Tai Chi both involve a fluidity and constancy of movement that are very much like the flow of breathing, and therefore mindfulness, each moment passing into the next.  I am finding this helpful in developing my skill and discipline to keep my mind light and contained more on the momentary moments and sensations of my breathing and not so much on the rapid flutter of monkey thoughts that my mind naturally wants to pull itself away into.

So I am very pleased to have discovered this article, outlining the 3 different energy centres of Qigong, and how to nurture the all important lowest energy centre of the Dan Tien, located about an inch under the navel.  This form of breathing is familiar from my performance and voice training, and it is helpful to learn of its importance too to both Qigong and mindfulness practices…

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

Qigong for Health and Longevity

Simon Boylan

A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi (energy) in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing.  Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.

As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest.  Try this simple exercise.  Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.  Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would.  Which hand moves more?  If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all.  This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.

Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice.  Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in.  Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible.  Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this.  Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale.  You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.

When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice.  When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen.  Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out.  Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow.  In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here.

Link to read  Simon Boylan’s article in full

How To Be With The Breath

This article provides guidelines from a range a different practitioners, including…

U Pandita says to watch the abdomen rise and fall:

Now place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing, neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural breath. You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the abdomen falls. ~ In This Very Life ~

Ayya Khema instructs us to pay attention to the nostrils:

This [breath] is ideally experienced at the nostrils. Breath is wind, and as it hits the nostrils, there is feeling. That feeling helps us to focus at this small point. ~ Being Nobody, Going Nowhere ~

Ajahn Chah is more inclusive:

Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. ~ On Meditation ~

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

See also

How To Practise Mindfulness Of The Breathing

I  Adapt your daily life so as to be conducive to practising mindfulness of the breathing

Lead an uncomplicated life — reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities such as eating, working, traveling, and social functions. Don’t worry about losing friends; some old friends may move away, but you will gain new good friends (kalyanamitta).

Concentrate on fulfiling your duties. Allocate more time for the important aspect of life; that is, find time for the study and practice of the dhamma. Compose your actions and speech by observing the five precepts and maintain a healthy mind.

2  Prepare a suitable place If you can find a quiet place, that is best.

Find a room or comer in your home where you will not be disturbed by others.

3  Prepare your body

Finish all matters that have to do with others. Wash yourself. You should not be too hungry or too full. Some light exercise is good in order to prepare your body for lengthy sitting.

4  Prepare your mind

Ask yourself if you have matters needing immediate attention. If yes, take care of them or note them down to remind yourself of all future commitments, e.g. tomorrow you have to meet someone or get someone to do something, so that you have nothing more to worry about. Once you have done this and are free from all worries, both internal and external, allow your mind to be neutral and serene.

5  Observe mindfulness of the breathing

The first step is to try to preserve the good feelings or wholesome states of mind (kusalacitta) with every in- and out-breath. In whatever posture, be it standing, walking, sitting or lying down, focus on the breath, cling to it as you would to your best friend. With mindfulness and clear comprehension, be conscious of the mind, whether pleasure or displeasure arises, so as not to cling to or follow cognitive objects or craving (tanha). Take deep breaths, release extended and relaxed exhalations while maintaining a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every in- and out – breath. Sustain a tranquil and joyful mind.

Maximise Your Inner Happiness, With One Simple Mindfulness Practice

 offers this exercise, which is very like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape Meditation:

How we feel falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Most of us don’t stop long enough to notice, and yet this is precisely what we need to do if we are to maximize our inner happiness.

The practice goes like this:

1. Sitting down, eyes closed, get in touch with your breath and start paying attention to the quality of your experience, moment to moment, asking yourself the question, is it pleasant or unpleasant? Do this for a few minutes.

2. Then pay attention to how you react. Most likely, you will find you want to hang on to the pleasant moments, and you wil want to escape the unpleasant ones. This is how the human brain is wired. We are pleasure-seeking organisms.

3. Next notice the accompanying physical sensations in your body, particularly places of tightness. Whenever we react to our experience, our body naturally responds by tensing the muscles. We each have a place that our body favors. For me, it is a knot in the stomach, but it could just as well be tightness in the throat, or tension in the shoulders…

4. Without judgment, acknowledge the pain. The pain is two-fold, mental and physical. We stress our mind with our resisting thoughts, and we stress our body with our physical tensions. We can relax around this added discomfort, and discover the relief when we are just present for our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

We can take this practice into our daily life.

Link this article in full

photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

Handling Intrusive Thoughts While Meditating

Advice from 

…During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment. So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment. When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.

But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all. Don’t ignore your thoughts… Instead, work with them.

As a thought pops up, acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath. Don’t carry it out to a conclusion. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t try to add reason at this time. Notice that you’re thinking, that your mind has pulled you away from your awareness of this moment, and place your attention back on the breath.

Labeling the thoughts may help you release them. If you’re sitting stewing about something you should have done differently this morning, label it judging and let it go. If you’re thinking about what to make for lunch or what to do this weekend, label that planning and return to the breath. If you’re taken by thoughts of beaches and the sun, label them fantasy and bring your attention back to the present moment.

The point is never to not think. The point is to remain aware of what is going on in and around you right now. Too many scattered thoughts can drag you away from the moment and cheat you of your present experience. Acknowledging thoughts, labeling them, and coming back to the present, to the breath, can help you stay centered and focused…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: loungerie via photopin cc

photo credit: loungerie via photopin cc

Email Is Killing Us: Reclaim Your Mind From Technology

An extract from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s “The Distraction Addiction”

…The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of con­sciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

The concept of the monkey mind appears throughout Buddhist teachings — one small indicator of the fact that the mind and its rela­tionship to the world have been studied deeply for thousands of years. Every religion has contemplative practices, calls to use silence and solitude to quiet the mind. In John Drury’s introductory note to the Anglican Matins and Evensong, he exhorts worshippers “to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say” and “allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits.” Only then can one fully enter “the cool and ancient order of the services which gives a space and a frame, as well as cues, for reflec­tions on our regrets and hopes and gratitudes.” Catholic monastics treat meditation as preparing the mind to receive God’s wisdom; the busy mind cannot hear the divine. in Buddhism, though, mental discipline is more an end in itself, rather than just a means to an end. The everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still, like the mirror-flat surface of a calm lake, Buddhists say, and its reflection will show you everything…

For too long, we’ve left the chattering monkey in charge of our technologies, and then we wonder why things go bad. We want to be like the cyborg monkey (albeit not as hairy and without the electrodes). We want that same capability to use complicated technologies without thinking about them, without experiencing them as burdens and dis­tractions. We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds.

Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.

It’s an approach I call contemplative computing…

photo credit: svenwerk via photopin cc

photo credit: svenwerk via photopin cc

Contemplative computing isn’t just a philosophical argument. It’s theory and practice. It’s a thousand little methods, mindful habits informed by the four principles. Guidelines for checking e-mail in non-distracting ways. Rules for using Twitter and Facebook that encourage thoughtfulness and kindness. Ways of holding —literally holding —a smartphone so it commands less of your attention. Techniques for observing and experimenting with your technology practices. Methods for restoring your capacity to focus.

Information technologies are so pervasive, so much a part of work and home, so thoroughly embedded in modern life, it can be hard to know where to push back first. A good choice is to begin where many contemplative practices start. With breathing.

Link to read the rest this article , including details about the Cyborg monkey experiment referred to above, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s principles and guidelines for contemplative computing

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

10 Habits To Make You A Great Meditator

Julianna Raye

Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.
The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what’s been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.
Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:
1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.
 …Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.
2. Find a practice that resonates.
 …Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.
3. Make time for intensive practice.
A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.
4. Practice in action.
Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.
5. Try strong determination sitting.
My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!
6. Teach others.
 …Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.
7. Get feedback.
The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. … If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.
8. Sit, sit, sit.
 …Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.
9. Practice with a group.
Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.
10. Become self-sufficient.
As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you’re a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.

Link to read Julianna Raye’s guidelines in full

And if you are interested in the range and breadth of places and people that mindfulness is happening with, here is a selection of recent stories on this subject from across a sweep of different publications…

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

The new technique investment banks are using to keep employees happy and productive

by Paul Clarke

Stress is a growing problem in the financial sector. Psychology surgeries serving bankers are busier than ever, investment banks are employing resilience specialists to add some mental steel to their employees. And, increasingly, they’re turning to a psychological technique with roots in Buddhism.

The likes of Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the large professional services firms like PwC are offering their employees the chance to partake in mindfulness – a technique that emphasises active attention on the moment to block out the clutter of day-to-day life. The aim is to improve mental capacity, reduce stress and even counter depression. William George, a board member at Goldman Sachs, is also a big advocate of the technique, and is a member of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

…Google offers mindfulness to its employees, although Grazier suggests this is further away from the clinical version of the treatment, and it’s being described as the ‘new caffeine’ in Silicon Valley. Its popularity is also helped by the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is incorporating mindfulness into its curriculum.

However, it’s also gaining more traction in the financial sector. Louise Chester, director and co-founder of Mindfulness at Work, which works with City firms, credits it with saving her sanity during a “crazy period” working for UBS’s telecoms research team in the 1990s.

“HR departments like mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective,” she said. “It increases memory capacity, focus, emotional intelligence and makes you smarter. It trains you to use your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make more measured responses in a way that adds value and reduces stress.”…

Link to read full article

Esquire Tackles Mindfulness, Meditation In September 2013 Issue

There’s something different in the latest issue of Esquire: a how-to guide for meditation.

Meditation, of course, is central to The Huffington Post’s Third Metric initiative, and it’s something that Esquire has embraced as well. The men’s lifestyle magazine is more known for covering fashion, culture and entertainment and running features like “Sexiest Woman Alive” than for tips for de-stressing. But that’s exactly what’s in the September issue.

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

Wilderness Festival: Best Quotes On Mindfulness, Wellbeing And Work-Life Balance

As part of our partnership with Wilderness Festival, HuffPost UK have been hosting daily panel discussions covering a range of topics. On Saturday, we explored Less Stress, More Living.

Hosted by editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, the panel included Claire Hamilton (head of Secret Sanctuary and acupuncture therapist), Jayne Morris (burnout expert and HuffPost UK blogger), Cherry Healey (TV presenter and HuffPost UK blogger), Ruby Wax (comedian, TV personality and mental health activist) and Susie Pearl (happiness and wellbeing activist – who also has the best job title in the world).

We’re pulled the top quotes from our experts on mindfulnesswellbeing and striking work-life balance.

Questions from the audience included whether mindfulness is accessible to all, de-stigmatising mental health, and how gender affects our willingness to seek help for stress.

We need to start thinking about how to manage our minds” – Susie Pearl

Thoughts aren’t fact, so don’t take them seriously” – Ruby Wax

I want to instil a positive mindset on my daughter. I realised that to do this, I had to change my own mindset first. I needed to think about the way I think and speak about things – for example body consciousness – because Coco learns directly from me.” – Cherry Healey

The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Stress and anxiety are the root of many illnesses, we need to listen to our minds to prevent them.” – Jayne Morris

“You shouldn’t run away from your problems, you need to aim straight for the heart of the beast.” – Ruby Wax

I suffer from ‘Room B’ syndrome, I always think other people are having a better time than me. Social media has made this worse – when comparing yourself to others, you rarely come out favourably.” – Cherry Healey

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, everyone needs something different to get some balance in their lives. It might be yoga or meditation, or even singing and dancing” – Claire Hamilton

We need to shift habits so that people catch themselves before reaching burnout” – Jayne Morris

For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.” – Ruby Wax

Meditation isn’t about feeling perky and happy, it’s about feeling shit and sticking with it.” – Ruby Wax

Link to the rest of this article including its slideshow of pictures

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

From Both Sides: Secular Buddhism and the “McMindfulness” Question


The debate over the relationship between Buddhism and the mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) has heated up recently to a red hot glow. On July 1, Ron Purser and David Loy published an attack on the mindfulness movement in the Huffington Post under the title, “Beyond McMindfulness.” As I write this, a Google search on “McMindfulness” generates over 7,700 hits, many of them praising the original article and joining in to bewail the “decontextualization” and watering-down of the sacred Buddhist traditions.

Unfortunately, as I have noted elsewhere, this “McMindfulness” meme often appears to be driven largely by fears instead of facts, as defenders of traditional Buddhist lineages fret over “what is being lost” as mindfulness enters the Western mainstream. From my perspective, as one who came to Buddhism through the MBIs, this is a terrible shame. We may have an irretrievable opportunity at this moment to enrich the cultural conversation between Buddhist ideas and values and those of the West, and the mindfulness movement clearly is at the crux of that conversation. It is my heartfelt wish that we do not waste this opportunity in a reactive backlash against this latest moment in the evolution of the dharma…

…the MBIs are in themselves outgrowths of Buddhism. Pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Segal, Jack Kornfield and others took what they learned practicing traditional Buddhism and adapted it for use in medicine and psychology. In order to make these practices susceptible to research and acceptable to secular health care institutions – and perhaps most of all to make them easier for the average patient to absorb and accept – the traditional doctrine was simplified and demystified, replaced with plain-English explanations of the practice and how it worked.

In turn, acceptance by research and health care institutions had an inevitable impact on how mindfulness is taught, learned and practiced. The emphasis on such positive health care outcomes as stress reduction, alleviation of depression, and the treatment of chronic pain encouraged the application of the MBIs in a standard clinical regimen. Students were “patients” who had received specific diagnoses and were prescribed an 8-week mindfulness course to address the specific symptoms of their diseases. It is not surprising, then, that first the health care community, and increasingly, the wider public, has come to see the MBIs as merely another item in the doctor’s bag of medical interventions. To this extent, the critics of mindfulness are correct in their assertion that the MBIs have been “decontextualized.”

As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, however, the prevailing institutional (and now cultural) absorption with specific outcomes misrepresents what the MBIs are and how they are practiced.

…the defining tasks of mindfulness – the embracing of lived experience, the recognition that one need not be compelled by one’s habitual reactivity, the development of equanimity and the ability to make wise choices as a result – are the same actions that are prescribed by the Four Noble Truths. The insight into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the ego that is a hallmark of the MBIs is an expression of the Buddhist concepts of Impermanence and Not-Self. While shorn of much of traditional Buddhism’s Pali/Sanskrit terminology, doctrinal concepts and cultural trappings, the MBI’s owe their effectiveness, I believe, to the wisdom of the dharma that Gotama taught more than two millennia ago, a wisdom grounded, then as now, in universal characteristics of embodied human awareness…

…My experience with the mindfulness practice community I am part of has shown me that community is about more than just support. Within the container of the practice community, one has the opportunity to experience the intersubjective resonance of a group of people dedicated to being mindful of themselves and each other. This experience is a powerful and visceral manifestation of not-self, and one that promotes the recognition of shared humanity from which compassion can grow. The group practice environment is ideal for exploring such concepts as kindness, compassion and non-harming, and learning what it’s like to put them into mindful action. And the awareness that the community has a tangible, ongoing existence, even if one may not immediately be able to participate in it, permits one to feel connected to it and supported by it, regardless of one’s distance from it…

…As Secular Buddhists, we get it from both sides. Skeptics demand to know why we are concerned about teaching and preserving an esoteric, mythology-drenched religion; traditionalists make many of the same charges of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” against Secular Buddhism that they make against “McMindfulness.” If there is an advantage to this position, perhaps it may be our ability to understand and share the perspectives of both sides in this conversation, and to present and model a middle way between them…

Link to read Mark Knickelbine’s article in full

Shamash Alidna: The Mindful Way Through Stress at Mind & Its Potential

  • De-stressing: why bother?
  • Where does your stress come from?
  • How can you calm down “mind chatter” in a busy life?
  • Tips for being more energised and focussed at work.
  • How does mindfulness lead to joyfulness?
photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

Back-to-school is back-to-stress for some kids; coping techniques can help

By Helen Branswell

…others praise so-called mindfulness techniques as a way to help kids young and old to gain control of the anxiety that may be cluttering up their minds.

There are a variety of approaches, but the basic idea is to bring children into the present – as opposed to worrying about the future – as a way of grounding them and helping them calm themselves. Some ways of doing this are to focus on breathing – taking “brain breaks” in the language of the Hawn Foundation (started by actress Goldie Hawn), which has been a leader in bringing mindfulness techniques into schools…

Schonert-Reichl says one way to use mindfulness techniques to help with the stress of resuming school might be to focus, while walking to school, on all the sounds one hears. Instead of having a head full of anxious or negative thoughts about what the coming day or year might bring, the child can be helped to focus on what he or she is experiencing at that moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

6 Simple Tips To Be More Mindful In Everyday Life


Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours a day sitting in a Buddhist monastery to achieve the benefits of meditation. Rather, you can use everyday experiences as opportunities to practice being mindful and connected to the present moment.

1. Practice mindful driving

…How does your body feel in the seat? Is it hard or soft? How do you hold your hands on the wheel? What sounds do you hear coming from your car and out the window? Can you feel the vibrations of the road? Was it recently paved or are there a lot of potholes?

When I drive like this I find it to be a much more peaceful experience, even if I’m caught in traffic.

2. Practice mindful eating

Instead of scarfing down your food as you read the paper, watch TV, respond to emails, or whatever else, practice just eating. Really slow it down.

What does that first bite of food taste like? Is it different from the second? How soon do you reach your fork for more? What does it feel like as you swallow? What does it sound like as your chew?…

3. Practice leaving no trace

I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the responsibilities of daily life, I can really let clutter build up in my home. So I decided to pick one room in the house and practice “leaving no trace.”

I picked the kitchen, and what this means is that when I leave this room, I try to leave it exactly the same as I entered it, as if I had never been there.

…This practice can help you become more aware of the impact you have on your environment, and it will probably make anyone you live with really happy, too!

4. Practice mindful listening

Often when we listen to another person talking, only part of our mind is listening. The other part is thinking about what we’re going to say in response, or making judgments about if we agree or disagree, or even daydreaming about something completely different.

Instead, practice really listening to what the person is saying, as if you were absorbing their words like a sponge. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you listen. Do you feel excited? Tense? Calm?

Pay attention to the speaker’s voice, their body language, their tone. What emotion or feelings do you imagine them experiencing?

The best part about this exercise is that you are giving a gift to the other person. Is is so rare that people really get the full attention of another person.

5. Practice mindful waiting

This is perhaps my favorite exercise, because we typically view “waiting” time as a waste of time, but it’s actually an opportunity for your to pause, observe, and be mindful.

The next time you are standing in line at the bank, or sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, or sitting at a restaurant waiting for your friend to show up, use that time to be mindful.

Without judging, observe how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense and impatient? Excited? Bored? Where in your body do you feel it? Is it like a tightness in your chest or a buzzing in your head?

You can even practice directing your attention to a neutral object, like your breath or the ambient sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back.

6. Answer the phone mindfully

Often we hear the phone ring and immediately jump up to answer. Instead, practice pausing and taking two deep breaths before you answer the phone. Pause, deep inhale, deep exhale. Pause again, deep inhale, deep exhale.

Notice what you are experiencing for these few seconds. Do you feel excited about who it could be? Anxious about what task or obligation this could mean? Just pause, notice, and then proceed to answer the phone.

As you can see, mindfulness does not need to be some elusive or abstract concept, and it does not need to take extra time out of your day to practice.

And as you start to practice these small habits, you will notice big benefits. Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop, and as you do, you will start to notice and appreciate small joys in your day that had previously gone unnoticed.

Link to read the full unedited version of this article 

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about mindfulness and self-mastery, happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, leadership, changing ourselves and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.