Friday, 21 July 2017

Love is Always Here - Tara Brach


Love is Always Here –

One expression of suffering is forgetting that we are intrinsically lovable and worthy. This talk looks at the pathway to trusting our belonging, and focuses on the healing that comes from letting in love and mirroring others goodness.

Painting: Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Talk includes quotes from Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

You might also explore Tara’s book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha.

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Meditation: Relaxing into Sleep (no bell at end) (14:27 min) - Tara Brach

Meditation – Relaxing into Sleep (no bell at end)

This meditation can help us to access a relaxed attentiveness, or alternately, serve as a pathway to ease-filled sleep.

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Meditation: Relaxing into Presence (14:46 min) - Tara Brach


Meditation – Relaxing into Presence (bell at end)

This meditation can help us to access a relaxed attentiveness, or alternately, serve as a pathway to ease-filled sleep.

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3 Things I Learned from Teaching Happiness

Since 2014, I have been co-instructing the Greater Good Science Center’s free massive open online course called GG101x: The Science of Happiness. To our humbling surprise, upwards of 450,000 people from all over the world have enrolled since we began. It consistently ranks amongst the top ten courses on edX.

I also speak about happiness science to audiences in business, health care, academia, government, and other sectors around the world. Everyone wants to know how to use scientific research to guide their inalienably endowed right to pursue happiness: their own, and that of the communities they live and work in. While neither the field as a whole nor our course can provide all the answers, I’ve drawn upon feedback from students, GG101x discussion boards, Q&As during my talks, and more to distill the three realizations about happiness that tend to be the most moving, motivating, and surprising to people.

1. Most of us get happiness wrong

Happiness is not a new idea, nor does the average person struggle with explaining what it means. Even in the research, a standard measure of happiness presumes that people have an intuitive sense of it and can accurately and reliably place themselves on a scale from “Not a very happy person” to “A very happy person.” Knowing what happiness is, however, does not make the average person good at pursuing it.

The first mistake that people make is equating happiness, the overarching quality of life, with the temporary enjoyment we feel in response to something pleasurable. Why is this a problem? Well, if happiness is equivalent to momentary enjoyment, then the logical conclusion is that happiness will emerge from stringing together a perpetual sequence of enjoyable moments. As one of my long-ago college classmates counseled a friend, “All that matters in life is sex and money.” Wrong. Happiness will not arise from striving to accumulate increasingly pleasurable and luxurious things, or striving to constantly feel and convey bubbly cheer and enthusiasm (to “be positive”).

The first mistake that people make is equating happiness, the overarching quality of life, with the temporary enjoyment we feel in response to something pleasurable.

University of North Carolina professor Barbara Fredrickson’s research does suggest that positive emotional experiences contribute importantly to overall happiness. But people who put all their effort and resources into maximizing pleasure often do so at the expense of socializing or helping others, and end up less happy. Similarly, trying to feel good all the time, according to work by Professors Iris Mauss and June Gruber, actually gets in the way of happiness.

When it comes to feelings and happiness, the trick, it seems, is: 1) to readily experience pleasure at the right times—e.g., to laugh when the joke is funny, savor the delicious food, bask in the warmth of affection, and capitalize on those feelings so they last; 2) to acknowledge and express feelings that arise under more difficult circumstances, like anger, sadness, and fear, as they signal important information about what to do next; and then 3) to practice resilience so we can recover from these states gracefully and learn from them.

2. Mindfulness is key

From a happiness standpoint, mindfulness can be considered both a launching pad and a catalyst. As a launching pad, mindfulness offers people a technique for noticing their existing habits of thinking and feeling, and exploring whether any of their beliefs, biases, or habits might be getting in the way of happiness. For example, do you reflexively, though perhaps inexplicably, hate apologizing? Given evidence that apologies reduce chronic stress and increase happiness and productivity in apologizers and recipients, could mindfulness enable you to explore that aversion, and perhaps tinker with it? Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen rapidly expanding scientific inquiry into mindfulness, defined both as a deliberate exercise (meditation) or a more general manner that involves attending to the present moment with kindness, gentleness, and compassion. Basically, wherever researchers look, mindfulness (if not taken to extremes or applied to extreme circumstances) is beneficial.

Research suggests that people enjoy what they are doing more if they are focused on what they are doing, right when they are doing it.

Some of the most compelling evidence that suggests mindfulness might be a catalyst to happiness comes from the Track Your Happiness iPhone app, which pings thousands of people all over the world to share their activities and feelings throughout the day. As founder and scientist Matt Killingsworth reported in Science, their findings suggest that people enjoy what they are doing more if they are focused on what they are doing, right when they are doing it. From waiting in line to watching movies, if we’re paying attention to this instead of thinking about something else, we tend to be enjoying it more. In a similar vein, other studies report that mindfulness increases enjoyment of chocolate and sex.

3. Cultivating happiness takes work

Like learning to play the ukulele, boosting our overall happiness level is not something we can do in one sitting. Throughout the Science of Happiness course, we emphasize the recurring finding that, all things considered, the most promising way to ratchet up happiness is to invest in social relationships—strengthen our connections, hone habits of kindness, and do work that contributes to something greater than ourselves.

Regrettably, particularly in the United States, social norms don’t favor these objectives. Human capacities that drive caretaking, goodwill, and serving the greater good are less valued and thus have less and less influence on our day-to-day experiences. Instead, the environments that we spend most of our time in, like schools and workplaces, focus more on independence, self-determination, and peer competition. Cultural norms like these hone our expertise in self-focus; we get really good at maximizing self-interest and being suspicious of anything that threatens our wealth or reputation.

Like stripping out the crumbling foundation of a building and rebuilding it to last, the pursuit of happiness is a deliberate and sometimes-fragile process that requires continued effort.

Like physical therapy after an injury, it takes commitment to strengthen and reclaim the function of our core “pro-social” demeanor—to learn skills around trust, reconciliation, and teamwork. To do this, most of us need to unravel some of our existing habits and be vulnerable. Holding grudges, for example, can feel righteous and core to who we are and where we stand. Forgiveness, on the other hand, lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, and fuels social ease and connection. But it’s hard to let go. Like stripping out the crumbling foundation of a building and rebuilding it to last, the pursuit of happiness is a deliberate and sometimes-fragile process that requires continued effort.

Whenever I teach the science of happiness, I try to leave people with something they can do right after they walk out of the room. Often the simplest, most accessible message is gratitude. Feeling grateful fosters a more accurate understanding of happiness, strengthening our social connections and motivating us to engage and give back to others. Gratitude is often a theme of mindfulness practices, and is squarely focused on the role that others play in our own life’s goodness. Reflecting upon and expressing gratitude is an exercise in capitalizing on enjoyment, building trust, and softening self-focus; we acknowledge what is good and attribute the source of that goodness to others, and this can help anyone avoid the common pitfalls of pursuing happiness.

How can we get better at expressing gratitude? Try this:

When thanking someone:

1) Say what they did that you are thankful for,
2) Acknowledge the effort it took for them to do this, and
3) Describe how it was good for you.

Thank you, reader, for taking the time to read this article; I know you could be doing many other interesting things with your time, and, for me, knowing that people are engaging with the ideas I aim to share brings purpose and meaning to my work.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Underachiever? Overachiever? Find the Right Balance

Evan puzzled many of his coworkers at the web services company. Although very friendly and clearly quite smart, Evan didn’t seem to care about getting ahead and moving up to a better-paying position. Several of Evan’s coworkers who had started at the company when he did had been promoted to jobs with more responsibility and bigger salaries. When they urged Evan to try harder, he laughed.

In contrast, consider Selene. She felt her head starting to droop over the spreadsheet she was reading. Shaking her head to clear the drowsiness overwhelming her, she glanced at the time display on her computer monitor. It was after midnight, the third night in a row she’d worked late into the night. She was determined to do her best on this project, one she hoped would get the attention of her company’s founder. They’d passed her over for promotion twice already. Sighing, Selene decided she probably should go get some sleep.

Evan and Selene are very different, but they have one thing in common. Both have different deficiencies with one and the same emotional intelligence competence: achievement orientation. Evan lacks enough drive to achieve and Selene has too much.

A Balanced Drive to Achieve

The achievement orientation competency goes beyond simply having an amped up drive to achieve. When we’re strong in this competency, we strive to meet or exceed an internal standard of excellence we hold ourselves to, and so appreciate metrics for—and feedback on—our performance. We set challenging goals and take calculated risks. AND we can balance our personal drive to achieve with the needs and goals of the organization.

Mindfulness can help to re-orient you towards an appropriate level of achievement—whether for yourself or for the whole organization.

That last point about balance is key, especially for leaders as they progress to higher levels in their organization. My colleague, Richard Boyatzis, and others have conducted research that shows that achievement orientation for personal goals matters crucially in early career jobs, while it morphs into a concern for the team or organization goals at higher levels. Here’s what Richard said about that research in Achievement Orientation: A Primer.

“Very often, if you’re showing too much achievement orientation in a leadership position, you end up inserting yourself into the role instead of inspiring other people around you. We find in the research that achievement motivation helps up to a certain point and then it starts to get in the way. We followed promotions over 20 years and found that achievement motivation predicts promotion to mid-level management up to about year 8, but then predicts the inverse (opposite) for promotion to executive levels.”

How Can Evan and Selene Develop a Balanced Achievement Orientation?

Evan, or anyone who lacks a strong drive to achieve, first needs to recognize the value of achievement for attaining his life goals. What does Evan care about and why would achievement matter to him? Evan may not care much about financial success or status for himself, but perhaps striving toward challenging goals could help him get closer to realizing a vision that he cares about. For example, if Evan is concerned about building community, protecting the environment, or another issue, perhaps reaching a higher level in the company would allow him to work toward those goals. Making more money would certainly let him give more generously to causes he cares about. And being in a more influential position might allow him to direct the company’s charitable giving toward issues that matter to him. Evan’s supervisor or a coach could ask Evan these questions about what matters most to him as a way to help Evan develop a clarity of intention or personal mission, motivating him to achieve more.

A mindful pause combined with deep reflection can help us sense more directly what really matters to us—and follow that vision.

Selene has been so focused on some aspects of her individual achievement at work that she has driven herself in ways that could lead to illness or relationship ruin—two common side effects of too much drive to achieve. One superb tool for developing a more balanced sense of achievement orientation is mindfulness meditation. For Selene, mindfulness would give her a chance to hit the pause button and step back from her strong push to get ahead. She would learn to notice her thoughts and reactions to events around her and to let them go. This could help her develop overall balance in work and life, re-prioritizing sleep or self-care, improving her mood.

In Evan’s case, self-reflection and self-awareness could help him connect with his personal mission and get on a path towards putting more effort into realizing those goals. A mindful pause combined with deep reflection can help us sense more directly what really matters to us—and follow that vision.

Finally, whether in your first years of a career or well into it and in a leadership role, mindfulness can help to re-orient you towards an appropriate level of achievement—whether for yourself or for the whole organization.

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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Daily Meditation Can Keep Athletes Primed for Training

Plenty of research suggests mindfulness meditation may improve attention and emotional well-being. This is particularly useful during high-demand, high-stress periods, when both are vulnerable due to taxed cognitive function.

Now a new study out of the University of Miami finds that that meditation not only provides protection from a natural decline in attention during high-demand times, but that the more you practice, the greater that protection is.

“We had a strong hunch that practice matters, but this was the first time we saw that the type of training matters.”

“That’s the biggest take-home for me: Practice is key,” says Amishi P. Jha, an associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “It’s not conceptual. It’s not like book-learning. [Mindfulness training] has to be embodied to get the most benefit.”

Researchers recruited 100 of the school’s Division 1 football players during their intense pre-season training interval to compare the effects of mindfulness versus relaxation on attention and emotional well-being. “During high-demand intervals, the high frequency of external demands may require student athletes to expend resources of physical strength as well as cognitive and affective control to maintain optimal functioning on the field and in the classroom,” the researchers explained.

Over four weeks, the students received weekly in-person instruction, recorded guided instruction with researchers present, and guided practices delivered via email to be used on their own in either mindfulness or relaxation techniques. The players were asked to record their engagement with the at-home material.

“It’s not conceptual. It’s not like book-learning. [Mindfulness training] has to be embodied to get the most benefit.”

The mindfulness training was based on shorter-format mindfulness-based stress reduction program, and “contextualized to fit the demands and culture of the university football program,” the researchers noted, such as distractions during performance and emotional over-reaction. Guided exercises included mindful breathing, a body scan, and a practice of choiceless awareness.

Participants were tested twice during the study, by completing the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) and questionnaires measuring emotional well-being.

Comparing mindfulness and relaxation techniques for improvements in mood and attention

As predicted, as the training wore on, the players reported feeling more anxious and depressed. And, also as predicted, both mindfulness and relaxation training helped buffer these increases, effectively providing some protection for the students’ well-being.

But when it came to sustained attention, only mindfulness seemed to help.

And this effect was enhanced with greater engagement with the mindfulness practices.

“We had a strong hunch that practice matters, but this was the first time we saw that the type of training matters—by comparing mindfulness training to relaxation training, which also required practice,” Jha says. “Players who spent more time engaging in relaxation practices saw no impact on their attention. Yet, players who spent more time doing mindfulness exercises did have greater benefits for their attention.”

The takeaway? Used together, mindfulness and relaxation training form a protective shield against the emotional and cognitive impacts of high-demand, high-stress times—if you practice regularly.

“That was exciting for me, if they practiced, [these interventions]their mood and their attention were protected over high-demand intervals,” Jha says.

But “if you only have a limited amount of time, and you want the maximum benefit, we’d recommend you do mindfulness training,” she adds. (You can find meditation practices and advice on where to begin in Mindful’s Getting Started guide.)

How the Mind Helps Heal the Body

Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention

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Monday, 17 July 2017

A Daily Mindful Walking Practice

Before you begin your meditation, find a quiet space to walk. It could be outdoors, or in a hallway, or even a large room, walking back and forth.

Walking meditation can be a formal practice, like watching the breath. Or it can be informal, bringing awareness to this everyday activity, whenever you need to travel from point A to point B. Walking meditation gives us an opportunity to gather our awareness which so often becomes distracted or even stuck when the mind is left to its own devices. Whether moving between floors of a building, on a city street, or in the woods, it is an opportunity to guide ourselves out of the distracted autopilot we live in throughout so much of our day.

Paying attention in this way, we stay safe by remaining fully aware of whatever is around. On any walk, hike, run, or other physical activity, without effort we may mentally check out—or we can practice awareness instead.

How to Do It

  1. As you begin, walk at a natural pace. Place your hands wherever comfortable: on your belly, behind your back, or at your sides.
    • If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.
    • With each step, pay attention to the lifting and falling of your foot. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. Notice any shifting of your body from side to side.
    • Whatever else captures your attention, come back to the sensation of walking. Your mind will wander, so without frustration, guide it back again as many times as you need.
    • Particularly outdoors, maintain a larger sense of the environment around you, taking it all in, staying safe and aware.

If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.

  1. Now for a few minutes, expand your attention to sounds. Whether you’re indoors, in the woods, or in a city, pay attention to sounds without labeling or naming, or getting caught up in whether you find them pleasant or unpleasant. Notice sounds as nothing more or less than sound.

 

  1. Now bring awareness to your sense of smell. Again, simply notice. Don’t push or force yourself to feel anything at all, just bring attention to the sense of smell, whatever you discover.

 

  1. Move now to vision: colors and objects and whatever else you see. Patiently coming back each time something grabs your attention, or even if something needs addressing, like avoiding an obstacle. Staying natural, not overly rigid, not daydreaming and drifting, but with sustained awareness.

 

  1. Keep this open awareness of everything around you, wherever you are. Nothing to do, nothing to fix, nothing to change. Fully aware, and walking.

 

  1. In the last moments, come back to awareness of the physical sensations of walking, wherever else your mind found itself throughout the practice. Notice your feet again touching the ground. Notice again the movements in your body with each step.

 

When you’re ready to end your walking meditation, stand still for a moment again. Pausing, choose a moment to end the practice. As you finish, consider how you might bring this kind of awareness into the rest of your day.

Take a Mindful Hike

Walk This Way

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