mindfulness in daily life

Becoming a Google Glass Explorer

google glass

I’m now officially a Google Glass Explorer (or #GlassExplorer)!

You’ve probably heard of Google’s “Project Glass.” It’s the virtual reality display that sits on your face like glasses, and allows you to receive and send messages, or to make video or audio recordings.

Here’s a video, giving you a first person view of “what it’s like.”

I’ve been officially selected to try out Google glass, based on a submission I wrote for their competition.

On Feb 26 I wrote:

#ifihadglass it would be to use it as a mindfulness teaching tool, plucking moments of beauty from ordinary life, creating full-immersion audiovisual haikus to share with the world, showing how every moment is a opportunity for experiencing appreciation and wonder.

Today +Project Glass wrote:

Hi Bodhipaksa, thanks for applying! We’d like to invite you to join our #glassexplorers program. We’ll be sending you a private message with more details in the coming weeks — keep an eye on our stream at Project Glass.?

Wow!

Now I still have to pay for the things, and I believe the cost is about $1500, but I’m psyched to have been chosen, and I’m going to be wandering around for the next few days, imagining I’m wearing Google Glass, and getting a feel of how I could use it as a teaching tool. I already have some interesting ideas.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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The compassionate art of taking breaks

At the weekend I read a great article by Tony Schwartz in the New York Times. It was exactly what I needed at that moment to address the problem of being overly busy. The article was about the importance of taking breaks in order to maintain productivity, and it started like this:

Think for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

With the exception of the thing about breakfast — I always eat breakfast — this is my life. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but checking my email first thing in the morning is what I do. Often there are 30 — sometimes 50 — that have arrived overnight, and I’ve got into the habit of doing triage on my emails as soon as I wake up. I grab my iPad, and I’m off.

I have another bad iPad habit as well, which is of reading on it at night after I go to bed. Because of this I almost always go to sleep later than I should, and then the kids often wake me during the night, or wake up very early in the morning.

And during the day I work more or less continually, usually eating my lunch at my desk. If I’m lucky, my lunch break lasts 10 to 15 minutes. I do of course meditate every day, so at least that counts as a substantial break, but otherwise I’m busy throughout the work day. Sometimes — and you may recognize this in yourself — I get to the point when I just can’t take in one more word. I hit the wall. My brain grinds to a halt and I’m forced to back away from the computer screen. I more or less collapse back in my office chair and wait until my brain has untangled itself from the knot it’s got itself into.

It’s not very mindful or compassionate!

Because this article resonated with me so strongly, I took it very seriously. On Sunday, after my wife had headed out with the kids, I lay down and took a nap. I slept for an hour. And I decided I’d make changes to my work day, too.

Schwartz claims that the brain works on 90 minute cycles. These cycles were identified as operating at night back in the 1950s, and it’s become recognized (he says — I haven’t checked out the science) that these cycles operate throughout the day. That “wall” that I hit is presumably when I’ve pushed past the 90 minutes of one cycle and, failing to take a rest, am now running on empty.

So I’ve been more conscious the last couple of days of the need to take breaks. I’ve been keeping better track of the time, and making sure I program in breaks. I also try to be more mindful of tiredness, so that I’m taking breaks when I need them, and not when the clock says I should have them.

For my breaks I’ve been getting up and walking around, doing the dishes, making and drinking some coffee, going outdoors for a few minutes in order to get a change of scenery and air, and meditating. I plan to add exercising and stretching to my breaks as well.

I’ve still felt a sense of strain in the work day. I think I really go at it when I’m working. But I would have felt much worse had I not taken those breaks.

But all those emails are still going to be flooding my in-box, right? That’s true, but I suspect that I’m just clearer and more productive when I’m better rested, and can therefore deal with them more quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Some of the email I need to deal with is correspondence about meditation practice, and for that kind of conversation you really need to be in a creative space — and that just doesn’t happen when you’re exhausted.

Another change I’ve made is not taking my iPad into the bedroom. This takes away the temptation to read articles or browse social media, and not only do I get to sleep earlier, but I’m probably getting a better quality of sleep because the light from electronic devices is believed to upset our circadian rhythms.

So it’s early days, but I feel like I’m getting more of a handle on my activities, so that I can be more mindful and compassionate toward myself. And that’s going to help not just me, but everyone I’m in contact with.

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Day 30 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 030Emily Schudel of our Google+ Community shares the following account of her progress to date:

The mind wanders into very interesting corners, but I am learning to patiently let it go and return to the breath. I find the practice creeping into my workday as well. I have an app on my computer that also helps (called Stillness Buddy) – pops up on my screen at intervals for a variety of stillness pauses in the day.

One thing I am really trying to be mindful of at work (and in life) now is getting away from multitasking. So many people seem to think doing many things at once is important, necessary and showing of great skill. I don’t know any more – I am beginning to think not, although I still get trapped in the mindset of doing many things at once. I’m trying to stop, do one task at a time (of course, work doesn’t always allow for that, but I try to do one thing for a set time, then switch to another) and do it with full attention on the task at hand, trusting that the other task(s) will be waiting for me to complete next. People at work laugh when I talk about multitasking being perhaps not the thing we should be working towards, but I am caring less and less. I feel like I accomplish more (and accomplish it better, if you will) but lending my full attention to one task at a time. But, I’m still working on it!

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Day 27 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 027Nicki, from Wildmind’s Google Plus Community, offers her take on “how it’s going so far” in the 100 Day Challenge:

The first thing I’ve noticed is a welling-up and outpouring of compassion. In interactions with friends I’ve been almost wholly focussed on them, their lives and interests and how to help them, rather than caught up in some internal dialogue with myself. And the compassion also extends more widely into the world.

Last week I was buying lunch in a takeaway shop, and saw an elderly man sitting slowly cutting and eating a piece of roast chicken (with apologies to vegetarian readers). It was obvious that the movements were difficult for him, and that the strength and coordination to navigate around the chicken bones were testing him to the utmost. So his hands moved slowly, carefully, and I looked at his translucent age-spotted skin and felt an almost unbearable tenderness for this unknown man.

This sounds lovely.

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Day 24 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 024We’re almost a quarter of the way through the challenge!

One thing I’ve been working on is cultivating more lovingkindness in daily life. I find that if I don’t deliberately do this, then my mind often has a bit of a hard and brittle “edge” to it that can come out in irritability and even in anger.

Lovingkindness meditation helps, but it’s not enough. There are still live, unexploded reserves of anger inside my being, and they need to be defused.

Practicing lovingkindness in daily life is like sending in the bomb squad.

So as I’m driving, or walking, or standing in line in a store, and even often when I’m working on my computer, I’ll be cultivating lovingkindness. Sometimes I repeat the lovingkindness phrases — things like “May you be well; may you be happy” — and sometimes all I have to do is to bring my awareness to the heart and remember to be loving. Often that’s all it takes.

There are times I forget, but that’s OK. If I forget to connect with lovingkindness while I’m walking to the post office, but remember on the way back, then at least some of my time has been spent cultivating lovingkindness. Any effort is better than none. I am setting up some “mindfulness triggers” to help me remember to connect with lovingkindness. Walking now triggers this action more often than not, as does driving. I find it a little harder to remember when I’m working, but that’s becoming easier as well. Often when I’m working I’m writing to someone or writing for a particular audience, and I find it enjoyable to connect with lovingkindness for those I’m communicating with.

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Day 16 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 016I encourage my meditation students to set up “mindfulness triggers,” by which I mean reminders to practice mindfulness. One of my mindfulness triggers is walking toward a pedestrian crossing, when I remind myself to have no expectations that the approaching cars will stop. Another is closing my car door and walking to my office, when I remember to walk meditatively in order to arrive at Wildmind’s World Headquarters mindfully and in a state of lovingkindness.

But some of us need mindfulness triggers for our mindfulness triggers, meaning that we read about these kinds of pracices and even plan to set them up, but then in the heat of daily action we forget to follow through.

If that’s you, then here are a few ideas to do right now. Stop everything and just do at least one of these things, otherwise you’ll forget. Habit is a very strong thing…

  1. First, change the ring tone and text message alert tone on your cellphone. When you hear the different sounds, you’ll be jolted into an awareness that they’ve changed, and this will remind you to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is before you answer the phone. So go grab your phone and do that now. I’ll wait.
  2. Second, if you spend much time on a computer, go to this site and set up a bell to ring randomly. When the bell rings, you’ll remember to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is. (There are mindfulness apps for smartphones that will do the same thing.)
  3. Third, put a band-aid on your finger. You’ll notice it throughout the day and it’ll remind you to take three deep breaths, etc. If it’s night time now, then set out a bandaid with your work clothes so that you remember to put it on tomorrow morning.

The more mindfulness we can bring into daily life, the better the quality of our awareness will be, and the more benefit we’ll be to others.

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Day 11 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 011It astonishes me how much time I spend making judgements about people, but the truly surprising thing is that although it makes me feel bad, I keep doing it. And it leads to unfortunate interactions with people which ends up causing them suffering too.

One thing that protects us against this kind of self-imposed suffering is lovingkindness (metta) practice. Lovingkindness is an important complement to mindfulness practice.

To cultivate metta we can do something as simple as repeat to ourselves, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we see others. We can do this while walking or driving, for example.

We can take a more reflective approach to cultivating lovingkindness. I often consider the truth of the following statements:

  • I want to be happy;
  • I don’t want to suffer;
  • I often find happiness elusive;
  • I find suffering hard to avoid.

I drop these thoughts in one at a time, giving myself time to feel their reality on an emotional level. And then I allow the part of me that wants me to be happy to wish myself well — basically allowing a sympathetic attitude toward myself to emerge. Somehow recollecting that it’s a difficult thing to live a human life allows me to be more tender, and to be more caring and appreciative of myself.

Then I can apply the same thoughts to another person: This person wants to be happy; he/she doesn’t want to suffer; he/she often finds happiness elusive; he/she finds suffering hard to avoid. I find that quite naturally I want to “root for” this person as they do this difficult thing of living a human life. I want them to be happy.

This might sound a bit complex, but it isn’t really. The important thing is to give yourself time to let the thoughts have some emotional reality. With a little practice these reflections can be done in a few seconds, and having been thought about in a conscious way, they can then remain in the back of our minds, having a positive effect on our attitudes to others without needing to be consciously articulated.

This is something that I do at the start of each stage of my lovingkindness (metta) meditations. It’s also something I do during my daily activities. It makes lovingkindness practice much more real and effective for me.

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Mindfulness in the 21st century

phone etiquette

This is an excellent phone etiquette idea. People often want to spend more time texting the people they’re not with than paying attention to the people they are with, and in doing so they deprive themselves of the opportunity to make rich emotional connections with others.

We need to develop ways, like this one, of dealing with our addictions to technology and to multitasking. Otherwise we risk becoming road-kill on the information superhighway.

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Kindness is not weakness

Baby's hand holding onto an adult's finger.

Recently I received a few questions about the relationship between lovingkindness and “toughness.”

1. When practicing lovingkindness, how do you respond if people around you warm to you, but misconstrue your kindness and friendliness, and then become disappointed that you don’t want a “relationship” with them?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I suppose the short answer is “kindly.”

It’s great if people are noticing you becoming friendlier and are responding. But these things can be complicated, especially when people have strong emotional needs (because they’re lonely, for example) or where friendliness is being interpreted as an overture to romantic involvement.

And sometimes we may need to look at the signals we’re giving out. Are we just being friendly, or is there an element of flirtatiousness? It’s hard to say from the inside, sometimes, because we’re often not aware of all our motivations and habits. It may take a lot of internal scrutiny and perhaps feedback from friends before we can sort that out.

Also see:

But assuming that you’re just being friendly, we just need to be kind and clear and to set appropriate boundaries. So you could thank the other person for their interest and say, kindly, that unfortunately you don’t have time in your social calendar to have coffee with them, or that you’re not interested in dating at the moment, or whatever seems appropriate for the circumstances.

Some people are not good at taking rejection, so the other person may be hurt or angry or become more persistent, so you may have to be very firm. But it’s still best to be gracious.

2. When practicing lovingkindness but still having to be part of the world work-wise, how do you reconcile others’ expectations that you must be “tough” to negotiate deals etc, that kind, gentle people are “pushovers” and should be taken advantage of, or treated with toughness?

There does seem to be a common assumption that if you’re friendly you can’t also be tough or firm, but that’s of course not the case. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Recently I had to lay someone off because of a financial crunch at work, which was a tough decision to make. But it needed to be done. I tried to do it as kindly as possible, and to give as much background information as possible so that she’d understand why I was doing what I was doing. The response was quite amazing: my former co-worker, when she heard about the financial difficulties we were going though said, “That’s terrible. What can I do to help?” This is not a testament to my communication skills and is more to do with the other person’s own kindness, but it shows that even a lay-off can be an affair free of bitterness.

Some business-people are tough to the point of being positively inhuman, because they are unable to empathize with others. One study reckoned that one in 25 business leaders may be psychopaths. In the long-term, business leaders like that are hugely destructive. They can make life hell for the people they work for. They can destroy trust with their own customers. They can bring their own companies down (Enron, anyone?). They can destroy entire economies.

There’s even a case for saying that corporations, which typically take returns to shareholders as the only meaningful benchmark of success, disregarding the welfare of their workers, clients, and the world generally, have psychopathic tendencies.

On the other hand, studies have shown that effective leaders are empathetic. One study showed that the most effective managers “consistently used the following four competencies: empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness.”

Being empathetic and kind is one set of skills. Being clear and tough is another. Having just one set of these skills makes you ineffective. But it’s possible to have both.

3. This all kind of rolls up to how much is it my responsibility to change my own behaviours based on what I perceive others expect of me? I know some people who do this unconsciously, and others who don’t do it at all a they have no consciousness of others perceptions. But once you are aware, how much is it my responsibility to change myself, and how much should I be “true to myself” and expect others to change around me – even knowing it may not get the response I seek?

If we confuse being kind with “getting people to like us” then we won’t be true to ourselves, and we’ll suffer. Being kind simply means recognizing that other people wish to be happy and don’t want to suffer. Being unkind means wanting others to suffer or not to experience happiness. Now we can be kind and still take actions that lead to other people being unhappy (you might need to lay someone off, and they probably won’t be happy about it) but it’s not our aim to make the other person unhappy, so we’re not being unkind. We recognize that the decisions we’re making are likely to evoke unhappiness, and so we try to take that into account in our speech and in other actions we take.

And being kind doesn’t mean negating your own well-being. If other people have expectations of you, you need to ask whether those expectations are right and reasonable. Your question’s rather abstract, so I’ve no idea what kind of expectations people have of you, or in what way they might want you to change. If they want you to fit in with some well-established and effective way of doing things, then yes, I think it’s reasonable for you to change to accommodate that. If they expect you to lose your sense of right and wrong, then you need to take a stand.

When we’re “being true to ourselves” we’re always being selective. In my opinion, we’re most true to ourselves when we’re true to the wisest and kindest parts of ourselves, rather than to the most rigid, grasping, or harsh parts. There’s inevitably conflict between these two sides. Pick a side.

But it’s a complex thing, this being human. Complex and difficult. There is a need for give and take, for compromise, for making concessions. But there’s also a need to be firm to your core values. If people don’t respect that, then sometimes the kindest thing you can do — for yourself — is to get the hell out of Dodge.

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No expectations

In practicing mindfulness in daily life, it’s worth watching out for small experiences that lead to tension, stress, or anger.

I noticed several months ago that I’d start feeling resentful as I walked toward a pedestrian crossing with the intention, of course, of crossing the road. The resentment is connected with the number of drivers who don’t stop when they see someone — well, me! — about to cross the road.

But I’d actually start getting resentful before I even reached the side of the road, long before drivers could possibly realize that it was my intention to cross in front of them.

What’s important is that I recognized that this was a source of suffering for me. It wasn’t one of these things that ruined my day, but it created an unpleasant experience that would color at least part of my day.

And it’s completely unnecessary. I was pushing my own stress buttons.

So I got into the habit of saying to myself, as I walked along the sidewalk toward the crossing, “No expectations.” It was just a little reminder that I couldn’t expect drivers to psychically know that it was my intention to cross, and that even once it should be clear that that was my intention, it was pointless having expectations that they would stop. After all, we all have times when we’re a little distracted and don’t respond promptly to things around us. What’s the point of taking these things personally?

The interesting thing is that saying “no expectations” has not just prevented frustration, tension, and anger from arising — when I say those words I find myself relaxing more deeply and enjoying my present-moment experience.

It’s a small thing, but then our lives are made out of the small things.

To apply this approach, we first have to notice that we’re causing ourselves frustration. Noticing this isn’t necessarily easy to do if our habits are longstanding. And in any event, we often tend to think of these petty frustrations as just a normal part of our experience.

And we often externalize our feelings, by which I mean that we blame the outside world for what we’re feeling. We might see it as those drivers are the problem and they’re making me frustrated rather than it’s my frustration toward those drivers that’s the problem. So we have to remember that people do not push our buttons. Our buttons are inside our heads, and we do our own button-pushing.

I can think of other circumstances in which this could be useful for me. When I log in to Wildmind’s Facebook page, for example, I often feel some disappointment when I see that an article we’ve posted a link to has received a small number of “likes.” The link to the article may have been viewed by 2,000 people (Facebook helpfully displays this information) and perhaps only 12 have clicked “like.” Now there’s a side to this where I can perhaps learn to craft better Facebook posts or to find the best times of day to post, but as long as I cling to expectations, I’m going to suffer.

I wonder what circumstances the mantra of “no expectations” could help you in your life?

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