mindfulness in daily life

Publilius Syrus, “To do two things at once is to do neither”

Publilius Syrus, author of To do two things at once is to do neither

The other day I read about a family of six who were wiped out when a truck-driver plowed into their vehicle. He’d allegedly been driving and attempting to look at a laptop screen at the same time.

Not all multitasking is that catastrophic, but nevertheless attempting to juggle too many things in a short space of time is causing us stress, reducing our productivity, and making it harder to maintain focus when we need to.

What happens in the long term to an economy built on the labor of information workers when those workers are too distracted to think? Well, perhaps that might be considerably more of a catastrophe than a single family being killed — no matter how tragic an event that was.

To do two things at once is to do neither (Publilius Syrus, an Iraqi enslaved by the Romans. Flourished first century BCE.)

Multitasking is actually a misnomer. Your brain hasn’t evolved to deal with consciously processing multiple streams of data, such as listening to someone talk on the phone while you check your email and try also to keep one ear open for tidbits of an interesting conversation nearby. Modern computers may have been designed to do this, but our brains evolved to live in a simpler world. So we can’t genuinely multitask. What we call multitasking is actually a process of switching attention rapidly among a number of different activities.

The problem with multitasking is that although it may give the illusion of efficiency, it’s actually a very bad way to use the brain’s resources. It takes time, when switching from one task to another, to let go of one task, move your attention to the new one, and to resume your train of thought once again.

Imagine you’re doing some painting at the top of a stepladder and the phone keeps ringing (one of those old-fashioned phones with a wire, not the cordless variety). Every time the phone rings you put down your paintbrush, descend the ladder, answer the phone, write down a message or have a conversation, go up the ladder again, pick up your brush, and then resume your task. And this happens every three minutes. How much painting would you get done?

Every three minutes is, by some accounts, how often the average office worker gets interrupted.

Every three minutes is, by some accounts, how often the average office worker gets interrupted, by a phone call, an incoming email, a passing colleague, or some other task that pops into the mind. And that process of stopping one task, moving to another, and switching back all takes time and energy in the brain.

This is why, when subjects are asked to perform two different tasks at the same time, the amount of brain activity goes down rather than up. The level of brain activity actually decreases to two thirds of what takes place when subjects perform one task at a time.

Confirming this finding is an experiment where subjects were asked either to check their email and then write a report — the tasks performed sequentially — or to do both tasks at the same time. The multitaskers took one and a half times as long in total than those people who did one task and then another.

My ladder metaphor is exactly the situation many of us put ourselves in when we interrupt writing to read an incoming email, and then interrupt reading the email to read and incoming text, and then futz around on Facebook for a few minutes before returning to … “What was it I was doing again?”

But not only is multitasking bad for our efficiency, it’s been implicated in reducing our ability to apply sustained focus with our attention. Psychiatrists Edward Hallowell and John Ratey of Harvard say that multitasking can lead to “pseudo-Attention Deficit Disorder,” where we constantly seek new information but have trouble concentrating on its content. We end up restlessly seeking new stimuli, and unable to focus on it, in an information-worker’s version of the myth of the “hungry ghost.”

So what can we do to help avoid pseudo-ADD and multitasking-induced loss of productivity?

Multitaskers took one and a half times as long in total than those people who did one task and then another.

1. Switch off contact applications except for the one you’re working on.
Right at this very moment I’m writing an article on multitasking. Wouldn’t you love to know that I’m also checking my email, my Twitter updates, my IM, and stopping now and then to answer my phone and scan interesting web articles. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not. My email and other contact programs are closed. My cell-phone is in another room. I’ll deal with any messages later.

When you’re dealing with email, deal with email. Let your voicemail pick up your phone calls. If dealing with your email requires you to look up an article or check your calendar, then by all means do so. But avoid unnecessary input.

2. Use simplifying tools
Some computer programs are hideously cluttered, with the toolbars on Microsoft programs being particularly overwhelming. And how many of those buttons do you ever use anyway? Do you even know what they do? I’ve reduced my toolbars in Word to just a few essentials, while for many common functions I simply use keyboard shortcuts, which in themselves reduce multitasking because they don’t require us to move from one kind of activity (typing) to another (selecting menus). The reduction in visual clutter helps me maintain focus.

It’s also helpful to write first and then format later. Trying to fiddle with formatting at the same time as writing is like trying to tidy the inside of your car while you’re driving it.

You can go further. For writing I use a program called “WriteRoom,” which has no menus and whose interface looks like an early 1980’s PC – simple green text on a black background (although the colors can be customized. There’s nothing there to distract me.

If you have a Mac or a large monitor, the profusion of applications on the screen can induce clutter-fatigue. You can simplify by using command+shift+H to hide all applications but those you’re working on. Or you can use “Spaces” to keep application that are open, but which you’re not currently using, out of sight and out of mind.

How many of those buttons in Word do you ever use anyway?

3. Use planning tools
Before I started using planning tools I’d often find that I’d repeatedly remember — often at completely inappropriate times, like driving or meditating — about things I had to do. Things improved a lot when I started doing “brain-dumps” to record all the tasks that had been jumbled up in my mind. You need to capture everything — not just work tasks but personal ones too.

Tools such as OmniFocus not only encourage you to keep lists of things to do, but they also help you organize them by context, so that if you find you have to nip out to the bank you can easily see which other tasks (pick up the dry-cleaning, pick up a prescription) that you can do while you’re out and about.

I have to say that using planning tools has reduced the level of distraction in my meditation practice more than any meditative technique I’ve ever learned.

4. Practice simplicity
I’m not very proficient at being tidy, although I have my good days — and on those days I feel happier and lighter. “Being tidy” is the end result of finishing one task elegantly before starting another; rather than leave a bit of paper on the desk as a reminder that some action has to be taken we add the action to our to-do list and file the paper in a “projects in progress” file. Being tidy also provides a good environment for the mind to perform without distraction.

We should be willing to be in silence.

We can also do things like take one or two deep breaths before answering the phone, so that we give ourselves time to let go of what we were just doing and get ourselves into a focused and friendly state before we speak to the person on the other end. When you’re calling a company, would you prefer the phone picked up two seconds earlier, or to be picked up by a person who is centered and friendly?

We should also be willing to be in silence. I use some of my time in the car to listen to podcasts, but I also regard it as important just to drive without other input, and so sometimes my iPod goes off. Driving in silence gives us a chance to let the mind rest without a constant barrage of input.

5. Defrag your mind
Take breaks during the workday: just two or three minutes spent relaxing the body and tuning in to the breath. Your brain needs a chance to rest, and your mind needs opportunities to “defragment” itself.

Time taken out for meditation also helps the mind to become calmer and less restless.

When you’re working on one task, resist the desire to interrupt yourself by checking your email, or Facebook, or whatever. If you’re writing and you notice those temptations arising, just notice them and let go of them. They’ll pass.

It’s not possible to escape multitasking altogether. In fact at times it’s essential. But if we avoid it where we can, and especially if we resist become addicted to it, we’ll feel happier and more integrated. And we’ll make a long-term investment by protecting one of our most valuable assets — the mind’s ability to pay sustained, focused, attention.

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The joys of Zen Coffee

Zen Coffee, by Gloria ChadwickThere are many paths to Awakening, including the path of Zen Coffee, Gloria Chadwick’s hip new take on Zen mindfulness.

Zen meditation is pure and simple; it’s accomplished by sitting quietly, clearing and stilling your conscious mind by not allowing your thoughts to wander or intrude while letting your mind empty itself. If a conscious thought enters your awareness, you acknowledge it as merely a thought and gently let it go, without attaching any feelings to it, giving it any importance, or thinking about it. You simply allow your mind to be quiet.

The objective is to reach a state of nirvana (the attainment of enlightenment and the freeing of yourself from attachment to worldly things) where you transcend the physical and you’re aware of everything, understanding it completely within your mind as you achieve a state of divine awareness of your inner nature.

A more active form of Zen meditation embraces mindfulness–your thoughts are completely in the present moment, you’re totally aware of where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and you’re accepting what you experience without judgment. This keeps you centered and connected with your current emotions and experiences. Mindfulness is first accomplished by simply breathing and being aware that you’re breathing. Your breath brings your awareness into the present moment, centering you completely into right here, right now. The objective is to again reach a level of nirvana (the attainment of a completely enjoyable moment that provides the embracing of an ultimate experience of harmony or joy) which allows you to tune into the calm, peaceful essence of your inner nature.

You can incorporate both forms of mindful meditation into a Zen coffee. How often, while drinking a cup of coffee, have you spaced out, letting your thoughts go completely, emptying your mind and simply enjoying your coffee and a peaceful feeling of just being? You were mindfully meditating, filling your mind completely in the present moment, letting go of all other thoughts except what you were experiencing with your coffee. Perhaps you focused on the warmth of the cup in your hand and tuned into the aroma and steam rising from the coffee. Perhaps the warmth of the coffee soothed your spirit. Perhaps you perceived the steam as an ethereal wisp of your inner nature, letting the aroma of the coffee and the peacefulness of your inner essence completely engulf you.

  Drinking coffee in a Zen moment transports you into a meditative frame of mind…  

Or perhaps you drank it down without a second thought. Even quickly slurping a cup of coffee provides you with an opportunity to transcend your physical nature and the everyday world for a time, if you will take a mindful moment to be aware of and enjoy your coffee. Drinking coffee in a Zen moment transports you into a meditative frame of mind where you are completely in the present moment. Just like the steam rising from your hot coffee, you can rise into the ethereal essence of your inner nature.

Quietly sipping your coffee offers you time for yourself, a nurturing respite from your busy lifestyle. The quiet time you spend for reflection and introspection brings relaxation and refreshment to your mind; it offers you a nice and much-needed breather to get into the calm, peaceful essence of you. You can sit in solitude in a Zen-like state of meditation with your coffee to ease and erase the stresses and strains of your everyday experiences with the warmth, taste, and aroma of your coffee as you nurture the inner essence of you.

The quiet, meditative moments you spend in this manner bring you peace and serenity. It is here, in this quiet time and meditative place of peace and harmony within yourself, that you become in tune with your inner essence, with the true nature of you. This works wonderfully well if you can find a few moments for yourself to sit in silence and just be with yourself. If you can’t, you can still tune into yourself with a cup of coffee in any situation you find yourself in. This is how the Zen of coffee works. You can achieve many peaceful moments of harmony while you’re on the go and racing around, running through life. Coffee gives you a quiet time, a moment or two every now and then, scattered here and there, to de-stress and drink in the mindfulness of Zen; to relax and reflect; to go within your inner essence to replenish yourself and refresh your mind.

Zen Coffee is for people on the go; it offers an active approach to mindfully meditating in every moment of your busy life. It offers you many ways to bring peace and a sense of serenity into all your experiences and activities, to be in harmony with them. As you race through life with your coffee cup in hand, you’ll find many mindful moments to meditate.

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A Room of One’s OM

Yoga Journal: A growing number of yogis have created a dedicated space for practicing yoga and meditation at home. A few have built a true studio space; some have converted an extra bedroom; and others have created a soothing sanctuary in the corner of a room. Regardless of the approach, making physical space at home for your practice can have a profound effect on your life. Read more here.

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Mysticism: where the dharma rubber hits the road

iStock_000004953282XSmallIn Sunada’s view, mysticism isn’t about indulging in out-of-body experiences as a way of escaping the world. It’s about meeting the world head-on and learning directly from it. It’s about as practical as it gets.

If you’ve been reading my blog articles for a while, you may have gathered by now that I’m a rather down-to-earth sort of practitioner, with a keen interest in how meditation and Buddhist practice interplays with the practical aspects of our daily lives. So when I heard that this month’s topic was Mysticism, well, my first impulse was to take a pass. How does Mysticism relate to everyday life? Like Bodhipaksa (as he mentions in his related article), my first stop was a dictionary. And I was somewhat surprised by what I found. It gave the following definition:

“Mysticism: a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding”

With this definition in hand, I’ve changed my view of what mysticism is all about. It’s actually a central part of Buddhist practice, and very much a practical matter. It’s our experience of spiritual intuition that moves the teachings from the realm of intellectual thoughts and concepts into one of personally meaningful truths that inform how we live our lives.

  Mysticism is a central part of Buddhist practice, and very much a practical matter.   

One of those experiences happened to me in 1995 during a vacation to the state of Washington, and a visit to Mount St. Helens. St. Helens had erupted catastrophically fifteen years earlier, causing the most destructive volcanic event in all of US history. After several weeks of rumbling earthquakes and steam-venting, it finally in May of 1980 erupted so violently that its entire north face blew off. Hot gases and ash spewed outward for miles in diameter, instantly roasting and flattening everything in their path.

My husband and I hiked to the peak of a nearby ridge where we came upon an unobstructed panoramic view of massive destruction on a scale beyond belief. As far as I could see, everything was dead and ash-covered. From where we stood, what I knew had once been a dense forest of 40-foot pine trees appeared as though someone had thrown down millions of charred toothpicks. Bare blackened sticks were all that remained — all lying on the ground. But strangely, they were all neatly pointing in the same outward direction from the epicenter of the blast. It was a terrible but beautiful and awesome sight.

I have no idea how long I stood there taking in that vista. In my stunned silence, time had stopped. In one sense, I felt incredibly small and insignificant in the face of such vast power and devastation. But at the same time, I also felt empowered by its greatness. In an odd way that I can’t explain even now, I felt like I was a part of this greatness, that somehow its magnificence was something that was very much alive and part of me. It was my first intuitive inkling of life as something universal. I wasn’t a separate and independent being, but part of something much greater that incorporated the earth and sky as much as my own puny body.

  I wasn’t a separate and independent being, but part of something much greater…   

These kinds of encounters can happen at any moment, in the most ordinary of circumstances. It can happen when talking with a close friend, when a shared moment seems to dissolve all boundaries between us. Or when reading a moving novel, or listening to evocative music, or seeing a work of art that touches us – when we get a glimpse into something in a way that we can’t put into words, but it hits home deeply within ourselves. We’re taken out of our small self-centered viewpoint and see something bigger, something beyond, something universal. I’m sure many of us have had experiences of this sort at one time or another. We may not know what to make of the experience as it’s happening. It may take years or decades for it to mature into something we can even begin to talk about. But something inside gets stirred.

I know that Buddhism appeals to many people, myself included, because its teachings are rational and for the most part built upon observable phenomena. But to leave it at that would be to categorize Buddhism as a philosophy or an intellectual pursuit – which falls far short of its true significance.

To truly take up the practice of the dharma is to open ourselves up to the invitation of those intuitive experiences. We can’t make them happen, of course. But we can stay open and receptive, keep a stance of curiosity and wonder, and refrain from our habitual ways of sizing up situations and overlaying them with expectations or fears. As we practice this more and more, our skills at observing and perceiving become clearer and more refined. And that in turn allows us to see more deeply for ourselves the truth behind the Buddha’s words. We begin to change as well, as we become wiser in our ways of responding to our experiences, and that inspires us to go further still. And the cycle continues upward. This is true practice of the dharma.

So, mysticism is not about going into weird trances or out-of-body experiences as a way of escaping from our world. Far from it! It’s really a way of delving more and more deeply in the world, meeting it head-on, and learning from the school of hard knocks, as the saying goes. It’s about learning and growing from life itself. I can’t think of anything more practical than that.

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Setting up for sitting

burning incense

Traditionally in a Buddhist temple or meditation center we leave our shoes at the door before entering. We do that not just to keep the floors clean (although don’t knock that) but it’s also a symbolic act. When we leave our shoes outside the meditation room we’re also leaving the dust of the world behind us, and that symbolizes that we’re leaving behind unhelpful attitudes and habits.

Or at least we’re intending to leave those things behind. If getting rid of unhelpful mental habits was as easy as taking our shoes off we’d all be enlightened by now!

Still, intention is valuable, so let’s honor the symbolism inherent in leaving the shoes outside the door, and think a bit more about ways in which we can prepare for meditation.

Preparation is not something we do for the sake of it. It’s not a meaningless ritual that we do because it’s “the done thing” or because past generations have done it. We do it because it helps our meditation practice to be more effective.

Before meditation

Having a little quiet time before meditation is helpful. It gives the mind an opportunity to “shift gear” in stages, from busyness, to sitting quietly, to sitting in meditation. Rushing straight from activity to meditating can lead to strong restlessness and even frustration.

You might want to let people who are around you know that you’re going to be sitting so that they won’t disturb you. You may want to put a do not disturb sign on your door in case someone comes into the house.

Unplug the phone, and leave a note reminding you to plug it in again afterwards. Merely taking the phone off the hook can result in loud noises coming from the speaker, so avoid doing that. Without the note you may forget to reconnect it!

If you’re anxious about unplugging the phone because someone may try to contact you in an emergency, then that’s just a sign that you really need to unplug the phone and meditate! (Unless of course there’s good reason to expect an emergency, like you know someone’s about to give birth or someone’s just gone into Intensive Care).

You may have pets to deal with. Some cats and dogs are happy to sit with you. Others may demand your attention. So you need to learn what your pet’s individual response is. Having a pet scratching at the door can be more distracting than having a pet pawing you a few times. To get pets used to you meditating you may want to pet them a few times during your meditation.

Also, remember to send lovingkindness to your pets, and to any other beings who may be disturbing your meditation. Pets can be very sensitive to the vibes you give out.

It’s traditional when entering a meditation room to bow. This isn’t a symbol of submission, but a way of honoring the spiritual teachers of the past and also of honoring your own potential for enlightenment.

The meditation space

It’s good to have a dedicated meditation space. As best you can, create at least a small area where you can keep your cushions, mats, bench, etc. And make sure that the space is clean and tidy. It’s hard to clear your mind when your surroundings are cluttered.

Having an altar can give you a focal point for the mind. You can have flowers, candles, incense, pictures, and objects that are meaningful to you. Many people have natural items on their altars — leaves, stones, crystals, etc.

The base of an altar may be specially made, or it may simply be an upturned cardboard box draped with a cloth.

Some people prefer simple altars, while other people have more elaborate ones. It’s really up to you.

Incense can be particularly evocative. Often we just have to smell a particular kind of incense and we find that we’re calmer and clearer. Japanese and Chinese incense are the most refined. Tibetan incense can be rather overpowering and heavy, and many brands of Indian incense can smell like an accident in a chemical factory. Just make sure you choose an incense that you find pleasing.

Stretching

Some people go for a full yoga workout before meditating, while others don’t do any stretching at all. But even a couple of minutes spent stretching the hamstrings, back, and shoulders can help you to sit more comfortably and can also help you to feel more energized. But be careful! Stretch only if you know what you’re doing, and be sensitive to yourself at all times.

Chanting

The first time I chanted before meditation (following along with others at a local sangha gathering, many years ago) I had a strangely enjoyable meditation afterwards. I described the chanting at the time as being a kind of “meditation before the meditation.” That chanting was in Pali, an ancient Indian language, and was the traditional chant known as the Tiratana Vandana, or Salutation to the Three Jewels. Another common chant is the Refuges and Precepts. These are good chants to learn.

But chanting any text that is spiritually meaningful to you will be helpful. For Christians, chanting the Lord’s Prayer might be appropriate, for example.

These kinds of preparations may seem to be optional extras, but in reality they’re part of the meditation practice. Coming back to the notion of intention being important, the more we can blend meditation with daily life, the more effective will be our meditation practice. And daily life will be a bit easier too!

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From bookshelves to boardroom, ‘mindfulness’ is hot spiritual trend (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Indiana)

Psychologist Henry Grayson says his book, “Mindful Loving,” might not have been a bestseller if his publisher had stuck to a title he’d suggested: “The New Physics of Love.”

Three months ago, Body & Soul magazine added the phrase, “The Natural Guide to Mindful Living” to its cover. Mindfulness — living consciously in the moment — has become “just that significant” in American culture, said editor-in-chief Seth Bauer.

Mindfulness books and tapes are frequent bestsellers. Mindfulness training is a staple at seminars, retreats and spas. Hospitals and psychologists are teaching mindfulness as a means to handle everything from chronic illness and addiction to stress and depression.

“There’s a sense that what is missing in our lives is a real connection to what we do, what we think, how we relate to people and how we take care of ourselves,” said Bauer. “Mindfulness brings all of those things together.”

Even corporate America is on board. Some businesses now offer mindfulness workshops to improve concentration, employee relations and ethics. Last year, Spirituality & Health magazine featured an article titled, “Lessons from Mindful Corporations.”

Spiritual trend watchers say mindfulness has become to the 2000s what angels were to the 1990s. Maybe bigger, though there may never be a TV show called “Touched by a Mindful Person.”

“Most of the time, we’re just going, going, going — operating on autopilot,” said Gary Stuard of Dallas, a former Buddhist monk who teaches mindfulness meditation at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.

“Mindfulness is about paying attention so you don’t go about life absentmindedly,” he said.

Experts say mindfulness is cultivated. The most common way is by sitting in quiet meditation and observing one’s breath. Some people count breaths as they inhale and exhale. Others follow the rising and falling of the breath or some other variation.

“The point of mindfulness meditation is not to zone out but to tune in,” Stuard said.

The challenge comes when the mind drifts. Each time that happens, people are told to take notice, then return to their breath without judging their thoughts and emotions.

“Your breath draws you into the here and now,” said Grayson, the Mindful Loving author. “People are realizing that they spend so much of their lives worrying about the past or thinking about the future that they miss out on the present.”

The point is to bring awareness to all aspects of life.

Whether practiced for spiritual, health or other reasons, mindfulness is all about conscious living. (If you’ve ever mindlessly stuffed yourself while watching TV, you know something about unconscious living.)

Bonnie Arkus, executive director of the Women’s Heart Foundation in West Trenton, N.J., said she dropped 10 pounds in a month by combining the South Beach diet with “mindfulness eating.”

“You’re not just watching what goes into your mouth,” she said. “You actually taste the food because you stop to enjoy it. You’re not just inhaling it on the run, so you tend to eat less.”

Mindfulness is integral to Buddhism, an ancient religion that has enjoyed waves of popularity in America.

In the 1960s, the influence of the Beat writers, such as Allen Ginsberg, became widespread.

The 1970s celebrated Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

In the 1990s, Hollywood stepped forward with “Kundun” and “Seven Years in Tibet.”

And now, whenever the Dalai Lama visits, he’s greeted by crowds befitting a rock star.

Many say the seeds for the current mindfulness craze were largely planted by the 1975 book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.

“Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves,” wrote the monk, who lives in France.

Some Buddhists are troubled that mindfulness in the American mainstream is being commercialized in ways that have nothing to do with spirituality.

“It’s not just mental training or a self-improvement technique,” said Sharon Salzberg, a well-known Buddhist teacher, author of spiritual books and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass.

For Buddhists, mindfulness is embedded in ethics and compassion.

In spiritual circles, mindfulness is a path to inner awakening. In the medical community, it’s seen as a path to better health.

More than 200 U.S. hospitals and clinics use mindfulness training to promote mental and physical health.

Austin family physician Paul Keinarth, on the verge of burnout, turned to mindfulness meditation four years ago. Racing thoughts, worries and stress plagued him. He had difficulty sleeping. He was emotionally distant from his family.

“The change has been dramatic,” said Keinarth, who now teaches mindfulness courses. “I’m living my own life as it unfolds now instead of living a lot of stories about what happened to me or to other people. My relationships to my family and to my patients have vastly improved.”

Dr. James Ruiz, a radiologist from Baton Rouge, La., said his interest in mindfulness began when his 6-year-old son was an infant. When the baby would cry in the middle of the night, he would hold him while doing a walking mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness has changed the way he parents, he said.

“Being up in the middle of the night with a child in distress is not what drives you to madness,” he said. “What drives you crazy is that you want to be back in bed. Mindfulness is letting go of that, accepting the reality and attending to what’s in front of you.”

The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School uses many techniques to teach mindfulness. One exercise involves taking 20 minutes to eat two raisins. Participants notice how the raisins look and smell. They feel the texture. And finally, they taste.

Mindfulness isn’t alternative medicine, but complements traditional medicine, said Saki Santorelli, the center’s director.

“This approach which used mindfulness was pretty radical when the program started,” he said. “But we showed the medical community that it wasn’t taking advantage of its greatest ally — the patients themselves.

The link to Buddhism isn’t emphasized, he said.

“People who come to our clinic don’t care about Buddhism or any -ism,” he said. “They’re suffering and want relief. Mindfulness helps them tap inner resources.”

But some in the medical community say more scientific studies are needed.

“Given the potential benefits and increasing popularity of mindfulness training, it seems critically important,” Ruth Baer of the University of Kentucky’s psychology department, wrote last year in a scholarly paper.

Being disciplined about meditating is the hardest challenge, many people say.

At the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, people gather every day to meditate. Executive Director Helen Cortes said 200 students may pass through in a year, but only a few will stick with it.

“Not everybody likes sitting still for 25 minutes or an hour,” she said. “But there are other choices. People need to follow their own temperament to develop mindfulness.”

She said sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, washing dishes and even cleaning toilets can serve as mindfulness meditations.

“We remind people you wash dishes not in order to get them clean, but rather to simply wash the dishes,” she said. “You feel the water, smell the soap, be aware of your body when you put the dishes away.”

Scholars say concepts similar to mindfulness are found in other religions — the daily cycle of prayers said by Christian monks, Orthodox Jews and Muslims. These observances are ways of paying attention to the presence of God in all things.

Original article no longer available…

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Pulse: Health briefs (LA Daily News)

LA Daily News: I barely have time to exercise. How can I add meditation to my daily routine?

Eric Harrison has heard that complaint before. He demonstrates in “Flip the Switch” (Ulysses Press; $10.95) that even the most hectic schedule has room for spot meditations.

  • Do some deep breathing in the car at a red light.
  • Focus on relaxing different parts of the body while standing in line at lunch.
  • Intersperse meditation exercises between reps at the gym.
  • Even mundane activities such as folding laundry provide ample opportunity to clear the mind.

Harrison, director of the Perth Meditation Centre in Australia, offers 40 spot meditations that can be done in less than five minutes. Now that’s multitasking.

Original article no longer available.

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