emotions

Bringing calm to the classroom

Timothy Iverson, Everyday Mindfulness: I sit on my pillow in a quiet space, surrounded by sympathetic adults. Under me, the cool hardwood floors. Nearby, the tick of a clock. The instructor leads us gently through a tour of our minds, sharing insights to transform our lives. I have not known peace like this for decades. I am learning the practice of mindfulness.

Fast-forward 15 years to a busy middle- school. I step into the hallway between classes and hear a dull roar that I’ve heard before. Turning a corner, I see students shouting and gathering around two girls …

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Kindness contagion

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Jamil Zaki, Scientific American: Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus.

Conformity gets a bad rap, and it often deserves one. People abuse drugs, deface national parks, and spend $150,000 on tote bags after seeing others do so. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be all bad, though. People parrot each other’s voting, healthy eating, and environmental conservation efforts, too. They also “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. Tell someone that his neighbors donated to a charity, and that person will boost his own giving, even a year later. Such …

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Moving past self-criticism

We co-create our lives based on the self-talk and self-imposed beliefs that have conditioned us from our childhood. We become what we believe to be true, and journey thru life making decisions that are fueled by conversations we have with ourselves. Words we speak to ourselves are often untrue, and rob us of the beautiful life that would be ours if only we could move past our rigid convictions and allow in the truth that would free us to an amazing life: a life that is speaking to us …

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Suck at meditation? You may just be doing it right

David Ferguson, The Guardian: I suck at meditating. I’m one of those perennially distracted people who knows they need to meditate, has meditated in the past with some success and who knows they should meditate more, but who finds it so much easier to do things like dishes, laundry and exercising than to schedule time to do nothing.

When I read this Forbes article touting mindfulness meditation as the “next big business opportunity”, my initial impulse is to grind my teeth in frustration. Co-opting a centuries-old spiritual practice as the engine of your hip new startup strikes me …

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Kill the Soulmate

Cheryl Fraser, Mindful.org: Our brains can’t help but compare the imperfect human snoring beside us to the ideal hunk in our heads. But around the corner there isn’t someone better—only someone different.

Shaun Cassidy, teen singing idol and one of TV’s sexy Hardy Boys, was my soulmate. There I was clad in the kilt and knee socks of a private school girl, lusting over this blue-eyed heartthrob and completely convinced we would fall in love. He …

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Meditation was the most unexpected tool in my addiction recovery

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Britni de la Cretaz, SheKnows: When I arrived at rehab for my alcohol and cocaine addiction, one of the first things I was handed was a schedule with the day’s activities on it. It included groups and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I would need to attend, as well as meal times — all the usual things you’d expect to find on a daily rehab schedule.

But I was a little taken aback to see that the first thing on the agenda every morning — from 8 to 8:10 — was meditation. The idea of having to meditate for 10 minutes every day was baffling to me. I immediately chalked it up to hooey or some woo-woo crap.

I skipped as many mornings as I could. When I did participate, I did anything but focus on my breath for the 10 minutes. How could I? My brain had too many other things to think about, and I was pretty sure those things were far more interesting and important than sitting quietly and counting in breaths and out breaths.

I thought about how stupid it was that I had to sit quietly for 10 minutes. I thought about how badly I wanted to peek at the clock so I could see how much time I had left. I thought about how I would probably most definitely drink again when I left treatment. I thought about the fact that I absolutely would not move into a sober house after rehab. And maybe once, maybe twice, over the course of those 10 minutes, I’d focus on my breathing.

While I was sitting there thinking about all the things that were much more interesting and important than meditation, something funny happened. Progressively, I had fewer and fewer thoughts that seemed all that important. Slowly, my brain began to quiet. Instead of focusing on one or two breaths over the course of the 10 minutes, I found myself coming back to that breath every 30 seconds or so. Four months later, when it was time to leave treatment, meditation had become like a sigh of relief for my brain. It became something I looked forward to every morning instead of something I dreaded.

Meditation, it turned out, was something I could carry with me into my day. When I first arrived at rehab, my mind was always racing. It jumped ahead to three Thursdays from now. It played an endless stream of what-ifs. That, in turn, caused a great deal of anxiety because I can’t control the future. I don’t know what will happen in an hour, let alone tomorrow or next week. Inevitably, that stress and uncertainty led to me to pick up alcohol and drugs to quiet my mind.

Meditation gave me the ability to stay present, to find the here and now. It taught me how not to get ahead of myself. To sit with my emotions and my discomfort instead of running from them or numbing them with substances. By learning to sit through uncomfortable feelings, I also got to learn that those feelings — all feelings, in fact, both good and bad — would pass. Candice Rasa, clinical director of Beach House Center for Recovery, says that my experience is a common one.

“During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress,” Rasa explains. “This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.” For me, that looked like an overall calmness and a decrease in my anxiety levels. I also began to explore different kinds of meditation — guided meditations using phone apps, practicing yoga, and repeating a mantra over and over again. Each of these forms of meditation provided something different.

Yoga allowed me to connect my meditation practice to my physical body. As a trauma survivor who often drank and used drugs to cope with my post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, I wasn’t used to feeling present in my body. Yoga and progressive muscle relaxation — a form of meditation where you systematically relax every muscle in your body — helped me learn to be present in my body again and to really feel it.

Rasa says that this benefit of meditation, of keeping people in the present, is very important for those of us who are recovering from addiction because “it allows for greater self-awareness… and reduces negative emotions, which leads to [fewer] destructive behaviors, such as picking up drugs and alcohol.”

The most helpful thing anyone ever told me is something that Rasa stresses, too: There is no wrong way to meditate. During those first few weeks when I was thinking about anything other than my breathing, someone told me that if I had focused on my breath even once during those 10 minutes, then I had meditated. Meditation, like anything else, is a practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Ultimately, meditation became just one of many tools that I use in my recovery. It’s something that I can use at any time, in any place, and I can tailor it to my needs. It’s given me the ability to quiet my brain and find the time to just breathe, which helps bring me back to center — and makes it less likely that I’ll need drugs or alcohol to cope with how I’m feeling. And that, truly, is a gift.

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The Dalai Lama’s $750,000 emotional atlas website is kind of blah

emotion atlas

The New York Times today reported that the Dalai Lama commissioned a website that presents an Atlas of Emotions, aimed to help ordinary people understand their emotions better. He paid psychologist Paul Ekman — who helped advise on Pixar’s “Inside Out” and on the TV show, “Lie to Me” — “at least” $750,000 to develop the site.

You should be able to get a hell of a lot of website for three quarters of a million dollars, right?

I’ve been playing around a little with the Dalai Lama’s emotion website. It defines and describes different emotions, their sub-states, the actions they give rise to, their triggers, and the settled moods they give rise to when they become habitual.

It presents five primary emotions, which are portrayed as “continents,” following the atlas theme. These five emotions are fear, sadness, disgust, enjoyment, and anger.

I can see how this could be helpful in giving people a better vocabulary to understand and name their emotions.

However, I have grave reservations about the usefulness of this site. I haven’t see anything in the website about love or compassion, which is odd, given both their importance in life and the Dalai Lama’s (and Buddhism’s) emphasis on them. How can the primary emotions of Buddhism be missing? Where is gratitude? Where is reverence, awe, or admiration? These are all crucial spiritual emotions.

The atlas is meant to be a practical tool, and the site’s description emphasizes this: “This Atlas was created to increase understanding of how emotions influence our lives, giving us choice, (at least some of the time) about which emotion we are experiencing.”

“Understanding” is good, but it doesn’t necessarily transform us. There’s little practical information. We can learn what triggers particular states: for example losing a loved one or being rejected triggers sadness. But there’s no practical guidance about how to deal with loss or rejection in ways that will reduce suffering rather than increase it. Buddhist teachings show how we can do this, and it’s surprising that the whole field of working with emotions is missing from the atlas.

Two primary Buddhist tools for dealing with emotions are mindfulness and equanimity. There’s no guidance on how to develop these. Buddhism also teaches how to cultivate skillful emotions such as kindness, compassion, and appreciation. There’s no guidance on the website at all.

There’s one other thing about the Atlas of Emotions that bothers me. Down at the bottom left is a little stick figure icon pointing to the word “peg.” It’s not obvious what that’s about unless you click on it. Clicking on the icon in fact takes you to Paul Ekman’s site, where the emphasis is on selling his training courses on recognizing micro-emotions. I find this distasteful. He’s used $750,000 (how!) to create a website, and then is using that site to host advertising for his products. Perhaps he pays for this advertising. There’s no way of knowing.

This is disappointing, since I have a lot of respect for Dr. Ekman’s work.

But about that price tag! I’ve developed this website (Wildmind) on a shoestring. It’s not a systematic guide to emotions, as the Atlas of Emotions is, but it contains a wealth of tools for working with emotions. It offers not only practical articles, but also guided meditations to help people practically work with their emotions. It boggles the mind what $750,000 should be able to achieve in terms of relieving human suffering. The Atlas of Emotions is a series of pretty graphics and information about emotional states when it could have been a powerfully transformative tool to help people find relief from suffering.

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Three ways meditation improves relationships – backed by science

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Emma M. Seppälä, Psychology Today: Meditation can seem like a lonely activity, even a slightly selfish one —after all, you’re doing something, on your own, for yourself – or so it seems. Even if you’re meditating in a group, your eyes are closed and you’re focused on yourself. Doesn’t seem like something that would improve your relationships. But research shows it does. Here’s how.

1) It Curbs Your Stress & Gives You Perspective

Most people experience stress during the day. Worse yet, they bring their stress home. As a consequence, their partner gets the brunt of it: a short fuse, bad moods, lack of affection. Over time, this kind of pattern can create distance between partners. By helping you regulate your emotions (like stress or anger), meditation can help you keep a positive perspective. What we found in research with a population that has a tremendous amount of stress—veterans returning from war—is that by using a simple breathing-based meditation (sudarshan kriya), anxiety and stress reduced tremendously. If you can take responsibility for curbing your stress through meditation, you’re also taking a big step towards preserving and honoring your relationship.

A really strong reason to meditate is its impact on your perspective. You’re more likely to see the big picture rather than sweating the small stuff – as a result, you feel more grateful for what you. Gratitude is a powerful predictor of long-term love. Research shows us that, over time, we get used to the things we have and people we are with and can start to take them for granted. That’s the point where people may start to focus on what’s wrong with their partner or forget why they fell in love in the first place. Grateful people are more satisfied in their relationships and feel closer to one another. When you are grateful, you stay focused and appreciative of your partner’s good qualities. Your partner, in turn, feels appreciated, and your bond strengthens…

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Is mindfulness another task on your to-do list?

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Kathy Walsh, Huffington Post: Is mindfulness just another thing on your to-do list? Or is it woven into your day, like a beautiful golden thread through your tapestry. Are you rushing through your mindful activity? Or are you doing it with joy? Does it come from your heart and soul or your mind?

Today, I have to

1) Do Laundry

2) Buy Groceries

3) Drive Carpool to Practice

4) Call Babysitter

5) Be Positive

6) Write in a Gratitude Journal

7) Meditate

Is mindfulness just another thing on your to-do list? Or is it woven into your day, like a beautiful golden thread through your tapestry. Are you rushing through your mindful activity? Or are you doing it with joy? Does it come from your heart and soul or your mind?

I began mindful parenting 28 years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I meditated to dolphin music, wrote my thoughts and feelings in a journal, and sent positive, loving thoughts to the…

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How meditating in a tiny Iowa town helped me recover from war

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Supriya Venkatesan, Washington Post: At 19, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq. I spent 15 months there — eight at the U.S. Embassy, where I supported the communications for top generals. I understand that decisions at that level are complex and layered, but for me, as an observer, some of those actions left my conscience uneasy.

To counteract my guilt, I volunteered as a medic on my sole day off at Ibn Sina Hospital, the largest combat hospital in Iraq. There I helped wounded Iraqi civilians heal or transition into the afterlife. But I still felt lost and disconnected. I was nostalgic for a young adulthood I never had. While other 20-somethings had traditional college trajectories, followed by the hallmarks of first job interviews and early career wins, I had spent six emotionally numbing years doing ruck marches, camping out on mountaintops near the demilitarized zone in South Korea and fighting someone else’s battle in Iraq.

During my deployment, a few soldiers and I were awarded a short resort stay in Kuwait. There, I had a brief but powerful experience in a meditation healing session. I wanted more. So when I returned to the United States at the end of my service, I headed to Iowa.

Forty-eight hours after being discharged from the Army, I arrived on campus at Maharishi University…

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