meditation & focus

How meditating helps with multitasking

Tina Barseghian: There’s no question that for both kids and adults, our attention is divided. Texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook are all chiming, ringing, beeping, and chirping for our attention.

How does this affect kids? The media has covered the subject in terms of fear of multitasking leading to ADD, losing control to digital devices, and the dangers of not being able to focus. And in most cases, the Internet (and technology in general) has been declared the culprit.

But rather than blaming the medium, David Levy, author of Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, believes the challenges of multitasking …

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Mindfulness: twenty ways to bring it to work

Hands working on shaping a clay pot

Bringing mindfulness to work allows us to:

  • be more focused
  • feel less stressed
  • communicate more effectively
  • bring compassion to the workplace and
  • feel confident at work.

When considering how we approach work, we can ask ourselves:

  • How do I relate to myself?
  • Am I aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions or do I run on automatic pilot?
  • How do I relate to my colleagues, coworkers and boss?
  • Am I kind, friendly and compassionate or do I need to have my own way?
  •  How do I relate to my work? Do I bring curiosity and creativity to my work or is it just a means to a paycheck?

Here are twenty ways to bring mindfulness with you to work:

1. Set an intention for the day .  Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish today? How will I accomplish it?”
2. Communicate honestly and from the heart.
3. Be friendly.  Not everyone at work is your friend, but we can be friendly to everyone.
4. Bring curiosity to each new day rather than seeing each day as a replica of the past. Look at things in a new way and listen to what your colleagues suggest.
5. Do not believe everything you think!
6. Know yourself.  Be aware when you get distracted and bring your mind back to the task at hand, back to the present moment.
7. Understand the positive effects of teamwork and skillful action.
8. Bring presence, intention and wholeheartedness to your thoughts, actions and speech.
9. Remember to breathe.
10. Be receptive to new ways of doing things.
11. Listen actively.  Focus on what the person is saying, not how you are going to answer.
12. Enjoy your work, find the pleasure in it.  You may not enjoy everything you do at work, but take pleasure in the aspects you appreciate.
13. Let go of attachment to outcomes.
14. Allow creativity to surface by relaxing and being open to possibilities.
15. Ideally whatever we do for work is an integral part of our lives where we incorporate our values, thoughts, words and actions (i.e.greening practices, nonviolence ahimsa).
16. Become a mentor.
17. Be aware of triggers and remember triggers comes from within, not from anyone else.
18. Watch your reactions to triggers and use these instances as opportunities to change, to “let it go”.
19. Remember, we create our worlds and we have the choice to react or respond to a situation. Reacting is an automatic reflex — responding is a thoughtful, reflective response that considers creative alternatives and considering options and consequences.
20. Make a copy of this list and keep it by your desk, and remember to read it often.

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How to stop your mind from wandering

Yellow butterfly in mid air.

The mind is made to wander – just take a few minutes to sit quietly and watch the mind flit around like a butterfly going from flower to flower.

With all that thinking, worrying, justifying, wondering, story telling, imagining, assuming, compulsive activity – it is a wonder we actually get anything done in a mindful way. But there is hope.  There is a way to stop your mind from wandering.

Meditation and mindfulness are two buzz words that nearly everyone is familiar with. In a world where multitasking is considered a positive trait necessary for working, it is fascinating that there is so much interest in meditation and mindfulness – which are the opposites of multitasking.

We think that when we work on more than one task at a time, we will save time and get more done. That may occur, but it is more likely that we will get more done, more accurately and creatively, when we concentrate on just one thing at a time, with mindful attention and one-pointed energy.

More times than I would like to admit, I have rushed through projects only to find many mistakes and problems necessitating the project to be looked at again and corrected. When I take my time and focus my mind on one project at a time, I am much happier with the results.

This happens at work and at home. When I am multitasking – baking blueberry muffins, sorting the mail and ironing a shirt to wear the next day – the blueberry muffins often end up on the shall-we-say crispy side.

When I focus on just making the muffins, just sorting the mail and just ironing the shirt, each action becomes a meditation, my mind stops wandering and I am in the flow of attending to what is waiting for my undivided attention.

Have you ever been at a restaurant with a friend who is looking around the room as you are talking to him or her? That situation is a visual representation of a wandering mind. The person is distracted from what you are saying because he or she is not focused – his or her mind is wandering – “hmmm I wonder who just came through the door” or “I wonder if my boss realizes I’ve been at lunch for an hour and a half”.

The next time you find yourself and your mind multitasking, appreciate that awareness, take a few deep breaths and focus on one thing at a time – write one email at a time, mindfully drink your cup of tea, drive to work without a cup of coffee in hand – and you will have found the way to stop your mind from wandering – and have perfectly baked blueberry muffins.

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The Open-Focus Brain, by Dr. Les Fehmi & Jim Robbins

Book Cover: The Open-Focus Brain

My first read of The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, generated mild interest in the science behind Dr. Fehmi’s techniques and descriptions of case studies using the techniques.

However, the night I listened to the guided exercises on the attached CD, I had one of the most relaxed, light, and blissful experiences I’ve had in the last eleven years as a serious meditator.

I was able to reach a state I’ve only accessed during long silent meditation retreats.

The Buddhist concept of emptiness came vividly alive in my body, whereas before it had been mostly an intellectual understanding. Not only do I now regularly listen to Dr. Fehmi, I’ve encouraged anyone who would listen to me to do the same!

Title: The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body
Author: Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-612-3
Format: Book plus instructional CD
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

After that experience, I immediately re-read the book with great interest and enthusiasm. Dr. Fehmi, a PhD psychologist, posits the central thesis that we are in a chronic state of stress because our attention or focus is narrow, tense, “flight or fight, with resulting mental and physical illnesses. However, when we broaden our focus to a relaxed, diffuse and creative form of attention Dr. Fehmi calls “Open Focus”, a large amount and prolonged period of phase-synchronous alpha activity is created. This means the brain is producing powerful alpha waves, which create a state of alert, wakeful relaxation. In Open Focus, alpha is created in major lobes of the brain, which “reduces stress and allows fluid communication among different regions of the brain, improving mental function effortlessly and naturally” according to Dr. Fehmi.

As a practicing Buddhist I found this book containing an interesting combination of hard science and Buddhist teachings on emptiness, mindfulness, and non-clinging. While I was reading certain parts of the book, I thought to myself that the author must be a Buddhist. He does mention that phase-synchronous alpha is the hallmark of veteran meditators and admits that he “discovered some of the Western correlates of Eastern spiritual disciplines and describes them in the language of psychology and physiology”. But that is the extent of his dharma talk. To satisfy my curiosity, I did a Google search and I found his name listed as Chinzan Les Fehmi on a roster of Zen practitioners. I’m assuming it’s the same person.

The essence of Dr. Fehmi’s technique is to create a sustained awareness of space through a series of exercises to guide people through different kinds of objectless imagery which stimulates the right side of the brain. He leads one through a series of questions that asks the listener to imagine space, volume, silence, timeless, and the five senses. For example, one exercise has the listener imaging the space between and around body regions and through them, extending limitlessly in every direction. I found this to be a brilliant exercise in manifesting the core teachings of the Heart Sutra.

How we pay attention is crucial – Dr. Fehmi argues that “attentional biases and rigidity are the principal causes of human misery and suffering”. This book provides a detailed description of the four kinds of attention (narrow, diffuse, immersed, and objective) and the most effective use of each of them. In addition, the book describes the science behind why the brain imagining space, silence and timelessness has the effect of improving memory, clearer thinking and creativity. In essence, by imaging nothing – no-thing – to grip on to, the brain is allowed to take a vacation, to re-set stress-encumbered neutral networks and return them to their original effortless flexible processing. Then overall performance is enhanced.

Dr. Fehmi has done clinical work with clients for over thirty years using the technique of Open Focus attention. The book describes numerous case studies which successfully helped people with anxiety, ADD, dissolving physical and emotional pain, relationship issues, and peak performance of top athletes. The book contains seven written exercises as well as two recorded on CD.

Dr. Fehmi encourages the reader to use these exercise anywhere, “whenever you think of it, carrying out your everyday tasks while at the same time being aware of infinite space, silence and timelessness. Be aware of the three-dimensional space between, around, and through objects. Attend to all your senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, taste, smell, mental activity and time. Include both objects and space. Imagine an awareness of space that permeates everything. Image feeling the background space against which everything is high-lighted.”

I strongly recommend this practical book. May it be a source of healing and/or happiness to you!

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Meditation, hypnosis change ‘brain signature’

Amir Raz gets some funny looks when he talks about using hypnosis and meditation techniques to build attention spans in a hyperactive MTV world.

“Mention contemplation to a lot of people, and all they think of is some kind of (wacky) spiritualism, people sitting around a darkened room with candles, chanting,” says Raz, a McGill University professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention.

“Our ideas are shaped by Hollywood movies. So you talk about hypnosis, and people see something out of a Woody Allen movie, a guy in a turban with bushy eyebrows who wants to put you to sleep.”

But “trim away the folkloric fat,” and Raz, a cognitive psychologist who worked his way through graduate school doing magic tricks, sees mindfulness training as a valuable, drug-free tool in the struggle to foster attention skills, with positive spinoffs for controlling our emotions and even making us smarter.

“We live in a time when modern medicine is weighted heavily toward…

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pharmaceuticals.

“Everyone wants a magic bullet that will help them lose 40 pounds, or a surgical procedure that will cure all our ills,” says Raz, who will be speaking Wednesday about the chemical benefits of brain science and chicken soup as part of McGill’s Mini-Science lecture series.

“We live in an impatient society, and we want results immediately. But that’s not realistic, and without behavioural modification, likely to provide only temporary relief.”

In his lab at McGill, Raz explores ways meditation and braintraining exercises can be used to help people pay more attention to what’s happening around them, skills which will come in handy in sharpening the mind, controlling emotions and blocking out distractions.

“We live in a high-speed world, where events change rapidly, but our bodies may not be biologically crafted for that,” said Raz, whose especially curious about the effects attention training can have on children.

“We need to train ourselves to prioritize and manage what gets our attention. It’s like learning to control our email. Otherwise, life becomes one big interruption.”

He cites studies in which young children age 4 to 7 were asked to play computer games expressly designed to stretch the parts of their brains that regulate attention. Researchers found that non-verbal aspects of the intelligence quotients went up and the youngsters were better able to focus. But they also noticed other changes, with participants exhibiting “brain signatures” more like those of adults, reflected in improved mental processing and greater control of emotions.

“We’re not elated, we don’t win a trophy every day. We need to build resilience,” said Raz, who would like to see some form of attention training built into the school curriculum to help children focus, ignore distractions and learn social cues they won’t pick up sending text messages.

“With quality stimulation, people are better able to regulate emotions, prevent depression and obsessive behaviours. We’re less likely to explode when someone disagrees with you or shatter when things don’t go your way.”

Lately, he’s begun to worry about the potential impact of global positioning systems and other devices on spatial memory. “Attention systems expand based on usage.”

Raz sees behavioural modification techniques used in concert with medications, “some of which are over-hyped or at large cost in side effects.”

“Too often, drugs become the default and people discount other options.

“There are attentional ways to regulate. Some prefer the drug route. It’s a question of whether you want to regulate or self-regulate.”

pcurran@montrealgazette.com

Amir Raz is speaking Wednesday at 6 p.m. in McGill’s Bronfman building, 1001 Sherbrooke St. W. as part of McGill’s Mini-Science series. For information on fees and registration, visit www.mcgill.ca/science/mini

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The benefits of “uni-tasking”

I’ve been meaning to mention an article I read recently in the Harvard Business Review, called How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking. It’s by Peter Bregman, and it explains, as the title suggests, how and why he stopped multitasking and started paying attention to one thing at a time (what I’ve called “uni-tasking”).

Bregman lists some of the benefits he experienced, and I’ve summarized those below (but do go and read the full article, which expands on these points).

  1. He found life more enjoyable, especially when it came to spending time with his children. And he noticed the simple beauties of life.
  2. He found that he could concentrate better and made significant progress in tasks that required high-level cognitive processing.
  3. He was more relaxed.
  4. He no longer wished to waste time.
  5. He had more patience and felt less rushed.
  6. And lastly, “there was no downside.”

He also includes a bunch of links to some cool research. For example, he points out that our productivity goes down by as much as 40% when we multitask. Multitaskers think they’re being more efficient, but they’re not.

I’d compare this perceptual disconnect to drunk driving. People who drink drive badly — but their intoxication often prevents them from recognizing this, to the point where some people believe they drive better drunk than sober! I think multitasking prevents us from seeing that multitasking is an ineffective strategy.

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Surat youth fancy meditation

Times of India: They belong to the ‘happening’ generation, craving for all that is ‘hep’ and the latest. And, they are finding a new way to face challenges of modern life — joining satsang.

Surti youth is showing a rare inclination for satsang, particularly those oriented towards personality development and enhancing skills in controlling emotions. Take Shilpi Singhal (23), commerce graduate, who had four years ago discarded her teacher’s suggestion to learn meditation to rid herself of erratic behaviour and build up self-confidence.

“Despite being a good student, I was insecure about career among other things. I lacked focus. Moreover, I was always confused about life itself,” she says. But, with exposure to satsang, she learnt techniques to remain focused even in a crisis….

Read the original article…

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