Mindfulness

Lessons from living with an Amazonian tribe

Or, how to unlearn your first-world problems:

  • You learn to ignore the mosquitoes. And hunger. And all the other stuff too.
  • Everyone depends on everyone else
  • Lack of distraction leads to deeper thinking
  • Everything else seems easier afterward

Anything and everything

Carson tonight, from under a towel:

Dad, I can’t see anything! I can only see everything.

He must have been reading William Blake and Wallace Stevens.

Six steps to sorry

Love this framework from Charley Scandlyn on how to apologize:

  1. I did this (Acknowledgement)
  2. It was wrong (Understanding)
  3. I’m sorry (Remorse)
  4. Please forgive me (Request)
  5. I commit to new behavior (Repentance)
  6. I will do the work I need to do to repair the damage I have caused (Restoration)

The state of the world

In my room, the world is beyond my understanding; But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud.

Everything is interesting

From the author who wrote an entire book about a journey up an escalator, some thoughts about what’s interesting:

Everything is interesting. Potentially. Sometimes it may not seem so. You may think a certain thing is completely without interest. You may think, or I may think, eh, dull, boring, heck with it, let’s move on. But there is someone on this planet who can find something interesting in that particular thing. And it’s often good to try. You have to poke at a thing, sometimes, and find out where it squeaks.

“Everything is interesting” is a phrase that comes to mind often watching my new baby gaze at the world. He’s especially enraptured by leaves on trees, fluttering by the millions in the breeze, and the enormous, luminous sky behind them. Which are pretty neat, if you think about it.

You are where your attention is

This line has stuck with me since first reading Andrew Sullivan’s excellent article on distraction last week:

You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

Meditation for pain and sport

Another connection between the mind and physical performance:

By the end of the cold shower you will have experienced all of the negative sensations without any of the negative perceptions. You’ve eliminated the fear and whining that a normal person would associate with a cold shower…

Competitive runners don’t feel less pain than you — they feel much more. It just doesn’t bother them…

One tip I’ve started doing is when pedaling hard, to wiggle my fingers and toes. Because, hey, if I can still wiggle my toes it can’t be that bad, right?

(previously)

The future and presence

In a world without future, each moment is the end of the world. – Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Of all the stories in this book, this sentence hit me hardest. How would you experience life if you believed every moment was the end of the world?

Thoughts on a year of Headspace

As I mentioned in my 2015 wrapup, this past year I practiced mindfulness meditation with Headspace. I wrapped up another “pack” this morning and thought it would be useful to collect some thoughts on the various approaches I’ve learned and the experience overall.

  • My main insight was that training the mind really is like training the body. It benefits from consistent practice, varied techniques, planned routines, and even interval training (alternating periods of focus and relaxation). Similarly, the mind can become detrained without regular training, and I noticed a real difference in my mental state after just a few days without practicing.
  • That said, I wasn’t very consistent with my practice, averaging a little less than one session every two days, and sometimes going up to two weeks between sessions (often caused by travel or illness disrupting my routine). Contrast that with some people who mention online that they’ve had a streak of 90 or even 365 days straight, and I wonder how their experience differs. I managed to maintain an overall sense of peace that persists even after a few days off, but some of the more advanced techniques and benefits didn’t stick around.
  • The only way I was able to fit this into my day is by waking up earlier. If I start my day with meditation (after a few wakeup stretches), I’m much better at staying focused. Once I’ve done much of anything else, my mind is too distracted to have a successful session.
  • Meditating on the breath always seemed to me an arbitrary choice–why not on a concept or a sound (like “om“). However, I gradually came to appreciate it, as your breath is always with you (and if it’s not, you have bigger problems than mindfulness), and doesn’t require conscious effort to maintain. When the goal is to clear away distracting conscious thoughts, the breath is a handy aid.
  • I was initially skeptical of the “pack” approach unique to Headspace, but it too proved itself over time. It’s nice to break down what could be a lifelong practice into manageable chunks, giving you a tangible goal every 10 or 30 days. And while I started each pack wondering how meditation was supposed to improve a skill like creativity or generosity, every time there was indeed a helpful insight or new practice. A few examples and reviews:
    • Focus was the first pack I tried. What stuck with me is the sense that sustainable focus isn’t something static and fixed, but rather the ability to steer your attention to different things at will–a dynamic experience. I wrote about how my son exhibits this trait naturally, but it was a new (or renewed?) practice for me. I continue to use the visualization of a glowing sphere moving through the parts of the body when I’m cycling, especially during hard efforts, to keep my overall attention on the body’s performance and prevent my mind from wandering.
    • Anxiety was next, and while this was a natural emotion for meditation to help, the approach was again surprising. The technique instructs you to first name, and then categorize, whatever stressful thoughts enter your mind. You might think of a difficult project at work, for example, which you could then give a title, mark as “negative”, and label as a “thinking” anxiety. The simple act of acknowledging the thought can be enough for your mind to let it go, a bit like how writing down an important todo item lets you relax mentally–it’s no longer your mind’s responsibility to keep track of it.
    • Appreciation was a nice shorter one and quite related to Generosity. In both cases you’re instructed to think about who and what makes you the happiest and most fulfilled, and the goal is to cultivate that feeling (rather than, say, translate into direct action). I found Generosity more valuable overall, as you extend that feeling toward others and into the world.
    • Creativity was a bit of a slog. 30 sessions, and again the goal was mostly to recognize the “feeling” of being creative. It introduced one nice technique though, the idea of rapidly alternating between focus on the breath and “letting go of the mind”, which trains you in the art of smoothly entering into a focused state at a moment’s notice. During this series I found myself better able to do “micro-meditations” throughout my regular day.
    • I’ve only tried 10 days of Headspace Pro, the packs with less guidance and no particular theme. I did find them more challenging, and less motivating, than the themed packs, and haven’t been back recently. Hopefully more consistent practice will make them accessible again.

I continue to find new benefits from Headspace, even after a year and over 150 sessions. Here’s to another year of mindfulness!

Chasing rainbows

A nice image from my Headspace meditation this morning:

Imagine your thoughts as rainbows. They can be inspiring and impressive, but ultimately they’re just an illusion. Look at them from another direction and they disappear; chase after them and you’ll never get any closer. But let go of them and they’ll surprise you with unexpected beauty.

This perspective gives lightness and transience to my undesirable thoughts, while letting me appreciate the nice ones that come naturally.