Happy New Year

I just completed a year of mindfulness* meditation with Muse, the brain-sensing headband. And what an amazing, consciousness expanding year it was! Many thanks to InteraXon for developing and bringing Muse to market. Also much appreciation for Stephan Bodian and Sister Mary White, my meditation teachers.


* Sort of. My practice has evolved from mindfulness to awakened awareness. (Please see Stephan Bodian’s masterful Beyond Mindfulness for an exploration of both.) Accordingly, I’ve adapted the way that I use Muse: I’ve turned off Feedback, Birds and Background (Session Volume Settings), which reduces the temptation to manipulate attention. Muse mainly serves as a meditation timer when configured in this way, although, as a doctor, I love to review the resulting EEGs.

Some Thoughts About Thinking

I recently did a corporate “lunch and learn” on metacognition, which is our singular ability to think about our thoughts (as far as I can tell, my dog has no such capacity). This would appear abstract and likely impractical but it is actually the key to mental health.

I’m happy to work at the level of things and thoughts. The former generally involves practical solutions (problem solving) while the latter consists of philosophical solutions (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy). But I’m much more interested in the thinker—that’s where the ultimate solution lies.

The “thinker” in this context is consciousness or awareness, which is always present but seldom appreciated. As Rupert Spira counsels, “Allow the experience of being aware to come into the foreground of experience, and let thoughts, images, feelings, sensations and perceptions recede into the background. Simply notice the experience of being aware. The peace and happiness for which all people long reside there.” Elsewhere, he advises, “Be knowingly the presence of awareness.”

You can find my PowerPoint here or by clicking on the image above. ✸


P.S. If this sounds like mindfulness, it might be. Mindfulness has become one of those everyday words that now lacks meaning, or at least a shared understanding. For an interesting perspective, please see Stephan Bodian’s Beyond Mindfulness:

“For all its wonderful benefits, the practice of mindfulness has another downside: it tends to maintain the subject–object split, the gap between the one who’s being mindful, the act of being mindful, and the object of mindful attention. In other words, no matter how mindful you become, there’s always a you that has to practice being mindful of an object separate from you. As a result, mindfulness perpetuates the very sense of separation it’s designed to overcome.”

My First Million

Meditation is my medication. I added Muse, the brain-sensing headband, to my meditation practice in July. I hit the 1,000,000 mark yesterday for “calm points.”

“Thanks a Million” is the alternate title for this post—as in, many thanks to InteraXon, the company that developed Muse and brought it to market. My quality of life so much better because of it.

Tech specs: I use Muse S in the constructive rest position with an iPhone 11 Pro, AirPods Pro and sleep mask. What’s going on inside my head is a little harder to describe, however, this post provides a general sense. ✸

Self-Care During a Pandemic

Update [10/12/2020]: Here’s the recording of the session. Enjoy!

Remember airplanes? In the event of an emergency, flight attendants advise us to adjust our own oxygen masks before helping others. I’ve always found that an apt metaphor for anyone in the healing arts.

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Tomorrow I’m presenting on self-care during a pandemic (but it could be any personal or shared crisis really). Not self-care for our patients and clients—but self-care for ourselves. The main message concerns the relationship that we have toward time and the present, although there will some other stuff sprinkled in as well.

Many thanks to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Practice Transformation for hosting the event. It’s not too late to sign up and the price is right (free)! ✸

Meditation Challenge

Stress, anxiety, depression and substance use have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. This has a lot people thinking about better self-care.

I’m helping one of my employers with a four-week “meditation challenge.” It grew out of a recent lunch and learn for employees that included some material on mindfulness. The more the merrier, so I’m sharing this with my entire social network.

Here’s the challenge: Meditate three times per day, generally in the morning when you wake up; sometime in the afternoon; and again in the evening right before you go to bed. Start with 5-minute sessions, increasing the duration week-by-week as follows:

  • Week 1: 5 minutes, 3 times per day
  • Week 2: 10 minutes, 3 times per day
  • Week 3: 15 minutes, 3 times per day
  • Week 4: 20 minutes, 3 times per day

In terms of technique:

  • Assume any comfortable position. I personally like a semi-supine position (see below)
  • Set a timer (e.g., on your phone) with a soft alarm
  • Close your eyes
  • Direct your attention to your breath. This might be your nose, chest or belly
  • Follow your breath in and out. Some people use simple mental mantras for each in-breath and out-breath. Examples are: in-out, deep-slow and calm-ease

Internal and external distractions will occur. Just let thoughts, emotions and sensations pass without judgment. Return to your breath, using a mantra, if needed. On the flip side, don’t worry if you feel sleepy or even doze off. Allow that to pass without judgment, too.

And that’s it!

Please let me know how you feel during and after the challenge.


I’ve greatly benefited from Alexander Technique lessons. One tip/trick is something called constructive rest, which involves the semi-supine position depicted below.

1. Head slightly supported by a softcover book (or two)
2. Arms slightly away from body (abducted), palms down (pronated)
3. Shoes off; feet about hip-width apart

Photo: Ayden Frenz

I’m also a fan of Muse, the brain-sensing headband, but that’s a post for another day. ✸

Be Here Now

[ Updated with links to the resulting on-air segment / and here ]

WCCO Television

I’m scheduled to appear on WCCO 4 News This Morning on Monday, June 22nd, at 5:45 a.m. The subject will be happiness. I’ll be representing Allina Health

We’ll be discussing a recent NORC at the University of Chicago study that found a historic decrease in happiness. NORC has been surveying Americans since 1972 with the following question:

Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?

Only 14% of people reported feeling “very happy,” which was a sharp drop from the usual run rate. In contrast, 23% of respondents indicated that they are “not too happy.” Both findings are unprecedented (red oval)

Norc at the University of Chicago

Correlation does not imply causation, however, the investigators pursued some provocative Covid-19-related explanations dealing with viral hotspots, loneliness and income. And while George Floyd was not mentioned in NORC’s report, his senseless death on May 25th occurred right in the middle of the survey period. I’d speculate that tragedy and the national reckoning which has followed was also on respondents’ minds

Regardless of the causes, what are some ways to improve happiness?

I generally recommend making peace with the present. This perennial wisdom that has strong, contemporary scientific support. For example, a seminal study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert tracked happiness in real time using iPhone surveys. They found that people were happiest when their minds weren’t wandering—that is, when they were totally present in the now

In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost

Science 2010;330:932

You can prove this to yourself by enrolling in the study, which is still running

Present moment awareness is sometimes called mindfulness, a trendy, frequently misunderstood word that I’ve avoided up until now. If you’re intrigued, I suggest snagging a copy of The Power of Now, the classic book by Eckhart Tolle. I often point people to “Wherever You Are, Be There Totally” (section), which starts on Page 82 in Google Books

I’ll try to mention other tips and tricks on the air, and hope to add them to my profile page at Allina Health later this week. ✸