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 masterfulBeyond 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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. ✸