Lessons from Those Who Lost … and Found

What an inspiring trio of life stories. Three people who went through a major loss — one that took away arguably their biggest gift in their lives — and used it to become all the stronger and wiser because of it. The three are Grant Achatz, a chef who lost his sense of taste; Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke; and Govindappa Venkatswamy, a surgeon with crippled fingers.

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What the internet does to our minds

Some words of caution on web surfing, from Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains:

“When you’re constantly taking in new bits of information – as we do when we browse the Web, check e-mail or read text messages – we take things in very quickly, and because our working memory has such a small capacity, it has to sort of shepherd information into and out of the brain very quickly to make room for more incoming stuff. If your working memory is constantly overloaded and you never pay focused attention to one thing, you aren’t consolidating information into your long-term memory, and as a result, you’re not building all the mental connections between information and experiences and emotions that are essential to developing a rich intellect. Research shows that these connections are essential to conceptual thinking, critical thinking and certain types of creative thinking.”

“…if people value calmer, more contemplative thought, they need to change the way they use the technology. The goal should be to clear considerable portions of your day for working, conversing, thinking and playing without the mediation (or the interruption) of screen technologies… You’ll realize that we often reach for a computer or a smartphone out of laziness, boredom or habit, and that resisting that temptation can be healthy, particularly for the depth of our intellectual and social lives.”

The full interview with the author in Rotman Magazine is available here.

How to focus in the age of distraction

What a great little diagram!

Thanks to Learning Fundamentals.

The ‘Pursuit Of Silence’ In A World Full of Noise

Silence isn’t just an absence of sound.  It creates a spaciousness and clarity that opens up our perceptions in new ways. And far from being a empty void, it has a fullness, richness, and an inviting warmth, in my experience. This book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik, sounds interesting. The book excerpt at the end of the article is especially delicious. It reminds me very much of my experience on my two-month ordination retreat, where the most ordinary things felt imbued with sacredness.
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Buddhism & the Mindfulness Movement: Friends or Foes?

This is a post by Vishvapani, a mindfulness trainer and senior member of my Buddhist order. I’m very much in agreement with his views — that the meeting of these two streams is creating a wonderful synergy that can profoundly benefit both. I, for one, am dedicating my energies to advancing this cause.

Buddhism & the Mindfulness Movement: Friends or Foes?

We’re in the middle of the Mindfulness Boom as Buddhist-derived meditation practices enter the cultural mainstream. But is this the Dharma touching and transforming western society, or is Buddhism being turned into a self-help technique and a consumer product? Its time for Buddhists to start reflecting seriously on the mindfulness movement and to learn its lessons.

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What’s your emotional style?

This little quiz is a little taste from Richard Davidson’s latest book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain. It’s a self-assessment test to identify your emotional style along six dimensions:

  • Resilience: How quickly you recover from adversity.
  • Outlook: How long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
  • Social Intuition: How adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
  • Self-Awareness: How well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
  • Sensitivity to Context: How good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
  • Attention: How sharp and clear your focus is.

I haven’t read the book yet, though it’s on my list. I took the test, though, and it’s piqued my interest.
Click here to take the test.

A back tip for meditators, or how to sit with more ease

Can’t seem to find a comfortable way to sit in meditation? Here’s something really simple to try. It’s actually a mindfulness practice in itself. It’s a way to balance your natural ability to relax with the forces of gravity to find a well-aligned posture that’s effortless and free. I do this myself at the beginning of every sit, and find it really helpful.

For a visual cue, imagine your body as like a bunch of children’s wooden blocks, stacked one on top of another. It can rise up pretty high, as long as you place each block squarely on the one below. Gravity exerts a pull straight down the middle of the stack that keeps it well-balanced.

Doing this in effect also creates an upward flow of energy that allows you to stack the blocks up high – certainly higher than if you piled them crooked. So even though we think of gravity as a force that pulls downward, when it’s used well you can think of it as creating a natural upward lift as well. Continue »

Mirror in the Mirror

A friend posted this beautiful piece on Facebook recently, reminding me how much I’m always so moved it. It’s by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Called “Spiegel Im Spiegel” (“Mirror in the Mirror”), it refers to the infinity of reflections that happen when you have many mirrors reflecting off each other.

It also reminds me of the Buddhist image of Indra’s Net, which is a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all life. Imagine there’s a huge net that has a mirror at each node, and each mirror reflects all the others. We can imagine that each of us, as a single human being, is one of those mirrors. We infinitely receive and reflect back the images in all the mirrors of all other beings in a vast and interconnected web of life.

The whole piece is based on a repeating triad of three notes on the piano, and a solo violin which plays a simple ascending or descending scale above it. It’s so remarkably simple, and SO tranquil and beautiful. I think the “mirror in the mirror” title refers to how a very subtle change in just one note of the piano or the violin ripples outward and shifts the whole tonality of the piece, which then keeps rolling onward in ever changing waves.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Seven Fears of Highly Successful People

This is an excellent post by Martin Murphy about what it takes to live up to our potential. As he puts it, “Your ability to create and experience more success is equal to your potential (which nobody knows), minus the resistance… Successful people experience the same challenges as everyone else but they respond effectively as opposed to reacting out of fear.”

Steps to facing uncertainty and unleashing your potential.

“We all know fear.
But passion makes us fearless”

– Paulo Coelho

The Transformation Age is here and we are all going to have to step up our game. Now is not the time to play small; it is time for amplifying your vision, unleashing your passion, unlocking your potential and going after your dreams.

Success = Potential – Resistance

Your ability to create and experience more success is equal to your potential (which nobody knows), minus the resistance. The resistance can be many things but the biggest challenge humanity faces is fear. Continue »

Journalism and Compassion

This is a wonderful interview with Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for the New York Times, who often covered the worst of human suffering — like Darfur. In particular, I appreciated his insight that telling the stories of individual people help pierce through the wall of compassion fatigue.

Nicholas Kristoff on Journalism and Compassion