Pain Is The Teacher

Summer is when everything should go right with the world. I think I first developed this attitude the summer after my 2nd grade. It has stayed with me ever since. So this summer’s troubles — pains in my back and shoulder, the ache in my ankle, even the grievances in my heart — just seem very inappropriate for this time of year. But there they are and they require a response.

Ezra Bayda, author of Being Zen says, “on experiencing pain, we almost always immediately resist. On top of the physical discomfort we quickly add a layer of negative judgments: “Why is this happening to me?” “I can’t bear this,” and so on.” My knee-jerk, all-too-human response just doesn’t help.

Bayda then asks, “How do we live the practice life when we’re in pain? To apply such phrases as “Be one with the pain” or “There is no self” (and therefore no one to suffer) is neither comforting nor helpful. We must first understand that both our pain and our suffering are truly our path, our teacher. While this understanding doesn’t necessarily entail liking our pain or our suffering, it does liberate us from regarding them as enemies we have to conquer.

Bayda has more insights on this topic which you can find in “When It Happens to Us” (Tricycle, Winter 2002).

 

Planning Your Summer Retreat

Summer is the perfect time for that special activity you’ve been putting off all year. Vacation, trip home, the early morning climb to the top of Mt. Hood, or that meditation retreat to finally get your “head straight.”

Maybe. Or maybe not. Because it seems like nothing in life, least of all our heads, can ever be put completely and permanently straight.

On the topic of head-straightening meditation retreats, Brent Oliver writing in Trike Daily (31 May 2018) says retreats are “not all calm and cosmic-flavored bubble gum.” I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been. But if you’re considering your first retreat this summer you might appreciate some of Brent’s observations. Or, you might just go with no preconceptions and an open mind.

See 5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats, Brent Oliver (Trike Daily, 31 May 2018)

Summer Resolution: Meditate!

Do you make “summer resolutions”? I do. New Year’s resolutions rarely work out for me because I’m too busy thinking about my spring semester teaching assignment. Summer, on the other hand, is always a time when I can imagine turning over a new leaf, picking up a neglected project, and trying to replace some unhelpful habits (not sleeping enough, not getting enough exercise, …) with helpful ones.

If you have been thinking “I’d like to get into the habit of meditating more often” then maybe summer is just the right time to get started. You can start small. There’s an opportunity every day for a 1 minute mindfulness break. It might be right after you pull into your parking place. Or right after you sit down at your desk. Or the minute before you go back into your office after lunch. One minute of pausing, stopping physical activity, and just noticing what is going on now (I trigger this by saying “just this” in my head) could be just the break your day needs. It could also be the way to (re)launch a meditation practice.

And, of course, you are more than welcome to join me and others in the Eliot chapel on Tuesdays this summer beginning tomorrow for a longer sit. Drop in when you can. Stay as long as your schedule allows. When its time to leave, just get up and go. Nothing to worry about. I’m just glad you can join us.

Have a peaceful, restorative, and happy summer,
Alan

Need more encouragement? Related reading: 5 reasons you didn’t meditate today + 1 more
Ready to try meditation right now? Sit up straight. Click on this link for a 3 minute guided meditation. We have even more resources for you on our Sit Now and Resources pages.

Happy Hawaii

I’m currently on vacation in Hawaii with my family. This morning we went to a lava-filled park where petroglyphs had been carved into the hardened stone centuries ago. From there it was a quick walk to a ‘beach’ made of lava and dead coral pieces. In the tide pools I saw things that I had never seen in the wild anywhere else: sea urchins, a small eel (well, maybe a long skinny fish?), multiple sea cucumbers, and 3 large sea turtles that were grazing on the plant-covered rocks. So I’m happy, right?

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Multitasking? Can’t Focus? Breathe!

Are you a “frequent/heavy media multitasker?” If you, or someone you know, fits this label, read on. I’ll keep it short.

A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently gathered 1,683 undergraduates, identified roughly 50 students who could be described as either unusually ‘light media multitaskers’ (LMM) or unusually ‘heavy media multitaskers’ (HMM), and then conducted additional tests on the LMM and HMM students. In the latter phase of the investigation, students in the selected groups performed a 10 minute task, either a mindfulness intervention or a control activity (see below), and then completed two mental performance tests (the task-test #1-test #2 sequence was then repeated two more times so that each student could take a total of 6 performance tests).

The team* found that, as expected, the LMM students turned in better scores on the mental performance tests regardless of which task (control/intervention) they performed first, and the tasks didn’t seem to affect their performance much. The HMM students who completed the mindfulness intervention, however, had much better performance scores than the HMM students who performed the control task.

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Life in the Academic Slow Lane

Looking back at nearly a half century, a lifetime really, spent in academic chemistry (I started my first college chemistry course in 1972 and decided that this was “it” for me), I can see plenty of choices that I made over the years that were guided by the need that I felt to do things faster, to do things bigger, and to just do more. Perform my experiments more quickly. Write a paper that will make a bigger impact. Do three projects instead of one.

Only rarely did I ever stop to consider whether this orientation was in keeping with my natural tendencies or would create a satisfying life for me, a life well-lived. Instead, I labored under the assumption that I needed to set my objectives and perform my work in ways that would please others and the only way to do that was to consistently exceed their expectations.

I was inspired to reflect on all this recently when I read an essay by Dr. Irene Nobeli, “In praise of slow,” that appeared on the back page of Science magazine (Working Life, 2 Feb 2018).  Continue reading

Links of Addiction

You are, no doubt, reading these words on a digital device of some sort. And it’s almost certainly the case that you landed here because you saw a link on another web page and clicked on it.

We are online a lot these days and that means we spend hours, perhaps many hours, immersed in a world of links, clicks, and the digital road taken. And taken. And taken. Until … we are lost, wondering why we didn’t download that homework or reading assignment, or write that lab report or term paper.

Whether one has recognized it or not, everyone has experienced “digital distraction” of this sort. What you might not know, however, is that the many of the designers of our online environments intentionally build in tricks and traps that promote distracted behavior, and they do this in order to turn us (that’s me and you) into digital addicts who can’t put our devices down.

There is good news, however. There is a movement – several movements, actually – that are fighting back and its getting publicized in national media. Here are some links to recent news articles and organizations that are working against digital addiction: Continue reading

5 Reasons You Didn’t Meditate Today + 1 More

Sometimes this blog just writes itself.

Today I found this link in my inbox: “5 Reasons You (And Everyone Else) Are Having a Hard Time Meditating” (Trike Daily, 12 Jan 2018). So, rather than draw this out, just follow my link and see for yourself what these folks imagined might be getting in your way.

Reluctant to open another tab on your web browser? I get that feeling a lot. Here’s their list of 5 reasons plus one more that I thought up all by myself. But why dwell on the obstacles? Go to their site and see what you can do about these things. Happy meditating!

  1. How do I find time to meditate?
  2. Will people think I’m weird?
  3. Meditation could bring up too many painful emotions.
  4. Meditation could make me too soft.
  5. Something else is my meditation.
  6. (Alan’s favorite) I meant to meditate, but I forgot. =)

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Ending Digital Distraction in 2018?

Could this be the year we put an end to digital distractions in our lives? If my own life is any indication, I strongly doubt it.

I crossed the Rubicon this month and purchased my first (yes, first!) smartphone. I had been living quite happily with a flip phone for a dozen years or more, and a ‘hockey puck’ for another dozen before that. I carried Flippy only for emergencies and the occasional out-of-town trip so my family knew better than to call me. But we’re considering cutting the landline at long last and the unlimited calls/text option on my flip phone was more expensive than adding a smartphone to my wife’s plan.

One of the first things I did with my new smartphone was to delete most of the apps. I needed a phone, not another device, but then the trouble started. The phone was in my briefcase. As I went about my day I discovered that my digital decision tree had subtly changed. Work on the laptop, the tablet, or … the phone? Yikes! I hadn’t expected this.

Here are 4 recent news articles, all fairly breezy, about digital distractions of one sort or another. Take your pick. Continue reading