Author Archives: alan

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

January Meditation News

Weekly silent meditation will continue on Tuesdays throughout January. Meditation on January 16 will be held in Eliot 419 (below), and on January 23 & 30 in Eliot chapel. 

Sessions run from 12:10-12:40 pm and are open to all members of the Reed community and campus visitors. Drop-ins are welcome! Learn more at Our Schedule and Our Practice. (“Drop-in” means you can arrive and leave whenever it is convenient for you. Late arrivals and early departures are both fine. We do not call roll or take attendance.)

Mindful Walks for Immigrant Justice

Three Portland groups are sponsoring a regular public silent meditation walks at Portland’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in SW Portland. The sponsoring groups are Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, and Ziji Collective (see Facebook).

The walks are held on 2nd Thursdays from noon-1 pm at the Portland ICE offices, 4310 SW Macadam Ave (corner of SW Bancroft & Macadam). Upcoming dates are the 2nd Thursday of the month: Dec 14, Jan 11, Feb 8, Mar 8, Apr 12, May 10, Jun 14.

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I Can’t Meditate, It Doesn’t Work for Me

“I can’t meditate, it doesn’t work for me,” is a phrase I’ve heard so many times in the past 10 years. Not wishing to be impolite, I don’t push back on this, but I do wonder, “What part of meditation is broken?”

One possibility is sitting still. That can be hard for some of us (me!) to accept, at least, at first. But there is an easy solution: notice when you get antsy and stop. Who said 90 seconds of meditation ‘doesn’t count’? (I don’t think we give prizes to the person who sits the longest.) Anyway, once you can sit quietly for 90 seconds without feeling that you’re being punished, add another 90. Sit for 3 minutes.

Then there’s the Mind Game.  Continue reading