Stress Less Finals Week activity – May 4, Th, noon

Is the 3-headed monster (final paper, final lab report, final EXAM) chasing you? Don’t hide. Reduce stress and restore focus with a meditation break. Reed’s Community Wellness team is sponsoring:

Thursday, May 4, 12-1 PM, at the Eliot Chapel
Meditate to Reduce Stress and Increase Focus:

Learn a simple yet powerful technique of meditation that reduces stress, improves physical and emotional well-being, and promotes calm focus regardless of outer conditions. Conducted by cellist, teacher, writer and meditation practitioner David Eby, who specializes in exploring the benefits of meditation for performance (http://www.davidebymusic.com).

Open to anyone (Reedies & visitors), regardless of religious or spiritual background, seeking to access their highest potential.

If it helps, come back to the Chapel the following Tuesday, May 9, for silent meditation, 12-12:40 PM.

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There Are No Stupid Questions

I’m “coming out” today. Here’s what I want you to know about me,

  1. I meditate regularly. Often alone. Often with others.
  2. I think a lot about meditation, especially while I’m meditating.
  3. I nap during meditation sometimes. I haven’t found an answer to this “problem” except to stop treating it as a problem.
  4. Meditation feels special, but I try not to fool myself into thinking that it makes me special.
  5. I tend not to talk about my meditation practice (#1) or what it’s like (#2-4), even though its an extremely interesting topic to me and I think I’d be happy to share.

I had a lot of questions about meditation when I first started. Some have been answered. Others persist. If unanswered questions are keeping you from trying, or being satisfied with, meditation, send them my way. Start out, “Hi Alan,” and then follow wherever your fingers take you. alan@reed.edu

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Meaningful Awareness

My mind during a part of last week’s meditation session:

  • in breath
  • a thought: “one”
  • out breath
  • in breath
  • a thought: “two”
  • a thought: “Hey, I’m doing ok, two breaths! I’m really focused today. Nice.”
  • a thought: “thinking”
  • a thought: “gone”
  • (in breath)
  • a thought: “one”
  • (out breath)

My mind was wandering, just like always, and, each time awareness of this wandering eventually dawned on me, I observed the wandering mind (“thinking”), released it (“…”), and noticed its absence (“gone”). That was the story of my meditation session, but the rest of my day was another story entirely …

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Attentional Reset: The Path Back to Here & Now

There are many types of meditation techniques, but nearly all of them have one instruction in common: when you discover your mind has been wandering, gently pause, observe that you have wandered, and then return to the instructions.

This act of changing direction functions as an attentional reset. It takes only a few moments, but it allows you to reset your focus, your attention, and (at least temporarily) free your mind from one task so that it can take up another.

A 15-minute meditation session might provide over a hundred opportunities for attentional resets, but you don’t need to take a 15-minute break to reset your attention. A few well-timed breaths, a short walk around your building, listening to some music, or almost any focused activity that you can give your undivided attention to, may provide a much needed reset.

I’m discovering that there is fairly large research literature on attentional resets (I’ll just call them “resets”) and I’ll try to share some of that with you. For starters, here is an article, “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain” (D.J. Levitin, Sunday Review, NY Times, 9 Aug 2014) and two posts from this blog:

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Reset with 5 Deep Breaths

Spring Break is right around the corner, and so are midterms, papers, and qualifying exams. Your chances of squeezing a meditation session into your schedule this week are probably zero, but you can still use this simple, portable, breathing technique to calm yourself down when you start to feel crazy:

1. Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. 2. Pause. 3. Exhale slowly to the count of five. 4. Repeat four times.

When you have a little more time, learn more about other controlled tools: Unsure What To Do? Breathe. Exhale. Repeat. (A Quiet Place, 14 Nov 2016)

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The Zen of Philip Whalen ’51

Students of zen meditation are famous for their cultivation of the arts of haiku, calligraphy, and tea ceremony. Presence. Simplicity. The qualities that emerge on the cushion appear in every aspect of one’s life.

The cross-currents of zen, poetry, and calligraphy, have a rich history at Reed as well. “Loosen Up. Festoon.” by John Sheehy ’82 (Reed Magazine, March 2016) explores the currents sailed by Reed poet and zen master, Philip Whalen ’51 (Crowded by Beauty: The Life and Zen of Poet Philip Whalen by David Schneider ’73). Continue reading

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Schedule Change TODAY Only (Jan 31)

Apologies for the last-minute change, but the College is sponsoring a Support & Solidarity Rally today, 12-1, in the Library foyer. Because that event begins almost at the same time as ours, I’m delaying the start (and end) of sitting meditation by 5 minutes. So our first three bells will ring at 12:15 and final bells at 12:45.

Go to the Rally if you wish. Drop in at meditation when you can. There’s time for both (maybe).

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A Quiet Place, An Open Place (reposted)

Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,

Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

He went on,

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*

I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.

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Paideia 2017 – Meditation Classes & Sessions

Next week, Jan 16-19, brings some special meditation opportunities as part of Reed’s informal winter session: Paideia 2017. Here’s the full list (with class descriptions at the bottom):

  • Jan 16, M, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners taught by Mary Priester ’76 and Prof. Alan Shusterman
  • CANCELLED (College closed because of weather) – Jan 17, Tu, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – sitting meditation, first bells at 12:10, last bells at 12:40, drop-ins welcome-come when you can-leave when you want
  • Jan 17, Tu, 2-3 pm, Dance Studio – Walking Meditation taught by Alan Shusterman
  • Jan 18, W, noon-1 pm, Eliot chapel – Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners taught by Mary Priester ’76 and Prof. Alan Shusterman
  • Jan 19, Th, 2-3 pm, Dance Studio – Walking Meditation taught by Alan Shusterman

All of the events listed above are also listed on the Reed Meditation Google calendar, and are open to all members of the Reed community and their guests.

While it isn’t necessary to sign up for the classes, doing so could be a good way to show Paideia organizers your support for meditation. Tuesday noon-1 sitting meditation repeats weekly throughout the spring semester. See Our Schedule for dates and locations.

New to meditation? Here are descriptions of the two meditation classes:

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2017 Resolutions – Patience & Equanimity

Last night I sat at the dining room table making a list of things that I needed to do today. As I wrote a few items down, new things, some that had been nagging me for days, even weeks, started to crowd around, demanding to be added to my list. So many things to do.

The ultimate To-Do’s, of course, are my New Year’s resolutions. Like everyone else, I tend to treat my life as a Personal Improvement Project. Just a little thinking about the ways I might improve myself in 2017 has unleashed a flood of ideas: eat better, get more exercise, get more sleep, go to bed earlier, pick up the flute I used to play, pay and file bills more regularly, get my finances in order, clean the house regularly, … and I was just getting started.

So, before your New Year resolve flies out the window, here’s a much shorter list of resolutions inspired by a David Nichtern‘s 2011 New Year’s Resolution published in the Huffington Post:

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