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

Health-O-Ween Special Offer – Free Meditation INSTRUCTION

Hi folks,

Alan Shusterman (chemistry), here.

The Reed Wellness committee has designated October Health-O-Ween month and put together a list of wellness activities for you to try out. One of these is “Monster” Meditation, our weekly meditation sessions that we hold during the noon hour on Tuesdays in the Eliot chapel.

If you have some meditation experience and would like to try it out, just show up any time between 12 & 12:40. Need a little more info about what we do? Check out the Our Practice and Our Schedule pages..

Never meditated before? No problem. Send me an email during Health-O-Ween ( and I’ll set up a meeting for a free 15-minute lesson.

Or try it on your own. Here are self-starting options for the “jump right in” person and the cautious one who likes to “read the manual” first:

  • Jump right in? Select from the list of Resources or the options under Sit Now. 10 minutes of practice and you’ll be set.
  • Read the manual? Great. =) Check out Instructions (also in the word cloud at right) for a zillion essays on how to get started. Or, go directly to this 22 September 2015 post: Beginner’s Guide to Meditation.

On this fractured morning: a call to connect

I don’t know how or when you started your day. Me? I did what I nearly always do: petted the cat, reached for the remote, and waited for the weather forecast. The horrible news from Las Vegas is what I got instead.

I guess I’m lucky … I don’t think I know anyone in Las Vegas. But we’ll see … I may know someone who knows someone.

One thing that meditation has taught me: we are all connected. I sometimes think the opposite. “I’m just sitting here with the circus of my thoughts. Me. An island.” But I also notice that in my thoughts are relationships: anything or anyone that I imagine pulling closer to, and anything or anyone that I imagine pushing away from, is something or someone I am connected to. What I am imagining is, in fact, connection, and that connection comes before my ability to imagine it.

We are already connected. What makes me strong is the unconscious knowledge, built into the cells of my body and the wiring of my heart, that I am always drawing on you, the big You, the entire universe of people, animals, plants, planet and sun, to hold me up and you will never let me down. What sometimes makes me weak is the nagging conscious fear that I can’t explain how all of this works and so I never know if my ass is completely covered.

Sitting with others … just sitting … silent … just acknowledging with each breath, and each heart beat, that there is an unconscious web, beyond my ability to fathom … keeping me alive … is enough.

If you have a little time, please join me in the chapel tomorrow for meditation. If you cannot, please know that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, no matter what you think about your life, you are appreciated. This network of connection that sustains us is “love” by any other name.

You are loved.