Feb 11

Our Symbiosis with the Interwebs

Our friend Monster made an excellent comment a few weeks back: “distraction and impulse reward is endemic to our symbiosis with the interwebs”.

How true this is.

We have a symbiotic relationship with technology. So much so, that I feel like we are psychologically dependent on it.

How many times have you been in a situation when you are waiting on somebody or something and you don’t have a TV or smart phone to keep you entertained? Out of those times, how many times have you been ok with having no distractions?

Those times are very rare for me. I default to irritation if I don’t have technology to keep me entertained.

I would like to change that.

I have mentioned this problem before. And a week before that, I made a post about the opposite problem. Of course, I turned to mindfulness for an answer to both.

Check out point number 5 from Mindfulness in Plain English’s chapter on Meditation in Everyday Life.

“The concept of wasted time does not exist for a serious meditator. Little dead spaces during your day can be turned to profit. Every spare moment can be used for meditation. Sitting anxiously in the dentist’s office, meditate on your anxiety. Feeling irritated while standing in a line at the bank, meditate on irritation. Bored, twiddling you thumbs at the bus stop, meditate on boredom. Try to stay alert and aware throughout the day. Be mindful of exactly what is taking place right now, even if it is tedious drudgery. Take advantage of moments when you are alone. Take advantage of activities that are largely mechanical. Use every spare second to be mindful. Use all the moments you can.”

You need no tools to practice mindfulness. You only need your awareness. And that is the one thing that technology can take away from you.

So, next time while I am waiting in a line, I will try to rely on my awareness instead of my smart phone.

Hopefully, mindfulness can give me a more healthy relationship with technology.

Feb 11

Solitude and Power

Ladies and Gentlemen! We have our first comment! Thank you, Salamander.

It only took 82 weeks, but we got one. And it was worth the wait.

Mr. Salamander mentions two very important concepts that have I been thinking about a lot lately: solitude and power.

I have found that mindfulness and rationality bring about feelings of both.

When I am concentrating on my senses, I am not thinking about others. I focus on only my environment and how I am experiencing it. I typically can only be mindful when others are not around. So, I probably force the solitude and mindfulness link. (Ain’t it ironic that communication from another brought up the topic of solitude?)

At the same time, there have been a number of times when I become mindful of how my hands feel on my computer, or the way my feet feel walking barefoot on the floor, or how a drink tastes or any number of other mindful experiences and I am reminded of the fact that everyone else in the world feels the exact same senses. (They may not process them the same way, but regardless.).

Rationality, by its very nature causes me to separate my opinions from other people’s opinions. I distance myself from others when I use rationality. I attempt to minimize the effects that my emotions have on my thoughts. People typical induce emotions in me (good, bad, or neutral). So, rationality causes me to feel solitude.

Overall, I like the solitude. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people that I love everyday of my life. If I was in a different situation, I probably would not appreciate the solitude. But it feels good when I get the chance.

I have talked about how empowering mindfulness is a few times before. It stops out of control thoughts right in their tracks. I feel like I have complete control over what is going on in my head when I concentrate on my senses.

With rationality, I feel similarly empowered. There is a logical process I can follow to reach a conclusion. It is a system I can fall back on when things get too fuzzy. I use it to advance my understanding of myself and the world.

Solitude and power. Mindfulness and rationality bring about both.

Jan 11

Mindfulness on the Brain

Neon BrainI must confess. I have relapsed. I have been reading news sites again.

I know, I know. After all the talk about information cleansing. And all the talk about being efficient. I end up just browsing the web on occasion.

Well, at least I kept it up for over two months. And the nice thing is that I don’t read the news as often as I did before.

I just need to make sure that I keep it all in check. I should be able to, now that I am tracking my efficiency. I know how much time I spend browsing the web vs. working. And everything is looking reasonable.

But that is not the point of this post. I only mention the web browsing habit because it actually led me to an interesting article and discussion on meditation’s effect on the brain.

The article describes how 16 study participants saw distinct changes in their brain over an 8 week period of practicing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Increased density in the hippocampus. Decreased density in amygdala. And more.

It is an interesting find, but it’s nothing too earth shattering. The reddit link contains a bunch of comments linking to other studies finding similar changes in the brain of mindfulness practitioners. I think the reason why the studies make the news and get passed around blogs is because mindfulness is such a different way of thinking than westerners are used to.

People need science applied to mindfulness because it is such a foreign concept to wrap our brains around. And as I said before, mindfulness is so interesting to us, partly, because it is foreign.

But I found the most interesting thing were the comments that people left about how mindfulness helped them in their life. Help with ADD, depression, stress, concentration, etc. Normal people talking about real experiences with real results. Exciting stuff.

Photo courtesy of dierk schaefer. 

Jan 11

The Texture of Thoughts

“There is a difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought. That difference is very subtle. It is primarily a matter of feeling or texture. A thought you are simply aware of with bare attention feels light in texture; there is a sense of distance between that thought and the awareness viewing it. It arises lightly like a bubble, and it passes away without necessarily giving rise to the next thought in that chain. Normal conscious thought is much heavier in texture. It is ponderous, commanding, and compulsive. It sucks you in and grabs control of consciousness. By its very nature it is obsessional, and it leads straight to the next thought in the chain, apparently with no gap between them.”

- Mindfulness in Plain English

Dec 10

The Mindfulness Brick Wall

Brick WallI am fairly busy right now. When I think about all the things that I have to do, I feel anxiety.

The amount of activity and anxiety is nothing new. I have had many periods in my life when I have felt overloaded.

However, my reaction to the anxiety is different this time around. When I find worry taking over, I counter with mindfulness.

Continue reading →

Dec 10

Judgment and Objectivity

GavelRecently, I have been talking about analysis quite frequently.

I enjoy the topic. But I find that if I do not keep myself in check, I can get carried away with the collecting, analyzing and peripheral activities that come along with it.

Judging is one of those peripheral activities.

Since I have a better understanding of how I spend my time, I feel as if I have more control over how I spend it. And if I have the ability to choose how I spend my time, I automatically judge if one way of spending my time is better than another.

This goes against a fundamental principle found in both science and mindfulness: objectivity.

We are trying to understand the world in a way that is independent of the observer. These biases, judgments and opinions can get in the way of fully understanding what we are observing.

I mentioned this common trait in a post I wrote over a year ago: Universal Loving Kindness.

Mindfulness wants to let you see the world as it truly is, regardless of how you think the world should be. Science is exactly the same.

I recognize the need to make judgments. There is no way to get away from them. They guide me in the direction I want to take in life.

However, there must be a clear separation between the observation and judgment. And I must be mindful of which one I am practicing at all times.

Photo courtesy of bloomsberries 

Nov 10

The Wandering Mind

AnchorThe New York Times has an article covering the results of the track your happiness experiment that more than 2200 people took part in. I have been taking the survey for the past year.

As you can tell by the title, the findings align with the content of this blog.

When your mind wanders, or when it is not focused on the task at hand or when you are not being mindful of your immediate environment, you are more likely to be unhappy.

Completely stopping your mind from wandering is not the ultimate goal. I have come up with many great ideas while daydreaming. And I love to think. I could not imagine taking away that enjoyment.

The wandering mind needs to be balanced.  It drifts. You steer it back.  You can do this with mindfulness.  You can do this with writing. Sometimes, you can do it with both.

Both bring you back to reality. Both anchor your mind.

Photo courtesy of david.nikonvscanon 

Oct 10


Remember that post back in September about Clarity Breakers?

One of the three types of breakers that I listed was the mind. In particular: thought loops.

These are the thoughts that get stuck in my head for long periods of time. They steal away focus from things that I would prefer to be thinking about.

Sometimes these thought loops manifest themselves in the form of rumination.

Rumination is when you think about something in the past that may have caused you harm. You focus on how it happened or how you could have prevented it from happening. You try to figure out why it happened to you.

And the worst part of rumination is that when you are doing it, you continue doing it because you think it will help in some way.

But it almost never does.

I have found that for most of my rumination sessions, if I actually figure something out through rationality, I do it almost immediately. But then 20 minutes later, I realize that I am still thinking about it for no good reason. I know it is time to move on.

But I find myself back in that loop, again. Unfortunately, the thought control that rationality provides me is not enough in these cases.

The way out is mindfulness.

Oct 10

A New York Minute

New York at NightI just got back from New York City.

The pace of living there is completely different from where I live. I am used to moving fairly quickly at work and slowing down at home.

But New Yorkers move fast, all the time.

Continue reading →

Sep 10

Project Dagaz

Beer van Geer – Project Dagaz from Quantified Self Amsterdam on Vimeo.

This video excites me. It is from a Quantified Self talk (I have mentioned that group before).  And the guy is using technology to measure meditation.  Right up my alley. Within the first two minutes of the video, Beer van Geer asks the same question that I had mentioned in my previous post.

Where is the open culture of meditation in western societies?  How will meditation manifest itself in the west?  He seems to think that it will be through technology (which I agree with).

He is using a NeuroSky mindset device to track brain waves while meditating.  The hardware seems pretty non-intrusive. Especially compared to emotiv’s headset. Could you imagine someone walking around with one of emotiv’s headsets attached to their head? Any hardware like this has to be designed with the minimal amount of weirdness in mind. Otherwise, this type of device will forever remain a toy.

And even if a user takes the leap and puts on the NeuroSky headset, the specific application that van Geer built is still too esoteric. He has every right to maintain a spiritual theme within his application, but displaying mandalas and playing odd music in the background will not help bring meditation to the masses.

But this is a step in the right direction. This is the future.