Category Archives: Useful Tips and Tools

What Time is It? Inspiring a shift from tic-toc to lub-dub.

by Royan Kamyar

royanRoyan Kamyar, M.D., MBA is Founder and CEO of Owaves, a lifestyle medicine technology company based in Encinitas, CA producing software tools for wearable devices that inspire and motivate the next generation to engage in healthy lifestyle activities.  Royan has presented at TEDxUCSD and been quoted by Forbes, Reuters, FOX News, Xconomy, U-T San Diego and the San Diego Business Journal.  Royan earned his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, MBA at the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego, and BA and BS in Biochemistry and Business Administration at UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business.  He serves on the Formative Board of Directors for UC San Diego Center for MindfulnessMindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute and is an active member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Image Credit: Dadara

[Image Credit: Dadara]

Imagine a flowering plant. A baking cake. A rising stock price. A healing wound. Time passing can be a beautiful thing.

Why then does the cartoon above resonate so deeply with us? Is it our fear of mortality? Our never-ending list of to-do’s and things left undone that haunt us moment-to-moment? Are we as a culture, as a species, doomed to brood on the past, fear the future, and run away from the present?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies our sense of “time scarcity” as a leading source of stress in the United States — a primary cause of heart disease, our number one killer. Meanwhile, growing positive psychology research demonstrates the healing power of “being in the present.”

What if our relationship with time shifted? What if we began to view time as a source of inspiration instead of dread? What if each glance at the watch put us more “in the moment,” made us feel more focused, centered and alive? Few realize that our modern timekeeping system is fundamentally arbitrary. Hours, minutes and seconds have no home in cosmology, but rather the digits of our hands…

Technology is evolving as we speak to put smartphones on our wrists. The era of smartwatches with heart rate sensors and real-time monitoring systems is dawning upon us. With processing powers greater than the earliest mainframes and NASA spaceships embedded into our timepieces, we are no longer compelled to settle for a construct of time rooted in hand gestures, ropes and rocks. What if we, as a community of innovators and healers, took the first step in evolving our modern-day answer to the age-old question, “What time is it?”

Mindfulness & Innovations in Timekeeping

The mindfulness community actually has a long and storied track record of innovation in timekeeping, centered around spiritual observations, holidays, rites, rituals, meditation and prayer:

32,000 BCE – Cave art found in France and Germany depicts lunar and seasonal cycles of the “heavens”, representing the first known calendaring system. Its creators are believed to be astronomer-priests of the late Upper Paleolithic Cultures.

4,200 BCE — Ancient Egyptians calculate 365 days between alignments of the sun and Sopdet, goddess of Sirius the Dog Star, marking the Nile’s concurrent flooding and enrichment of the soil.

3,000 BCE — Stonehenge in modern-day England demarcates the annual winter and summer solstices, serving as burial grounds and a venue of ancestor worship and rituals.

2,400 BCE – The first known clocks are the shadow clocks or “obelisks” of ancient Egypt, erected by clerics in pairs at temple entrances for ritual observances.

2,100 BCE — Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians of the Middle East establish twelve phases of the moon, or “moonths”, per lunar calendar year. Holy days are declared on the first, seventh and fifteenth of each month.

1,000 BCE – Egyptian clerics develop water clocks or “clepsydras” to continue tracking proper timing of rituals throughout the night, i.e. in the absence of sun and shadows.

100 BCE – Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhist monks advance incense timers to replace the more flammable and inaccurate candle clocks of the day. Utilizing various scents, one smells the time change.

1200-1300 AD — Benedictine Monks of Western Europe become the first clockmakers of the region and create the mechanical clock. Adding weights and escapements to water clocks automates ringing of the communal prayer bell.

1582 AD — To more accurately celebrate Easter in its relation to the March equinox, Pope Gregory XIII spearheads the Gregorian Calendar widely used today. The Gregorian Calendar arrives closer to the tropical or “solar” year than the preceding Julian Calendar.

The Origins of Tic-Toc

The divisions of years, months and days are rooted in cosmological events and account for consistent measurements across disconnected cultures. Subdivisions of weeks, hours, minutes and seconds, however, are largely arbitrary and varied more greatly throughout history.

Weeks, for example have seen lengths of 3 to 13 days depending on prevailing leadership. Decisions usually hinged on what was deemed a reasonable workweek as per autocrat or religious text, i.e. “… on the seventh day he rested.” Papal States used six hour days as recently as the 1800’s with 6 o’clock pointing fixedly to sunset, and the Japanese had a twelve hour system with intervals that varied in length according to the season. Decimal time was used by China throughout most of its history dating back to 1000 BCE, was espoused by the French Revolutionary thinkers of the late 1700’s and resurfaced in 1998 when the Switzerland-based Swatch company proposed “Internet Time” of 1000 beats per day.

The sexagesimal system which lies at the heart of our modern-day “tic-toc” was similarly devised for convenience, not derived from scientific fact or basic principles. The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used sixty as a mathematical base due to its ease of counting with two hands. Each finger segment on one hand represented a number one through twelve demarcated by the thumb, and each digit of the other hand represented a multiplier. Multiplying twelve finger segments by five digits provided a max count of sixty. The number sixty is also considered a “superior highly composite number” in mathematics, meaning it is easily divisible and lends itself well to fractions.

hands

[Image Credit: Ministry of Education, Brazil]

The Problems with Tic-Toc

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn presents a valuable anecdote from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in his manuscript Full Catastrophe Living:

Linda described feeling as if a large truck were always right on her heels, driving just faster than she can walk. It was an image people could relate to; the vividness of it sent a wave of acknowledging nods and smiles through the room…

Her mind was the truck. It was always right behind her, pushing her, driving her, allowing her no rest, no peace.

In the modern age, feeling overwhelmed and out-of-sync is an increasingly common experience. Heart disease is real, heart attacks are real, and the CDC sobers us with the knowledge that this “time scarcity” mentality is a chronic stressor.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that one of the central tenets of mindfulness-based stress reduction is to encourage patients to adopt the present moment. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn explains:

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

The ancient Greeks embraced two definitions of time to help carry this distinction. “Chronos” was used to discuss chronological or sequential concepts of time, with which we are most familiar and tic-toc describes quite well. “Kairos”, on the other hand, translates to the “eternal moment” in which everything actually happens. This latter concept is missing from our current communication of time and resonates with Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s teaching.

Among pools of evidence collecting around the importance of present moment awareness, Science published a Harvard study in 2010 demonstrating a link between “mind-wandering” and mental health. Over 250,000 data points from 2,250 subjects between the ages of 18 and 88 shows our minds are focused on the past or future 46.9% of the day, leading directly to poor mood. As summarized by study co-author psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

The tic-toc almost by definition puts us in a sequential frame of mind rather than in the moment. This shift first took hold in the Western world during the Middle Ages with the spread of the mechanical clock. Benedictine Monks lived ascetic lives centered on punctual communal prayer six to seven times per day. Bells (Celtic = clocca or “clock”) were rung manually to inform the community of established timetables. By adding weights and escapements to water clocks, a bell could be rung automatically without requiring a brother present, and more dependably as well.

As the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association notes:

Time no longer flowed like water through a clepsydra — it ticked. It was no longer a seamless continuum, but a succession of short periods.

The streaming of water, passing of a shadow or burning of a flame became replaced by the now familiar “tic-toc”. With the dawning of the Industrial Revolution and mass scaling of clock and watch production, “dollar watches” put everyone in a mechanical state-of-mind and helped synchronize the workforce. Time became money as factories calculated hours worked as key labor costs and employees as wages. As per American historian Lewis Mumford, “… the archetypal model for the industrial era was the clock.”

The tic-toc represented a major departure from cosmological cues for the average person organizing her or his day, as the sundial became officially obsolete in the 1800’s. Perhaps the greatest divorce came more recently with the International Committee for Weights and Measures decision to re-define the second in 1967. A “second” no longer represents an arbitrary fraction of Earth’s rotation around the Sun, but rather:

9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133-atom.

While this advances our computer networking capabilities and satellite communications, the tightening of our “tic-toc” does not necessarily serve to heal our emotional relationship with time. In fact, the focus by such governing bodies on the physics and engineering components of time misses the human implications that actually define it.

Within some of our lifetimes, Albert Einstein brought forward the general theory of relativity, which proved without a doubt that a second for you is not the same as a second for me:

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

Our speed, our culture, our circumstances, our environment, our climate, our neighbor, our mindspace all dramatically impact our individual perceptions of time. Further, Einstein’s contributions to quantum mechanics helped show the existence of time actually depends on our perceptions of it. No consciousness, no time. So these changes in perception that we feel and experience on a regular basis are not simply novelties or asides in the calculations of time, but real occurrences that get neglected in our current approach.

In the 1950’s, University of Minnesota biologist Franz Halberg coined the term “circadian” (Latin = around a day). Known as the “godfather of chronobiology,” he helped establish a fundamental, evolutionary relationship between our biology and time. We now know that every cell in our body, down to the DNA level, has some “awareness” of (or dependency on) the time of day. This is true for virtually every known organism, even those that are single-celled.

The implications of these “circadian rhythms”, or physiological patterns dictated by the rise and fall of the sun, are both broad and deep. Recent research encouraged the World Health Organization to label night-shift work as a “probable carcinogen”, in the same class as UV radiation, due to its devastating impact on circadian rhythms. Poor circadian rhythms are also linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and mental health disorders. Our 24/7, hyper-connected, always-on smartphone culture makes the bulk of us “social-shift workers,” exposed to blue light late into the night… and shifting our hormones into dangerous patterns.

circadian

Why then has nothing changed? Does our new subjective, dynamic definition of time, no longer static and mechanical, not change the underlying formula? Does the realization that our biology has a fundamental, natural and overarching relationship with time not beg us to re-evaluate why this is not factored into the perennial question, “What time is it?”

Introducing Lub-Dub

The arbitrariness of our current timekeeping method, combined with the facts that it is out-of-date and fosters a stressful mindset, presents us with a wide-open opportunity to improve. Coupling our evolved understanding of time with modern needs and the latest technologies, perhaps we can imagine a way to re-define the concept so that it better serves our bodies, hearts and minds.

Consider your daily routine. It might look a lot like this: wake up, meditate, eat breakfast, drive to work, work, eat lunch, go for a walk, work some more, drive home, cook dinner, spend time with family, relax and read a book, go to sleep. What is the optimal way to get you from one “daily milestone” to the next? When you realize the bulk of these milestones don’t generally change from one 24-hour block to the next, you begin to sense there might be a better way to organize and track your day.

Peter Galison, physics professor, historian and philosopher at Harvard University defines clocks accordingly:

We’re always looking for things that repeat, over and over again… and that repetition, that cycle of things, forms a clock. That’s all time becomes, is some repetitive process.

So since my daily activity patterns generally repeat from one day to the next, what if they became my “tic” and my “toc”? So my cadence became linked to “breakfast time” and “exercise time” rather than some mechanical, arbitrary construct that lies beneath it? In essence, I become my clock. Lub-dub.

What we can imagine is a shift from a quantitative, mathematical and mechanical view of time towards a more heartful, experiential and soulful view of time — one that makes sense on an emotional and psychological level.

Amazingly, this approach has a biological basis as well. In his study of circadian rhythms, Dr. Aschoff also coined the term “zeitgeber”, German for “time giver” or “synchronizer. ” The zeitgeber is any external or environmental cue that “entrains” or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to Earth’s 24 hour light/dark cycle and twelve month orbit.

Decades of chronobiology research tells us that these same types of intuitive markers for progression of the day, or daily milestones outlined above, are in fact biological zeitgebers. Meals, exercise, and socializing each play a role in establishing our cyclical physiological relationship with the solar environment. This has implications for: our sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, patterns of hormone secretion, blood pressure, digestive secretions, levels of alertness, mood and reaction times just to name a few.

brain

[Image Credit: Nature Reviews Neurology]

Timothy Monk, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute summarizes the value of this framework well:

Circadian rhythms are driven by endogenous processes, are self-sustaining, and rely upon circadian time cues (zeitgebers) to remain appropriately oriented to the individual’s environment and desired routine. The gold-standard measures of human circadian rhythms have been core body temperature and salivary or plasma melatonin levels. However, one can also make the case that the behavioral circadian rhythms related to the timing of sleep, meals, work and social interactions are just as valid circadian rhythms as the physiological ones. Moreover, these are the rhythms most salient to the individual himself or herself.

An additional “bonus” of shifting to this type of intuitive, biologically-based system is that these same behaviors — nutrition, sleep, exercise and socializing — are deemed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to be the fundamental building blocks of a long, healthy life. Also called “lifestyle vital signs,” measuring and monitoring these parameters might be more meaningful in predicting long-term morbidity and mortality than the traditional set of vital signs for current and future generations (due to an overall shift from acute to chronic and preventable disease). Following the age-old adage that you cannot manage what you do not measure, taking these health fundamentals into account would help prevent and treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and more.

For example, we know that heart attacks are most likely to occur shortly after dawn due to concurrent rises in blood pressure and cortisol levels. We also know they are more likely to occur at the beginning of the workweek, when stress from anticipating future events reaches its peak. What if your timekeeping tools took this knowledge into account, and helped you time activities accordingly? Perhaps optimizing algorithms to discourage Monday AM work meetings when possible? Or suggesting stress-reducing sounds or images during these times? Something as simple as a picture of a loved one, left in ambient view on your wristwatch at the right time, might go a long way in dipping your odds for a cardiac event.

CFM OWAVES

[Image Credit: Owaves]

Now time becomes something we can control, name, juggle, design, manipulate and relate to according to our personal biology, desires and needs. Granted, a universal timekeeping system would always need to lie at its base. Meeting times must be coordinated and train crashes prevented. And yet, analogous to “personalized medicine”, we can evolve or grow from this generalized base to create a truly individualized and relevant concept of time that inspires and heals rather than stresses and reduces.

Commonly in mindfulness courses today, we are taught that certain external stressors cannot be changed, and are best addressed by mobilizing our internal resources to better respond and adapt to our environment. Yet our maligned relationship with time seems to be universal and we know now, increasingly, that our historical perspective of time is incomplete, arbitrary and malleable. Perhaps we should learn from the mindfulness leaders of millennia ago, and play an active, creative role with regard to understanding, communicating and measuring time.

As we speak, physicists and engineers continue to develop incredible methods for fine-tuning existing calculations of timekeeping tools to better run the machines of the world. I propose it is our duty, as a community of healers and innovators, to ensure that human health and well-being is plugged more squarely into the equation.

Continue to explore the Mindfulness courses presented at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Registration is open for our local 8-Week Mindfulness programs along with our Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Programs that are held in various locations in North America.

 

Learning to Teach MBCT Practices Via the Web: Technology Supporting Teacher Development

By Zindel Segal, PhD and Sona Dimidjian, PhD

Online Training for Teaching Mindfulness In Your Clinical Practice

Z MindfulNoggin_email_adIt was February in 2010, Sona and I were at the end of the fourth day of teaching together a five-day intensive training in MBCT. We were sitting in the lodge of the meditation retreat center in Joshua Tree, California enjoying the beauty, silence, and spaciousness of our surroundings and beginning to engage a question raised by participants in that workshop, like many before them and many to come: how do I carry all that I have learned back into my daily life and work setting? It is a common reaction among participants who have taken MBCT clinical workshops. It usually surfaces towards the end of the training and is expressed in questions such as ‘what comes next?’ or ‘how can I support my learning?’. As we reflected on these questions, we realized that some of the searching arose from the very natural apprehension about returning to solo practice after days of instructed group learning and returning to the hustle and bustle of daily life after engaging deeply the practices of MBCT in a retreat setting. At the same time, however, we also heard in these questions a desire for more support, guidance and community in their intention to integrate the skills and practices they had learned over the week. We began to wonder about ways in which we could support such intentions, building on what we could provide during in person workshops. How could we best support practitioners as they worked to strengthen the experiential and content learning that comes with personal practice and clinical implementation?

mmb-enroll-imgThe issue resurfaced in an interesting way, during our collaboration to develop an online version of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. We evaluated this digital version of MBCT – called Mindful Mood Balance – in a quasi-experimental open trial with 100 recovered depressed patients at Kaiser-Permanente Colorado and got promising results, Sona Dimidjian, S. Beck, A. Felder, J. Boggs, J. Gallop, R. & Segal. Z. (in press). Web-based Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for reducing residual depressive symptoms: An open trial and quasi-experimental comparison to propensity score matched controls. Behaviour Research and Therapy. We are continuing this work on extending MBCT for patients with a recently funded, larger definitive, randomized trial that we will conduct with recovered depressed patients reporting residual depressive symptoms (R01 – MH102229). As we developed Mindful Mood Balance, we began to realize that it was one way we might respond to the questions that were raised at the Joshua Tree retreat center in 2010. Mindful Mood Balance was built to teach patients explicitly some of the core skills of MBCT, but it also might be a valuable resource for clinicians who want to get the “feel” of the MBCT curriculum as it unfolds over time and who might benefit from the structure of an 8-week program in supporting their own practice of the core elements of MBCT. With this knowledge in mind, we also began to imagine other ways in which we could offer training to clinicians on some of the more subtle and challenging aspects of delivering MBCT. We built a program that taught therapists the detailed use of one of the core MBCT skills, the three minute breathing space, which they could use with their clients. We didn’t see either of these offerings as a replacement for in person training, but as another option in the array of treatment/ training resources, with distinct advantages of being able to learn from one’s home on one’s own schedule. .

The Three Minute Breathing Space Course, for example, teaches therapists how to deliver this practice, how to perform inquiry, how to make one’s own recordings and how to integrate the practice into daily life.

Therapists can also participate in a community of learners who are taking the course at the same time. Provided there is interest and benefit, our vision would be to build more contexts for learning responsive to what clinicians find challenging in delivering MBCT.

We have partnered with eLearning experts Brian and Traci Knudson in order to integrate clinical science and leading e-Learning technology, in courseware for health care professionals who want to enhance and enrich their clinical practice through delivering compassionate and effective mindfulness-based interventions. While it is still early days, we are curious to find out whether such modern / technological means can help support others in their use of these ancient / simple practices.

zindel_segal_120x1561Zindel Segal is one of the co-founders and developers (along with John Teasdale and Mark William) of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Dr. Segal, along with Sarah Bowen and Steven Hickman, will be leading a 5-Day Professional Training Retreat in MBCT on February 15-20, 2015 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California. Registration is now open for this experiential training event.

 

 

Free Gift Offered to Students and Lifelong Learners: “A Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books”

by Jake J. Gibbs and Roddy O. Gibbs

The Mindful Way to StudyAs a way of expressing gratitude to the mindfulness in education community and in preparation for the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference, Jake and Roddy Gibbs are offering The Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books FREE on January 16, 17, and 18 as part of an Amazon Kindle Promotion.

“The ability to pay attention is a key component of effective learning. Just think of all the times in your life when parents, teachers, bosses, and coaches have told you to pay attention to what you are doing. You would think that with all of the attention paid to paying attention, we would be pretty good at it. The problem is we’re not, because most of us have never been taught how.

Commonly adopted methods like forced concentration are actually counterproductive to learning and achieving our goals. In addition, too much focus on future goals and rewards takes our attention away from what we need to be doing in order to achieve them. Luckily, there is another way, a better way: the mindful way.

The Mindful Way To Study: Dancing With Your Books is a guide to help students, professionals, and other lifelong learners develop a better approach to their educational and career pursuits. By using mindfulness, or the practice of bringing full awareness to the present moment, the authors blend the latest research with entertaining stories and specific techniques to teach readers how to truly pay attention, and even learn to enjoy it.”

More from Jake and Roddy can be found at:
Website: http://www.mindfulwaytostudy.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mindfulwaytostudy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mindfulstudy

Roddy Gibbs may be contacted directly at 724-422-6237

Join February’s Unconference: Sitting in a circle and talking about what’s really alive for people

by  Susan Kaiser Greenland

kaisergreenlandsusanSusan Kaiser Greenland, JD, Author, Educator, is the developer and co-founder of the Inner Kids mindful awareness program for children, teens and their families. She is author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate (Free Press, 2010).

Mega_XX_Orange_WEB_SIZE

Have you heard that 2014 will usher in an era of mindful living? It must be true because J. Walter Thompson, a giant advertising agency with considerable qualitative, quantitative and desk research prowess, has identified the top 10 trends for 2014 and mindful living is tenth on the list. What’s more, mindfulness is implicit in several of the top 10 trends. In keeping with this year’s second trend “Do You Speak Visual?” here’s a video teaser:

It’s a funny video and so is characterizing mindfulness as a new trend given its ancient roots in the East and, through Pop icons like Alan Watts, the Beat poets, John Lennon and George Harrison, its decades old roots in the Western zeitgeist. But there’s no denying that mindfulness has become trendy and with popularization insiders are both happy and concerned. If you’re curious about the positive aspects of the growing mindfulness movement check out Mindful Magazine published by seasoned veterans in the field and, if you’re interested in insiders’ concerns, read Ron Purser and David Loy’s Huffington Post article Beyond McMindfulness.

The trendiness of mindfulness has created an explosion of interest in sharing it with children, teens and families and not unlike popularization itself, growing interest in kids’ mindfulness has created it’s own set of plusses and minuses. Last year, Amy Saltzman and Steve Hickman reached out to Mark Greenberg and me to ask if we’d join them in hosting a symposium connected with this year’s Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference at UCSD. Together we polled a handful of our colleagues and were especially struck by the following three responses:

* From Chris McKenna with Mindful Schools: “We are looking for issues that are really alive for people and not just theoretical.”

* From Lisa Flook a scientist with The University of Wisconsin, Madison: “How do we engage mindfully (with heartfulness and skillfulness) together and what are mechanisms for explicitly addressing this ongoing group process?”

* From Wynn Kinder with Wellness Works: “ Collaboration and cooperation are messy.”

bridging2014badgeWe went back to the drawing board and the symposium morphed into an Unconference with this Native American adage in mind: “In the circle, we are all equal. When in the circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you”.  Steve carved out a morning for mindfulness veterans, newcomers, and those in-between to sit in a circle and (borrowing from Chris) talk about what’s “really alive for them.” We chose this format with professional group facilitators to ensure the “mindful, heartful and skillful process” that Lisa highlights in her comments above. And, we promise to remember Wynn’s prompt that “collaboration and cooperation are messy”.

Here how the Unconference morning will break down:

* The 1440 Foundation has generously underwritten a significant portion of the event including breakfast starting at 7am.

* We’re honored that Sharon Salzberg will lead a meditation at 8:30am.

* Small, facilitated groups will meet for an hour and a half.

* We’ll conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Mark Greenberg.

Like much of the cutting-edge and field development work that’s happening in the mindfulness world, the Bridging the Hearts and Minds Unconference wouldn’t be possible without a generous grant from the 1440 Foundation.

Veterans slated to join our working circles include Sharon Salzberg from IMS, Mark Greenberg and Christa Turksma from CARE, Jim Gimian and Barry Boyce from Mindful Magazine, Vinny Ferraro and Megan Cowan from Mindful Schools, Lisa Flook from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Randye Semple with USC and UCLA, Lidia Zylowska co-founder UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Wynne Kinder from Wellness Works, Chris Willard who wrote A Child’s Mind, Rona Wilensky, Lesley Grant with Marin Mindfulness, Amy Saltzman from Still Quiet Place, Steve Hickman with UCSD and me.

We hope you’ll join us.

The Unconference will be held on the morning of February 7, 2014.  For more information and to register visit the UCSD website.

Answering Louis CK’s Smartphone – Rant: With “Rhythm” A New Free Mindfulness App

by Sammy Banawan

RhythmOne of my best friends, a college roommate and a man whom I respect greatly questioned me. Somewhat unexpectedly. He is, to put it kindly, a late-adopter. Generally, when I’m rattling on about my latest new tech gadget (“You should see it! I can stream my music from my phone to my stereo!” “No, there is no optical drive.”), he does the polite nod and waits for me to finish. He tried to understand my first app, but he could only feign interest.

He’s a good friend. So I was taken aback when he had such a strong opinion so immediately. While he has an iPhone (one he had just gotten after years of using pre-paid phones with barely passable keyboards), he seemed to have already formed a strong opinion of what the smartphone could and could not do. The phone was a good tool for distraction. Getting away from things for a while. Splitting your attention. Certainly not one that could be used to enhance mindfulness. 

Louis CKThis sentiment was recently echoed by one of my favorite comedians, Louis CK. He had an epic rant about smartphones and what they are doing to our ability to be present. If you haven’t seen it, you should have a look. I greatly respect CK as an artist and as someone who somewhat unwittingly stumbles into some of the greatest metaphors and examples that I use with my DBT groups.

But I’ve got to disagree with him here.

The tools we have at our disposal can always be used against us. I won’t get into examples of how a hammer or drill can be a problem, but let’s just say that my 6 year-old son and I know very well that something that could help build something – is essential, in fact – can also be used for less than constructive purposes. And like a hammer or drill, the smartphone is a tool and an incredibly enabling one. It’s not essential yet, but could be in the coming years.

Given that mindfulness has always struck me as an imminently practical and flexible practice, it seemed excessively rigid to try to work against the trend of smartphone-as-constant-companion. In that light, embracing new technology to help seems to be the most prudent course of action. As we can see by the proliferation of “mindfulness apps”, people use and seem to like them. Whether they are mere totems to an ideal self or genuine efforts to cultivate new and better habits, the fact remains there are a vast number of people interested in using them to help.

I’m going to put on my psychologist hat for a moment (please pardon my indecorum at wearing a hat indoors) and lay out the steps one might take to establish a new habit and what we know works to help a new habit stick. Generally speaking, we strive for consistency and regularity in practice. Initially at least, we also strive for some sort of immediate feedback about our work. We look for reinforcement from others or change in ourselves. We want the new habit to seem our own, idiosyncratic and not cookie-cutter.

Bearing these qualities in mind, it seems quite natural to expect a smartphone to be able to help us in our endeavor. Setting reminders is trivial and with the help of notes about the aforementioned reminder, we can work to give ourselves a sense that the practice was custom built for us.

“Siri, remind me to practice mindfulness every day at 8 AM.”

“Ok, here’s your reminder every day at 8 AM.”

But there’s still something missing. We can’t get away from the other obligations pulling at us. How long do we practice? What shall we use to focus on? How do we get reinforcement for the practice? There are a number of mindfulness apps that can help with those questions and more that we haven’t even answered. While there may be no ideal app for that, there is quite an embarrassment of riches when it comes to ones that could fill in many of the gaps.

Despite my bias since I created Rhythm, I feel that the smartphone revolution is upon us and that there are many useful tools that can help many people cultivate a new mindful practice. Since we would like more people to practice mindfulness, smartphone-as-companion seems like a worthy trend to embrace. I created Rhythm, A Free Mindfulness App to fill in some of the gaps seen in the current crop of apps and I hope that many people can find it useful. If not, there are a number of others that might be suitable.

As the saying goes: Embrace and extend. Mindfulness is worth the effort. You can download my free Rhythm app at the iTunes Store.

 

Staying : turning towards what is difficult [ Part I]

By Char Wilkins,

charwilkinsChar Wilkins, MSW, LCSW is a mindfulness-based psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples and groups incorporating the intention and skills of mindfulness as a foundation from which to explore one’s life. She leads  MBSR, and Mindful Eating/Conscious Living (MECL) retreats for our Professional Training Institute and programs in her own practice for the general public.

When challenging or unwanted thoughts, emotions or behaviors arise most of us want to avoid or distract ourselves. We may use food, drugs, work or exercise to temporarily sooth, comfort or numb the difficult internal experience. Unfortunately, repeatedly coping in this way creates a habituated pattern that carries with it more shame and fear, and the hope of change slips further away into a seemingly endless out-of-control cycle.

There is of course, a reason why in mindfulness-based work we turn towards what we believe to be so difficult that if we don’t run, we won’t survive. And that is because when we come to know the taste, texture, temperature, shape, sound and movement of the unwanted thought, emotion or sensation, it is no longer a lurking shadow threatening to overwhelm us. It is felt and known for what it is: just a thought. Observed and held in awareness without judgment, it takes its right-sized place in the scope of who we are. Turning toward the difficult offers the possibility of freeing ourselves from the very patterns we fear the most.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this “staying with thing” is not the way you want to spend your day off. It’s not a comfortable thing to do. It just doesn’t have the same feeling that you get when you’re angry, depressed or anxious and think: ” A day at the beach is what I need.” or “A hot fudge sundae would do the trick right about now.”   But one getaway is never enough, is it?  And then, of course, returning is too much. This jumping back and forth we do is wearisome. That’s why the practice of mindfully staying with what is here right now, is so important. Ultimately it conserves energy, time, wear and tear on body and soul, and so much drama is avoided.

I’m aware that I ask participants in MBSR, MBCT and MECL programs to do a very challenging thing: be present to what is arising in the moment and to allow it to be known. It isn’t easy to not turn away from, to not disassociate, to not to run.  Bolting is the norm. If it doesn’t feel good, leave. Leave the person, place or thing. I’m not suggesting that you stay if you’re being abused. I’m talking about the everyday moments when we think, “I wouldn’t have to get so angry if only he wouldn’t ____________.  If she’d just ______________, I’d be happy.” As I’ve sat with clients and participants over the years, I’ve watched so much “bolting,” that recently I thought a new reality TV show entitled “Extreme Bolting might get higher ratings than the X Games since more people bolt than Cave Dive, go Wingsuit Flying or attempt Extreme Ironing. Look it up, it’s worth it.

In Part 2, I’ll share how in working with women who have experienced abuse or trauma mindfulness of the body can help them learn how to stay with what is difficult.

Listen on Monday September 9, 2013 from 12:00pm-1:00pm to Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW, in a special teleconference  exploring how we sometimes use food which temporarily soothes, comforts or submerges the difficult internal experiences.

 

WorkLife Changing Tools: Key Wellness Tips for Busy Executives

By Jennifer Martella

Worklife Integration Program Photo Jennifer Martella recently participated in our MBSR program and is Owner and Founder of Strategic Wellness Concepts. Contact her at info@strategicwellnessconcepts.com for  more information about sustainable wellness and personal/professional balance.

To inquire about our UCSD Center for Mindfulness WorkLife Integration Programs please contact Program Director, Ellyn Wolfe at ehwolfe@ucsd.edu. 858-737-4341 

After spending over fifteen years in corporate America, I understand the challenges that face busy, success-motivated executives.  I spent many years on the corporate treadmill trying to “make it all work,” only to find that my personal health and wellness suffered as a result.  Determined to find a better way, I finally turned the corner by discovering a few simple tools that changed my life – both personally and professionally – and helped me find balance.    The solution is easier than you might think.

 Overall wellness

·      Invest your time wisely.  One of the biggest hurdles we face on the path towards improving health and wellness in our lives is time.  There is never enough at the end of the day, and ironically, the one item that typically suffers is our personal well-being.  The solution?  Time management and prioritization.  Carve time into your daily schedule just for you.  Whether you use this time for exercise, spending time with a friend, reading a chapter out of your favorite book or enjoying a carefree walk, calendar it, prioritize it and make it happen!

·      Mindfulness.  Learning to live in the moment is key.  Corporate America thrives on multitasking.  Although at times it may be necessary, too much can lead to inefficiency, decreased productivity, frustration and exhaustion.  As often as possible, focus on the “now.”  That is, the task at hand or the person you are with, and particularly when exercising or spending time with family and friends.  The benefits are far reaching!

·      Unplugand lose the iPhone.  Ok, not literally, but take time each day to “let go,” unplug and unwind.  Our brains need a vacation – especially from the Smartphone!

·      Do at least one “selfless” thing each day.   Each day, do something for someone else – even a complete stranger.  For example, thank someone for their patience, buy lunch for someone, or tell someone they made your day.  Random acts of kindness and generosity are the moments when you are truly living!

A few words about exercise

·      Keep it simple.  No time for the gym or a run outdoors?  How about a fifteen minute walk around the block?  Take the stairs back to your building?  Walk to your lunch meeting instead of opting for a cab?  While you are at it, think about your surroundings – how your muscles feel – it may sound odd, but this practice of mindfulness will actually give your brain the ability to refuel, recharge and refresh!

·      Have fun.  If the treadmill isn’t your thing, that makes two of us.  Find out what is, and enjoy it.

·      Exercise that pays the most dividends.  Less is often more, and variety is key.  It’s the quality, not necessarily the quantity that counts.

Chew on this

·      Eat mindfully.  Have you ever finished a meal or snack and moments later not even realized what you were eating, let alone that you were eating?  I spent years eating most meals at my desk while multitasking (reading the WSJ, scanning emails, preparing for the next deadline) and never even tasting my food.  Each day, try to eat at least one meal mindfully – that means doing nothing else but enjoying the meal, thinking about what you are eating and taking the time to chew.  You just might find yourself satiated sooner and in a much more positive frame of mind! 

·      Plan ahead.  No time for lunch?  Another vending machine or coffee day?  Bring almonds, walnuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, even a protein powder or shake to sustain you until you can actually sit down for a meal.

·      There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.  Do the research, listen to your body and find out what works best for you!


When listening is everything you ever wanted

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, LCSW

On the opening page of Mark Nepos’s book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he quotes an epigraph by Abraham Heschel:

 [We] will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation . . . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder . . . Reverence is one of [our] answers to the presence of mystery . . .

There is a longing for connection that we all experience and repeatedly hear as participants in our MBCT and MBSR programs speak of disappointment, fear and hope.  And we notice that as we cultivate the ability to listen to each one of them, we begin to hear the themes of need and desire that weave us together in our collective humanness. We begin to hear that indeed, no one is alone in the tangle we call life.

reflectionsNepo believes that if we limit our existence to only what we know, we blind ourselves to the “mystery.” Mystery is about open-eyed wonder, appreciation and gratitude. So when we engage in mindful listening, in which our conditioned mind and heart open in sincere and kindly curiosity, we create a pathway not only to the mystery of what is present in each moment, but to the possibility of a peaceful connection to self and others.

We ask our clients and participants to listen not because it’s a Mindful Rule, but because listening is a threshold between our inner and outer worlds. It’s an entryway to pause in, a vantage point from where we can see our own limiting beliefs and also the possibility of choice. From this doorway we can begin to hear harmonies that strike a chord within, where perhaps before we only heard the dissonance that isolated and left us feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

In our teaching, we become aware that it isn’t the dissemination of information that connects people intra and interpersonally, but rather being listened to- their story heard and appreciated. We may call it group dynamics or breaking the isolation or normalizing, but in the end I believe it is simply the reverence of listening. This is what MBCT and MBSR offer teacher and participants: the possibility of discovery through wonder and freedom through listening.

Hurrying up so we can slow down!

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW
Mindfulness Teacher and Trainer

Well of course that makes sense! We leave work and drive too fast to get home so we can finally relax.  Between patients we scribble notes in the file, run to the bathroom, and make a phone call while slurping caffeine so that after the next patient we can catch our breath. We inhale lunch without looking at it while we order holiday gifts on online because we don’t want to waste time just eating.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
tis the season of endless folly.”

It’s high season for too much and not enough, and Heart Hunger moves to the number one spot on Jan Chozen Bays’ list of Seven Hungers. As the holiday hype heightens and family drama, anxiety, depression and distress eating increase, we may feel anxious about our ability to respond to our patients’ escalating worries and fears about out of control holiday eating.  As clinicians, may find ourselves thinking that the problems that come with the season are just too much and that we don’t have what it takes to help those in our care with their overwhelming concerns.

holiday-foodDuring this holiday season of “food fests” at the office, with family and friends, in the media, schools and stores, we often suggest to our patients that they slow down when eating and savor the smells, tastes, textures and visual aspects of their food. But sniffing platters of food at the holiday office party isn’t going to happen. And slowing down with the very object that is their biggest “problem” can be daunting especially at this time of year.

We’re now in the throes of holiday madness sales, unrealistic expectations and personal history- a perfect recipe for reverting to the entrenched coping habit of eating foods that comfort or numb.  So even though it’s a season of huge over-indulgence, it can be a time during which small steps count.

Pausing can be one of those small steps. Rather than suggesting pausing before taking the first bite, suggest they pause before entering the room or building where the office party spread is on display.  Offer the idea of taking one minute to stay seated at their desk and feel the sensations in their feet in contact with the floor, or as they walk down the hall. Suggest sitting quietly for 60 seconds before getting out of the car to enter the house of a friend’s holiday brunch, aware of the feel of the steering wheel, or sounds inside or outside of the car, or the coming and going of the breath at the belly.  I call this “backing the movie up” far enough so that we can find a reasonable spot in which they might pause instead of hoping we can do it amidst the noise and pressure of the festive event. This way they begin building a slowing-down habit where and when it’s possible, rather than in the fray of things.

I try to take my own suggestion and see where in my day and my thinking I can slow down and pause. I try to “walk my talk” so that my practice becomes a skillful way of being with myself and others. I’d be interested to hear how you navigate the holiday food landscape mindfully (or not so mindfully!). Please share below your own observations and experiences, or perhaps the kinds of exercises of mindfulness practices you suggest to others.

(Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW and her colleague Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food  are co-leading an intensive 5-day Professional Training in a program called Mindful Eating, Conscious Living at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in the high desert of Southern California March 10-15. See the website for more information.)

How Compassion Becomes a Verb (and a Movement): The Inspiring Story of “Compassion It”

By Sara Schairer

I believe that small acts of compassion by individuals can make a HUGE impact on our world.  Yes, it sounds cliché and unrealistic, but I know it’s true. How can I possibly know that?  Because Compassion It, the organization I’ve founded, has gone from an idea to a global social movement thanks to a handful of small acts by individuals.

Let me explain…

In the summer of 2008, I caught an episode of “Ellen” that changed my life.  Ellen Degeneres interviewed an author who spoke about the power of compassion.  He said it was the most important lesson to teach our children.  If our future leaders would be compassionate, every social problem on the planet would be solved.

I contemplated compassion for hours that day.  The word compassionate then appeared as ‘compassion it’ in my head.  Compassion was now a verb!  An action!  That made a lot of sense to me.

But did it make sense to anyone else?

I wrote out the words ‘compassion it’ and showed it to my friends Susanne Winslow and Jill Stoddard.  Because of their enthusiasm and encouragement, I decided to trademark Compassion It.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011.  I had done nothing with this simple two-word phrase, because I was busy parenting a toddler and was getting my life back on track after a failed marriage.  I suddenly felt an enormous sense of urgency to do something with Compassion It.   I decided to make decals and magnets, and I sat down with talented graphic designer and friend, Mary Beckert.   She volunteered her time to turn my vision into something tangible.

In October of 2011, I showed a decal to my friend, Sherri Wilkins, who happens to be a marketing and advertising genius.  I’ll never forget her words, “This could be huge.”  WOW.  Talk about fueling the fire!   This propelled me to keep moving forward with my idea.  Wilkins began to help me get Compassion It off the ground.

In December, I caught up with my college roommate, Susan Kim.  She suggested that I reach out to her friend, Tony Chen, to seek entrepreneurial advice.  I called Chen, and he encouraged me to apply for a social innovation leadership academy through his current social start-up Movement121.  I applied, was accepted and found myself among a group of people from around the world who all had a similar mission – to make the world a better place through social enterprise.

The academy director, Mark Chassman, created teams.  Our first task as a team was to come up with a problem of the world and then create a business that would provide a solution.  My team voted to use Compassion It as our business, and I was thrilled to now have a group of bright, energetic and ambitious people helping me.

Throughout all of this, I was still unsure about what Compassion It would be.  Perhaps it could be the next “Life is Good,” a t-shirt company with a meaningful message.  Or maybe we’ll sell bumper stickers to get this message out.  I knew it would be some sort of business whose profits would go toward compassion education in schools.

I felt deep down, though, that Compassion It was a social movement.  It was much more than just a t-shirt company.  Compassion It was a way to live.

I expressed these thoughts with Sherri Wilkins, who said, “If you want it to be a social movement, you need to sell something less expensive than a t-shirt.  You need something small…like a bracelet.”  Soon thereafter, I thought of creating reversible bracelets that would inspire compassionate actions.

Heather Arnold, from my Movement121 team, came up with the brilliant idea to sell the bracelets in pairs.  That way, a person’s first act of compassion is to give the other bracelet away.

That first batch of bracelets arrived on my birthday – May 10, 2012.  I had 500 pairs.

My next question was, “Who is going to buy them?”

In the beginning of the summer, two of my teammates from the academy faced tragedy when their hometown of Northbrook, Ill., lost two young men to suicide and another to a car accident within three weeks.   Teammate Casey Tanner called and said that her town needed Compassion It as a way to unite and grieve.  She started a movement in Northbrook and used the bracelets as a fundraiser for the boys’ families.  Bracelets sold out in 42 minutes.  Thousands of residents of Northbrook still ‘compassion it’ daily in honor of those men.

One Northbrook resident, Marie Wojtan, sent her extra bracelet to a young woman in Great Britain by the name of Carrie Hope Fletcher.   Fletcher has over 90,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, and she posted a ‘jolly good’ bit about her Compassion It bracelet.

Thanks to Fletcher’s post (which has generated over 100,000 views), we’ve sold Compassion It bracelets to folks in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  Thousands of people all over the world now ‘compassion it’ each day.

And to think…if it weren’t for Ellen, Susanne, Jill, Mary, Sherri, Susan, Tony, Mark, Heather, Casey, Marie and Carrie, Compassion It would not exist as a global social movement.

This is just the beginning of a movement that I believe can improve the social consciousness of the world and ultimately lead to peace.  All it takes are small acts of compassion by each one of us.

Compassion It’s mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions.  Please join me, and let’s ‘compassion it’!