THE BUSIER YOU ARE, THE MORE YOU NEED QUIET

In an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that serious thinkers and writers should get off Twitter. It wasn’t a critique of the 140-character medium or even the quality of the social media discourse in the age of fake news.

It was a call to get beyond the noise.

Coates, a 2015 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation’ “Genius” grant, a National Book Award winner and contributor to The Atlantic, believes that generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet.

He’s in good company.  Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung have all had disciplined practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Ray Dalio, Bill George, CA Governor Jerry Brown and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan have also described structured periods of silence as important factors in their success.

Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead. Duke Medical School’s Imke Kirste recently found that silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory.

Physician Luciano Bernardi found that two-minutes of silence inserted between musical pieces proved more stabilizing to cardiovascular and respiratory systems than even the music categorized as “relaxing.” And a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, based on a survey of 43,000 workers, concluded that the disadvantages of noise and distraction associated with open office plans outweighed anticipated, but still unproven, benefits like increasing morale and productivity boosts from unplanned interactions.

But cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets.  Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.

It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.

Cultivating silence increases your chances of encountering novel ideas and information. When we’re constantly fixated on the verbal agenda—what to say next, what to write next, what to tweet next—it’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas. It’s hard to drop into deeper modes of listening and attention. And it’s in those deeper modes of attention that truly novel ideas are found.

Even incredibly busy people can cultivate periods of sustained quiet time. Here are 3 practical suggestions:

1) Punctuate meetings with five minutes of quiet time. If you’re able to close the office door, retreat to a park bench, or find another quiet hideaway, it’s possible to hit reset by engaging in a silent practice of meditation or reflection.

2) Take a silent afternoon in nature. You need not be a rugged outdoors type to ditch the phone and go for a simple two-or-three-hour jaunt in nature. Immersion in nature can be the clearest option for improving creative thinking capacities. Henry David Thoreau went to the woods for a reason.

3) Go on a media fast. Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try “fasting” from news and entertainment. While there may still be plenty of noise around—family, conversation, city sounds—you can enjoy real benefits by resting the parts of your mind associated with unending work obligations and tracking social media or current events.

The world is getting louder.  But silence is still accessible—it just takes commitment and creativity to cultivate it.

 

 

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What it Means to Live Authentically


Leading an Authentic Life 
doesn’t mean spouting your ‘truth’ every time there appears an opening. It’s not the wisest move to be habitually giving your opinions at work or anywhere else for that matter. Yes, honesty matters. And what we are thinking may or may not be the arbiter of truth-ours or anyone else’s.  Living with authenticity is different than this. It means to live a life that is genuine and principled.

Consider the following characteristics of living genuinely:

 

  • Being open to your moment to moment experience without distortions, denial, or  invalidating yourself in some way or another.
  • Enjoying a sense of dynamism and not feeling stuck or stagnant.
  • Having a deep trust in your own intuition and ability to self-direct your own course in life.
  • Knowing the responsibility and the freedom in responding to life with our full attention, rather than reacting impulsively or habitually to people or events as they occur.
  • Adopting a creative approach to life, demonstrating flexibility rather than rigidity and closed-mindedness.


Of course, we may possess more of certain qualities than others. Embodying these qualities are certainly fluid on any given day. What’s vital is that they all can be cultivated by practicing these 5 suggestions:

  1. Be deliberate.  Roy Baumeister, PhD (Univ. of Florida), states that “authenticity consists in being aware that you have choices and consciously choosing what you do.” A large part of living an authentic life involves being aware of your ability to chart your own course, choosing wisely the activities of your day to mirror your intentions and goals. While many things happen each day that we cannot control- we can choose our actions.
  2. Don’t be too deliberate.  Without this seeming like a completely contradictory message, consider how you can be intentional in your behaviors without over analyzing and over thinking everything. Too much opinion polling and second guessing in our lives is sometimes called “analysis paralysis.” Deep down, there is an intuitive understanding of who you are as a person.  Trust yourself.
    Often good decisions are made when we don’t think about them too intensely.  Go with your gut.  Authenticity resides, in part, at the gut level.

 

  1. Practice mindfulness. (Of course) Deep attention creates moments of happiness not contingent on outcomes or external factors or manipulation of the environment.  Mindfulness meditation enables you to become a curious, accepting, and nonjudgmental observer of your own experience.  When you are truly connected to the present moment, there is less attachment to needing certain outcomes or trying to control the way things are. It puts things in perspective and increases connection with the whole of life.

 

4. Cultivating Solitude.  Peter Kramer, a researcher at Brown University notes that “quiet and time for the self are a big plus.  If you’re worried about inauthenticity, there’s nothing like shutting the door.” While people differ on their individual needs for more or less quiet time to relax and recharge, there are significant benefits to taking a bit of quiet reflective time on a regular basis.

5. But Stay Connected. While it is always wise to check inwardly with ourselves, we can be positively informed and inspired by external factors and forces in our life too. Relationships are a vital part of living genuinely. We humans need each other. You can learn a great deal about yourself and your strengths through examining your interactions. Try noticing how you show up in relationship with others.The idea is to find the right balance between reflective solitude and connection with others that is healthy for you.

 

 

 

As Shakespeare penned in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man (or woman or person).”

 

 

 

 

 

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RESPONDING TO THE CERTAINTY OF UNCERTAINTY

These are uncertain times. Of course, this is always true, but collectively, there is a palpable sense of shifting sands and rapid change. Our challenge is to respond to these changes and attending uncertainty (e.g. national and global crises, work and family concerns, or an unwelcome diagnosis) with our fundamental values intact-and lived.  

How do we do this?

The first step is to acknowledge how uncomfortable we feel.  Usually, we attempt to bury this fact of uncomfortableness in all kinds of escape hatches.   Rabbit holes of stress eating, excessive talking, social media, drinking- you can fill this in with a million other not so sly schemes.

So, today, try just acknowledging the truth of how you’re feeling.  Acknowledge, and if you can, name what you’re feeling. Fear, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, worry- these are all natural responses to uncertainty. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these responses or with you.

And then, allow yourself to actually feel it.  I don’t mean think it; the tendency we all have to reactively spin stories in our head about how horrible a situation is, how we “can’t stand it” another minute. These narratives ramp up our experience of these feelings, guaranteed, but they (the thoughts) are not our feelings. If it’s fear or anxiety- where do you feel in your body?  Is in your chest, perhaps feeling a tightness? Or is your heart racing? Is there a restless energy throughout your body?  The same goes for anger – these feelings have specific patterns in our human bodies.

If we don’t keep adding more story (more fuel for the flame), the feelings pass. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor, in her book My Stroke of Insight, notes that the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. The sensations—adrenalin, heat in the face, tightness in the throat, rapid heartbeat—arise, peak and dissipate on their own…if we let them.

Go easy; try not to judge yourself. When experiencing strong emotions, become aware of the current stream of thoughts without judging whether you should be having these thoughts or not. Be curious about them, but not necessarily true in any real way.

We don’t need to act on our feelings or thoughts before it’s time. When we are uncertain as to the outcome of a situation at work or home, we often feel the strong urge to push things to a conclusion before they’re ready. It feels like it will just be a relief to know, one way or the other, to have some sort of an answer instead of this not knowing. It is human to crave certainty and to want to know. But don’t push- answers will come.  Start small.  Here is a practice to begin:

 

Awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions

Settle into a relaxed posture.  Feel your feet on the floor and your body being supported by the chair.

Now, taking three full breaths, as deeply and slowly as feels comfortable for you.  Then, turning attention to the energy in the body. Pausing and breathing and feeling the energy. What’s here? Does the energy shift from moment to moment?   Does the intensity of any particular sensation peak and then soften?

As you continue to breath, lean in to your experience. If agitation or uneasiness is here, see if you can put out the welcome mat for these feelings.  Move closer, even if just a moment, treating these sensations as an invited guest.

Begin working with little uncertainties (whether it’s the possibility that an important meeting may get cancelled or how a colleague may respond to a change in plans). This increases your ability to wisely respond to whatever shows up in the future.

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MINDFUL WALKING

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On certain days and for a variety of reasons, the idea of mindfully sitting for any length of time may evoke a strong sense of aversion. Of course, if this occurs, you always have the option off choosing to be curious about that aversion, working with it, as well as being receptive to any other strong feelings, thoughts and attending sensations that may arise. Read more

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MINDFUL HUGGING PRACTICE

meditation_selfcompassionThere is truly no greater gift to give someone than your full, pure presence. We intuitively know this to be true. Perhaps you can recall a time in your own life when you’ve had the experience of someone’s complete and undivided attention. What did it feel like? The feelings may have been profound or subtle, but are almost universally life-affirming.

How were they embodying that presence? We often recognize that the body is relaxed and quiet; the emotional energy is clear and focused. Their shared thoughts back to you reflect a deep state of listening.

Yet we also know this is a rare occurrence. How often do we really give our full attention to someone? Our child is sharing their day and we are only partially listening while we cook dinner, fold laundry, return a work text. We are having a conversation with a friend or a coworker and simultaneously remembering a task undone or impatiently waiting for them to finish so it’s ‘our turn’. This is a human tendency. Fortunately, we can choose to communicate in a more skillful, even transformative way. Read more

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Where it begins.

Rewiring Your Brain Starts Here

Rewiring Your Brain Starts Here

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WEARING TOO MANY HATS?

wearing_many_hatsHat wearing isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the 1950s, nobody would think about going outside without a hat, no matter the season. In fact, your hat, whether you were a nurse, a white collar executive or a gas station attendant told the world a lot about your socioeconomic status and what your occupation was.

The phrase “wearing too many hats” emerged relatively recently. In the past century, the pace of our culture and the workplace evolved rapidly, women AND men are now homemakers AND marketing specialists, parents AND business owners. Of course, so much more too, we may coach a little league team and dance the two step on a Saturday night.

While much of this is good and brings meaning to our lives, it also means that we must juggle.

And anyone who has attempted to juggle knows that juggling for any length of time is hard to do! Even if you are good at it soon enough it is very tiring. And as you add more objects, it becomes more stressful. Then what can occasionally happen? It all falls down.

There is where mindfulness can be enormously helpful. When we carve out time for just being, intentional non-doing, we reconnect with who we are at our core.

Read more

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WEARING TOO MANY HATS?

Hat wearing isn’t what it used to be. Prior to the 1950s, nobody would think about going outside without a hat, no matter the season. In fact, your hat, whether you were a nurse, a white collar executive or a gas station attendant told the world a lot about your socioeconomic status and what your occupation was.

The phrase “wearing too many hats” emerged relatively recently. In the past century, the pace of our culture and the workplace evolved rapidly, women AND men are now homemakers AND marketing specialists, parents AND business wearing_many_hatsowners. Of course, so much more too, we may coach a little league team and dance the two step on a Saturday night.

While much of this is good and brings meaning to our lives, it also means that we must juggle.

And anyone who has attempted to juggle knows that juggling for any length of time is hard to do! Even if you are good at it soon enough it is very tiring. And as you add more objects, it becomes more stressful. Then what can occasionally happen? It all falls down.

There is where mindfulness can be enormously helpful. When we carve out time for just being, intentional non-doing, we reconnect with who we are at our core.

No matter how we may be feeling in any given moment, we are not simply our roles or our obligations. While it is quite human to define ourselves in this way, it can often limit us, creating a growing sense of imbalance in our lives. Mindfulness widens the lens.

We are not just divorced single parent, primary care giver, one who is always putting out “fires” at work and at home, or task master. When we sit in meditation practice, we put all of that down for a bit.

I invite for the next five to ten minutes to try this: Breathe steadily and naturally, and with each out-breath put each of the “balls you are trying to keep in the air” down-one by one.    

Release the striving and to the best of your ability right now, the judging too.

hats

Within this space, something new may arise. Perhaps it’s the knowing that we are more than the sum of our parts. We glean that truth that any given role doesn’t truly define us. What is deepest and most valuable in us can be recalled and recaptured so that we discern what to do next from that perspective.

May you approach the moments of your and those to come with a clarity of purpose and a sense of calm.

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A NEW YEAR: WAIT A MINUTE

photo_3664_20090119Have you got started on your New Year’s resolutions yet?

You know the list is usually the same every year for most folks.  To the gym, diet, no gossiping, budget better.

For me, it’s less sugar and alcohol.  It’s been 5 days already and I’m feeling great!  (I was being facetious right there!)

But have you noticed that we often start off these self improvement projects with great enthusiasm and that enthusiasm dwindles as daily life takes over and so do our habitual reactions to stress, coupled with the real hard work of substantive change sets in?

Maybe it’s because we set ourselves up to fail by announcing these sweeping changes without getting ourselves ready, really ready, in this very moment.

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NOTICING

090514a127_2780 (1)Have you ever noticed that a lot of the time you are just not noticing? For instance, you are driving to the grocery store or to work (both of which you have done a million times), and not remembering when you arrive how you got there.  Just traveling on auto pilot, or absorbed in a phone conversation, you have missed the ride. Perhaps you think, “I’ve done this trip so often I could do it in my sleep!” And guess what? In a very real way, you are!  Conscious but not truly awake.

Our daily tasks of necessary repetition and ritual, whether it brewing the coffee, throwing in another load of laundry, walking the dog, become so automatic that these activities become the things we do between the times we actually are doing something that we are fully engaged in and are aware of.  The unfortunate thing is, if we add up all of these moments each day, we are actually “checked out” for a solid portion of our life.

You may recall the internet sensation a few years ago, where participants were asked to watch for how many times three white shirted basketball players came onto a scene. A shocking fifty percent missed seeing a person in a gorilla suit sauntering in, pumping his chest.  Even when looking right at him!  This phenomenon, coined “inattentional blindness” has been demonstrated time and again.

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