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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Kabat-Zinn’

I saw the movie Limitless over the weekend. It’s about unrealistic, overachieving, materialistic desires fulfilled by taking a pill that gives a person access to all of their mental capacity.  What did this movie keep making me think about? Meditation.

Some of what the film portrayed was out of synch with how meditation can help. For example, the main character, Charlie, learns languages and high level math overnight. But there was much to connect the experience of having access to more of a person’s abilities with meditation.

What struck me were the scenes that depicted the change in Charlie after he took the pill.  The visual presentation of what he was feeling looked and felt like being fully present.   The film shows time slowing down and Charlie seeing both the scene in front of him and himself, from the point of view of an observer of everything.  His eyes become clear. His posture becomes straight. He looks confident, centered, ready for anything that comes at him.  The chaos of what is happening in front of him is separate from him. He doesn’t react, he observes and then responds.  His mind is taking it all in, weighing his options and coming to a smart, creative solution.

The movie is science fiction but anyone who has had even a brief experience of being fully present knows the feeling is real.  I have spoken about a period of time when I meditated consistently every day for a year and there have been other times as well, when I’ve felt more creative and centered.   I could literally feel the synapses firing, just like they did in the movie.

Charlie uses his powers to play the stock market.  At one point the big time investor he is working for played by Robert DeNiro says, “what’s your secret?”  Charlie’s answer:  “Medication.”  Jon Kabat-Zinn has observed that the similarity between medication and meditation is not a coincidence.

I know that claims of super powers resulting from meditation are antithetical to the entire concept of the practice. Yet, I have had experiences after an extraordinary yoga session or period of meditation, that felt like scenes in the movie looked.  My mind was highly focused and sharp.  I experienced the feeling of being in the scene and being an observer at the same time. I felt more confident and able to deal with whatever came my way.

I wondered after seeing the movie, if the writer was inspired by taking mind altering drugs or by meditating.  I also wonder what others think about the movie.  You may have experienced that feeling of being “on”– of feeling sharp and confident and strong.  What do you think helped you feel that way?

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Soren Gordhamer opened the conference with a story about playing hide and seek as a child, and how at some point, when not everyone has been found, the leader calls out “allie, allie in come free” and asks those who are still hiding to come out in the open. He spoke of having the goal of bringing mindfulness practice out in the open for everyone.

The following day he described his first attempt, last year, to get this conference up and running. He was prepared to spend $10,000 of his own money and he had gotten Chris Sacca to speak. He figured, if no one else would speak, then he and Chris would put on the first Wisdom 2.0 together whether 200 people or only 2 people came. This year, there were 400 people in attendance with a long waiting list of others who would have attended and the livestreamed conference was viewed over 200,000 times. Clearly, something has clicked with people.

It was a brilliant move to start with the biggest Silicon Valley companies. Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Zynga and eBay, moving at lightening speed and for all the good they do, are also having the effect of distracting hundreds of millions of people and speeding up their lives in stressful ways. Jon Kabat-Zinn described it as our being so hungry for the next moment that we are missing the current moment of our lives. This was not the intention of the builders of these companies. Many of them had very good intentions to connect people for good but the reality of what is happening is that peoples’ attention is becoming more scattered. The fact that arguably, many of the most powerful businesses in the world are willing to step back and take a look at what has happened and to walk the walk in their own companies is a hopeful sign.

Rich Fernandez, head of learning at eBay showed perhaps the most convincing slide of the conference for business people who are skeptical of implementing mindful practice internally for the way they treat employees and the way employees treat eachother. It was a comparison of the 100 top companies to work for with the Russell 2000 and there was a 10 to 1 ratio of success in financial terms. I hope he makes his slides available publicly because every one of them was fascinating.

As Roshi Joan Halifax said in the first panel addressing Kevin Rose, Chris Sacca, Eric Scheirmeyer, and Bradley Horowitz: “You are the role models.” These four men spoke of the fact that they could not accomplish what they have without honing their ability to pay attention. Eric described using martial arts to hone his attention. Chris Sacca said that everything that led him to be successful in his business is related to mindfulness and health. For Kevin Rose, “be mindful” was at the top of his New Year’s resolutions. He took up drinking tea as a way of slowing down and learning to pay attention and opened a chain of tea rooms in the San Francisco area to share that experience, called The Samavar Tea room. As Kevin said, when he described the super high powered, high stress lives that these guys all lead: if you don’t stop and reflect and take a break, bad things will happen. Bad things like serious health issues they all described including bleeding ulcers and panic attacks. Bradley Horowitz, who heads up Google apps, said at any one time, he is working on products that effect hundreds of millions of people and so millions of them may be dissatisfied at a given moment. It is daunting to imagine trying to manage that responsibility emotionally at a time when things happen in your personal life, including, for him, the death of a father and diagnosis of his mother with terminal cancer. His meditation practice helps him manage through the crises and remain productive.

Bradley Horowitz described how at Google he implemented a process where the attendees of meeting will pause before the meeting starts, acknowledge who is there, and set an intention for the meeting. There is a requirement to arrive on time to respect everyone’s time and for one person to “own” the responsibility for making the meeting productive and for distributing the notes. There is permission for anyone at any time to “call bullshit” and walk out of the meeting if it deteriorates. The result is shorter and fewer meetings.

Throughout the conference there was the recognition that technology could be used for good or for evil. As Bradley Horowitz added it can be a force for creating revolutions for for being a time waster. Chris Sacca commented that the more that the transparencies of social networks grow online the more difficult it is to fake anything. “Truth,” he said, “is surfacing.” On the other side of the coin Kevin Rose pointed out that “going all in on technology will eventually tear you down.” His story of using tea to slow down was referred to many times during the conference by speakers. There are many different ways to be mindful.

Kiva, the micro-financing organization, was the perfect example of another theme of the conference, “small actions that can have big impact.” This has implications for how organizations can start the process of being more mindful. If every organization, whether it is a corporation, a family or the local PTA, can do some small things to appreciate people, to recognize people, to pause for a moment and think about what they are doing, it will be the beginning of big changes.

In the background of the conference were the people attending. Everyone I met was involved in fascinating work that consciously helps others. The point of going here is to learn from others, but as it was pointed out several times, you can’t change anything until you create the conditions to learning in yourself.

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I find myself more and more addicted to the constant connectivity of the internet.  I have a phone that lets me know when I have email and I check my personal and business accounts so many times each day when I am not at my desk checking it, that I would be afraid to know the number of times.  I read 20 blogs a day, listen to music on the iPod on my way to work, and sometimes read a book on my Kindle at the same time.

I am starting to feel like I have become the Borg. For those of you who are not familiar with Star Trek, the Borg are beings that are part human and part machine, and are constantly connected to a machine that has an irresistible pull on them–the phrase resistance is futile is their motto.  They are drones, connected to a single mind.  It is the ultimate form of busyness. Keeping the mind occupied constantly is far too alluring and far too easy over the last couple of years.

Yet, with all the information I am absorbing, much of it in the service of work, I find it harder to focus and that busyness creates a buzz in my head that drowns out ideas.

Apparently I am not alone.  The folks who live in the center of the digital world are starting to talk about what to do about this.  Today in Techcrunch, there is a story about a site called “Do Dothing for Two Minutes” that has gotten a strong and immediate reaction, bringing in 20,000 unique visitors in the first 8 hours. Next month, there will be a conference in Silicon Valley called Wisdom 2.0 that brings together the thought leaders from the digital world, like Bradley Horowitz, VP Products of Google and Alana Kornfeld, Senior Editor of Huffington Post with  the greats of the mindfulness community including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield.

Although it is more difficult to pull myself away to meditate, I find that when I do, it has a profound effect.  The silence is stunning when compared to the onslaught of information processing.  I start to feel more like myself without all the other voices of blogs and email correspondence and music in my head. And the one thing that I truly love about meditation is that the ideas and insights bubble up.

The idea that you can become more creative by doing less is counterintuitive.  Yet, when you think about it, you can see how it might work.  Ideas are just below the surface, but the space that they need to present themselves is taken up with random thoughts and constant inputs of information.  There’s no room for them.  The connections that I can make are based on all the information that I have acquired are more easily made when I meditate because the information has the possibility of being processed when my mind is not in quieter state.  It is so common for ideas to arise when I meditate that help me be more innovative in every aspect of my life that I’ve started to keep a pad and pen nearby.  For as soon as I start reconnecting with my computer, they fly away like dreams.

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According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and perhaps the key person in America responsible for popularizing mindfulness meditation, there are 240 hospitals and clinics that now offer training in this type of meditation.  Quoted in an article in USA Today, Kabat-Zinn credits the growth of these programs to a “major shift” in acceptance due to research that shows that certain types of health problems, often difficult to deal with using traditional medicine and drugs, are improved through meditation, including pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

I had the pleasure of working with Jon Kabat-Zinn when he wrote a forward for my book about applying Eastern teachings to everyday life.  When he agreed to write the forward, he asked that I do more than research the subject of mindfulness, but commit to a daily practice for at least a year.  At first it was a struggle to sit and do nothing and I felt like I was getting nowhere but over time I noticed a significant shift in the way I felt.  I was more relaxed, made better decisions with greater ease, and felt better able to face whatever challenges came up in my daily life.  Such a simple practice did so much.

As more people get comfortable with the idea of meditation–as it becomes more mainstream and people overcome their prejudices about it, meditation will become a powerful force for improving peoples’ quality of life. E9Y2WCNDBTE2

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