Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Mindful Books to Read This Winter

Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive during Stress and Recover from Trauma

Elizabeth A. Stanley • Avery

Liz Stanley—a graduate of Yale, Harvard, and MIT; a retired military officer; and an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University—readily admits to operating in overdrive. Early in Widen the Window, she lets us know that a Stanley has served “in the US Army every generation since the Revolutionary War, including on both sides of the American Civil War.” Her experiences in the army, including sexual harassment, led to a diagnosis of PTSD.

Apparently resilient “as our society usually understands it” (i.e., “capable of tolerating and functioning through an immense amount of stress”), she was actually just “sucking it up and driving on,” which results in “tremendous achievement and success…until it doesn’t anymore.” Mindfulness and loving-kindness helped her see the possibility of working in extreme situations without ignoring what’s going on with our central nervous system, inspiring her to formulate training that focused on the main asset in any organization: a fully functioning human being. In developing Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, she emphasized that military personnel needed it pre-deployment, not just to clean up psychophysical messes after the fact. A strong component of bodily awareness was needed, too, so she learned Somatic Experiencing and incorporated it into the program, which lasted several years and was taught to thousands of people, producing positive research results.

Widen the Window is a comprehensive overview of stress and trauma, responses to it, and tools for healing and thriving. It’s not only for those in high-intensity work, but for everyone: We’re all exposed to a culture that asks us to barrel ahead oblivious to what’s going on in our brains and bodies, no matter how damaging.

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The Ultimate Quest to Find Meaning

I used to believe in something I called Cosmic Hints. Big signals from the universe about what I should or shouldn’t do, did or didn’t want. I believed the universe was looking out for me, particularly, and putting symbols and metaphors in my path that helped me see who I was and who I wanted to be. I was forever in search of the Big Why—constantly looking for meaning, making narratives that sewed together the events of my life, the coincidences and conditions and happenstances, into something that was leading somewhere, and meaning something.

I believed, strongly and vocally, that Everything Happens for a Reason.

 Then my brother died, when I was 30 and he was 32. He had something called pseudomyxoma peritonei—a cancerous abdominal tumor. It affects about one person in a million. Talk about a Cosmic Hint! 

Except, what was it trying to tell me? And why would it kill my brother? Was my attention that hard to get? And why did I think my brother’s death was about me, anyway? How self-absorbed do you have to be to derive that meaning out of something so senseless? And if that wasn’t what Chris’s death was about, then what…

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The Beauty of Everyday Miracles

Today, Dr. Christopher Willard lives in a charming house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and two small children, not far from Harvard Medical School where he teaches—but a long way from an “epic meltdown” he experienced in college that led to drug addiction and homelessness. Now a successful speaker, book author, and educator who travels the world teaching mindfulness in schools, hospitals, NGOs, and other institutions, Chris opens up about how he discovered meaning, hope, and well-being through mindfulness. He’s spreading his message around the world, one breath at a time.

Let’s begin with the scope of your work. What’s going on right now? 

I’m writing lots of books, working with schools, therapists, hospitals, organizations; consulting in the corporate and nonprofit world. It’s amazing to see mindfulness getting bigger—it’s also a little overwhelming. I do 50 or 60 trainings every year and travel a lot. I’ve been to around 20 countries to do workshops. I think I’m not the only mindfulness person feeling (ironically) very busy!

Why do you think there’s so much interest?

As we get busier and busier, doing more multitasking, becoming more wired, people are looking for a counterbalance. They are trying to find ways to slow down, to singletask instead of multitask. The way we are living is not sustainable for the planet, our communities, families, or individuals. In a secular way, mindfulness has a lot to offer that many religious and cultural institutions used to offer.

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How to Deal with Toxic Competition

How competitive are we? Very, if you consider the 200 participants in an experiment at Stanford University. They had to ponder a string of letters (RSLALHT, for example) and make as many words as possible (rash, salt, thrall, etc.). After each round, the researchers informed the participants that an unseen student with whom they’d been paired had beat them by making even more words.

Practically speaking, that didn’t matter: The participants would win a $5 Amazon gift card if they made 100 words in five rounds, regardless of how many the other player—who didn’t actually exist—made. Nevertheless, when allowed to change the difficulty of the fake player’s task, they gleefully seized the chance to make their letters mind-bogglingly hard to spell with—even though the opponent’s score mattered not a whit to the participants’ chances for a reward. 

So even when besting someone else has no real-life consequences, it seems, we just can’t help competing. In the Stanford study, the fictional partner wasn’t even an actual competitor. The participants didn’t even know who their partner was, and couldn’t see them, but they did all they could to thwart them anyway. They even eased up on their own → efforts: Participants who…

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Original author: Sharon Begley
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What to Do About Your Mean Streak

Internet trolling, bullying, and epidemic snarkiness (online, in the grocery store, or even directed wordlessly to random people walking by) seems to be the new black. Sometimes I wonder, is this our paradigm now? Are we becoming meaner? Is our nature essentially nasty? Have we stopped noticing how participating in meanness never makes us feel better, really?

In fact, being mean—spreading rumors, excluding others, trying to make someone feel bad, or even just indulging in mean thoughts—truly is like drinking your own poison, according to Richard Ryan, professor of clinical and social psychology at the University of Rochester. Giving in to meanness generally just leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and social isolation. 

Then why do it? Why would we intentionally or casually choose to act in a way that not only hurts others, but ultimately ourselves? 

Meanness is not new. It’s used to gain a competitive edge, alleviate boredom, or just to let off steam. We may indulge in it as a reaction to something we don’t like, or simply because anonymity (when online) makes it so easy to get away with. Maybe we find ourselves hanging out with gossipers and nastiness is part of the group sport. …

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