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…”

Being Mindful About What’s in Your Chocolate

Do you like your chocolate sweet and creamy, bitter and dark, or perhaps a bit fruity or with notes of smoke? Whatever flavor you desire, rest assured there’s a bar for that. As the global demand for chocolate keeps growing, amounting to $98 billion in annual sales, the options keep coming. 

And thanks to a craft chocolate boom, the world’s favorite confection now enjoys a foodie reputation rivaling coffee and wine—with prices to match. In some groceries and specialty shops, it’s not unusual to find small-batch, single-source chocolate bars costing up to $15. 

Yet despite its sunny, universal appeal, creating chocolate remains an intensive process with a far-reaching impact. The chocolate trade is rife with human and environmental abuses, making enjoyment of this delicious treat far more complicated for the mindful consumer. 

The Price of Chocolate

In the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana, where nearly two thirds of the world’s cacao is grown, increased crop demand has led to widespread deforestation. These impoverished nations, where cacao farmers typically earn below the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day, are also the site of the industry’s greatest labor and human rights abuses, including child and slave…

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What Awe Looks Like in the Brain

When was the last time you experienced awe? Perhaps you were stopped in your tracks by a beautiful vista on a recent hike, or captivated by a painting at your local art museum, or moved to tears at a concert or church. Or maybe you were just sitting on your couch breathlessly watching an episode of Planet Earth. Whatever it was, you probably weren’t thinking much about yourself or your to-do list.

The Science Behind Awe

What makes awe so transporting, overwhelming, even mystical at times? Researchers explored this question in a recent study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping by examining what the brain is doing when people have an awe experience.

The University of Amsterdam’s Michiel van Elk and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 32 participants ages 18 to 41 while they watched three different types of 30-second videos. The videos featured awe-inspiring natural phenomena (e.g., stunning vistas from the BBC’s Planet Earth series), funny animals (e.g., elephants playing with tires and balls), and neutral landscapes (e.g., a small babbling brook).

Awe seems to pull us out of ourselves and make us feel immersed in our surroundings and the larger world.

Before each video clip, participants were told to either passively watch the video (the way one normally would) or to count the number of perspective changes in the video. This allowed the researchers to compare brain activity when participants were immersed in watching—and their minds could wander—versus when they had a focused task to perform while watching.

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A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Cultivate Resilience

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In this compassion practice, there’s no aim to force anything to happen. You cannot will yourself into particular feelings toward yourself or anyone else. Rather, the practice is simply to remind yourself that you deserve happiness and ease—no more and no less than anyone else—and that the same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and everyone else in the world. Everyone is driven by an inner desire to avoid suffering and find a measure of peace.

The practice is simply to remind yourself that you deserve happiness and ease—no more and no less than anyone else

As this practice becomes comfortable for you, you can use it to combat everyday stress. If you feel unmoored, lost, or pulled in different directions, take a moment to wish yourself peace, just as you’d comfort a friend.

Find a comfortable stable position, either seated or lying down, and observe the next several breaths. Notice how you’re feeling right now, while letting go of any sense of striving or effort to feel otherwise. You cannot force yourself to feel relaxed, non-judgemental, or anything else in particular. Let yourself feel whatever it is you feel right now.Picture your child. Imagine what you most wish for him or her. This unbounded affection, deeper than any surface emotion, has traditionally been encompassed within four phrases: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you live your life with ease.Use these phrases or any that capture your deepest wishes, and silently repeat them at a comfortable pace, timed to your breathing.Continue repeating these wishes for your child, reminding yourself of your deepest intentions: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you live your life with ease.”After several minutes, move on to yourself. Your inner critic, your voice of self judgment, may resist. Yet in spite of all your seeming mistakes, you have the same rights as anyone: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I feel safe. May I live my life with ease.” Without any sort of demand, offer yourself the some wishes for well-being you extended to your child.After several minutes, imagine a close friend or someone unconditionally supportive, a person for whom you have almost entirely positive feelings. This person also desires happiness, whether going through a stretch of relative ease or more acutely in need of your emotional support. If no one comes to mind, that’s fine and quite common; just continue with the practice for yourself.After a few minutes have passed, move on to a neutral person, a stranger, someone you see around but don’t really know—maybe someone at a local store or gas station, or who works nearby. Extend the some wishes to this neutral person without judging whatever you actually feel or aiming to push yourself. You’re simply paying attention in this way.Now think of a difficult person—not the most difficult, but someone you’ve disagreed with in a smaller way. Your perspectives differ and you must firmly take care of yourself, yet this difficult person’s actions are also driven by a wish for happiness. If this person found relief from his own suffering, it’s likely that his behavior would change. If it’s easier, include yourself: “May we both be happy. May we both be healthy. May we both feel safe. May we both live our lives with ease.”Next, picture your entire family for a while: “May all of us be happy. May all of us be healthy. May all of us feel safe. May we all live our lives with ease.”Finally, if you like, extend the same wishes to everyone in this world. In an unforced way, send this compassionate wish for well-being to anyone you imagine, anywhere.

Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Bertin, from Mindful Parenting for ADHD

Original author: Mark Bertin
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A Conversation on Mindfulness, Bias and Racial Justice

Stephanie Domet: I’m Stephanie Domet, an editor at Mindful magazine and a writer and podcast producer for mindful.org. This is a special edition of “The Point of View” podcast featuring Mindful magazine and mindful.org founding editor Barry Boyce in conversation with Rhonda Magee, Ram Mahalingam, and Mirabai Bush.

Mirabai Bush is the co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which seeks to transform higher education through the introduction of contemplative practices and perspectives. Mirabai has worked at the interface of mindfulness and social justice since she learned contemplative practices in India in the 1970s.

Ram Mahalingam is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He’s the director for the Mindful Connections Lab. His current research is on mindfulness and dignity in hospital settings and in the cleaning industry, with a specific focus on janitors in India, South Korea, United States and Japan. He teaches an undergraduate course on mindful leadership and a course on mindfulness and engaged living.

Rhonda Magee is a professor of law at the University of San Francisco. Also trained in sociology and mindfulness-based stress reduction, Rhonda is a highly practiced facilitator of trauma-sensitive restorative mindfulness interventions for lawyers and law students and for minimizing the effects of social identity-based bias. Magee has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society and a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s also the author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice published by Penguin Random House.

We convened this panel to talk about issues that arise out of racial justice, including a discussion of concepts around privilege and fragility—two ideas that are also examined in the October issue of Mindful magazine. It may be both unfortunate and fortunate that racism is so much in the news these days. It’s a hot topic in homes, campuses, offices, and in the media across North America and around the world. It’s unfortunate, of course, because we’re seeing a reigniting and re-emergence of hate speech and incitement to act harmfully, even violently. Fortunate, perhaps, because we may be uncovering deeper forms of division that we can explore in the ultimate interest of finding unity, interconnection, peace and justice.

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Mindfulness for Middle Schoolers

In recent years, mindfulness education has become a mainstay in many schools. However, we know little about how it affects students’ developing brains or their academic performance.

Two new studies from Yale and Harvard Universities and MIT shed some light on the question, finding that mindfulness may reduce emotional reactivity in the brain as well as improving mental health and academic success for middle-school students.

Mindfulness Boosts Emotional Well-Being in Teens

In the first study of its kind, MIT researchers showed that mindfulness training may alter brain functioning linked to emotional processing in sixth-grade students. Published in Behavioral Neuroscience, the study included a subset of about  40 middle schoolers who participated in a trial comparing the effects of eight weeks of either daily mindfulness training or “coding” instruction.

The mindfulness program was adopted by Calmer Choice (an organization aiming to teach young people how to better manage stress) to be appropriate for middle-school students. It emphasized attention training and strategies for coping with stress, negative moods and unhealthy attitudes.

Join the Mindful Educators Community: Free Mindfulness Resources for Teachers, Parents, and Communities

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