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…”

Can Mindfulness Improve Your Working Memory?

When it comes to memory loss, it’s not forgetting where you put your reading glasses or the car keys that grabs your attention. It’s hearing someone tell you, “But I already told you that.” 

Dealing with a memory lapse like completely forgetting a recent conversation is an experience that can kneecap any aging adult—and by aging, I mean all of us. Recently, I faced this situation head-on when my husband shared details with me about a certain important event he was to attend. Somehow, neither the discussion nor the details entered my consciousness and I went on to make my own plan, one that directly interfered with his.

Domestic chaos ensued.

I’m aware that as I enter my seventh decade, living my very active life, new information is continually entering my brain, stuffing it with an infinite amount of data. So, I reassure myself that I shouldn’t panic when some details occasionally slip away, kind of like when the new edits on a document I forgot to save disappear right into the digital ether.

Just as I long for a foolproof system to protect and preserve my computer’s memory, I’ve been seeking a solution to help protect and preserve my memory (not to mention my marriage!). There, just as close as my office chair, sat mindfulness

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Meditation Goes Mobile, Ageism is Out, and Other Mindfulness News of the Day

Feels on Wheels

What has ten meditation pods, four wheels, and an iconic aluminum shell? The MeditationWorks mobile meditation studio, of course. In early May, the new Canadian mobile meditation service guided a session for healthcare workers in Scarborough, Ontario, equipped with its modified Airstream travel trailer designed to provide an out-of-the-ordinary meditation space.  

The mobile experience typically takes place inside the shiny, bullet-shaped “Mindstream,” however, in the face of COVID-19, meditating inside of a closed vehicle was out of the question. Owner Traci Shepherd shifted gears, moving MeditationWorks guided meditations online and offering the mobile meditation session outside with the help of speakers, an FM radio broadcast, and chairs arranged six feet apart. 

Pup Rings a Bell

Often, our beloved pets help us to be mindful—but Nyxie the Labrador might have gone too far. As the Mirror reported, Nyxie’s family in Surrey, UK, noticed their meditation ball, which had a bell inside, had gone missing. After searching for days, they noticed a telltale jingling—coming from inside their feisty pup. Fortunately, a vet was able to remove the ball Nyxie had eaten, leaving her unharmed.

Ageism is Getting Old

A program developed by the Institute of Noetic Sciences is changing the way people think about aging. The Conscious Aging Program encourages mature adults to embrace life by exploring self-compassion, forgiveness, and community. 

In a six-session online workshop, people are able to shift their attitudes toward aging by engaging in lively discussions with other participants about making sense of the past. They’re also invited to work through activities based on inner and collective wisdom discussed in each meeting. The workshop offers sessions dedicated to developing self-compassion and accepting a new phase of life, as well as exploring ageism and existing attitudes toward death. Visit the Institute of Noetic Sciences website to find out when the next Conscious Aging Online Workshop will take place.

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Good News: Our Emotions Aren’t Set In Stone

You’ve probably found yourself, on occasion, spending long uninterrupted hours with digital technologies, particularly during months of social distancing. Just as our smartphones are always close at hand (both to serve and to distract), the feelings engendered by digital tech have become our frequent if not constant companions. There is an almost palpable pain when boredom approaches, as it does if you are briefly alone with your thoughts—a sensation all the stranger, now, for our ease of escaping it. There is a loneliness that creeps in when you wonder if virtual friends and digital conversations are really the equals of those IRL. There is a narcissism that yearns to cry out to the world, via tweet or Instagram post, I’m over here! Observe the wonder that is me. And there is the anxiety about being out of the loop, felt by so many, so often, that it merits its own acronym: FOMO.

Of all the consequences of digital technologies, few are as profound as those related to our emotional lives. That is not to minimize their effects on the cognitive part of our brain, including the ability to remember and focus, as I wrote about in a 2017 column. Call me biased, but my feelings feel more like me than do my powers of attention and recall. So when historian Susan J. Matt and technology scholar Luke Fernandez of Weber State University in Utah (a married couple) told me that “a new American emotional style…is taking shape today” as a result of digital technologies that have “radically remade” our feelings and sense of self, it resonated.

At first, I thought theirs was a now-commonplace observation about how the internet stokes anger (have you managed to resist an irate retort to a political tweet?), narcissism (of course the world is interested in a photo montage of your breakfast), and loneliness (why don’t I have more Facebook “friends”?). But for Matt and Fernandez, those observations are only a starting point. Their analysis, as laid out in their 2019 book Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings about Technology, from the Telegraph to Twitter, is—to use an overused but, in this case, apt term—meta.

How Do You Feel About Your Feelings?

People have always experienced boredom and loneliness and a need for recognition, as Matt and Fernandez discuss through fascinating historical citations. For make no mistake, earlier generations, too, felt the emotional consequences of tectonic technological shifts. When people “fell in love with” photography and factory-made mirrors in the 19th century, pundits also worried about rampant narcissism. And if you think Reddit is the first form of communication to encourage anger, let Matt and Fernandez introduce you to the “Indignation Meetings” of 150 years ago, where attendees decried everything from the acquittal of an accused murderer to monopolies.

What has changed is how we process and interpret those feelings. That is, the immediate feel of the feelings is the same as it has been for as long as emotions have been part of our neuro-repertoire. But how we process them cognitively is different than it was for generations that preceded us. What has changed is how we feel about those feelings (that’s the “meta” part). As they scoured history for clues to people’s emotional lives, Matt said, “what became clear was that boredom and loneliness and narcissism were changing today.” In particular, Fernandez chimed in, “the language we use to describe our feelings has changed. We used to be resigned to boredom and loneliness, for example, but now we pathologize them; we think of them as afflictions that need to be cured.”

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How 2020 Is Uncovering What Really Matters

The pandemic marks “a turning point in history,” the celebrated historian Margaret MacMillan wrote in The Economist. Fault lines have been exposed in the world we’ve constructed that could, she wrote, lead us either to “reform or calamity.” She said this before the uprising that emerged in cities worldwide after the killing of George Floyd. The pandemic had reduced distractions, so that hyper-tragic event exposed another fault line that could no longer be put out of mind. We can choose to care and do more about the world we’re making—or not.

Optimistically, the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson wrote in an essay on newyorker.com that “The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable… We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.” The depth of feeling he speaks of seems a lot like mindfulness—the kind that we are all born with access to, not merely the current fad.

Writing from within the COVID-19 lockdown, I’m finding strangeness and vertigo. The word “week” seems meaningless. Days and months and years are all based on natural phenomena, but somebody had to invent the week, and it’s not holding up when many of the routines we shape our lives by have been removed. 

Time—Gumby-like, bendy, contorted, and contortable—is not its old supposedly reliable self. The tyranny of clock and calendar have been removed, which could be a relief, but the resulting anarchy is unsettling, and the future is a fog of question marks. 

Lots of people say things like, “It’s Thursday, really? How do you know? One day just runs into another into another into another.” My mind keeps conjuring up lines I had to memorize in high school, like “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” or verses from songs I listened to back then: “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me… I was so hard to please,” or “Yesterday…”

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Finding Your Way Forward with Clarity and Love

After 17 years of living with a life-threatening kidney disease, at the end of 2008 I received a new kidney from a generous former student. The surgery extended and revolutionized my life. My skin turned from a sad yellow to a vibrant pink. After years of a diet restricted to what seemed like filtered water and saltines, I treasured the moment my teeth sunk into a succulent beef-tongue taco. For the first time in years, I could meet the day with vitality and dream about a future.

Since most organ rejections happen early on, the first few months were tenuous. Once it was clear the procedure was a success, the next six months were exuberant. Were this a Lifetime Channel special, the credits would roll at the happy ending. However, without warning I sank into a deep and anxious depression. It dragged on for the next 18 months and I felt aimless, worthless, and hopeless. Though my health was better than it had been in decades, there were times I lost the urge to continue living. I knew something was up and began to look for answers.

I found my experiences mirrored what many wise people have said about what happens during transitions. I discovered a rich literature and tradition around transitions, containing maps and guides for how to navigate them.

I learned that changes are distinct from transitions. Changes are events. You get married. Your company is taken over and ceases to exist. A global pandemic breaks out. Your dog dies.

Transitions are the inner shifts of identity, possibility, and belief that occur to help us assimilate and adjust to changes. Some are easy, others are difficult. They don’t occur automatically, and they often require consistent and specific efforts. Like a video game where you slay a demon to move to the next level, transitions throw down a series of monsters that must be overcome before you can move ahead.

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