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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy? on TED Talks

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Dan Gilbert’s research was recently published in Science and featured in the New York Times and discussed in my blog entry from 20 November 2010. Here is an excerpt in case you missed that:

A recent article in Science (reviewed in the New York Times) lends support to what practitioners of mindfulness already know. First, our minds wander a lot. According to the study about 47% of the time (and the percentage of wandering varied considerably by activity). Second we are happier when concentrated on what we are doing. Not surprising being engaged in sex produced the least amount of stray thinking (only 10%) and the highest level of happiness. 

In this talk, he discusses the power of imagination–the “experience simulator.” Simulator bias is a fault in the system and one that mindfulness can help to overcome as we become less beholden to imagination and more keyed to reality. He also talks about “synthesizing” happiness, pointing to the constructed nature of experience — especially in the realm of emotions. Again, here, mindfulness can help us to “synthesize” the experience we want through the power of accepatnce. 
Enjoy this informative and funny talk. 

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Metaphor Monday :: Squid Eye

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS13030.JPGThe Squid Eye metaphor comes from business consultant and coach Susan Scott in her book Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today. It refers to the ability of squid hunters to detect their prey hiding on the bottom of the sea floor. Squid are good hiders so the hunters have to hone their eye to catch perceptual “tells” that reveal the location of the squid.

In the business context, Scott describes squid eye thusly: 
It’s the ability to see the Squid while he is blending into his natural environment. The ability to see him just being himself, even when he doesn’t want you to see him, even when he is hiding. Having Squid Eye means you see many things others cannot and do not see. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind, you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what Squid Eye really means. So for a fierce leader, with Squid Eye, they begin to spot the tells that let us know that these “best practices” aren’t working.

Squid Eye is a metaphor about perception and taps into the fascinating realm of selective attention. In any given moment we are inundated with information — data coming from our sensory organs for one and then, perhaps, other information in media and communication. We can’t process all of it. In fact, we can only be consciously aware of about one out of a million of those sensory bits in any given second. That’s not a typo, I meant one out of a “million.” No kidding.

This statistic comes from the neuroscientist Nor Torreanders. He calculates that our sensory organs take in about sixteen million bits of information per second and we can consciously process only eleven. Not eleven million but eleven: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. And that’s all folks!

So we select. And how we select depends a lot on context — both external and internal. Internal context comprises our beliefs, assumptions, and metaphors. Exposure to some idea or something in our environment will activate parts of our memory and steer attention towards seeing something linked to that, in other words, bias. 

If we think about concentration as paying attention to whatever is most important in any given moment, the Squid Eye is a concentrated way of perceiving the world and one that mindfulness practice will facilitate. Mindfulness can help us to become aware of biasing factors and to increase our attentional capacity beyond eleven bits per second (the upper limit may be close to fifty bits or an almost five-fold increase). 

Mindfulness, of course, helps us to see the world, others, and ourselves with increased clarity — more like it is rather than how we would like it to be. Mindfulness is also fierce in how it show us reality more clearly. Once we see this, we’ll have more choices on how to proceed. Going back into denial and bias is always an option, but one we’ve gotten tired of using. Instead, we can deal with what is right in front of us with authenticity, courage, and ferocity.


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Stress Reduction Sunday :: Surviving the Holidays with Poise: Mindfulness Put to the Test

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

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It’s Stress Reduction Sunday. Read my weekly post in the Connecticut Watchdog, This week’s entry Surviving the Holidays with Poise: Mindfulness Put to the Test

It’s the holiday season, and this can be a challenging time of year. When we discussed this in my meditation group, the word that came up to describe it was, “expectations.”

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Of course, the holidays bring many expectations from society, others, and ourselves.

We may expect the holidays to be very special — after all that is the image we have seen in the movies and on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” We may also have special memories from when we were children. If our time falls short of these images, we may feel disappointed and distressed. Just the anticipation of these images can make approaching the holidays stressful.

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Read more …

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Read the entire Stress Reduction Series to date on CT Watchdog >>

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First Snow

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Snow_01.jpgHere in the Champlain Valley we got the first dusting of snow. The mountains are open for snowboarding and winter is announcing its arrival with stalwart force. It’s been slow to arrive and much of our “stick season” has seemed more like “mud season.” If the snow persists and is followed by more we’ll be out of stick season and into the long winter. But likely we’ll be back to just “sticks” soon. 

Just the other day, my dirt road was rutted with mud. Today those ruts are frozen. Such is the vicissitudes of the season. There is no rush to get to winter — its six-month long stretch giving us plenty of opportunity to practice “cold Buddha shivers.” The winter here can be harsh despite global warming. We still have a few days where the mercury reads 20 degrees below zero without considering the wind. And the wind blows. 
A couple of weeks ago I was reflecting on these seasons and how they have been affected by planetary warming. I wrote these lines about “Vermont November”

The leaves have fallen and
The long reach of winter has not yet arrived,
Stick Season.
Confused, as it is, thinks its mud season
The ground not yet frozen
Not even close mid-November
Still breathing warm air and sunshine
When it is not raining
And the rains have come
and could be snow
Except the world is warming
Polar bears float from Greenland to Iceland
Refugees.
Just as we are exiled from our truth.
Everyday.
Confused like the seasons.
Oozing mud instead of frost
Not sure if we are coming or going.
Trying to hold something still
that must move,
Always.

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Here in Vermont we have constant reminders of impermanence. The weather, our teacher in this regard, is rarely the same from day to day, often from moment to moment throughout the day. This is much like our moods; volatile like Vermont weather. Again, impermanence in action. Since we know both the weather and our moods are going to change we can be interested in watching this process unfold. We have the opportunity to loosen our attachment and find whatever is happening interesting, even if it is at variance with what we expected or hoped for. 

Interest gives birth to freedom in any moment we give it an opportunity to do so. Enjoy your freedom now. 

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