Mindfulness Matters

violin.jpgUrban legend has it that Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman once played through a violin concerto after having broken one of his strings. Perlman was afflicted by polio as a child so walking is difficult for him. The story goes that he made a decision to play on rather than to make the prodigious effort go back off stage to replace the string and come back again.

For the complete text and a critical review of this story, read the Snopes analysis. There is no evidence to corroborate this story and it doesn’t make sense if you really think about it.  If his string had broken a handler would have brought the string out for him. There is documentation that after breaking a string at another concert and while waiting for repair he engaged the audience in a stand-up comedy routine. 
Despite its apparent lack of veracity (if you were at this concert I’d love to hear from you!), this story still makes a good metaphor for the wisdom of acceptance. We are confronted with situations where we must decide what to do. Should I put effort into fixing this situation? Should I let it go and work with what I have?
If you are cold and the window is open and readily closed, it makes sense to close the window. If it is not readily closed then what? How much effort should we expend? Of course if you are waiting at a bus stop you can’t close the window and acceptance is the wisdom choice.
How do we know? First we must know ourselves. Mindfulness practice will help us to know at an intuitive level. This is the wisdom of our bodies in action. Next, we must perceive the situation accurately. Strong emotions may bias our view of things. Collecting ourselves through mindfulness practice can help us to see what is required in the situation. 
This metaphor is also an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. 
Do we ever have the perfect condition — all four of our strings? Perhaps sometimes we do, but often we are working with whatever we’ve got. We are tired and have to do something. This may not be the ideal conditions for creative work, but it is what is so in the moment. We can allow the story “less than ideal” prevail or we can move forward without that story, doing the best that we can. 
I addressed this tendency in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, in the metaphor “Perfectomy.” Perfectomy is using mindfulness as a non-surgical and safe way to address our perfectionistic tendencies. 
Suzuki Roshi said, “Everything is perfect, but there’s always room for improvement.” This captures it nicely. Embody acceptance; work towards goodness (or whatever your goals are).
When we’ve got all four strings intact, enjoy the beautiful sound. When we’ve got only three and we can’t get that fourth back just now, play with three and appreciate the sound you can make. Perhaps you’ll find strength and resources you didn’t know you had.


It’s Stress Reduction Sunday. Read my weekly post in the Connecticut Watchdog, This week’s entry Working Ourselves to Death :: Mindfulness May Save Your Life

ABC News did a recent feature on workplace stress and the increased mortality associated with chronic job stress and economic uncertainty. Here are seven work-related dangers and how we can use mindfulness to address them.

1. Distracted Driving ::  Texting and talking on the phone is banned in many states and for good reason. Texting can be fatal. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told ABC News last month. “If you’re looking down at a cell phone for four seconds or a texting device for four seconds, you’re driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.”

In the spirit of making mindfulness more accessible i am
posting CDs worth of my guided meditations to my website,

The tracks from the first CD are now available to listen to
and to download
as mp3 to your iPod. 

From the liner notes :: 


This CD teaches the basic practices of mindfulness
meditation. The first track provides instructions for the breathing meditation.
These instructions last approximately 10 minutes and are followed by 30 minutes
of guided practice with reminders to come back to the breath. 

The instructions
take you through all the basics for sitting meditation, including suggestions
for physical posture, and the attitude for approaching the practice. 

Collectively these comprise the seat for meditation and we come to our seat
whenever we do meditation. And this includes meditating in the four
orientations: sitting, walking, standing, and lying down. The formal breathing
meditation sets the foundation for informal awareness of breath throughout the
course of the day. Whenever we are tense or stressed, we can become mindful of
the breath and return to the present moment. 

The Body scan takes the mindful attention cultivated in the
breathing meditation and brings this to the entire body. Track 3 lasts 40
minutes and will take you on a guided tour of the body. By paying attention to
the physical sensations present in the body with a nonjudgmental and
nonreactive attention, we can become more intimate with what is happening to
us, and gain a greater sense of control of discomfort and pain.

These practices are basic but are by no means inferior.
Breathing and body scan meditations are what the Buddha did under the Bodhi
tree thousands of years ago. 

These practices can transform your life. Enjoy them by meditating now!


Thumbnail image for 29170.JPG

Welcome the new technological age! Today, I’d like to discuss some on our relationship to technology. 

Having spent many years working in mental hospitals, I am accustomed to people talking to themselves. Not long ago, if you overheard someone talking to themselves on the street, you might assume they had some issues. Now, this is a common occurrence as people, and I dare say I am sometimes among them, walk around talking on their mobile phones. I’ll come up behind someone and they are appear to be talking into the air — are they psychotic or oh so cool on a blue tooth?

Why is this so bothersome? We don’t modulate our voices. We are often shouting into our phones. Now we have noise pollution. Talking on the phone and walking around town we are disconnected from the reality around us — stumbling into people, buildings, and cars. Texting is worse. Recently, someone told me about a man texting on a bicycle on Burlington’s waterfront bike path. Really?!
We walk around, plugged into our technological devices, communicating with others in this multitasking way. Are we being more mindful or less? Is there a new form of mindfulness emerging on the technological horizon — a new social reality populated by status updates and text messages, smart phones and 24-hour and nearly global availability?
I don’t know about this. 
There are actually parts of Vermont that don’t get cell service. The initial response to this might be consternation, but for me it is followed by a sense of relief and even nostalgia. I’m inaccessible. I misplaced my cell phone a few years ago for a couple of days. After the panic subsided, I felt a great sense of quiet, as if a hush had come over the world. I was inaccessible and this felt like a delicious guilty pleasure.
As a culture we have developed a collective case of infomania. We obsessively check our phones for voicemails and text messages, glue ourselves to Facebook, wait for that life transforming email.
We are not all like this, of course. Not everyone is on Facebook. Not everyone has a cell phone or smart phone. Not everyone checks email every day. Those of us who do take it personally when someone does not respond immediately. 
Technology is changing our landscape of expectations and the way we relate to the world. I think its probably a good idea to unplug once and a while. At the very least, we can do this when we practice mindfulness meditation daily. 
See what it feels like to unplug.