Mindfulness Matters

BestPics - 079.jpgNPR commentator Andrei Codrescu said yesterday, “Not answering an email in 10 minutes used to mean you’re dead, but now 10 seconds is enough. After 10 minutes, they’ve already filed away your obituary.”

We’ve come to the nanosecond availability of smart phones and social media. Where, then, is the silence? 

We can find this silence in meditation. First, just by sitting still or walking slowly. Next, by monitoring the inner noise of our minds. 

The goal of mindfulness meditation is not silence–silence is the vehicle. Each time we come back from the future, past, or commentary about now we taste a little silence. 

We find this silence in the transition from fantasy to what is actually happening now. The feel of breathing, the sensations in the body. 

It might be refreshing to spend more time in reality than the incessant fantasies of future and past where we spend most of our time. 

We might find when we pay attention to the reality of now that we are more contained; less likely to act on every impulse, inflame emotions, and get ourselves into trouble.

We will also find that we are more engaged with the world in all its technicolor brilliance. Every moment is a multimedia show. 

This is the wisdom of silence-containment-engagement and the benefit of mindfulness practice. 

Once we post our Facebook status its already in the past. Instead of providing running commentary for our lives we can pay attention to what is actually happening.

Enjoy your silence today, even if it is a brief sip. Tomorrow take a longer one. Then perhaps an even longer one the day after. Make silence a frequent companion.

Surgeon, author, and inspirational speaker, Sherwin Nuland discusses hope. He mentions that the Oxford English Dictionary lists 14 definitions of hope and none of them are particularly satisfying. 

His remarks on hope are consistent with mine from yesterday and take a different angle to the “change of direction” that hope can represent. 
He speaks of the moral imagination and the world as a patient in its original sense. We are the healers of the world through compassion, commitment, and persistence. 

According the Random House Dictionary, hope is the feeling that what is desired is also possible; or that events may turn out for the best. These seem to be very different senses of the word.

The first suggest confidence; the second, well, hopefulness. The first sense suggests agency; the second an abandonment of that very precious agency. 

Hope can be problematic when it interferes with our ability to perceive the present moment clearly. Hope can obstruct reality and impair our ability to accept.

My views on hope on controversial. I’m not a pessimist or cynical. I think we should embrace exuberant optimism when appropriate, but not give up our sense of personal responsibility.

From a mindfulness perspective, hope generates a conversation about the future, and one that may or may not be based on evidence. 


In my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, I presented the “kill hope” concept through the metaphor of the Man Trap, an episode from the original Star Trek Series. In this episode, McCoy’s meets his ex-fiance Nancy on some remote dustbowl of a planet. To him, she looks beautiful and young. To everyone else she is a salt-sucking fiend killing everyone in sight. When the monster is about to finish Captain Kirk, McCoy must kill what he sees — his beloved Nancy. Intellectually he knows that this is not Nancy, but he can’t not believe what his eyes and emotions see. Kirk’s life hangs in the balance. By analogy, we sometimes stay in situations, particularly relationships, when we know it’s not the right situations but our eyes tell our emotions another story.

T. S. Eliot sounds a similar note of caution in this excerpt from this Four Quartets

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope?

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait
without love?

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:?

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the
dancing – T.S. Eliot

I prefer a version of an exuberant and optimistic relationship to uncertainty, presented in the story of teaching a horse to sing (this was presented in a previous Metaphor Monday). Here is the story again in case you missed it:

According to an old story, a man sentenced to be hanged fro offending the sultan, offered a deal to the court: if they would give him a year, he would teach the sultan’s horse to sing, earning his freedom; if he failed, he would go to the gallows willingly. When he returned to the dock, a fellow prisoner said, “Are you crazy?” The man replied, “I figure, over the course of a year a lot can happen. Maybe the sultan will die, and the new sultan will pardon me. Maybe I’ll die; in that case I wouldn’t have lost a thing. Maybe the horse will die; then I’ll be off the hook. And who knows? Maybe I’ll teach the horse to sing!

Read more:

Sir Walter Raleigh in the film Elizabeth
the Golden Age
suggests that hope is “pure, naked, and fragile.” Can we allow hope to be optimism and confidence in the present moment?

Can we look beyond wishful fantasy to embrace what is so and take the best course of action available based on that so-ness? Can we ground our attention in the present moment and let that be our guide into the future? Not neglecting the future, of course. We know more now than we often realize or allow ourselves to realize. 

Kill hope (the second sense of hope) and live confidently in the wisdom what we truly know even when our eyes (hopeful ones at that) tell us something different. 

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It’s Stress Reduction Sunday. Read my weekly post in the Connecticut Watchdog, This week’s entry, Sleep-Deprived Society: Getting A Better Sleep, Part 1

In last week’s entry, we touched on the dangers of sleep-deprivation. Today we’ll begin to focus on how to get a better night sleep. These practices are called “sleep hygiene.” They offer general and specific guidance on sleep. You may find that you need to modify these to suit your particular lifestyle. However, even if some of your old patterns are hard to give up, like snacking before bedtime, you are invited to experiment with these changes to see if they have a salubrious impact on how you sleep.

So here goes.

First, consider your sleeping environment. Is it 

omfortable? Is it dark? (remember we are creatures who run on circadian rhythms, and these rhythms are affected by light). Is it quiet? Design your sleeping quarters to support sleep. According to orthodox sleep hygiene expertise, the bed should be used for only two things: sleeping and sex.