November 12, 2013
Your Attention, Please.
The mind is constantly in motion. Left on it’s own, the mind often spins stories about why things are happening and who we think we are. When the mind is spinning stories we are unable to be present with what is actually happening in the moment. A mind that is spinning stories is a mind that is not present. When we aren’t present, we aren’t effective. To be more effective in your daily life, you need to pull out of these stories and see more accurately what is happening in the present moment.
Placing our mind into the present moment is a matter of shifting our attention. Attention is the brain system that selects which data will be analyzed. We need this attention system because in all moments the mind has access to more information than it can process. It is as if our minds have access to several television channels at once. We are constantly receiving external channels of information through each of our senses. Our mind simply can’t attend to everything. Therefore, the mind must prioritize which channels of information to “view” over other channels that will remain unprocessed. Attention is the process of choosing what we will perceive. We need to train our attention to be able to put our mind in the present moment.
Training Your Attention: The Skill of Mindfulness
You have already become an expert at training your attention system. By the time we are adults we have become such experts at using our attention system that we are no longer even aware that this system exists at all. Here is an example of a trained attention system in action. Imagine if we tried to drive a car while paying attention to every single house and sign and person we passed. We wouldn’t get too far before we ran into something or someone. But most of the time we do just fine when we drive. We are able to drive because we get pretty good at knowing where to place our attention when driving. It becomes natural to look ahead most of the time, while briefly shifting our attention to our mirrors or perhaps looking at something that catches our eye as we drive by. Everyone who drives a car has learned how to train their attention system.
Now lets get back to those stories our minds are spinning. A mind’s stories acts as filters on the streams of external data coming in. For example, if a mind is busy telling itself, “I am not good enough yet,” then this statement will act as a filter for incoming data. Priority will be put on any data that fits this belief, which results in distorting the reality of the moment. For example, imagine a person looking at you with an odd expression. If your mind has a “not-good-enough” filter then you will likely read the expression as a critique about you. If your mind does not have this filter then you will be able to see that there are an infinite number of possible explanations for that expression, and most of them have nothing to do you with you. (They may be feeling sick, they may be thinking about a fight with a loved one, they may have a “not-good-enough” filter and are looking around for confirming evidence….). A mind that can turn its attention to the present is no longer distorting reality through these filters.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” — Mr. Fred Rogers
Two Kinds of Minds
Let’s look at the characteristics of these two kinds of minds:
A Mind Spinning Stories
A Mind Settled in the Moment
|Stuck in its own thoughts.
(These thoughts often take you to the past, future, or how you wish things were in the present.)
|Aware of the senses, body sensations, or the breath.
(The breath is one of the best ways to anchor a mind in the present.)
|Stuck in its own story.
(Things that occur in the world are often experienced as something to do with you personally.)
|Ability to see the bigger story of each moment.
(This eventually includes history, personal contribution, and interconnectedness)
|Sees a dualistic world.
(Events are experienced as good/bad, for/against, accepted/rejected.)
|Sees a holistic world.
(This eventually includes seeing the history and interconnectedness present in each moment.)
|Feelings of distress when things don’t go “your way.”||Feelings of patience and acceptance when things don’t go “your way.”|
|Frantic or Fatigued||Solid and Energetic|
|Feels a drag on effectiveness||Experiences a sense of clarity, movement|
|Opinions about Everything (like, dislike)||Appreciation and Gratitude|
Attention is the Arrow. Gentleness and Kindness are the Bow.
Turning our attention to the present is as easy and as hard as this:
With gentleness and kindness, rest your attention on something that is happening now.
Really, that is it. But the trick is you need to do it over and over and over again, until it becomes a habit. Mindfulness mediation is a useful way to train your attention on the present. You’ll need gentleness and kindness to effectively move your attention. Attention is the arrow. Gentleness and kindness are the bow. If you try to move your attention without kindness and gentleness then you will be lost before you begin. Without gentleness and kindness, working with your attention becomes just one more way to judge yourself, resist the truth of the situation, get stuck in your own story, and eventually feel discontent. You will be strengthening those spinning stories, rather than resting your mind in the present. Gentleness and kindness are a necessity.
In each moment we can choose which mind we want to have – a mind clouded by stories or a mind resting in the present. With practice, you will begin to experience the contentment that comes from being in the present. With a lot of practice, the mind will have the chance to see that at our core all humans carry an inseparable goodness and worthiness that is always present. And that’s when the mind will begin choosing to be in the present on its own.
“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”
- Mr. Fred Rogers
October 22, 2013
October 20, 2013
October 7, 2013
Your Setting Sun – from The Shambhala Principle
The following is an excerpt from a book I am currently read, The Shambhala Principle by Sakyong Mipham, which struck me as particularly insightful.
“Naturally, when we feel that we are faulty, we mistreat ourselves, and then we mistreat others in the same way.
“When this lasts for a while, that depressed and aggressive state becomes the norm, and anything not depressing begins to appear naïve or unsophisticated. Even our nature appears insubstantial and small.
“Thus, the psychic repercussions of… the ceremony of unworthiness have created a depressed culture, and the product of that culture is cynicism and doubt. Our sense perceptions are padded. Generally speaking, we are spooked by our own thoughts. Self-doubt arises, and we start doubting others. We forget about bravery as our minds are consumed by doubt, becoming unstable and fickle. Saying and doing negative things begins to make sense, and developing our warrior mind seems completely unrealistic. We have fallen into the cowardly realms, where the mind is trapped and depressed. It buys into aggression as a way to accomplish things. We have great confidence in anger, we are really certain that aggression is going to work, and we forget about patience and compassion – even towards ourselves.
“The mind that arises from the combination of intelligence and a depressed state is essentially obsessed with negating everything, since the basic premise of such a mind is death and nihilism – hence my father’s term “the setting sun.” To say our age is marked by setting-sun tendencies is not necessarily saying the world is over but that, at the day’s end, our care and curiosity are diminishing, like a clock winding down. There is a deflated feeling: Why work for the future when we feel that we are coming to the end?”
Habits as Ceremonies
The present moment is the what is happening right now. Ceremonies of unworthiness are particularly dangerous because they cloud our ability to perceive the truth of the present moment. And I always find it a peculiarly poetic paradox that ceremonies of unworthiness actually lead to an INFLATED sense of self. Instead of seeing the truth of the present moment, we habitually scan an impartial world for evidence that we are different than everyone else.
The mind complicates. The mind complicates. The mind complicates. When we believe everything our mind tells us, we will become lost, unable to see the difference between what is true and what is just a myth we nourish through the ceremonies in our lives. For example, if we cultivate the habit of comparing ourselves to others, we have created a daily ceremony of unworthiness that will begin to feel true. It is not TRUE that you are unworthy, even if it feels true. It is a just myth that you strengthen in your mind each time you choose to compare yourself to someone else.
Ceremonies of unworthiness prevent us from being present with ourselves and others, which is the only place where truth occurs. We must be brave to look for these ceremonies in our lives, and then bravely choose to replace these ceremonies with new ones that celebrate the truth of the present moment. It means saying to yourself over and over and over, “I am just one starfish in the sea. No more or less deserving than any other starfish near or far from me.” (Hey – I just made that up! I like it!)
Exploring your Ceremonies of Unworthiness
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself about ceremonies of unworthiness that may have arisen in your life.
What ceremonies of unworthiness are present in your daily routines? Internal: What thoughts arise in your mind that support the illusion of unworthiness? External: What behaviors have your developed that nourish the illusion of being unworthy?
What myth is being nourished through these ceremonies of unworthiness?
Ceremonies of unworthiness nourish fictional myths in your mind, which in turn keep you from seeing how things really are in the world. How might your ceremonies of unworthiness block your ability to see observe what is actually happening in the present moment?
October 2, 2013
Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed, Song by Silver Jews and video by My Little Pony
I think everyone needs a playlist on hand for those days (.. or weeks … or months) when they are just feeling blue. This song is one of my favorites of my Blue Day collection. And look! I found a fan video with all My Little Ponies – with the images spot on with the lyrics! My heart is happy in this moment.
I love this song because in those moments of feeling down, it is too easy to get stuck in our own story and forget that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. Somehow just the phrase “sometimes a pony gets depressed” can help me remember that we can find respite from our suffering by stepping outside our immediate circumstance and kindly keeping ourselves company as it is our turn to be depressed.
I love this video with my little ponies because…. well, duh. MY LITTLE PONIES VIDEO. Self explanatory.
September 7, 2013
OMG – this guys is so super awesome. What?! Who is this guy and can he be my spirit animal? Is that a thing?
And the thing about the birds? Officially in my tool kit. Thank you awesome (and not to mention adorable) spirit animal!
August 16, 2013
I’ve been on the road for a bit and I am very happy to be back home. That was a long time for me to be away. Speaking of home, I thought I’d share this cool post about the work a friend/colleague, Beck Tench, does over at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. If I get to come back, I hope I end up with her job the next time around.
“One of the greatest gifts of my babymoon is the opportunity to share the Museum 2.0 author’s desk with brilliant colleagues who inspire me. First up is Beck Tench, a “simplifier, illustrator, story teller, and technologist” working at the Museum of Life & Science in Durham, NC. Beck is the brain behind the risk-taker/space-maker paradigm I’ve shared here in the past. In this post, she writes about Experimonth, an intriguing set of crowd-sourced projects that connect scientists with research participants in surprising ways.”
July 15, 2013
This game is like Pong meets Paintbrush! What a great game to help keep your mind company as you hunker down as a big emotional wave rolls through:
Not sure what I mean by distress tolerance tools? Click here to learn more.
Want some more suggestions of distress tolerance activites? Click here for more suggestions.
July 2, 2013
Beautiful post from Kasey Edwards. Worth the whole read.
But I was wrong, Mom. Now I understand what it’s like to grow up in a society that tells women that their beauty matters most, and at the same time defines a standard of beauty that is perpetually out of our reach. I also know the pain of internalizing these messages. We have become our own jailors and we inflict our own punishments for failing to measure up. No one is more cruel to us than we are to ourselves.