Benefits of Mindfulness

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dessert in the desert

“If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”
-Michael Carroll

If you Google “benefits of mindfulness” you will find hundreds of recent scientific studies. There is proof of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness at strengthening attention in schoolchildren, creating more resilient business leaders, increasing brain density of the pre-frontal cortex, improving the functioning of the immune system, and plenty more. But most seasoned mindfulness teachers will tell you that while all those benefits may be true, they are side-products of the process and not to be focused on as the “goal.”

Three years ago I was speaking on the phone to Michael Carroll, the founder of an organization which focuses on sharing mindfulness to business audiences. We were talking about a new initiative I was involved with, and while I was extolling the numerous benefits of the program he stopped me and said, “If you come to mindfulness just expecting benefits, sooner or later you’re going to be confused.”

I was admittedly confused. Continue reading Benefits of Mindfulness

Wake Up!

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I’ve spent some time in the last year thinking through what I wanted my life to look like. This culminated recently with an aspiration to immerse myself within mindfulness practice and teaching, without quite knowing how I was going to do so. Well, the universe has responded, and I’d like to share its latest manifestation.

I recently finished a 3-week university tour with a cheerful group of monks, nuns and lay friends (see above for proof!) The monastics are students of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most respected and well-known Zen masters alive today. We visited almost a dozen schools on the east coast, putting on free ‘mindfulness workshops’ which included instructions on various meditations (sitting, walking, eating) as well as panel discussions and Q&A sessions. The events were well-attended and in total we shared space with over 1,000 young adults. Living, working and traveling with monastics outside a retreat setting was an incredible experience, and allowed me to learn each day. A few big takeaways: Continue reading Wake Up!

The Art of Conscious Living

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This poem is from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s first book Full Catastrophe Living. The book serves as a detailed introduction to mindfulness, and is placed in the context of healthcare and healing. Published in 1990, it helped lay the groundwork for mindfulness in the US, particularly from a scientific end. I’d like to share one quote from the book that resonated deeply, on the art of conscious living:

“You can’t sail straight into the wind, and if you only know how to sail with the wind at your back, you will only go where the wind blows you. But if you know how to use the wind’s energy and are patient, you can sometimes get where you want to go. You can still be in control.

If you hope to make use of the force of your own problems to propel you in this way, you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to feel the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.

We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest.

Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various ‘weather conditions’ in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.”

Who’s driving your bus?

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A couple summers ago I was in Nepal riding a bus. It was a day long trip in a well-worn vehicle (this was no Greyhound), and we began our journey at dawn. This particular ride got off to a slow start, as every 20 minutes the driver would pull over, shut off the engine, walk outside to converse with others, and then slowly make his way back to the driver’s seat. Then he would pull over again, shut off the engine again, walk outside to converse with others again, and then slowly make his way back to the driver’s seat, again. Then he would pull over yet again, shut off the engine yet…get the idea? Yea, so did I!
Continue reading Who’s driving your bus?