Building community in a changing world

Monthly Archives: May 2020

May 27, 2020

People Know Truth. Speak from Truth. Speak from Vulnerability.

I’m a big fan of the Duplass brothers – so I was excited to see that Brene Brown sat down with them for this 90-minute podcast. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass produce TV shows and movies that can feel authentic. “Togetherness” on HBO is one of my all-time faves – it wasn’t popular when it came out & only had two seasons. It’s funny to hear them talk about that on the podcast – folks didn’t like the show because it felt too real and scared them.

Here are my notes about the podcast:

– The paradox of their own styles & personalities bleeds into their work. Their memoir – “Like Brothers” – illustrates how so much of what we crave in life comes from straddling the paradoxes inherent in love, creativity & relationships.
– When filming, they have an unorthodox style where they create an environment for the actors where something real can happen. They create a safe space where lightning can strike in ways that are unexpected and the process can be scary.
– They tension they foster is enabled by creating a space which is full of honesty, love & truth. They ask the actors to trust in it even though uncomfortable.
– Some parents use shame as a parenting tool. The oldest child then uses that example on the younger siblings and destroys trust for their lifetime. These parents allow the oldest to use shame, saying “kids will be kids.” But it does real damage that is hard to heal with time.
– Cocktail parties are challenging for nearly everyone. Much better to do an activity together, particularly ones using your hands. Like bowling.
– Everyone can feel truth. Brene gave the example of giving a talk about her book, but then announcing that there would be no book signing afterwards because it drains her and she needs that energy for when she returns to her family. She got a standing ovation for telling the truth.

May 20, 2020

Become 10% Happier

If you’re interested in learning about the basics of meditation, a painless read of one man’s journey towards that path is “10% Percent Happier” by Dan Harris. Dan’s story is entertaining, a New York City news anchor who hit rock bottom before he found meditation & mindfulness as a way to redemption. It was a #1 bestseller.

In his book, Dan posits that if there was a fairly easy way for you to become 10% happier in your life, why wouldn’t you do it? I found it to be an inviting way to approach mindfulness. Think baby steps. Not looking for a cure for all of my ills. Just alleviate some of my pain & suffering.

When Dan’s book came out five years ago, I gave copies to each of my youngest son’s buddies as a high school graduation gift. I’m sure they laughed and set them aside, but my hope is that they would pick it up one day when they felt the need for deeper answers to the big questions in life.

So as the content builds up in this blog, you might consider picking 3-5 tips that you like and writing them on a piece of paper – and then trying them over the next week, checking off each item as you go.

May 18, 2020

Finding the Opposites of Our Thoughts

There are so many good methods out there to help keep us off the ledge. One method is called “The Work,” created by Byron Katie. As illustrated on her website, the Work involves four steps:

Notice – To begin, relax and be still. Travel in your mind to a specific situation where you were angry, hurt, sad, or disappointed with someone. Witness the situation. Be there now. Notice, name, and feel the emotion you were experiencing at the time. Find the reason you were upset.

Write – Staying anchored in the situation, at a specific moment in time, write down your responses to the questions on the Worksheet, using short, simple sentences. Write without censoring yourself. Allow yourself to be as judgmental, childish, and petty as you were in that moment. This is an opportunity to discover the cause of your stress and emotions in that moment.

Question – To begin, isolate a statement for inquiry. Now apply the four questions. Begin by repeating the original statement, then ask yourself each question. This Work is a meditation practice. It’s like diving into yourself. Contemplate the questions, one at a time. Drop into the depths of yourself, listen, and wait. The answer will meet your question.

Turn It Around – To do the turnarounds, find opposites of the original statement on your Worksheet. Often a statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. Not every statement has as many as three turnarounds. Some may have just one or two, and others may have more than three. Some turnarounds may not make any sense to you. Don’t force these.

This last step is the “money” step. It’s so powerful to turn the thought around and wonder “Is the opposite as true as – or truer than – the original thought?” I surprise myself every time I try this because I rarely let my mind go in that direction. To consider the 180-degree view…

May 15, 2020

What is Life?

I’m a big music lover. I get moved easily by the songs I love. For some reason, George Harrison’s “What is Life?” seems appropriate today. Here’s the opening:

What I feel, I can’t say
But my love is there for you, any time of day
But if it’s not love that you need
Then I’ll try my best to make everything succeed

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

What I know, I can do
If I give my love now to everyone like you
But if it’s not love that you need
Then I’ll try my best to make everything succeed

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side
Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

May 13, 2020

Be Aware of Confirmation Bias

It’s not a typo. I really did mean “be aware” instead of “beware.” That’s because I just wrapped up reading “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis, a book about Israeli psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two men who changed how people think about how people think – and who’s work behaviorial economics greatly relies. Here’s a New Yorker piece that reviews the book.

Getting back to the subtle title of this blog, “beware” means to be wary and cautious. In contrast, “be aware” is something a little different. Simply acknowledging it exits. As I learned from this book, studies show that knowing about a bias isn’t enough to overcome it. There are too many forms of bias to name. A biggie for me is confirmation bias, where we tend to latch onto information that confirms prior beliefs. I’m also prone to the “Halo Effect,” in which our overall impression of someone influences how we feel about their character (eg. she is nice, she also must be smart). I may be aware that I have these biases – and even though I can try, I can’t totally avoid them.

Reading the book, I wished I studied behavioral economics when I was young. It’s fascinating stuff. For example, the theory of “similarity judgements” – how people make judgments about what is similar mainly based on physical proximity. Mind-blowing. Michael does such a beautiful job of explaining difficult concepts in plain English.

So what can we do about our biases?  Probably the best thing we can do is something along the lines of this quote attributed to Danny in the book: “When someone says something, don’t ask yourself if it’s true. Ask what it might be true of.” In other words, don’t try to tear it down immediately. Try to make sense of it. A challenging task given our inherent nature and all the biases we bring to the table. But perhaps one worth trying…

May 11, 2020

Mindfulness for Kids: Cosmic Kids Zen Den

My kids are full-grown and have fled the coop. But if they were still under my tutelage, there is a lot of great mindfulness content available for children these days that I would be subjecting them to. Like this 5-minute video that a friend of mine sent about “Be the Pond” from “Cosmic Kids Zen Den – Mindfulness for Kids”…

May 7, 2020

Anxiety is Contagious (So is Calm)

This 30-minute podcast by Brene Brown about “over-” and “under-” functioning in response to anxiety really spoke to me because I am a major overfunctioner. In the face of this pandemic, I’m running 10 miles per day and I’ve been working like a madman. All of this despite my “calm” practice. Here’s some of the points made by Brene during the podcast:

– Anxiety is one of most contagious emotions. It spreads like wildfire in small or large groups. Rarely a function of individuals, it’s one of groups. Hard not to spread if one person becomes anxious.

– We all have habitual ways of dealing with anxiety. Our coping mechanisms typically are formed when we were kids. We become either over- or under-functioners. Overfunctioners micromanage rather than look inward. Underfunctioners become less competent or irresponsible.

– The good news is that if we can recognize what we are, we can find deep truths about who we are so that we can change. We can name our shame triggers – which will relate to whether we are over- or under – about unwanted identities. Tackle our patterned ways of dealing with anxiety.

– There is anecdotal evidence that birth order in a family might create a tendency for whether you are over- or under. First borns tend to be over. Last borns tend to be under. It’s how our families functioned. The oldest kids are taught to keep younger ones safe.

– Try to change this learned behavior. Be more vulnerable in the face of anxiety. Work to develop a calm practice so don’t fall into those patterns. Brene defines calm as perspective, mindfulness and ability to manage emotional reactivity. Here are ways to develop a calm practice:

1. Be slow to respond. Do I have all the information I need? A panicked response often is due to a lack of data.

2. Stay mindful that a panicked response produces more panic and fear. Plus there is the contagion factor. For example, the most effective teachers tend to be the calm ones as the students mirror neurons and match the teacher’s level of intensity.

3. Breathing slowly and deliberately.

4. Name over/under functioning when you notice it happen. Train your loved ones to call you on it.

5. Ask yourself: “will freaking out help even if I have enough data” The answer is always “no.”

May 6, 2020

On Taking Time to Notice the Little Things

Here’s a great note from Lynn Teo, who has a Sunday evening class from 7:30-8:45 pm eastern that my wife & I have been thoroughly enjoying the past month. The Zoom class is a mix of guided meditation, light yoga, Qigong and energy healing. You don’t know how to do any of these things in advance – it’s easy to follow:

On April 28th, my husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. We met in Japan while teaching English for a couple years. We got married on a Monday, the only day neither of us taught classes. After spending the day traveling to Fukuoka and back (a 4.5 hr return trip by bus) to get permission from the US and Canadian Embassies (I’m Canadian) – with a pit stop at Wendy’s (Nate was obsessed with Wendy’s and there wasn’t one in Nagasaki) – we made it just in the nick of time before the Nagasaki City Hall closed. April 28th always makes me think of Japan and how much our relationship has grown and changed since our Japan days.

Living in Japan, we loved the attention to subtle detail that infuses the culture. Recently, I discovered that there is an ancient Japanese calendar that divides the year up into 72 seasons (about 5 days each). Paying attention to this calendar helps to awaken one to the subtle changes in nature. And yes, there is an app. Here is an article about the 72 seasons. Currently we are in the “Peonies Bloom” season, on May 5 we start the “Frogs start singing” season.

While I haven’t actually been checking this app regularly (I’m actually trying to decrease time on my phone), I have been inspired to stop, pay attention to and appreciate the small ever-changing details in nature. The effect is miraculously calming and sends me a boost of gratitude. I’m blessed to spend some time at a lake house every couple weeks. Today, after a 2-hour work call, I felt some tension in my chest and a feeling of anxiety and overwhelm. I stepped outside and felt the wind and the coolness of the temperature on my skin.

I took 3 long slow breaths and sank my attention into the way the wind rippled the water in a particular direction on the lake. I noticed how quickly the water seemed to be moving and how this movement changed how the trees were being reflected in the water. Shifting my attention to my own felt-sense, I felt more space open up in my chest, so there was more room for not just anxiety and overwhelm, which had smoothed a bit as my breath smoothed, but now there was also a distinct feeling of warmth and gratitude for the blessings in my life.

Also, since I am home-schooler-in-chief these days, I have been trying to appreciate this extra time with my children by intentionally paying closer attention to them during this magical time of being 4 and 7 years-old. Lately, I have been paying attention to the specific delicious sound of their giggles and taking note of how that affects my felt-sense.

Here’s a 1-minute exercise on noticing the small details. Try this a few times over the next few weeks, noting any shifts you feel in your internal experience. Make a special note of those that help you feel good, calm, more resourced. Doing this exercise can be a technique to help you expand your “window-of-tolerance” and bring your nervous system into greater regulation, which is the ultimate goal of this class. Building our resilience won’t make the stress of the times go away, but will helps us to recognize, bring curiosity to and skillfully work with our reactions to stressful or triggering situations.

1. If you can do this outside that would be ideal (or just open a window)
2. Pause and take a quick MEPS inventory (mental, emotional, physical [including breath], spiritual)
3. Take 3 long smooth breaths, lengthening the exhalation slightly
4. Take a full minute to notice some small detail in nature.
5. Notice any shifts that have occurred.
6. If you want, put your hand on your heart and send yourself some self-compassion.

It is lovely to do this in nature, but you can use this technique on other aspects of your life! Try this several times in different situations. You can try focusing on one sensation first for a few breaths (for example, maybe the warmth on your hands while holding that morning coffee), before letting yourself open up to other sensations. Then remember to notice the internal shift in your felt-sense. This is a way to practice building a library of resource states. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you discover!

May 4, 2020

Free Guided Meditations/Q&A from the Giants

In response to the heightened anxiety & isolation caused by COVID–19, Tricycle is offering free hour-long video talks – consisting of guided meditations followed by Q&A – from some of the most well-known teachers out there, including Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Pema Chödrön, Sharon Salzberg, Joe Goldstein, Mindy Newman, Koshin Paley Ellison and more…

Also check out this transcript from “Lion’s Roar” of Dan Harris interviewing Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Mark Epstein. So many gems in it…

May 1, 2020

Practical Leadership Is Mindful Leadership

I’m happy to share this 9-minute speech about practical leadership that my friend Ryan Paquet delivered a few years ago when he served in a senior position within his federal government agency (Dept of Transportation).

Ryan has always been one of those enlightened people who took his management role seriously and actively worked to better himself so that he may improve others. You can tell he’s special because his “LinkedIn” profile title includes “Husband, Father & Friend” in addition to his role at his new company. Check it out!