Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mindful Eating - The Five Contemplations

These are the Five Contemplations by Thich Nhat Hanh, which are said before meals. The practice of reciting these contemplations before eating is a way to foster mindful eating, and helps to promote inner peace through food.
  1. This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
  2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
  3. May we recognise and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation
  4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
  5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
Source: Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Chueng
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Practice eating mindfully

I know, I know -- you're thinking this happiness tip is pretty bogus. I mean, who doesn't feel happier when they eat? Am I really advocating food-as-joy? 

Maybe: It's all in how food is consumed. How often do you eat breakfast standing up or in the car? Do you eat lunch in front of your computer, at your desk, or buried behind a book? How often do you just eat, without also doing something else? 

In the wild (or, say, kindergarten), we mammals naturally take breaks to refuel with a snack or a meal. Don't squander this natural rest period by wolfing down your lunch while you read your email, or by sipping a latte while driving to work and calling that breakfast. Practice eating mindfully, paying attention to your food and the people you are with. Notice what you are eating and how quickly or slowly. Breathe. Relax. You will feel more calm and content. 

Take Action: If you rarely just eat without also doing something else, start small. Perhaps commit to savoring your food for the first 5 bites, or maybe 5 minutes of every meal. Or to eating one lunch a week by yourself, not at your desk, with no distractions.
May you be happy,

CC signature
 Christine Carter, PhD

Developing Mindsight

by Dan Siegel

Oftentimes people hear the word mindfulness and think “religion,” but the reality is that focusing our attention in this way is a biological process that promotes health – as a form of brain hygiene – not a religion. Various religions may encourage this health-promoting practice, but learning the skill of mindful awareness is simply a way of cultivating what we have defined as the integration of consciousness. […]

We learn more effectively when we are physically active. Novelty, or exposing ourselves to new ideas and experiences, promotes the growth of new connections among existing neurons and seems to stimulate the growth of myelin, the fatty sheath that speeds nerve transmission. Novelty can even stimulate the growth of new neurons – a finding that took a long time to win acceptance in the scientific community. Neuroplasticity can be activated by attention alone, or when we participate in an activity that is important and meaningful to us, but if we are not engaged emotionally and the experience is less memorable, the structure of the brain is less likely to change.

Dissolving fixed mental perceptions created along the brain’s firing patterns and reinforced relationally within our cultural practices is no simple accomplishment. Our relationships engrain our early perceptual patterns and deepen the ways we come to see the world and believe our inner narrative. Without an internal education that teaches us to pause and reflect, we may tend to live on automatic and succumb to these cultural and cortical influences that push us toward isolation. Part of our challenge in achieving well-being is to develop enough mindsight to clear us of these restrictive definitions of ourselves so that we can grow towards higher degrees of integration.

Seeing the mind clearly not only catalyzes the various dimensions of integration as it promotes physical, psychological, and inter-personal well-being, it also helps us dissolve the optical delusions of our separateness. We develop more compassion for ourselves and our loved ones, but we also widen our circle of compassion to include other aspects of the world beyond our immediate concerns. With integration, we see ourselves with an expanded identity. When we embrace the reality of this interconnection, being considerate and concerned with the larger world becomes a fundamental shift in our way of living.

-- Dan Siegel in Mindsight

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Be more present in travel

by Audrey Scott, syndicated from, May 07, 2014

"           Travel is like a good, challenging book: it demands presentness—the ability to live completely in the moment, absorbed in the words or vision of reality before you."
Robert Kaplan
It’s de rigueur to speak of “creating memories,” particularly when it comes to travel. This tendency has only been intensified by and through social media and online sharing. Similarly, we’ve written about creating a story-filled life, the idea being that experiences rather than material goods are what truly shape who we are. While I still believe that implicit underlying premise to be true, something happened recently that nudged me to consider the idea of creating memories in a different light.
Before sharing that story, two questions occurred to me:
1. What if in our quest to create memories, we inadvertently sell the actual experience short or diminish its importance as it happens? That is, we forsake the experience for the metaphor.
2. How can we be more present during our travels so as to savor those experiences for what they are in the moment while also deepening how we might recall and share the memory of them later?

What if accessing memories isn’t an option?

Last month, I returned to the United States to spend time with family, including with my stepfather who now suffers from Lewy Body dementia, an Alzheimer’s-like disease. He’s led an incredibly full life, one flush with experiences that span growing up in small town Arkansas to serving as an ambassador in Africa, with all manner of storied twists and turns along the way that were both a function of who he was and also made him whom he came to be. He could fill a room with his stories and presence; he kept everyone laughing, wondering which story might come next.
He’s pretty far along in the disease right now, so it is unclear if he still accesses his memories since he is no longer able to share them.
In spending time with him recently, I realized that in our interaction with one another, what really mattered was what happened in the moment. The experience was about being together, the power of touch, and presence – or perhaps more precisely, presentness. All the while, the world outside of me and my stepfather moved along at pace with its typical rapidity.
As this unfolded, I was struck by the realization: being present is about slowing things down enough to truly feel, experience, and sense them – to grasp them in full. To think of it another way: to slow things down so that life begins to feel a little like one of those film reels where the bullet from the gun is slowed to such a speed that it might be plucked from the air by the human hand.
That kind of attention. That kind of grasp.
In full disclosure, none of this was easy or comfortable for me to process. As I focused on trying to be present with my stepfather, the urge to “escape” the situation by considering my to-do list or pulling out my phone to check my email was difficult to resist.
In this life, it’s far too easy to buzz around, to drift into the busy. This racing around grants me the permission to not focus on what’s in front of me. It also provides a retreat from possible productive discomfort, something I must face if I ever hope to sort this world.
This experience caused me to wonder: What if amidst the noise, the din, the speed, we could slow down and be more deliberately present — with our life experience, our travel experience?

Being Present in Travel: Why?

Being present and practicing presentness is hard. So why burn cycles trying to do it, especially while traveling? After all, travel is supposed to be unadulterated bliss, no?
My first answer to this is: “Because it’s a ‘good’ for us, of course.” But I realize that’s not a particularly convincing argument so I dug a little deeper.
Here’s my why.

1. To create calm or peace in an overwhelming (too) fast-moving world.

This is one of the reasons why many of us travel in the first place, to get away from the day-to-day “busy-ness” of our lives, to recharge creatively, mentally.
So then what’s the point of “getting away” only to re-create the same circumstances from which you were hoping to escape?

A walk on the beach, a sustained breath of fresh air. Rabbit Island, New Zealand.

2. To avoid missing the present by constantly pondering the future.

If we are busy “collecting memories,” something inherently future-oriented, are we truly immersed or fully engaged in what is happening around us during the actual experience? Once we begin to measure or capture an experience, we give away fragments of it in exchange for its capture.
Sure, you can make the argument that capturing the experience is in fact part of it. I’ll buy that to a limited degree.

3. To find deeper connections with people and place.

It takes time to fully grasp a place and its people, to push through the confusion and difference and discord that first greets us upon our arrival — all so that we may depart with greater appreciation, connection, empathy and something even stronger: care.

What began as confusion ended with pure generosity. An impromptu market feast — Zugdidi, Georgia

4. To judge less, to be more open.

I’d argue that simply observing and being present actually tones down the rush-to-judgment tendency of the human brain. If we take things in as they come instead of trying to evaluate them all against our preconceived notions and measuring sticks, maybe we’ll make more room for others and for ourselves.

5. To deepen our observation, to heighten our awareness.

Being present surfaces previously unseen details. It also exposes the depths. Presentness gives us a chance to connect heart and mind in a way that no photograph, no matter how well composed, can ever capture.

Beautiful details are easy to miss. Luang Prabang, Laos.

6. To build patience for learning and reward.

If you’ve ever tried yoga or experienced very slow movements of the body in physiotherapy, maybe you’ve understood how coming to terms with a little pain or discomfort is necessary to make progress. It’s also not surprising that exceptionally slow body movements can paradoxically make us feel disoriented or even ill. Same thing applies with slowing down the world around us. It forces us into a different mode of operation and to deal with new and sometimes uncomfortable data and circumstances.

4 Ways to be Present in Travel

If you’re still with us (and we’ve hopefully convinced you of the benefits of being present), here are some ways that may practically help you put this all into play while you travel.

1. Just sit, be and observe for a while.

Be perfectly still — for at least five minutes, taking in all that is around you. Don’t try to judge or make sense of what you’re seeing, but notice and appreciate the details, the once insignificant.
Let it go by.

Pulling over to the side of the market in Rangamati, Bangladesh.
In urban areas, I like to find a bench in a park or busy city street. Or I’ll lean against a street corner wall of a market to watch without attracting attention. Like being in the middle of it without being the center of anyone’s attention. Perhaps like a fly on the wall.
Later I engage and I find that my engagement is more informed, more connected.
If I feel over-stimulated by a place (e.g., the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh or Mumbai, India) I find that this approach helps me to to better take in the big picture so I’m not as overwhelmed by the action, the sensory overload that comes with immersion.
In nature, this means finding a spot to sit. Give this one at least 15 mintues, longer if you like. All day even. You may be overwhelmed not only by the greater range of sights, smells, and sounds available to you, but also their intensity. Why? Because you’ve begun to notice and pay attention to what has always been there, yet was somehow deprived of your attention.

2. Have a destination in mind to allow “productive” wandering.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but stick with me on this one. Choose a destination (e.g., bakery, cafe, temple, sight, etc.), but free yourself from the expectation that you must actually arrive.
I find that some of our best experiences are the unexpected ones, ones that happen when en route we’ve allowed ourselves to stop, get lost, follow our curiosity and in some cases, granted ourselves the freedom to never even arrive.

Stumbling upon a street market while getting lost on the way to Durbar Square, Kathmandu.
However, while setting off to wander without purpose may work for some, for others it can result in a feeling of pointlessness. Having some destination in mind, even if loosely, allows us to focus less on where we’re going and enjoy a little more of what’s around us.
During our recent trip to Strasbourg, we found that some of our most satisfying moments of exploration and immersion occurred en route (usually to something food-related), in the little things.

3. Put down the device, for a few minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, photographing and documenting a place, an experience is important to many of us. If anyone can appreciate that need, that impulse, we can. Very much so. Consuming an image-memory is also satisfying.
However there’s a difference between taking things in from behind the lens and engaging with them barrier-free with our senses only. Recognizing that difference seems crucial to our maintaining our humanity, our human-ness.

Being taken away by what is. Koh Samui, Thailand.
Blink. Take a photo with your mind. What you observe will be more, different.
When we were invited to an evening Ramadan gathering in Kyrgyzstan, we resisted the urge to pull out our camera and take photos, despite the spectacular uniqueness of our circumstance: a gritty, candlelight meal in a yurt. We aimed not to break the atmosphere of our welcome and treatment as one-part honored guest, another part family. There were many unusual moments during that meal, including being handed the jawbone of a goat to gnaw on, but enjoying the experience without escape delivered a deeper connection with the place and the people around us.
Furthermore, if you embrace this, you just might find your photos appearing strangely three-dimensional when you view them later. That other dimension? It was formed and informed by the depth of your connection to the experience.

4. Go light on the itinerary.

I’ve found that in most parts of my life, the concept “less is more” reaffirms itself with each new experience.In travel, definitely so. The flip side: this one is strenuously difficult to put into practice.
In the face of limited time and resources, it’s tempting to try and pack it all in, to shoehorn the Top 10 list from your favorite guidebook into your itinerary — because it’s what you ought to do to maximize your experience. Been there, done that. While checking the boxes may provide some satisfaction and a series of photo ops, the question you might consider asking yourself: Will I really come away feeling refreshed, recharged, exhilarated, renewed?
And: What is my unique story to have emerged from all this?
Our advice, just as it is with packing: put everything you want to do on a list and then prioritize the top half. Then begin to let go of even more. Try to plan only a visit or two a day and leave room for those in-between times lounging at a café, sitting on a park bench, diving into an unexpected conversation. Take in the people and place, the living history around you.

Stopping for tea is almost always a good idea. Xiahe, China.
Just as it’s easy to find ways to be busy in our day-to-day lives, a similar temptation exists while traveling. Despite all our own travel experiences, Dan and I continue to struggle with this.
It’s difficult to fully be where we are and to appreciate the simplicity of the moment. There’s fear of missing out (FOMO). Ironically, this fear may stand in the way of some of the most rewarding experiences travel has to offer.
Being present is not only key to accessing experience and memory creation, but it’s also an end in itself.
How do you remain present in your travels?

This article originally appeared in Uncornered Market and is republished with permission. Audrey Scott is a writer, speaker and consultant with a focus on the intersection of travel and personal growth. She’s been traveling around the world with her husband for over seven years, telling stories about a country’s more personal and human dimensions, often challenging stereotypes and shifting perceptions along the way.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Talk by Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin, the former UWA arts student described as "sublimely talented, witty, smart and unabashedly offensive" in a musical career that has taken the world by storm, is awarded an honorary doctorate by The University of Western Australia.

1. You don’t have to have a dream.
2. Don’t seek happiness.
3. Remember, it’s all luck.
4. Exercise.
5. Be hard on your opinions.
6. Be a teacher.
7. Define yourself by what you love.
8. Respect people with less power than you.
9. Don’t rush.

How to practice mindfulness in 4 easy steps

Elise Bialylew Cheatsheet: How to practice mindfulness in 4 easy steps.
Dr Elise Bialylew

Mindfulness is the new black. It is an effective mental training, originating from the 2,000-year-old Buddhist practices and adapted to suit non-religious contexts, including the work place, parenting, healthcare and schools.
I came to mindfulness meditation as a stressed out doctor and it took a while before I was sold on it. For someone who thrived on being active, it was almost intolerable to sit still. I remember falling asleep from boredom and experiencing the most profound agitation as though an unstoppable army of ants was crawling under my skin.

Many years later, meditation has become an integral part of my life. It supports me in remembering to pause, catch my breath and re-focus, and it brings clarity when there are important decisions to make. It also gives me mental space for new ideas to emerge.

Three years ago, whilst I was meditating, I had an idea to harness the power of technology and create a global online meditation campaign to teach people how to meditate and raise money to build clean water wells in developing countries. Since then, it has inspired thousands of people from around the world to learn how to master their minds and make a huge difference through getting sponsored to raise funds to help the one in nine people on the planet gain access to one of life’s most basic needs – clean water.

Mindfulness is a simple, yet challenging, discipline of noticing what you are doing as you are doing it with an open, curious and non-judgmental stance. It’s about developing more self-awareness and presence, appreciating your moments more and developing more capacity to respond consciously rather than react compulsively in everyday life.

how to practice mindfulness Cheatsheet: How to practice mindfulness in 4 easy steps.
Four simple ways you can bring mindfulness into your day.
Here are four ways you can start to bring more mindfulness into your day.

1. Tune in to the breath

It may sound like an irritating cliche, but there is scientific rationale for this advice. The breath is not only a powerful indicator of your state of mind but it also powerfully impacts your emotions.
During a busy day, take a few moments to consciously tune in to the breath. Feel three breaths move in and out of the body. Then slow down the exhalation, which helps to trigger the relaxation response. Extending the breath in this way sends a message to the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that opposes the stress response) to calm down the body.

 2. Use your surroundings as a circuit breaker

Take moments in the day to unhook from the flurry of to-do lists and take a pause to tune into your senses. Listen to the sounds in the room, feel your body in space, see the space you are in, notice the temperature and smells. By tuning in to your senses, just for a few moments, you give your mind a micro break from the stress of thinking and have a chance to re-centre and continue along your day with more calm.

3. Use technology with awareness

Sitting at a computer all day? Bring awareness to your posture and breath. It has been noted that email apnea, the temporary suspension of breathing while doing email, means we are inadvertently creating stress in the body. When we breathe irregularly, the body becomes acidic through retention of excess carbon dioxide. This acidity may contribute to stress-related diseases. Be mindful of your posture whilst working at the computer and notice if you are breath-holding during the day.

4. Use your lunch as a mindful practice

Rather than eating whilst working on the computer, or missing out on lunch altogether, use your lunch as a way of practicing mindfulness. This means, noticing you are eating as you are eating, intentionally tasting your food, chewing properly and tuning in to the feeling of being satisfied, rather than overeating. Mindful eating will allow you to appreciate your food more and has also been demonstrated to be an effective way to maintain a healthy weight.

Elise Bialylew is a doctor, coach and mindfulness meditation teacher with a background in Psychiatry. She is the founder of Mindful in May, a global online mindfulness campaign that has inspired thousands of people around the world to learn how to meditate, whilst raising money to build clean water wells in the developing world. When she’s not teaching mindfulness, she’s often losing herself in salsa dancing or african drumming. Learn mindfulness skills this May by registering for Mindful in May ( starts May 1.