I scanned the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education and saw this question in bold type. I didn’t read the article but was somehow validated by the title. It seems impossible to have a conversation with anyone that doesn’t take an inevitable turn for the negative. There’s research about how our brains work that suggests we have a natural tendency to look on the dark side, consider the worst – a biological adaptation that kept us safe from Sabre tooth tigers and other predators but less helpful when the most ubiquitous predators are politicians and bankers. Oops sounds a bit negative here….
Facing some unpleasant realities about the state of the planet if not our home town, this adaptation simply prepares us to sit and watch- tsk tsking and nodding our heads as we watch things falling apart. We have a window of opportunity to be more proactive and push against the negative changes that are going on around us, but not everyone sees any light, let alone a window. Is it our responsibility if we do see light to do something about it? Spread the word of hope and optimism? I think so. And is it a moral obligation to try and be an optimist if you know that pessimism means more of the same – devolution? I think so. What do you think?
A Sample 10 minute Breathing Awareness Meditation Included below.
As some of you know I am a big promoter of mindfulness meditation thanks to a local woman who introduced me to this practice and is an MBSR certified teacher – Rachael Leonard. I have earlier in my life also had a TM Transcendental Meditation practice which first convinced me that meditation had many gifts for those willing to set aside time every day – both have helped me a great deal – spiritually, health-wise and emotionally. Offering a mindfulness meditation group to BCC students has been a pleasure and this semester we also had two faculty join us.
There is a lot of research on Mindfulness and the benefits and the paper below is old but includes a number of research studies that show some of the benefits. Just Google mindfulness and you will find more recent research on neuroplasticity and brain changes that occur with meditation but this article is a great start. Because of its length I won’t post it but here’s the link MindfulnessMeditationSummary compiled by Philippe Goldin
What is Mindfulness?
Before discussing mindfulness meditation technique, it is important to understand the concept of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a state of present awareness. A relaxed state of mind, in which we are conscious of our experience, including sensations, thoughts and feelings, breathing, and surroundings, all with an attitude of non-resistance, peace and acceptance. This does not imply passivity or lack of emotion. Mindfulness engenders faith in the perfection of the moment, and allows each new experience to be felt fully, without the reactive, self-critical, controlling mind.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
As we go through life, most of us quickly lose the pure aliveness that is evident in the face of a healthy infant. The fascination and wonder that we may still dimly remember of early childhood, fades as we conform to the standards that we think the world expects of us. We learn to hide our feelings, first from others, and then from ourselves. We learn to hide our excitement and joy of simple pleasures. We’re bombarded with sensory overload and enticed by commercials and advertisements for things that promise to make us feel happy and fulfilled. And as we collect more and more, we need more and more. Soon we forget the simple innocence of life. Even the simple act of being aware of the breath, is gone. Anxiety takes over. We can no longer sit still. We don’t know what to do without some activity, some outward focus, or some drama to occupy our attention. If no other distractions are available, we numb ourselves with TV, or even with the newspaper. Why? To avoid the unknown. We tell ourselves that we’re just avoiding boredom. But just beneath the surface of boredom is agitation, restlessness, sadness, emptiness, fear — and joy. Maybe we read novels, or self-help books, and tell ourselves that we’re gaining wisdom, though we never seem to find the satisfaction we’re looking for. We’ve lost touch with what is real and eternal inside us. What was once our perfect place of peace within ourselves, has now become a mystery. A Pandora’s box. We’re afraid now to open ourselves up and look within, for fear that what has been stuffed down will overwhelm us, even drive us crazy.
And so we do not linger in the awareness of the inner Self. We may peak in, but then comes a thought, a worry, an impulse to do something else. A chore that must be done, a temptation that must be indulged or new desire that must be fulfilled. And we’re off and running again.
At the end of the day, we say “I wish there were more hours in the day. I never have a moment’s peace.”
Or we resign ourselves to an empty life. Numbing our emotions. Dulling our minds with whatever distraction or drug is at hand. Self-medicating our malaise by any means available. Completely unaware that a whole undiscovered world lives within us. Happiness then is nothing more than a concept defined by whatever beliefs we hold about success or failure.
Whether we are pleasure seekers, or spend our time numbing our painful feelings, the loss is the same. The Essential Self is lost from sight.
Anyone can learn this simple mindfulness meditation technique….
Mindfulness Meditation Technique
Sit. Relax the body. Relax the mind. Be as still as possible.
Sit comfortably, with the spine upright and supported and the head balanced naturally, looking forward with eyes closed gently. It’s ok to sit on a chair, or on the floor, on the knees or cross legged with support, such as a pillow. The body must become still and remain still for a period of time for the mind to start to calm down and deeper states of awareness to be experienced. With practice, prolonged stillness can be achieved without discomfort. Any mindfulness meditation technique will require some discipline and perseverance to get the results.
Do not attempt to control your thoughts. The more we try to control thoughts, the stronger they become. Observe the breath with passive awareness. Observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations with compassion and tolerance. Don’t engage your thoughts by judging or analyzing them. Let them arise and dissolve, like clouds drifting across a blue sky, noting what comes with passive curiosity, and return to the breath.
Let the breath be natural and gentle. Breathe through the nose, letting the belly rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Soften the belly. Let the chest rise last, filling up from the belly first, like a vessel filling with water.
The importance of attention to breath cannot be over-emphasized. It is the central key to any mindfulness meditation technique. So much suffering could be alleviated simply by placing mindful attention on the breath, focusing on the belly, or the area of the heart. Within the breath is the key to your greater Self. Emotion can reside in the body as chronic tension. The breath can undo this tension, and restore balance and peace to the mind. We forget the breath most of the time. Experiment throughout your day. See if you can count the number of times you remember to watch your breath. You may be surprised to realize how difficult it is to remember.
When we feel pain — physically or emotionally — we tend to react by tensing up. This tension causes the pain to be sustained longer. Sustained pain is what we call “suffering.”
The practice of non-resistance is another core principle of mindfulness meditation. Letting go with each breath. Sometimes I see beginning meditators making effort to relax and let go. They breathe out with great force, through pursed lips, as if getting ready to lift a heavy weight. This is not true letting go. True letting go is effortless. By Benjamin Schwarcz MFT – Psychotherapist
What is spring fever? Most people acknowledge it exists and for a period of time means everything feels bigger, louder, more insistent. Car stereos get turned up and more people seem to be hooking up. Longer days mean more sun to the sun-starved people of Binghamton and other northern cities.
What is Spring Fever?
Body Chemistry and Seasonal Biology
Spring Fever is a physiological and psychological shift in the body’s response to changing seasons.
It comes with telling signs: restlessness, intense nervous excitement, high-energy spurts, loss of appetite, insomnia, a yearning to break away or a desire, as one friend puts it,” to run away with mad love.” Spring fever has appeared in love poems, stories and medical literature.
Statistically, at least half of the people who live in the northern latitudes of USA and Canada experience more intensely the symptoms of Spring fever. Longer sunny days seem to have a direct impact on people’s psychological and physiological responses to the passage of the seasons. Spring fever is not just in the head. It is caused by an adjustment in body chemistry and seasonal biology.
Spring Fever and Body Chemistry
Doctors have attributed the phenomenon of spring fever to human reaction to seasonal changes. Since the mid 1980s, scientists have validated the diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder ( SAD), a depression and mood disorder that emerges during the fall and winter months. They have also perceived a noticeable departure of SAD symptoms with the coming of spring and summer. One reason is the realignment of the body’s chemistry with sunlight. Changes during spring can readjust body chemistry, specifically the internal body clock that responds to sunlight.
The circadian rhythm of the internal body clock is affected by light. The body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep and energy levels, is also affected by light. During the winter, the body’s secretion of melatonin is relatively high; during spring, however, the level of melatonin decreases, which results in greater wakefulness. Serotonin levels also increase during spring which accounts for the breakaway sense of elation. Research also suggests that spring weather is linked to spikes in hypomania, when individuals experience a sense of inflated grandiosity, uninhibited pursuit of “the chase,” and a significantly reduced need for sleep.
Spring Fever and Seasonal Biology
Is love in the air during spring? Is there a biological basis for this as well? Studies show that sexual behavior in animals follows a seasonal pattern. Birth spikes in field mice, hares and deer are more pronounced in areas farthest from the equator because changes in seasons are more defined in these areas. Seasonal cycles in human rates of conception occur as well. Historically, there have been more births in spring, which means that babies are conceived most often during the summer months, when the luteinizing hormone (that spurs the production of testosterone in men and triggers ovulation in women) is at its peak.
However, studies also show that there are more unplanned pregnancies conceived in spring than at any other time of the year, a situation that can be partially explained by peaking sperm counts during the spring months.
There is a darker side to spring fever, however, which usually does not get much attention. While some people respond to spring with a burst of enthusiasm, others seem mired in dashed expectations and doldrums. Hospitals report that suicides and depression peak during the spring months.
If you’re one of those people who find yourself feeling more blah than yay, or feel your mood is slipping and can’t figure out why think about making an appointment with a personal counselor. Call 778-5210 or come by the office in SS 210.
By Gareth Cook
Do you enjoy having time to yourself, but always feel a little guilty about it? Then Susan Cain’s “Quiet : The Power of Introverts” is for you. It’s part book, part manifesto. We live in a nation that values its extroverts – the outgoing, the lovers of crowds – but not the quiet types who change the world. She recently answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.
Cook: This may be a stupid question, but how do you define an introvert? How can somebody tell whether they are truly introverted or extroverted?
Cain: Not a stupid question at all! Introverts prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation to feel their best. Stimulation comes in all forms – social stimulation, but also lights, noise, and so on. Introverts even salivate more than extroverts do if you place a drop of lemon juice on their tongues! So an introvert is more likely to enjoy a quiet glass of wine with a close friend than a loud, raucous party full of strangers.
It’s also important to understand that introversion is different from shyness. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, while introversion is simply the preference for less stimulation. Shyness is inherently uncomfortable; introversion is not. The traits do overlap, though psychologists debate to what degree.
Cook: You argue that our culture has an extroversion bias. Can you explain what you mean?
Cain: In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s — second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.
In my book, I travel the country – from a Tony Robbins seminar to Harvard Business School to Rick Warren’s powerful Saddleback Church – shining a light on the bias against introversion. One of the most poignant moments was when an evangelical pastor I met at Saddleback confided his shame that “God is not pleased” with him because he likes spending time alone.
Cook: How does this cultural inclination affect introverts?
Cain: Many introverts feel there’s something wrong with them, and try to pass as extroverts. But whenever you try to pass as something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way. You especially lose a sense of how to spend your time. Introverts are constantly going to parties and such when they’d really prefer to be home reading, studying, inventing, meditating, designing, thinking, cooking…or any number of other quiet and worthwhile activities.
According to the latest research, one third to one half of us are introverts – that’s one out of every two or three people you know. But you’d never guess that, right? That’s because introverts learn from an early age to act like pretend-extroverts.
Cook: Is this just a problem for introverts, or do you feel it hurts the country as a whole?
Cain: It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population. We discovered this with women decades ago, and now it’s time to realize it with introverts.
This also leads to a lot of wrongheaded notions that affect introverts and extroverts alike. Here’s just one example: Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of groupwork.
Cook: Tell me more about these “pitfalls of groupwork.”
Cain: When you’re working in a group, it’s hard to know what you truly think. We’re such social animals that we instinctively mimic others’ opinions, often without realizing we’re doing it. And when we do disagree consciously, we pay a psychic price. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
Take the example of brainstorming sessions, which have been wildly popular in corporate America since the 1950s, when they were pioneered by a charismatic ad executive named Alex Osborn. Forty years of research shows that brainstorming in groups is a terrible way to produce creative ideas. The organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham puts it pretty bluntly: The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”
This is not to say that we should abolish groupwork. But we should use it a lot more judiciously than we do today.
Cook: What are some of the other misconceptions about introverts and extroverts?
Cain: One big one is the notion that introverts can’t be good leaders. According to groundbreaking new research by Adam Grant, a management professor at Wharton, introverted leaders sometimes deliver better outcomes than extroverts do. Introverts are more likely to let talented employees run with their ideas, rather than trying to put their own stamp on things. And they tend to be motivated not by ego or a desire for the spotlight, but by dedication to their larger goal. The ranks of transformative leaders in history illustrate this: Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks were all introverts, and so are many of today’s business leaders, from Douglas Conant of Campbell Soup to Larry Page at Google.
Cook: Is there any relationship between introversion and creativity?
Cain: Yes. An interesting line of research by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist suggests that the most creative people in many fields are usually introverts. This is probably because introverts are comfortable spending time alone, and solitude is a crucial (and underrated) ingredient for creativity.
Cook: Can you give some other examples of surprising introversion research?
Cain: The most surprising and fascinating thing I learned is that there are “introverts” and “extroverts” throughout the animal kingdom – all the way down to the level of fruit flies! Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson speculates that the two types evolved to use very different survival strategies. Animal “introverts” stick to the sidelines and survive when predators come calling. Animal “extroverts” roam and explore, so they do better when food is scarce. The same is true (analogously speaking) of humans.
Cook: Are you an introvert?
Cain: Yes. People sometimes seem surprised when I say this, because I’m a pretty friendly person. This is one of the greatest misconceptions about introversion. We are not anti-social; we’re differently social. I can’t live without my family and close friends, but I also crave solitude. I feel incredibly lucky that my work as a writer affords me hours a day alone with my laptop. I also have a lot of other introvert characteristics, like thinking before I speak, disliking conflict, and concentrating easily.
Introversion has its annoying qualities, too, of course. For example, I’ve never given a speech without being terrified first, even though I’ve given many. (Some introverts are perfectly comfortable with public speaking, but stage fright afflicts us in disproportionate numbers.)
But I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.
In our culture, snails are not considered valiant animals – we are constantly exhorting people to “come out of their shells” – but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go.