Friday, April 29, 2011

THE MINDFUL LEADER

We hear a lot these days about sustainability, especially economic sustainability, ecological sustainability and environmental sustainability. However, there is also something called human sustainability, and it is receiving more and more importance.

Effective leadership is all about balance and sustainability. In this article from the Financial Post Ray Williams writes:

“Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more - do more, better, faster, with spectacular results. We’ve become obsessed with continuous improvement at increasing speed, with resulting rising stress levels to leaders and their followers and deteriorating relationships.  Mindfulness as both a leadership practice and workplace culture holds the promise to bring back balance and better health.”

What helps to make a “good” leader? Well, many things,
such as strength of character (honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, reliability, self-confidence, self-knowledge, self-awareness, creativity, sensitivity, empathy, etc), the capacity to create and engender vision, a constructive spirit of discontent, the willingness to assume responsibility, the ability to engage others and build teams and adapt to changing circumstances, ambition and a competitive spirit, mental toughness and self-control (very important!), peer respect ... However, none of the foregoing guarantees one will be an effective leader. In my experience, one of the most important attributes of good leaders is the ability to keep on keepin’ on. Staying power, if you like.

Here’s something else I teach as a management and organisational consultant ... whatever one’s position, and duties and responsibilities, in an organisation, we are all leaders! And the hardest thing of all is this ... to lead, or manage, oneself.

Michael Carroll (pictured below), a Buddhist-trained HR executive with many years of experience in both the corporate and Zen worlds, is the author of Awake at Work and The Mindful Leader. In each of those books, both of which are favourites of mine, Carroll emphasises the renewal and perspective that can result from taking time out.

Carroll, who has enjoyed a long history of corporate life, shows us in his books and articles that rather than living as victims of our jobs - yes, there really are no victims, only volunteers - we can transform the everyday hassles and anxieties of the workplace into valuable opportunities for personal growth, heightened wisdom and increased effectiveness.

Carroll writes, "Innovative leaders and managers of corporations are discovering a growing body of research on mindfulness meditation; these studies show how the practice leads to stress reduction, mental clarity, and better physical health."

Carroll demonstrates in his books how mindfulness in leaders and their organisations can heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance, cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties in economic downturns, pursue organisational goals without neglecting the here and now, lead with wisdom and gentleness, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power, and develop innate leadership talents.

Leadership expert and author John Maxwell has written, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." In order to do those three things, you need insight into yourself, others and the world around you. Such insight best comes from the regular practice of mindfulness.

So, take time to be mindful, both “externally” and “internally”. External mindfulness is being able to sense situations, being aware of the signals and cues in different contexts, and paying attention to them.  Internal mindfulness is being aware of one’s body, emotions and thoughts and requires the ability and attitude to monitor one’s inner reality.


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Monday, April 25, 2011

BUDDHIST MEDITATORS DECIDE RATIONALLY AND NOT EMOTIONALLY

Recent neuroimaging research suggests that Buddhist meditators use different areas of the brain than other people when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to make decisions rationally rather than emotionally.  See this press release.

Resource: Kirk U, Downar J and Montague P (2011). Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the Ultimatum Game Front. Neurosci. 5:49. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2011.00049

MINDFULNESS, PROFESSOR JOHN ANDERSON AND THE FACTICITY OF THINGS

For most of my “thinking” life I have been an Andersonian ... that is, a student and follower of the philosophy of John Anderson (pictured opposite) ... my academic hero and role-model. Although in recent times I have moved away from certain aspects of his philosophy I still adhere to the central thrust of that philosophy, and when I teach law I use his ideas on the nature of reality to explain to students the nature of “facts” ... for, as Anderson taught, nothing, absolutely nothing, is superior to facts!
Scottish-born John Anderson, who was Challis Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1927 to 1958 (and thereafter Emeritus Professor of Philosophy from 1958 to his death in 1962), and the "patron saint" of the Sydney Push, founded the school or branch of empirical philosophy known as “Sydney Realism”.

Anderson was beyond doubt the most distinguished and independent philosopher ever to work in Australia. He was also one of the most remarkable persons to work in an Australian university. Anthony Flew’s Dictionary of Philosophy records that Anderson was “an influential teacher … respected for his independence of mind and his eagerness to take a stand on behalf of numerous unpopular causes”.
The iconoclastic controversialist Professor Anderson waged a relentless war against the utilitarians and the philistines of his day, both of whom, sadly, have multiplied greatly since his death. (I know. I have taught at universities and worked for several politicians.)

If Anderson were alive today, he would mercilessly attack the emptiness and internal inconsistencies of postmodernism, the silliness of New Age spirituality, the intrusive menace of Sydney Anglicans (for whom, and for whose "fairy-tales", he had utter contempt), the loss of academic autonomy, the deliberate dumbing down of education, and the overall decline in academic standards at Australian schools and universities ... and just about most other things.

Anderson lived for many years in Turramurra just a few doors down from where I have lived with my family since December 1987. His house, which is almost a sacred shrine to me, is still there, although I fear it will soon be demolished to make way for multi-storey residential development. Typical. The philistines (so many of whom become successful politicians, captains of industry and even academic deans) do appear to be winning.

The central thrust of Professor Anderson’s otherwise complex philosophy is quite simple ... there is only one way of being, and one order or level of reality, that of occurrence ... that is, ordinary things occurring in space and time ... facts. A fact is an occurrence in space and time (or “spacetime”, as some would say today) ... a “thing-in-itself”. There are only facts ... facts! (Anderson had no time for Nietzsche's assertion, "There are no facts, only interpretations," and I know where he would have told Foucault to put his postmodernist post-structuralism.)

By the way, facts include not just so-called "things-in-themselves" but also thoughts, feelings, images, memories, opinions, bodily sensations and so forth ... all of which occur on the same level or plane of observability.
Anderson also taught that a single logic applies to all things and how they are related, and that there are three – yes, three – “entities” to any relation such as seeing, having, knowing, etc .. viz the -er, the -ed, and the -ing. First, there is the person who sees, has or knows. Secondly, there is the thing seen, had or known. Thirdly, and most importantly, there is the act of seeing, having or knowing.

Now, here is the very important part ... nothing, absolutely nothing, is constituted – either wholly or partly – by or is dependent upon, nor can it be defined or explained by reference to, the relation it has to other things. (For example, the Biblical statement "God is love" [cf 1 Jn 4:8] is logically untenable as a definition of God.) Thus, Anderson firmly repudiated the so-called "doctrine of intrinsic relations" (or fallacy of constitutive relations), which treats relations as if they were terms, and which says that everything is intrinsically related to everything else or, at the very least, is constituted by its relations to everything else.

What has this to do with mindfulness? Everything, in my submission. Absolutely everything. You see, the practice of mindfulness is a relation involving the following three entities:
* first, the person who is mindfully aware of what is occurring from moment to moment,
* second, the thing - in fact, things - of which the person is mindfully aware, each of which is an occurrence in space and time from one moment to the next, and ...
* third, the act of being mindfully aware ... which includes the ever-so-important acts of remembering what is present, remembering from moment to moment to stay present in the action of the present moment from moment to moment, and remembering in the present moment what has already happened.
Three (!) separate things ... each of which is a fact ... and none of which is constituted by its relations to any of the others nor dependent on any of the others. Such is the nature of reality ... and such is the nature of the practice of mindfulness which is the practice of being fully present in the present moment from one moment to the next.

I truly believe that if you can keep those three things separate in your mind at all times, your mindfulness practice will improve considerably, because the level of your choiceless awareness and bare attention to what is will be that much better.

Those interested in the ideas and teachings of Professor John Anderson can visit the John Anderson Archive.

Finally, you may wish to listen to a 1952 recording of Anderson singing "The Sydney Blues".

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LIVE FROM MOMENT TO MOMENT ... NOT IN THE MOMENT

How many times have people said to you, "Live in the moment", or "Live in the now"?

It is said, quite rightly in my view, that one cannot actually live in the moment. The reason is fairly simple. The so-called "moment" is so brief, so ephemeral, that no sooner has it arrived, it's gone. It's the past. One cannot live in the moment because the moment, although ever-present, is always changing ... into the next moment ... and the next ... and the next! Consciousness is nothing more than awareness from one moment to the next.

Some people criticise mindfulness on the ground that it asserts that one must live in the moment or the now. Not so. Mindfulness is concerned with being present, and living with awareness, from moment to moment, that is, from one moment to the next. Existentially, it is not possible to live in the moment but it is possible to live, and be fully aware, from one moment to the next. That is the important thing.

Mindful living is all from moment to moment ... being aware step by step, breath by breath, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, memory by memory, sensation by sensation, and so forth. Such is the flow of life, for what is life but the ongoing moment-to-moment livingness of living things and beings living out their livingness from one moment to the next.

So, don't try to live in the moment or in the now, well-intentioned though such advice might be. Live, with choiceless awareness and bare attention, from one moment to the next ... and be fully present while you do so.


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Monday, April 18, 2011

OUR PLASTIC BRAINS

The most exciting discovery of our generation is the finding that our brains are plastic ... indeed, very plastic. That is, our brains are not fixed and immutable but highly malleable and in a more-or-less constant state of flux.

Philosophers and theologians have told us for centuries that our thoughts and actions determine what we are and who we become. I love these words from New Thought pioneer James Allen:

“Mind is the arbiter of life;
it is the creator and shaper of conditions,
and the recipient of its own results.”

Now we have proof that is the case, and that our thoughts and behaviour – towards the world and towards ourselves – actually shape us, from moment to moment, right down to a synaptic level.

Some say it was Albert Einstein, others Henry Ford, and still others Anthony Robbins, who purportedly said words in or to the effect of the following:

“If you always do
what you’ve always done,
you’ll always get
what you’ve always got.”

Or, as they say in AA, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

The reality is, however, that things, and ourselves, are always changing ... but when we see we have changed, we often quickly change back to the way we were ... because we are more comfortable with that.

Neuropsychologist Dr Rick Hanson (pictured opposite), who with neurologist Richard Mendius MD is the author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom – a wonderful book which joins modern science with ancient teachings recently spoke in this online seminar series, stating that, The mind takes the shape of whatever it rests upon… for better or for worse.”

This phenomenon is called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” – it’s about how our experiences, and what we make of them (for, as Dr Karl Menninger pointed out, "Attitudes are more important than facts"), literally shape our brains at a physical level, and, in turn, how our experiences shape the kinds of thoughts we might be more likely to have next time.

So, just as physical exercise is good for the body, and can make positive changes to the body, so mindfulness can make positive neuro-physio-psychological changes to the mind. That we know as a medical fact. Yes, we are made or unmade by ourselves. We are the reaper of our own harvest.


RESOURCE: Hanson, R (2011) ‘Guiding Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A Mindfulness Investigation’, The New Brain Science Series Teleseminar by NICABM (The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine), 14/4/2011.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

MINDFUL MEDITATIONS

On this page of the website of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center can be found a number of useful Mindful Meditations.

For those who are new to mindfulness pratice I recommend that you start by seting aside some 5 to 10 minutes a day, and gradually increase the time with practice.

Scientific research shows that mindfulness practice beneficially alters brain structure.

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation which I have found very effective in my practice.


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Monday, April 11, 2011

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION CAN REDUCE THE SENSATION OF PAIN

Another study has found that mindfulness meditation can help alleviate the sensation of pain.

The study, published in the 6 April 2011 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, gave 15 volunteers a crash course (four 20-minute sessions) in a type of mindfulness meditation called shamatha (Sanskrit for “calm abiding”). The 6 men and 9 women (aged 22 to 35 years) were instructed to pay attention to their breathing while “letting go” of any thoughts that might distract them from that focus.

After the training, the volunteers were asked to meditate while hooked up to MRI machines that could observe what was going on in their brains. As they meditated, a heated device was placed against their right calves, raising their skin temperature up to a painful but not torturous 120 degrees F (48.89 degrees C). They were then asked to rate both the intensity and the unpleasantness of the pain.

All the volunteers had undergone a similar type of experiment before they had received meditation training. During that initial experiment they had simply been told to close their eyes, reduce their movement and “meditate by focusing on the changing sensations of the breath” while prodded with the heat device. (By telling the volunteers to focus on their breathing but without giving them specific meditation training during this arm of the study the researchers could control for the phenomenon of divided attention. In other words, they would be better able to rule out distraction as a factor should the meditation arm of the study result in a reduction in pain.)

When pain ratings from both experiments were compared, researchers found that the volunteers had rated the pain stimulus given to them while they were officially meditating as being an average of 57 less unpleasant (with a range of 22 percent to 70 percent for individual volunteers) and an average of 40 percent less intense (with a range of 20 percent to 93 percent).

The MRIs also revealed some interesting findings. While meditating, the volunteers'  brains exhibited reduced activity in several areas, including in the primary somatosensory cortex, which is where our brain tells us which part of our body is experiencing pain — and how intense that pain is. (See this link for further material and an interview with study leader Dr Fadel Zeidan (pictured above), Psychologist at UNC Charlotte.)


Interestingly, the study found that the more successful a volunteer was at meditating (based on an assessment that measures levels of mindfulness), the more reduced activity they experienced in brain areas associated with pain.

The bottom line is this ... mindfulness meditation practice cannot eliminate pain altogether, but it certainly can it reduce the emotional intensity in which it is anticipated and experienced.

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.



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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

THE 'MAGIC' OF MISDIRECTION IN MINDFULNESS

When I was a kid, and for many years thereafter, I was interested in magic ... conjuring, that is. I was never really any good at it, but I was for a time a member of The International Brotherhood of Magicians and the honorary legal officer of its Sydney Australia ring.
The man whose photograph appears opposite as well as at the very bottom of this post – Canadian magician Joe Stuthard (the 'Canadian Funatic' or 'Mr Svengali') – who was long resident in Australia, but who toured the world with his magic act, was a wonderful man and a great pitchman. I would watch him perform close-up magic for hours on end.

By the time I first saw Joe perform in Sydney, Australia---he was demonstarting the Svengali Deck at the time---he had been working with that deck of cards for some 40 years and was a master exponent of that particular deck. I also recall him producing candy from the nose of a kid, but in his heyday he had toured the world with a large stage variety act.
Joe Stuthard was also a prolific inventor of magic tricks which he sold in department and variety stores as well as being the author of several books on conjuring. By the time he settled in Australia around 1960 he had made more than 30 television appearances [see here and here]---as a magician---in the United Kingdom alone, and my research has revealed that he also appeared at least twice on an early (for Australia, that is---1961), quite classy Australian television variety show called Revue '61 which was compered by Digby Wolfe. (Merlini [Robert Robbins] was the first magician to appear on TV in Australia, in 1957, when the new medium was in its infancy.)

Joe Stuthard, who with fellow magician Harry Baron cofounded The Kaymar Magic Company, was without doubt the best card magician I have ever seen, and he was a dexterous master of misdirection ... that is, when the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Misdirection is the psychological aspect or component of the physical act of deception.

Mindfulness meditation involves a misdirection ... of sorts. (Note: There are types of misdirection that are to be avoided. Belief systems, for example. They distort reality and are in the nature of a delusion.)


Misdirection is based on two laws, one physical and the other metaphysical, so to speak.

The physical law is as follows---the human mind can concentrate on only one thing at a time. The metaphysical law is the so-called 'law of indirectness', namely, that when trying to put something out of the mind, do so indirectly as opposed to directly. There is less opposition---resistance---that way.

Now, this is what I have in mind ... ... ...

You just concentrate on breathing in ... and breathing out ... focusing one’s attention on a spot where the air comes in and goes out (eg nostrils) ... taking that as the subject of awareness ... and returning, as mindfully as possible, attention to observing the breathing pattern whenever there are any 'distractions' (eg scattered thoughts), which are to be simply acknowledged before one lets them go gently.

Call it misdirection, if you like. It is a means of distraction ... to avoid and prevent distractedness.

Now, this is important. Never---I repeat, never---become 'attached' to your breathing ... or any other thing for that matter.

You may well ask, 'Why focus on one’s breath?' Well, breathing is natural, which is why there is less of a likelihood of one becoming attached to that form of misdirection.
That is why mindfulness meditation, in my view, is many times better than other forms of meditation where contemplative attention is directed to mental or physical constructs (eg mantras, sacred words, Buddha images, candles, etc). Attachment, in my experience, is much more likely to occur in connection with the latter ... because they are more artificial.
Happy misdirectioning!


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Monday, April 4, 2011

THE PERSON WHO USED TO BE YOU

I remember seeing a TV show more than 25 years ago in which the unforgettable Patti Page (pictured opposite, and below) sang a song "The Person Who Used to Be Me,"* good-humouredly contrasting her then present self with black-and-white images of a much younger Page projected on a screen behind her. I understand she has sung that song at many concerts since. Here are some of the lyrics:

Who is that person on the screen?
It is someone I am sure that I have seen.
Though it's been so very long
And I could be very wrong
To believe that the face I see
Is the person who used to be me.

Do you really think you are the same person you were 5 years ago ... 10 years ago ... 20 years ago? Well, in one sense you are, but in another sense you are an altogether different person in body and mind. Even your sense of self this very moment is different from that of even 10 minutes ago, let alone 10 or more years ago. Your sense of self is undergoing constant change as a result of every new experience.

Each one of us is a person who recognizes that there was, yesterday, and even before then, a person whose thoughts, feelings and sensations we can remember today ... and THAT person each one of us regards as ourself of yesterday, and so on. Nevertheless, this "self" of yesterday consists of nothing more than certain mental occurrences which are later remembered as part of the person who recollects them. Never forget that.

Here is a short "sense of being meditation" which I penned many years ago. It is designed to assist you in the task of dis-identifying with “the self”:

I am a person who has a body, but I am not that body.
I am a person who has a brain, but I am not that brain.
I am a person who thinks thoughts, but I am not those thoughts.
I am a person who feels feelings, but I am not those feelings.
I am a person who senses sensations, but I am not those sensations.
I am the reality of me ... the person who I am.
I am not my sense of self ... the false and illusory "I's" and "me's" which well up and later subside within me ... from one moment to the next.
Yes, I am a person ... a person among persons ... a vital part of life’s self-expression.

So, who is this “I” which is ... and is not? It is the person that you are ... not some supposed centre of consciousness from which all things are a matter of observation. You are a person who sees, thinks, feels, senses, acts ... More accurately, you are a person in which there occur, from moment to moment, the various activities of seeing, thinking, feeling, sensing, acting ... Is that not enough for you?


* “The Person Who Used to Be Me”: [from] Here's TV Entertainment / lyric by Buz Kohan; music by Larry Grossman. Fiddleback Music Publ. Company, Inc. & New Start Music. 1983. PAu000584524 / 1984-02-03.


Postscript. Sadly, since I originally wrote and published this post, Miss Paige has passed on. She left us on January 1, 2013, at the age of 85. Rest in peace, dear one. IEJ.


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