Month: August 2020

How Training My Dog Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Mindfulness

by The Mundane Meditator

Dog Portrait

My dog is perfect.

Never mind the chewed up shoes.

Never mind the constant leash-pulling.

She is perfect.

Well, except for maybe one pesky habit.

My dog barks as if there is an armed
intruder at the door every time she hears a knock. Loud and ferocious – as she
simultaneously warns me of someone’s presence and suggests to the person on the
other side that they best think twice before entering.

Of course she is all cuddles and love once
you’re through the door and deemed part of the pack.

Changing this habit and response has
involved enormous patience and a great deal of practice.

Through
the training process, I slowly realized that I was not just teaching my dog how to behave…but teaching myself how to live
more mindfully.

Conditioning a New Response

How I intended to train my dog was simple,
at least in theory.

I knew I needed to condition a new response
when she heard knocking.

Instinctually, (and I’m sure with some bad
reinforcement from me) she had learned that the appropriate reaction to someone
at the door was to scream bloody murder in dog language.

I
began asking for a new reply.

A knock at the door now meant:

  1. Sit calmly and quietly at the
    end of the hallway.
  2. Observe and witness who or what
    came through from the other side.

At the time of this training, I had started
to take up mindfulness meditation. Funny how the connection didn’t dawn on me
until later…

Calm
awareness in the face of uncontrollable changes in the environment.

I was asking my dog to be mindful!

Practice Makes Progress

Upward Progress

The saying is practice makes perfect…but in
dog training and mindfulness, “perfect” is an unhelpful standard.

Every situation we encounter is different –
each knock at the door elicits a new reaction.

I would no sooner expect my dog to never
bark again than I would expect myself to walk around life in a never-ending
state of blissful transcendence.

The training exercises for my dog and the
meditations for myself introduced newer, healthier techniques.

When I first started meditating, remaining
present was very challenging.

Sitting in meditation made me realize that,
while my dog may have one trigger (the door), I had a great many more to
contend with.

What were my “knocks at the door” that
habitually broke my awareness?

Fears of the future. Guilt from past
mistakes. Perceived slights and injustices I couldn’t let go of. Self-doubt and
criticism. Things on my to-do list for the day, week, and months ahead.

Where was my human trainer!?

Soon, I came to relish each intruding
thought and each surprising knock at the door.

Because these presented opportunities to
practice and, for me and my dog, the cultivation of new, mindful habits grew
stronger with each repetition.

Importantly, the training for my dog – and
the analogous training for myself – was NOT to prohibit anyone from ever
knocking at the door.

Unfortunately in life, we can’t control
everything that happens, try as we might.

External changes, like a sickness or job
loss, and internal stimulus, like fears or negative thoughts, will come whether
we like them or not.

The only
thing we can control is our response.

Macro Mondays | Transportation

I understood my dog’s original reaction.
The door could be scary and dangerous – that could warrant a bark.

But it wasn’t always. Sometimes it was an
exciting delivery of new treats. And besides, barking just meant unnecessary
stress and anxiety.

In theory, I guess I could have removed my
door…

But there would be other doors my dog would
have to face.

Just as there would be other surprises I
had to manage my way through in life.

Instead, we had to face the door together.

With a clear intention and as much calmness
and mindfulness as I could muster, each knock at the door became a perfect
training session.

Ignoring the Knocking Does You No
Good Either

Another distinction to be made is that I
was not asking my dog to pretend the knock didn’t happen.

When someone came to the door, I did not
shun her to another room, or block her view or demand a statue devoid of any
emotion.

Even if that were to “solve” the problem,
there would be no growth.

I
wanted her to be able to face the door without the accompanying anxiety and
excitement.

bursting with excitement

The analogy to my mindfulness practice was
clear.

In mindfulness, we do not seek to suppress
uncomfortable emotions or unwanted thoughts as they arise. Instead, we aim to
acknowledge them without getting caught up in their story.

We
practice awareness without engagement.

Of course this is so much easier said than done!

Mindful as I may try to be, countless
things take me out of the present moment.

As much improvement as my dog has made, the
occasional knock at the door will still get her going.

But now we know how to face these
distractions together. We accept the interruption for what it is and work to
settle ourselves down again.

Finding the Space In Between

Now, when there’s a knock at the door,
there are times when I can almost see the gears turning in my dog’s head.

She hears the door.

She knows her habitual reaction is to bark.

More often than not, she manages a more
mindful response.

My meditation practice is no different.
Part of the practice is working to find the space between my triggers and my
habitual reactions.

For most of us, (me included) this space
starts out infinitesimally small. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine an opening
exists at all.

Cut me off in traffic and that gap goes straight
out the window.

But, in truth, there is always an
opportunity to choose a different response.

For example, when I sit to meditate, my
mind inevitably spins up thoughts about past decisions or actions. Out of force
of habit, I will normally begin placing judgment almost immediately. The voice
inside my head will loudly proclaim my ignorance or stupidity, and point out
all the ways I ought to have behaved differently.

Here are some of the ways a formal
meditation practice helps me:

  • Meditation helps me notice when a thought arises – awareness is an important first step if
    we want to change our default reactions.
  • Meditation helps me foster non-judgmental curiosity about the
    thought in question. I am learning to pause and stay with the bare idea without
    bringing an emotional charge to the table.
  • Meditation helps me adjust my immediate reaction. It is not
    the thought itself that is unhealthy – it is the judgmental response that
    becomes unhelpful.
  • Meditation helps me choose a different response to my
    thoughts. Judgment is not necessary. I can replace this attitude with something
    more positive. I can learn to react with compassion and appreciation. My inner
    voice might instead say: “I’m glad I made that decision because of how much I
    learned from it”.
  • Meditation helps me return to the present moment – whether
    that is my breath, or a mantra, or a singular point of focus. I am learning to
    revert to a calming mental place that is free from distractions…at least until
    the next thought arrives.

Desert Plant

Meditation is an effective and joyous way
to discover more space in our lives. To remind us that we have the power of choice
if we can stay mindful for long enough. And to teach us that we can live
intentionally if we pause instead of react.

Finding this space has involved WAY more
repetitions than training my dog. In fact, compared to me, I’d say she has
proven to be a pretty quick learner.

Finding even the smallest moment of space
and stillness between stimulus and response is a major win for me.

Slowly, I’m learning to say: I don’t have
to scratch that itch. I don’t need to identify with that pain. I choose not to internalize
that negative thought.

Somehow, I’d like to think my dog is having
a similar conversation with herself.

Coming to Peace With the Knocks at
the Door

My dog and I are still learning.

And I am not just teaching her, but she is
teaching me.

Aside from the door, she is pretty darn
good at staying in the moment. Much better than me at least.

Training my dog has been a fortuitous
reminder of how to be more mindful in my own life.

If I asked my dog to create a mindfulness program
for me, the steps would be as follows:

  1. Set an intention to
    cultivate a more calm and centered awareness.
  2. Accept that accomplishing
    this is a lifelong journey of practice and discovery.
  3. Recognize that unwanted
    distractions are an inevitable part of life.
  4. Learn to appreciate these
    intrusions, as they are a real opportunity to overcome yourself.

All of us (humans and animals alike!) could
use some more mindfulness in our lives.

Here’s to soaking up the present moment.


The Mundane Meditator is on a mission to help people see meditation as an indispensable life skill worth learning and practicing. When he is not spoiling (or training!) his dog, he writes about all things Mindfulness on his blog: TheMundaneMeditator.com He can also be found on Twitter @TMMeditator, where he shares inspirational content and ideas as he embarks on his mindfulness journey alongside you.

The following two tabs change content below.

Our aim is to promote mindfulness.


Listen Again: Pure Joy

Original broadcast date: April 17, 2020. More than ever, we need to make time for joy. This hour, Manoush and TED’s Head Curator Helen Walters explore talks that surprise, inspire, and delight.

Lessons From The Summer

The summer of 2020 has been overwhelming for most of us. This hour, we hear from four guests—each from recent episodes—who sum up where we’ve been and offer the wisdom we need for the months ahead. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, political philosopher Danielle Allen, anthropologist Heidi Larson, and writer and scholar Clint Smith.

Must See True Crime /// 420

Captain 

1. When They See Us – Netflix / The Central Park Five – PBS/ Amazon

2. Atlanta’s Missing & Murdered – The Lost Children – HBO 

3. The Lake Erie Murders – ID channel 

4. I Love You, Now Die – HBO

5. Unsolved Mysteries – Episode #1 Rey Rivera – Netflix 

Nic 

1. Evil Genius – Netflix 

2. Atlanta’s Missing & Murdered – The Lost Children – HBO 

3. Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers – National Geographic / Amazon 

4. Long Shot – Netflix 

5. Nightmare in Las Cruces – Amazon 

Terminally ill Canadians Win Right to use Magic Mushrooms for end-of-life stress

Four terminally ill Canadians have won the right to take psychedelic drugs to treat end-of-life anxiety and distress.

They will be allowed to take the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin, derived from magic mushrooms, after Canada’s health minister Patty Hajdu approved the landmark application more than 100 days after the request was made.

The patients are thought to be the first Canadians to be given the legal right to use the recreational drug since the country outlawed it back in 1974.

In June, one of the patients, Thomas Hartle, from Saskatoon, applied directly to Ms Hajdu to be able to use the drug after exhausting other options to treat his anxiety around dying.

The 52-year-old, who has stage four colon cancer, said in a video pleading with the government “there isn’t anything available that can treat existential dread”, but added the hallucinogenic would help ease his anxieties. Responding to the new ruling, he said:

“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing.”

Another patient, Laurie Brooks from British Colombia, said: “The acknowledgement of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result.


visit store

A 2017 study led by Imperial College London found that the use of psilocybin helped treat stress and depression in cases where conventional therapy had failed.

And earlier this year, researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine said a single dose of the compound can have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects which can last for nearly five years.

via Sky

Listen Again: The Biology Of Sex

Original broadcast date: May 8, 2020. Many of us were taught biological sex is a question of female or male, XX or XY … but it’s far more complicated. This hour, TED speakers explore what determines our sex. Guests on the show include artist Emily Quinn, journalist Molly Webster, neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi, and structural biologist Karissa Sanbonmatsu.

How to Communicate in a Polarized World

BY SOFO ARCHON

mindful communication

 “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw

We’re living in a polarized world. Just look at the comment sections on social media platforms and you’ll understand exactly what I mean: Individuals holding opposing views are verbally fighting against one another to prove themselves right and others wrong.

Here are a few examples: capitalists vs socialists, theists vs atheists, climate alarmists vs climate deniers, pro-life vs pro-choice. Their goal is to hurt, belittle and win over those belonging to the opposing group. But the result is always the same: nobody wins, and everyone loses. People waste their time spilling hate over others, only to find themselves further enraged and misunderstood, which leads to more hate-spilling. Constantly adding fuel to fire, the heated debate never ends.

In this article, I’d like to shed some light on the core reasons behind the polarizing conversations that are all over the place, and offer some insights on how to effectively communicate without resorting to hate and the war mentality that so many of us are accustomed to.

The Trap of Being Right

Most fights in conversations start when we label ourselves as right and others as wrong. In other words, they start from judgment.

When we judge others, we can’t see them as they truly are. To be more precise, we see them as less than they are. That’s because by judging them we dehumanize them, and so we lose or considerably reduce our empathy towards them. As a result, we find no problem attacking them. Yet in reality we only attack a projection of our own minds.

The need to prove others wrong usually comes from the egoistic desire to feel that we’re on the right side of things (and hence “better” than others). This desire arises from a deep-seated fear: that we might be on the wrong side of things (and hence “worse” than others). In other words, it arises from self-judgment.

To admit the possibility of being wrong would be an anathema to our insecure ego that feeds on the idea of being right: it would lead to tremendous emotional distress due to the psychological discord that would surface in our consciousness. To avoid that, we use all sorts of defense mechanisms to cover up for our personal insecurities, such as trying to win over others in conversations. But this creates two serious problems.

Firstly, when our goal in conversations is to prove that we’re right, we exclude any possibility of learning, for learning requires the admittance that we don’t know everything. It requites paying attention to new information — even that which is conflicting to our beliefs — and being available to change our minds when presented with it. It requires suspending the ego, and being open to the idea that others might have more knowledge or insight on a topic than us.

Secondly, we don’t really understand the person we’re conversing with. We’re so focused on winning that we don’t care to hear another’s perspective and put ourselves in their shoes. Or perhaps we hear, but we don’t really listen. And if we listen, we only listen in order to find an opportunity to talk back. Therefore, we fail to truly communicate with them. Rather, we’re exchanging verbal punches with a ghost of our own creation that entirely misses the point of communication: to connect with others.

The Art of Listening

To effectively communicate, we need to learn to truly listen (and not just hear). But to listen, we need to be willing to understand those we’re conversing with. And to understand them, it is important that we let go of our judgmental attitude towards them, for judgementality blocks our empathy — that is, our capacity to “feel with” another.

When we listen, we can see where others are coming from. We can see that they have their reasons for believing and saying what they do. We can see that when they hold opinions that are arguably wrong, that doesn’t mean that they themselves are wrong. And we can also see that, when they disagree with us, that doesn’t mean they’re our enemies — it just means that they have a different way of thinking than ours.

When we listen, we don’t want to harm anyone. We understand that those who verbally fight against us are suffering from their own psychological discord, and so we respond with compassion instead of fighting them back. We provide them with loving space in order to nourish their deep need for self-acceptance, which sometimes is enough to change their attitude towards us. But even if their attitude doesn’t change, and they continue their fight, we simply disengage, careful not to add fuel to the fire of hatred and rage.

To listen, we also need to let go of the idea that we’re always right. We need to understand that no one is perfect or knows everything.

Learning is an ongoing journey, and part of that journey are the people we interact with. Everyone we meet can teach us important lessons, if we stop and pay attention to them. Even those we disagree with know some things that we don’t. Once we realize that, and are willing to expand our knowledge and understanding, we’ll stop getting defensive when conversing with others. On the contrary, we’ll start listening closely to what they have to say, and be open to question our beliefs when provided with new information that doesn’t fit in with them.

The Purpose of Communication

As I mentioned earlier, communication has one purpose: to connect us with others. By exchanging our feelings, thoughts and perspective, communication allows us to know each other better; hence it brings us closer to each other. And when communication brings us further apart, that’s a clear sign it has failed to take place.

Once we see that the goal of communication is connection, we’ll no longer fight with others. Of course, that doesn’t mean that no disagreement or conflict will ever arise from our conversations. To some extent both are inevitable, yet not necessarily bad. In fact, they can be very beneficial: disagreements can help us to reconsider our way of thinking and enrich our knowledge, and conflicts can help our relationships become healthier and more resilient. But that’s the case only if they’re dealt with the right way — that is, with compassion, a genuine desire for understanding and the intention to heal our inner psychological discord from which our outer conflicts sprout.

Communication can be a bridge between ourselves and others. But when used the wrong way, it can create thick walls between our hearts. Every word we utter has the power to connect or separate us, to create the conditions for conflict or the conditions for peace, to nourish our psyche or deprive us of what we need the most: intimacy, love, connection. So let’s use our words wisely, and harness their power for the benefit of ourselves and those we converse with.