New study about mindfulness apps

There I was in my car, on the way to visit a hospice patient yesterday morning, when I stumbled across a DJ on the radio talking about meditation. He was chatting up the findings of a recent study about mindfulness apps and cell phone games, declaring, in his own words, that participants in the study who meditated felt worse the more they meditated, whereas the game players felt better and more relaxed. His conclusion: playing games on your cell phone will leave you feeling relaxed and meditation is over-rated.

Um…what?

I decided to look up the study. Not only am I disappointed with the DJ’s account of the study but I am also unimpressed with the study itself, as it fails to take into account actual meditation/mindfulness practitioners. The study focuses instead on newbies to mindfulness and gives them only an app by which to learn from and practice with.

To be clear, I have nothing against cell phone games. However, I also find little benefit in playing the comparison game, as in: Digital games may beat mindfulness apps at relieving stress, new study shows, which is the name of an article I found when looking up the study.

In my view, there can be benefits to using the mindfulness apps and there can be benefits of playing cell phone games. Why they need to be compared and judged better/worse, I don’t know.

What I do know is that while I am a big proponent of teaching & using mindfulness in a secular fashion – even though for me personally it’s a spiritual path – there are ways to approach mindfulness that can be more harmful than helpful, when it comes to laypeople wielding it around with little understanding and experience. There is such a thing as over-secularizing, where mindfulness is stripped down to the fast-food approach to living. When mindfulness is used as a gimmick to reduce stress in acute situations, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of potential for benefit.

To experience the fruits of mindfulness and/or meditation – such as ease and relaxation – it must become an active, engaged, and ongoing practice. When comparing mindfulness apps to digital games to see which has the power to relax more people after work, it makes total sense to me that the participants felt more stress relief after playing a game. People who are approaching mindfulness or meditation with a quick-fix mentality are going to be disheartened with it in short order. There’s a reason most people do not stick with meditation as a mainstay in their daily lives. It’s freakin hard. And it takes a number of things that most of us are not very interested or invested in, such as: patience, self-reflection, diligence, will-power, openness, and an ability to be with our own self, without distracting or distancing our attention from the here and now.

Most of us have no idea how to spend time with our self. We’re not comfortable in our own skin. And if we’re not comfortable in our own skin, then of course being tossed into a mindfulness app just for the sake of a study has the great potential to produce a less than ideal outcome.

Mindfulness and the practice of meditation is not a quick-fix sort of deal. It’s not even a long-term fix sort of deal. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t about fixing what’s “broken” in our lives. The daily practices of mindfulness and the practice of sitting meditation are about being with what is happening in the here and now – and once we can be with it, then we can start the work of understanding, accepting, and embracing.

Please do not make the same mistake as the morning shock jock made on our local radio station yesterday, concluding that meditation is bunk. If you’re truly interested in enfolding meditation or mindfulness into your life, it’s worth finding a sangha or a qualified teacher or, at the least, highly respected books or online resources in which to learn and get support from.

There’s nothing wrong with approaching mindfulness in a secular fashion, using it as a possible tool to reduce stress and feelings of overwhelm, just be sure you’re not looking for quick-fix solutions to long-term or ongoing challenges, as that has a high likelihood for being a recipe for disaster.

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Serving with Grace

Last weekend, we enjoyed our local spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake with our Montana sangha family. Twice a year, we organize local 3-day residential retreats: one in the spring and one in the fall. And each spring is a family retreat, where we invite children to attend alongside their parents. This year we had 59 adults and 25 young people, aged 3-15, for a total of 84 people.

Each spring, I serve as co-director on the retreat planning team. I also head up the children’s programming with my good friend Amy, so essentially I am on two different branches for organizing the retreat. We have one team for: managing all of the logistics with the camp facility we use, registration, and organizing the schedule for the adults and program elements with our visiting teacher(s) and another team for planning the kids programs that we offer.

Knowing I serve in this co-director capacity each spring, friends often ask me if these spring retreats are an actual retreat for me. My reply this year has been: Not in the classic sense of the word, no. These retreats for me are a rich opportunity to engage with work as spiritual and joyful practice.

I’ve recently started reading this book:

Serving with grace is a deep aspiration for me on the path of practice. And to speak to my full aspiration, I would add: serving with grace and kindness.

Supporting our young people and their parents to come on retreat; to be in touch with the nature and landscape of the lake and the surrounding woods; to be in touch with the Dharma and the Sangha is a great joy and a true calling for me. It’s also exhausting work too. But gosh, I have no qualms about getting worn out temporarily from undertaking such a lovely endeavor. Sometimes, putting all of our physical fuel into something can fill up the heart tank and gear us up for the next thing that comes along. The physical tank is easy to refill: food, rest, movement. But keeping the heart tank full, that’s where the real work happens.

 

Humility

I think a big part of developing humility

has to do with the ability and determination

to bow one’s head,

in gratitude and reverence.

 

I bow 5 times on the daily each morning,

plus an additional bow with each meal before I eat,

and I think this simple practice makes a profound impact

on how I show up in the world.

On Self-Absorption

I’m realizing that one of the big components of living and developing a spiritual life is to continually train in the art of lessening our tendency to be self-absorbed. The less we feed and nurture our sense of self-importance, the more we are able to build a strong foundation for living a happy and contented life.

For the sake of attempting to avoid misunderstanding, it’s important to mention here that self-importance and self-absorption are not the same thing as being self-assured or having self-confidence. When we are self-absorbed we have a heightened sense of self-importance. When this happens, we have the tendency to be very self-conscious, thinking that others are always paying attention to us wherever we go. We have little awareness of how others are feeling or what’s going on for them in their lives – everything is about us and how things affect us. We tend to get caught up in our own busy affairs and have little time to extend ourselves to others. I’ve also found that highly self-absorbed people tend to be surrounded with constant drama – there seems to often be something of a dire nature happening that consumes all of their time and energy (the law of attraction at play). This quality of being frequently presents itself as victim-hood, as well. People who are self-absorbed are filled with people to blame for their situation and have very little ability to take responsibility for things – they experience a problem and know right away who to blame for its creation, but are unlikely to do anything about it themselves, other than complain and point out problems.

The more we come to understand that our life is not our own, the more we step into the interbeing nature of all that is. In my experience, living a spiritual life is a matter of learning how to care well for ourselves so that we are able to care well for others. It’s about making each aspect a priority in our lives: self-cultivation and care/support for others – time for ourselves and time for others, in an intentional and skillful way.

Here are some things I myself do that serve to help me lessen my own levels of self-absorption:

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Mindful Morning Saturdays

 

I was inspired by the new Thich Nhat Hanh film “Walk With Me” and made this video montage of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, which I do on Saturday mornings from 5-8am. Music by Ballake Sissoko; ending chant by Michael Ciborski.

Developing a spiritual component in our life

allows us to become both full and empty at the same time.

Full of connection with everything and everyone else –

and empty of a separate self,

the “I” that stands in our way of growth,

transformation,

and freedom.

Spiritual vs Secular Mindfulness

Yesterday, I finished an online course offered through PESI by Dr. Christopher Willard, a licensed psychotherapist, educational consultant, and author, entitled: Mindfulness Certificate Course for Treating Kids and Teens: Interventions for ADHD, Anxiety, Trauma, Emotional Regulation and More

The course consisted of 9 modules, totaling in at around 18 hours worth of class time. To learn more about Dr. Willard: http://drchristopherwillard.com/

This class spurred in me a deeper consideration of determining for myself what the differences and pros/cons are in regards to developing mindfulness in a spiritual capacity, verses a secular one. Some people question whether it is even wise at all to separate the two: mindfulness and spirituality. Perhaps these folks are concerned about watering down the potency of mindfulness and losing its true spirit and intention. Or perhaps, like me, they might wonder how a person can teach mindfulness if they themselves do not have their own practice in which to draw experience and stability from.

So, is there a right and wrong way to offer mindfulness? Is there a point when it can become too secular?

As our local Dharma teacher says, and I very much appreciate, the classic Zen answer to any question is: It depends.

Has there ever been – and will there ever be – just ONE way in which to do ANY particular thing ALL the time? I think not.

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