Rediscovering Humanity

Here's an article I wrote about the most exciting session I attended at the Dalai Lama Center's Heart-Mind conference. The speaker was Linda Lantieri, an expert in mindfulness for kids and a woman on a mission to revolutionize the education system.

The full article is below. It was originally published here

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Linda Lantieri

Holy smokes, Linda Lantieri is a ball of fire. Hearing her speak made me want to back my bags and move to New York to support her work.

Among her many riveting tales, an anecdote about 1992 stood out for me. 1992 was the year of the first U.S. school shooting - the first time a student shot and killed another kid. 

It happened in New York, Linda’s hometown, and she immediately received a call asking for her help on-site to support the kids and teachers. When that call arrived, she was shocked not only to learn about the shooting, but also to discover it had happened at her alma mater.

The year rings in my head: 1992.

In the grand scheme of things, 1992 was a millisecond ago. How did we go from having no school shootings to several school massacres in just over 20 years? What happened in those 20 years that changed schools so drastically?

From the perspective of mindfulness in daily life (or lack thereof) a lot changed in those 20 years. The mid-nineties marked the explosion of real-time news coverage, kick-started by CNN’s relentless coverage of Nicole Simpson’s murder and OJ Simpson’s trial. 

We used to be a society that read a paper once a day and maybe caught the nightly news. Quickly we became a society where news was constant and urgent – information being hurled at us moment by moment, until we shut off the TV.

Then the Internet happened. And by happened, I mean exploded into our lives and minds like an atom bomb. The ‘immediacy’ of TV now seemed laughable. We no longer needed to rely on journalists for information – we could check Google, Facebook or Twitter. We could consult a gazillion blogs. A hungry or bored mind could spend hours and hours a day consuming content.

Add to this the full blossoming of video games as immersive and intensive experiences, stimulating young minds in a totally new way.

I’m definitely not attempting to draw a causal relationship between this media revolution and the emergence of fatal violence in schools. I’m simply saying, a lot has happened. People have busier minds, including kids. And it seems to me that busy minds create stressed people who may be less capable of dealing with some of the raw stuff life throws at us.

We’re making big strides in giving kids tools to cope with all of the new stimuli that are hitting them, but those strides haven’t kept pace with the speed of media.

Mindfulness may not be a solution to ending school violence, but it can likely help. Kids that have tools for coping with media stimuli, emotions and interpersonal conflict are more prepared to cope with life.

They’re more likely to see the humanity in others by discovering it in themselves. And at the very least, that’s a great start.

 

Refresh Your Brain

I had the huge honour of attending the Dalai Lama Center's Heart-Mind conference and I wrote two articles for their blog about my experience.

Below is a piece I wrote in response to a presentation by the renown Dr. Cliff Saron, an expert on how mindfulness affects the brain. It was originally published here.

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Dr. Cliff Saron

In a world where we are bombarded with texts, tweets and up-to-the-nanosecond news, why aren’t we totally alarmed at our decreasing ability and opportunity to focus peacefully on one thing at a time?

All of this incessant communication and stimuli is tricking us into thinking we’re highly productive. But here’s what I think. Our minds are busy, yes. But productive? Not nearly as much as we think.

Dr. Clifford Saron’s presentation cited research that shows people perform better at tasks after interacting with nature. Quieting the mind refreshes the brain. Not a shocker really, but what do we do about it? How do we make sure kids (and teachers, parents – and all adults) can regularly hit the refresh button on their brains?

I’ve been practicing meditation daily for several years, and I’m mid-way through an intensive two-year meditation teachers’ program in Vancouver. I’m a focus group of one, and I certainly don’t claim that my views are scientifically proven. But I’ll share my experience.

When it comes to refreshing the brain, meditation is like nature (Clifford’s research supports this).

You know that calm, still state that you experience when you really settle into a view of vast, open ocean? Or that feeling of oneness and openness that you get standing on top of a mountain peak or staring up at a rural, starlit sky? Yeah, meditation’s like that.

Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes it’s simply an exercise in letting the frantic mind simmer down. But that’s ok too because it still refreshes the brain, even when you don’t think it’s happening.

Frequently saying ‘no’ to stimuli and turning inward brings clarity. Ease. A bigger perspective.

I’ve been a news junkie, an iPhone addict, a social media strategist and a PR maven. I know a busy brain. It’s my hope that we create a world where the next set of adults at the helm have calm, clear, compassionate minds. I think we’ll all be better for it.