Come home to yourself on Mindful Safari

male and female lion cuddling cropped

 

Being born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), both the landscapes and animals of Africa were normal, even ordinary to me when I was growing up.   We didn’t have herds of elephants wandering through the garden.  But nor did we have to drive very far out of town to see them, along with the other ‘Big Five’ game animals – lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo.

In my twenties what I yearned for was the excitement of the big city.  Which was one of the reasons I found myself moving to London – and staying there for ten years.  It was just the kind of place for someone with my passions for writing and music, as well as my fascination for out-of-the-box people and intriguing ideas.  I have always earned my living in corporate public relations, and on a global scale there were – and still are – few cities as vibrant with opportunity, and larger than life personalities in that sector, as London.

I still vividly remember my first trip home to Africa.  It was after about three years away, during which I had gradually acclimatised to the backdrop of perpetually grey weather and a gritty urban landscape.

Suddenly I was back in the sun and wide open spaces.  Back, in particular, to the smells of the bush and wildlife which I now saw through very different eyes:  what an unbelievable diversity of the most extraordinary creatures!  How amazing was this continent, with its unique colours and extravagantly relaxed way of life.  Not to mention the ordinary people who, no matter how constrained by poverty and misfortune, had an enviable capacity to live vibrantly in the moment, their laughter and music a constant soundtrack to daily life.

The tug at my heart caught me quite by surprise.

Subsequent visits to Africa over the decades only deepened the recognition that, along with my more metropolitan interests, there was also a part of me that found a joy in the natural world of my childhood.  I also came to witness, many times, how even people who had never visited Africa before, discovered a hitherto unsuspected feeling of connection.  It is as though, when returning to the place from which human life first emerged, we feel an innate and abiding sense of belonging.  It is said that once the dust of Africa touches your feet, it will never leave your heart. 

One of the reasons I am so looking forward to leading the Mindful Safari to Africa next year is because I love to share this sense of connection.  The strapline I chose  - ‘Discover Africa.  Come home to yourself.’ – has different layers of meaning.  Among them is the knowledge that if you already know Africa, it will be the most heart-warming of home-comings.  And if you don’t, the experience will, quite simply, be one you will never forget.

I will be blogging more about the Mindful Safari, as well as other aspects of mindfulness, meditation, Buddhism and my writing in the months ahead.  To get the blogs, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now.

For more information on the Mindful Safari next year, go to: http://www.davidmichie.com/safari.html

What is the business case for meditation?

 

meditating at work

In the words of Clare Goodman, my business partner at Organisational Mindfulness most of us aren’t employed for our good looks.  We’re employed for our minds.  But how many of us consciously seek out ways to optimise our most important asset?  (For more about OM see: www.organisationalmindfulness.com)

Seems pretty obvious when it’s put that way.  And organisations around the world are increasingly recognising the value of this.  If employees at all levels are highly capable of managing stress, if they benefit from above-average levels of clarity, focus and emotional resilience, if they are ultra-productive and innovative at the same time as being able to leave their egos at the door every morning, how much more effective will organisations be?

I have summarised some of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation to individuals in previous blogs.  So, what happens when groups of people within an organisation start to meditate?

Improved attendance rates.  According to one study at London Transport, absenteeism fell by 50% after a mindfulness program.  More specifically, time taken off for stress and other psychological reasons fell by 70% for the three years following the course.  What’s more, participants reported greatly improved measurements of job satisfaction and relationships.

Enhanced performance and job satisfaction.  People who meditate regularly have fewer negative thoughts about work, and are better at letting go of them when they do.  They have a more stable sense of self-esteem less dependent on external factors.  According to one study at General Mills, 83% of participants were taking time to optimise personal productivity each day, compared to just 23% before the mindfulness intervention.

Increased staff retention.  Happy workplaces and improved job satisfaction leads to fewer resignations.  No surprise there!

Enhanced personal relations.  Regular meditators enjoy improved empathy.  They are less invested in particular perspectives making them better communicators, and less likely to think negatively about colleagues with whom they disagree on some issues.  Mindfulness programs can take the heat out of difficult relationships as people ‘get over themselves’ and work together.

Better teamwork.  With stronger self awareness and empathy, dissonance in teams is reduced.  Clare Goodman and I have a saying: ‘A team that sits together, knits together.’

Greater innovation.  Why do Yahoo, Cisco Systems, Google, Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook all support more mindful workplaces?  Because they live or die on new product development and they know their staff are more likely to come up with great ideas when they are feeling stress-free, playful and pumping out gamma-waves … the kind the brain produces when meditating, and which leads to ‘aha’ moments.

Better leadership.  Resonant leaders are not victims of stress.  Rather, they are tuned into their teams, aware of group dynamics in meetings, and are able to respond openly and authentically.  Many key qualities of effective leadership are directly supported through mindfulness practice.

Greater sense of meaning and purpose.  We work for more than only money.  When we have an ongoing sense of broader service in what we do, we are more willing to go the extra mile.

The advantage to organisations of employees who are outward-focused, resonate positively with colleagues and want to deliver value is obvious.  And the opportunities for organisations to impact society in extraordinary and profound ways, well beyond the commercial, are only now beginning to be realised.  For much more on the business case for meditation, check out Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.

For future blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom, right hand corner of your screen now.

You can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130

You are invited on a Mindful Safari to Africa

MS - giraffes at sunset cropped

I am thrilled to be leading a Mindful Safari to South Africa in August 2015.

Combining a warm introduction to the amazing wildlife and unforgettable vistas of Africa, with a gentle, but transformational approach to mindfulness, the safari is suitable both for newcomers as well as seasoned meditators.

With only 22 places available, act now to secure your spot by the campfire!

To find out more go to: http://www.davidmichie.com/safari.html

Feel free to forward this link to people who may be interested.

I hope to see you in Africa next year!

Warmest wishes,

David
www.davidmichie.com

The 12 psychological benefits of meditation

buddha head

When I recently  I blogged about some of the main physical benefits of meditation, I made the point that categorising benefits as ‘physical’ or ‘psychological’ is somewhat artificial.  Reducing high blood pressure through meditation may seem a measurable and physiological benefit, but it only happens because of the psychological change that precedes it.

Every change in mental activity also shifts physiological activity.  That said, what are some of the main psychological benefits of meditation as established by the rapidly growing body of research studies?

Highly effective stress management.  Regular meditation makes us calmer, less reactive and better emotionally insulated from the inevitable upsets and irritations we all experience.

Enhances mental clarity.  A glass of swirling storm water scooped from the drain is agitated and murky.  Rest the glass for half an hour, allowing the sediment to settle, and you have clarity.  The same happens when you rest your mind.  You see events, people and opportunities with a clarity that eluded you before.

Enhances emotional resilience.  The same negative event can strike us on two separate occasions and we’ll respond to it differently, depending on our psychological state at the time. When we meditate, we become more emotionally even, robust, less likely to flare up in anger and more capable of responding to events with wisdom rather than emotion.

Improves our working memory and academic performance.  With improved attention comes less mind-wandering, improved memory and better grades – even among people who have only been meditating for a few weeks, according to researchers.

Less recurring depression.  A number of recent studies attest to the benefits of meditation in helping prevent recurring depression.  This can be accounted for in both neuroscientific terms, when describing brain activity, as well as in cognitive behaviour terms, in training people to become observers of thoughts, rather than their victims.

Managing and preventing anxiety.  As with depression, clinical studies confirm the anecdotal feedback that regular meditation helps break the cycle of anxiety-creating thoughts.

Reduces feelings of loneliness.  Of special importance in our ageing societies.  Loneliness, unhealthy bereavement and depression are not only on the rise, but associated with physical degeneration.  Meditation has been shown to help people live more in the present moment, and less in the painfully-remembered past, with enhanced physical effects.

Promotes good sleep.  Lower mental activation at bedtime, higher melatonin levels and better sleep are another consequence of regular meditation.

Increased self-compassion.  Many of us are our worst critics.  Research shows that meditation helps us stop identifying personally and strongly with negativity, and take a more open, positive view.

Helps break tough habits.  Achieving weight loss, coming off drugs and alcohol addictions are  psychological challenges we can cope with better with meditation.

Rewires the brain for happiness.  As established by Dr Richard Davidson, over time the neuroplasticity of our brains actually change, enhancing our capacity to experience positive mood states.

Makes music sound better.  Don’t forget this important benefit!  Research shows that meditation helps us get into a flow experience – even with a piece of music we know very well and might otherwise be bored by.

Collectively, these and other psychological benefits have an extremely positive impact on a personal level.  Broadening our focus, what happens when a number of individuals in the same organisation start to meditate?  Look out for a blog soon on the business case for meditation.

For much more detail on the subjects covered in this and previous blogs, please read Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate.

To read future blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom, right hand corner of your screen now.

You can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130

 

What are the main physical benefits of meditation?

physical benefits of meditation

If meditation was available in capsule form, it would be the biggest selling drug on the planet.   As the powerful effects of meditation have been validated by all manner of research teams and institutions, a gathering chorus of scientists are voicing this same theme. 

Describing the main, physical benefits of meditation in a short blog is not only ambitious, but also somewhat contrived.  The more we understand the impact of meditation, the more we realise that describing a benefit as ‘physical’ or ‘psychological’ is an artificial construct.  For example, reducing high blood pressure through meditation may seem a measurable and purely physiological benefit, but it only happens because of the psychological change that precedes it.

These qualifiers, aside, what are some of the main, physical benefits?  To quote just a few:

Reduces stress: when meditating, our breathing and heart rate naturally slows, our blood pressure – if elevated – falls and our muscles soften.  This ‘relaxation response’ described by Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School continues well after a session has ended, and the effect is cumulative if we meditate regularly.  Our brain produces dramatically less cortisol, a stress-related hormone, when we meditate.  Activity in the amygdala part of our brain, which deals with stress, falls, while the executive functions of our brain thrive.  This improves our ability to regulate our emotions, know what to pay attention to, process information, and make decisions.

Lowers high blood pressure and helps treat heart disease.  Not only is meditation highly effective at managing ‘the silent killer’ of hypertension, it also slows down the impact of hardening of the arteries and delivers significantly improved ECG performance.

Boosts immunity.  Instead of ‘fight and flight’ hormones like adrenalin, our bodies switch into self repair mode when we meditate.  Instead, we produce more endorphins, the neurotransmitters needed to protect our bodies against foreign organisms.  Ditto melatonin, a powerful anti-oxidant, and DHEA which combats bacterial, parasitic and viral infections.

Slows ageing.  Cell longevity has been shown to be promoted by meditation, specifically telomeres activity is significantly higher, there is slower genetic ageing and enhanced genetic repair.  One study showed that people who had regularly meditated for 5 years had biological ages 12 years less than their chronological age.

Helps manage chronic pain.  Even people who are newcomers to meditation show dramatically improved pain management.  One study showed 40% lower pain intensity ratings on MRI scans.

Reduces mortality.  Survival rates in residential care homes have been shown to improve substantially among groups of meditators.

Helps people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions.  Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma are some of the most widespread inflammatory conditions.  Meditation not only helps manage their impacts, but can prevent them getting worse.

These are just a few of  the physical impacts of meditation.  You’ll find much more detail in Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate.

Look out for my blog summary very soon on the 12 main psychological benefits.

For future blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom, right hand corner of your screen now.

You can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130

Happiness vs pleasure: what’s the difference?

chocolate cake

Given that the wish to be happy is universal, you’d think that happiness would be a core subject at school, and that we’d all be pretty expert on happiness and its causes.  But the truth is, most people are somewhat hazy about it.  The title of a recent book by Daniel Gilbert, Prof of Psychology at Harvard University, says it all: ‘Stumbling on Happiness.’  In the book – which I recommend highly – Prof Gilbert explains the pitfalls into which we stumble in our pursuit of happiness.

Part of the reason for the collective confusion about happiness may be as simple as the word itself.  ‘It makes me happy to reach out to those in need,’ we may say.  We may just as easily say, ‘They had my favourite cake so I was very happy.’  But the happiness we are talking about in each case is quite different.

The ancient Greeks had two different words for happiness: hedonia and eudemonia. In brief, hedonia (from which we derive hedonism) is what we take from the world to be happy.  We might call it pleasure.  Eudemonia is what we give to the world to give us happiness.  This is the more profound sense of well-being.  How do the two kinds of happiness differ?

Pleasure/hedonia  Happiness/eudamonia
The focus is on me.  The pleasure I get eating cake, enjoying comforts/luxuries etc The focus is on others.  The happiness I get is from giving others what they need or wish for.
Externally-derived.  Our pleasure arises when we come into contact with something outside ourselves. Internally-derived.  Our happiness comes from our own thoughts and feelings.
Short lived. Pleasurable experiences wear off quickly and deliver limited satisfaction when remembered later. Enduring.  Doing something meaningful for the happiness of others produces a feeling which still makes us happy when we recall it long after.
Subject to circumstances.  Even the most delicious cake will not deliver pleasure if a heated argument erupts while you’re eating! Not subject to circumstances. We feel happy if we’re able to help others even in awful conditions.
The more we experience it, the less it delivers.  The first slice of cake is great.  What about the second …. fifth … tenth?! The more we experience it, the more it delivers.  The feeling of satisfaction we get rescuing the tenth waterlogged bird in a storm may be even greater than the first one.

With this understanding, it’s easy to see how so many of us get into trouble in the pursuit of happiness.  Money (beyond a fairly low threshold), toys, and status are common routes to ‘happiness,’ but what these things actually deliver is pleasure.  And, as we can see pleasure is short lived, unreliable and subject to circumstance.

If it’s happiness we’re after, the well-being of others is a surer way forward – the basis of the Dalai Lama’s frequent encouragement for us to be ‘wisely selfish.’

This is a subject I explore in much more detail in my book Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate.

(Thank you http://forkandtravel.com/devilishly-delicious-chocolate-cake/ for the wonderful cake pic!)

For future blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom, right hand corner of your screen now.

You can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130

Video – David Michie launches ‘Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate’

video launch pic

Just sharing the video of the short talk I gave recently to launch Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate at The Bodhi Tree Book Cafe.  Thank you to Karen Kotze and the wonderful team at The Bodhi Tree for making the evening such a success. Thanks also Graham and Scott for your help with the video!

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130

8 ways that mind training is like physical training

Yogaonbeachimage

As a regular gym goer, as well as long-term meditator, I am often struck by the similarities between mind training and physical training.  The same rules that apply to an exercise regime – be that the gym, yoga, bike riding or running – also generally apply to meditation and mindfulness.

Here are a few of them:

  1. No instant results.  You don’t expect to build a body like The Terminator a week after joining the gym.  In the same way, you are unlikely to experience Zen-like tranquillity a week after taking up meditation practice.  At the gym I go to, there’s a sign along the lines ‘8 weeks for you to notice.  12 weeks for your friends. 16 weeks for everyone else.’  Much the same could be said for taking up meditation.
  2. The benefit of a teacher/coach.  Few people think of embarking on yoga or a gym routine without taking classes or having a personal trainer.   The same should go for meditation.  An experienced instructor can assist you with technique, keep you motivated, and ensure you avoid unhelpful habits.  They can answer the many questions you may have in the early stages.  A teacher can’t do the work for you, but they can help you get the best out of your sessions.
  3. Group sessions can be useful.  This point doesn’t apply to everyone, but many people find it helpful to be part of a wider group of people on the same mission.  This helps normalise our practice when it’s new to us and we usually learn a lot over the water cooler from people a bit further down the track from ourselves.
  4. We’re more likely to stick at it if we make it part of our regular routine.  As soon as we make a session a question of ‘Shall I or shan’t I?’ we find reasons not to.  Especially when starting out, it’s useful to give yourself a period, like six weeks, when you are committed to regular sessions, come hell or high water (see http://davidmichie.com/blog/2014/06/14/take-the-six-week-meditation-challenge/).
  5. The ripple effect.  When you realise how much effort it takes to burn off a chocolate bar, you’ll think twice about over-indulgence.  So, even though you signed up to work on cardio-vascular fitness, you may find a shift occurs in your diet and other activities.  The same goes for meditation.  You may sign up to work on stress management, but find your enhanced mental clarity helps you see opportunities, conversations and other people in a different light.
  6. It’s the means to an end.  You may focus on your workout session, or time on the meditation cushion, but initially at least the reason you’re doing it is mainly for the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not at the gym or meditating.  You are working to create a fitter or more mindful life that makes you far more effective in taking charge of your physical and mental destiny, both for your own benefit, as well as for the benefit others.
  7. The more you do it, the better you get.  Whether it’s yoga, resistance training or meditation, the dosage effect means that this is a journey which brings enhanced results the more you practice.
  8. Improved body and mind.  Just as physical training enhances your state of mind, so too mindfulness training has significant physical benefits including boosted immune systems, reduced inflammation and high blood pressure – if you suffer from these – improved longevity and holistic well-being.

To read future blogs on this and related subjects, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom, right hand corner of your screen now.

If you can think of other parallels between mind training and physical training, please add your comment.  I’ve no doubt there are plenty more!

You can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to: http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130  (If a ‘Sold Out’ button appears, try after Thursday this week – the book is currently being reprinted).

  1. Don’t forget the free raffle to win one of five copies of Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate at a Rafflecopter giveawayFind me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Michie/308276665884246?ref=hlTwitter: https://twitter.com/DavidMichieOm

Mindfulness vs Meditation: what’s the difference?

 seashore at sunset

Mindfulness is ’paying attention to the present moment deliberately and non-judgmentally.’  This is perhaps the most widely-accepted definition.

If you were to ask a room of 30 people to practise mindfulness for a minute, and then asked them what they’d been mindful of, chances are you’d get a variety of answers, ranging from mindfulness of ambient noise, such as birdsong or traffic, to mindfulness of the decor in a room, the sensation of the breeze blowing through the window, or the inhaling and exhaling of breath.  Any of these are valid mindfulness experiences.

When we meditate, we choose a specific object of meditation and try to stick with it. That object may be physical – very commonly an aspect of breathing, such as the sensation of our breath at the tip of the nostrils as we inhale or exhale.   The object could be a lot more subtle, such as a visualisation or even mind itself.

Meditation is therefore the application of mindfulness to a specific object for a specific period of time.

How are meditation and mindfulness related?  By way of illustration, if we regularly go to a gym, yoga class or engage in other physical improvement activities, we tend to focus on the detail of what we do during our sessions.  Little by little we may add weights, repetitions or our ability to hold a pose correctly. If we can keep up the discipline for a few months, we detect meaningful changes and are encouraged to do more.

Although the mechanics of what we do at the gym or in class are our main concern, in reality we’re mostly doing it for the 23 hours a day we’re not in training. We may monitor our regime with keen attention, but the main benefit is that our improved cardiovascular fitness, capacity for weight-bearing or flexibility means we can cope with much greater ease with whatever life hands us.

Precisely the same applies to the practice of meditation.

We may begin on the recommendation of a doctor, or in seeking our own solution to stress, depression or anxiety, or in response to a more general wish to enjoy greater mental well-being. If we can keep up the practice for a couple of months, encouraged by our teacher, we’ll inevitably experience the benefits. And while we may monitor our regime according to the minutes we spend on it each day, the types of meditation in which we engage and/or our subjective experience while doing it, the real benefit is in the 23 hours and 50 minutes a day we’re not meditating.

Meditation enables us to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs with greater mindfulness, along with providing associated benefits—equanimity, inner peace, spontaneity and zest for life, to name just a few.

Regular meditation therefore supports a more mindful life in the same way that going to the gym supports a fitter life. We can practise mindfulness without meditating regularly, just as we can try to get fit through incidental exercise. But it seems a bit pointless. For the sake of just ten minutes a day we might as well benefit from a daily meditation session.

What are the benefits of a more mindful life?  In a word, incalculable!  I plan blogging about some of these in the months ahead.  If you’d like to read more, please click the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom right hand of your screen now.

Don’t forget – you can get free downloads of a range of meditations from my website – just click the Sign Up button.

Chocolate front cover

To order Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate go to:

http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Why-Mindfulness-Better-than-Chocolate-David-Michie/9781743319130  (If a ‘Sold Out’ button appears, try after Thursday this week – the book is currently being reprinted).

Don’t forget the free raffle to win one of five copies of Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate at a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Win one of 5 free copies of ‘Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate’!

Chocolate front cover

Dear Fellow Meditators and Readers,

FIVE FREE COPIES OF ‘WHY MINDFULNESS IS BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE’  UP FOR GRABS

I am delighted to let you know that that I’ll be mailing free, signed copies of my new book to the FIVE winners of a raffle, held over the next week.

Entering the raffle is free of charge, and should take you no more than about 30 seconds .  To do it now, click here a Rafflecopter giveaway

JOIN MY WEBINAR ON TUESDAY 24th JUNE

Separately, my Australian publishers, Allen & Unwin, are hosting a webinar this coming Tuesday, 24th June at 6.30 pm Sydney time, which you are very welcome to attend, wherever in the world you live.

If you’d like to register for this free event, click here https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6831638836534929922)  The link will also show you when time the event will be in your local time zone).

FOLLOW MY BLOG

I enjoy sharing insights about meditation and Buddhism on my semi-regular blog.  If you haven’t checked it out already, please feel free to do so at: http://davidmichie.com/blog/    The ‘Follow’button is at the bottom, right hand of the screen.

Stay tuned for my next blog on the difference between mindfulness and meditation.

David

www.davidmichie.com

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