Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inspirational Quote – January 21, 2017

“People who judge, DON’T MATTER. People who matter, DON’T JUDGE.”

This is something I have learned over the years. Occasionally, certain people are quick to judge what you do and also share their, often unsolicited, unfavorable opinions with you. At first, this can really impact on how you view who you are and what you are trying to achieve but, thankfully, most of learn very quickly that the people who matter most to us, don’t judge, just support and encourage. The judgmental people tend to lose interest once they realize that you really don’t give a fig about what they think.


Where Will All the Stories Go?

It is a simple question that P.L. Travers asks Laurens Van Der Post, the writer, soldier, and explorer who has written widely of his home country of Africa: "Where will all the stories go?" But it is not an easy answer. In a winding conversation that touches on Tolkein and the origins of mythology, Travers and Van Der Post explore what role stories play in a modern world where technology and entertainment have in many ways replaced our own histories.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why Does My Doctor Do That?

The Annual Exam

This is when your doctor finds out what’s going with you -- she talks with you about preventing diseases and any new things you’re feeling, and helps you manage health issues you know you have. She taps, rubs, pokes, and prods you. She comes at you with strange-looking instruments. What’s your doctor trying to learn when she does some of those things?

Push on Your Belly

Your doctor looks at your abdomen -- the shape, the skin, the way it moves when you breathe -- to make sure everything is OK. He may also listen with a stethoscope to hear if your bowel is making different sounds because of an illness. And he’ll push on your belly. Called palpation, this gentle, hands-on exam checks for areas that are too firm, tender, or bigger than they should be.

Stick That Thing in Your Ear

It’s called an otoscope, and your doctor uses it to get a better view, especially if you have trouble hearing or your ear hurts. After all, it’s tight quarters in there. And dark, too. With it, your doctor can see an irritated eardrum, a swollen ear canal, fluid that’s a sign of infection, extra wax that may be causing trouble, and other problems. He may also be able to tell if you have pressure issues by using it to send a little puff of air into the canal.

Look in Your Mouth

This can tell your doctor quite a bit about your health. For example, a white spot or growth on your tongue can be a sign of a condition that might become cancer -- more common in people who use tobacco. She’ll also look at the back of your throat and your tonsils, and get an idea of the condition of your teeth -- and your breath.

Shine a Light in Your Eye

Your doctor does it to see if your pupils -- the dark center of each eye that control how much light gets in -- get smaller (constrict) when light is on them. They should stay round, and both eyes should react to the light in about the same way. If any of these things are off, it may be a sign of problem. This test also can show changes in your eyes that might be a sign of high blood pressure, diabetes, or glaucoma.

Listen to Your Chest

He listens to make sure your heart has a regular rhythm -- no skipped beat or murmur, a “whooshing” sound. He’ll also listen to your lungs to see if your breathing is clear. And if you have asthma, he’ll make sure he doesn’t hear wheezing. And why that stethoscope is always freezing is anyone's guess.

Take Your Blood Pressure

When the doctor or nurse wraps a cuff around your arm and tightens it, it’s to measure the force on your veins and arteries as your heart pumps blood. It’s important to check because there are often no other symptoms -- that’s why high blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer.” Managing your blood pressure is key to lowering your chance of a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

Ask You to Turn Your Head and Cough

If your doctor uses his hand to feel your scrotum -- the sack of skin that holds your testicles -- as you cough, he’s looking for signs of something called an inguinal hernia. When you tense your belly muscles, that can sometimes send a piece of your bowel or intestine through the abdominal wall and into your scrotum. It’s usually not serious, but it may need treatment -- and it can be a sign of other problems. Why the head turn? That’s so you don’t cough in your doctor’s face.

Measure and Weigh You

Your doctor can use your height, weight, and waist measurements to figure out your BMI, or body mass index -- an estimate of body fat. It’s a way to keep track of whether you’ve lost or gained weight since your last visit. A higher BMI means a higher chance of having heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, certain cancers, and other conditions.

Take Your Blood

This is the best way to check for conditions that don’t cause any symptoms early on, like high cholesterol, diabetes, or kidney, liver, or thyroid disease. If your doctor finds any problems, you can start treatment and possibly prevent serious damage.

Tap Your Knee

Does your doctor simply get a kick out of hitting you in the knee with a tiny hammer? Well, maybe, but that’s not why she does it. It’s to test your reflexes. If all is well, your knee will automatically make a small kicking motion when your doctor hits it in just the right spot.

Tap All Over Your Ribcage

It’s called “percussion,” and it’s like tapping the side of a barrel to see how much liquid is in it. In the same way, your lungs can sound different when you’re sick. It often sounds empty in people who have emphysema, and it can sound dull if you have fluid in your lungs from a condition like cancer or heart failure.

Measure Your Heart Rate

Most healthy people have a resting one of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Your heart rate is an important benchmark that shows how your health is evolving over time -- along with blood pressure, weight, and BMI. If your heart rate isn’t in the normal range, your doctor probably will order tests to check your heart’s rhythm and look for other issues.

Put a Finger in Your Rectum

There was no nice way to say it. Truth is, as unpleasant as it is, it’s important because it’s a first step to screen for rectal cancer. And, in men, the doctor also checks the prostate -- a walnut-sized gland that helps with sperm.

Have You Pee in a Cup

They test your urine to screen for things like urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, kidney stones or inflammation, diabetes, or a problem with your bladder. For women, it also shows if you’re pregnant. Your doctor may ask for a sample during a routine exam, or she may ask for one if you feel pain when you pee or have blood in your urine.

What to Do for Sore, Achy Knees

Do: Rest a Sore Knee

Take a break so your knee has time to heal. You’ll only need 1 or 2 days of rest to ease minor knee pain, but severe injuries may keep you off your feet longer. Talk to your doctor if it doesn’t get better after a few days.

Don’t: Stay on the Couch Too Long

Exercise builds strong muscles around your joints, and that helps prevent injuries. Once your knee has had enough rest, get back out there. Low-impact water workouts or tai chi are good options. But don’t overdo it or you’ll risk more pain.

Do: Use RICE

Try the RICE formula to treat a knee injury:

Rest for a day or two to heal.
Ice your knee to calm inflammation.
Compress (wrap) your joint for support and to stop fluid buildup.
Elevate it on a pillow or stool to curb swelling.

Don’t: Risk Slips, Trips, or Falls

Wear shoes with good tread on them to cut your risk of a slip. Choose low-heeled ones with soft, rubber soles. Keep your home’s hallways and stairwells well lit, and clear floors of things you could trip over.

Do: Use a Cane If You Need One

Feel unsteady? Use something to steady you as you move around. Choose a sturdy, strong, light cane with a rubber tip and a handle that’s easy to grasp. Hold it at a 45-degree angle to be sure it’s the right height. Find one in a color or style you like so you’ll be more likely to use it.

Do: Watch Your Weight

Extra pounds add strain to your knees and raise your risk of painful arthritis and injuries. But even moderate weight loss can make it better. If you need to drop a few pounds, set a goal to lose just 5% of your current weight over the next few months.

Do: Consider Acupuncture

Tiny needles are put into the skin around your sore joint. Research shows it can ease knee arthritis pain, though it’s still unclear how. Look for someone who's trained and experienced. Many states license acupuncturists.

Don’t: Forget to Stretch

The muscles around your knees can get tight, and that can lead to painful injuries. Daily stretches can prevent that and muscle pain. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for easy moves to help you limber up before you walk or do any other activity.

Do: Use Heat and Cold

If your knee pain flares, try hot or cold treatments. Moist heat is better for pain relief than dry. Soak in a warm bath, or zap a damp washcloth in the microwave. To ease a swollen knee, press a bag of frozen veggies wrapped in a towel against the joint.

Don’t: Sleep in the Wrong Position

This can make your knee pain worse. Try out different positions, and put a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side. Don’t prop up a bent knee on a pillow, though -- that can make it harder to unbend your leg the next day.

Do: Try Braces or Sleeves

Support a sore, weak knee with a brace, sleeve, or tape. Ask a physical therapist to fit you with one or to tape your knee. A simple sleeve that fits over your knee can offer short-term pain relief, too. You can find them at the drugstore.

Don’t: Wear Out Your Knees

You may get knee pain because you overload your joints. Movements you do over and over again, like go up and down stairs every day, can jar and wear down your knees. But don’t sit for long periods, either. That puts extra pressure between your knee and leg bone that can cause pain.

Do: Support Your Arches

Choose shoes that support your arches, or get slip-in inserts at your local drugstore. If those don’t work, you can ask your doctor about custom supports. But those can be expensive and don’t always work better than the ones available over the counter.

Don’t: Keep Wearing the Same Old Shoes

Shoes can stretch and wear out after a while. Don’t keep wearing your favorite pair after their support and tread have worn out You may find that new shoes that support your feet and ankles well ease your knee pain.

Do: Talk to Your Doctor

You don’t have to deal with knee pain alone. Your doctor might prescribe medication or give you a steroid shot to help. She also might talk with you about surgery to replace worn joints or ligaments.

One Last Thing - Consider Laser Therapy

Laser Therapy is the use of specific wavelengths of light to treat painful and debilitating conditions.

Light energy enters the damaged cells and stimulates inter-cellular activity. This reduces pain in the area and speeds recovery of the damaged cells. Once the cells recover, the healing process is complete.

The Four Keys to a Meaningful Life

By Jill Suttie

A new book explores how writers, philosophers, and everyday people think about pursuing meaning in life.

Could pursuing meaning be the path to true happiness?
We at Greater Good have written often about the differences between a happy life and a meaningful life and found that the two are closely related. When we aim for a life of meaningful pursuits, we are likely to feel more sustained happiness and life satisfaction—even if there is some discomfort, sadness, or stress along the way—than if we aim for a life of pleasure alone. In fact, seeking happiness directly may actually backfire, while pursuing meaning may increase our health and well-being.
Now a new book takes a stab at figuring out just what pursuing a meaningful life entails. In The Power of Meaning, journalist Emily Esfahani Smith draws from the texts of great writers and philosophers—Emerson, Aristotle, Buddha, and Victor Frankl, for example—as well as interviews with everyday people seeking to increase meaning in their lives, to try to distill what’s central in this pursuit. The book, though only loosely tied to research, is mostly an engaging read about how people find meaning in life through “four pillars” of meaning.
1. Belonging. When we are understood, recognized, and affirmed by friends, family members, partners, colleagues, and even strangers, we feel we belong to a community. Results from some studies—as well as end-of-life conversations—indicate that many people count their relationships as the most meaningful part of their lives, even when those relationships are difficult or strained.
2. Purpose. When we have long-term goals in life that reflect our values and serve the greater good, we tend to imbue our activities with more meaning. Researcher Adam Grant has found that professions focused on helping others—teachers, surgeons, clergy, and therapists—all tend to rate their jobs as more meaningful, and that people who imbue their work with purpose are more dedicated to their jobs. Having purpose has also been tied to many positive outcomes, including increased learning for students in school and better health.
3. Storytelling. When it comes to finding meaning, it helps to try to pull particularly relevant experiences in our lives into a coherent narrative that defines our identity. People who describe their lives as meaningful tend to have redemptive stories where they overcame something negative, and to emphasize growth, communion with others, and personal agency. Laura Kray and colleagues found that asking people to consider paths not taken in life and the consequences of those choices imbued experiences with more meaning.
4. Transcendence. Experiences that fill us with awe or wonder—ones in which “we feel we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality,” according to Smith—can decrease our self-focus and lead us to engage in more generous, helpful behavior. It may seem counterintuitive in some ways; but the diminishment of our own self-importance can induce a sense of meaning, she says.
Smith’s book aims to be somewhat prescriptive, offering practices that could encourage meaning in your own life. For example, at work you may want to practice acknowledging coworkers, engaging in personal interactions, and offering support to others when they need it, using these “high-quality connections” to increase your sense of belonging. You may also want to redefine the tasks of your job to fit your motives, strengths, and passions—a strategy recommended by organizational scholar Jane Dutton and colleagues.
Or, if you feel stuck, you may want to spend time creating a life narrative—an understanding of what experiences shaped you into the person you are now—with a redemptive storyline, perhaps through expressive writing practice or through working with a therapist. Or, you may want to find ways to experience more awe in your life, spending time in nature, staring at the stars, experiencing profound works of art, or pondering heroic figures.
Though her book is more focused on stories and philosophy than research, Smith does at least offer new ideas in an area that was once primarily the purview of spiritual traditions. She argues that pursuing meaning can be healing, not only for those of us with mild existential malaise, but for those who’ve suffered trauma or are facing their own mortality.
Her book is a call to recognize our place in the world—perhaps most importantly by nurturing our relationships and serving others—so that we bring more meaning to our lives.
“Each of us has a circle of people—in our families, in our communities, and at work—whose lives we can improve,” she writes. “That’s a legacy everyone can leave behind.” 

Inspirational Quote – January 20, 2017

“All of your wishes can come true. It is your own doubt that blocks them from coming through.”

I guess it’s easier to say “think positive” than actually act positively. However, when we make our wishes and “send them out there” do we totally believe that they are going to come true or do we tend to think that it would be nice if they came true but how likely is that? We need to change our thinking pattern and really believe and focus on the certainty that our wishes WILL come true rather than doubt they will. Surely it’s better to be optimistic with positive expectations rather than the opposite thus allowing this positivity to enhance a possible successful outcome.


Heal the World: Child Prodigy Cover

Nirali Kartik and Kartik Shah of Maati Baani, bring together 45 child prodigies from across the globe to "Heal The World." Working online with musicians ranging from 5 to 13 years of age, MaatiBaani released this video as a tribute to Michael Jackson on what would have been Jackson's 58th birthday. Let this message of love and peace carry us forward throughout the year.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Skeptical Scientist Learns How to Meditate

By Scott Barry Kaufman

Scott Barry Kaufman shares his takeaways from eight weeks of mindfulness meditation.

Me: I constantly feel anxious. It’s usually about nothing in particular. Just a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach about human existence.
My doctor: I think you may be ready for an SSRI.
Me: Give me 8 weeks. Just 8 weeks.
My doctor: Good luck.
For years, I’ve been told to try mindfulness, by everyone and their mother.
You need to learn how to harness the power of deep concentration, I am told.
But I *do* harness the power of deep concentration, I tell them—when it’s something that truly captivates my imagination.
That’s your monkey mind talking, I am told. Settle in. Open your mind. Stop judging.
Fine. Once and for all, I will do it. I will pull back the judgment.
It’s not easy.
You see, I’ve been studying the science of daydreaming for over the past decade. One of my mentors in graduate school was Jerome L. Singer, father of daydreaming research. He found in the 60s that daydreaming is a normal, widespread part of human cognition that can serve many adaptive benefits, from creativity to perspective taking to just plain old entertainment. Modern science has backed up many of Singer’s claims on the benefits of “positive-constructive daydreaming” (see here for a review). To my ears, this mindfulness craze is just one big dig at daydreaming. Whenever I hear a guided meditation, all I hear is: Return to the breath and stop daydreaming. To which I think: But what if I don’t want to? Followed by sticking out my tongue to no one in particular. In one Big Think video (in which I quite possibly have the worst haircut ever known to man), I even went so far as to refer to mindfulness zealots as “zombies.”
So it’s with all of these preconceptions that I entered day 1 of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course at Penn’s Program for Mindfulness. My instructor was Michael Baime, who is head of the program. As much as I committed myself to this eight-week journey, and decided I would slavishly do all the mindfulness “homework,” I must admit I still entered that first day with a rebellious spirit. I told my friend to take a picture of me meditating at the end of that first day. I don’t know if you can tell, but I am meditating rather tongue in cheek.
Scott Barry KaufmanScott Barry Kaufman
Nevertheless, I did take it seriously. I meditated about 40 minutes a day, every single day for eight weeks. I engaged in a combination of meditation practices, from breathing meditation to body scan awareness to open-monitoring awareness to walking meditation. I took a Facebook hiatus so I could really focus on this journey. I read every bit of the readings assigned to us from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. I also read a few more books on mindfulness, and made an earnest attempt to really understand the rationale behind mindfulness meditation and Buddhist philosophy. I really gave it my all.
So what happened? Here are some of the lessons I learned. Just a heads up: This post isn’t a ringing endorsement for mindfulness meditation. If you want to read that, you can go to your local bookstore and pick up virtually any book on the topic (they are all so glowing). Instead, this is just one scientist’s honest recounting of his personal experience, and his attempt at reconciling his experience with the science. OK, here goes.

My (mini) mindfulness journey

Little by little, the nature of my generalized anxiety did start to change. I use the word “change” very carefully here. I can’t say my anxiety completely went away, but my relationship to it changed. Instead of feeling the emotion and acting on it (e.g., wanting to run home and curl up under my covers and hide), I started to just notice it. Yes, non-judgmentally. But I’d also dare to say, compassionately.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Taking this attitude toward my thoughts and emotions made me realize just how much suffering I cause myself on a daily basis. I just had no idea how much I was in it, bound/attached to the drama of my emotions. I also had no idea just how free I was to step out of it, at least momentarily. I can honestly say this is one of the most important insights I gleaned from my meditation practice.
I also realized just how wrong I had been to pit mindfulness against mind-wandering. They really, truly, are not opposites. I feel like this was a really important insight for me, so please allow me to repeat it: Mindfulness is not the opposite of mind-wandering.
Many of you may be aware of the study conducted at Harvard a few years back called “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” It certainly got a lot of press. When that study came out, and received all the publicity it did, it felt like a kick to the gut of this daydreaming researcher. Which is why I was excited to discover this study conducted by David Stawarczyk and his colleagues at the University of Liege. They found quite clearly that it is not mind-wandering, per se, that causes psychological distress, but the tendency to be less aware of the present moment that leads to reductions in well-being.
So yes, kudos to the Harvard researchers for getting it part-right: Difficulty attending to the present moment is associated with reduced levels of well-being. However—and this is a BIG however—“the strength of the association between [mind-wandering] and psychological distress became almost null once the influences of mindful awareness [were] taken into account.” The results of this study most certainly didn’t get as much publicity because the researchers weren’t Ivy League, but I’d say the findings are just as important.
Heck, Jerome Singer could have told you that back in the 60s (I try to stand up for my mentor every chance I get)! Singer and his colleagues distinguished between three “daydreaming styles”:
  • Positive-constructive daydreaming (representing playful, wishful, and constructive imagery)
  • Guilty-dysphoric daydreaming (representing obsessive, anguished fantasies)
  • Poor attentional control (representing the inability to concentrate on ongoing thought or external tasks)
While the inability to control your attention was associated with lower levels of conscientiousness and self-control, and guilty-dysphoric daydreaming was associated with higher levels of neuroticism, anxiety, and worry, positive constructive daydreaming was associated with increased levels of openness to experience, a key contributor of creativity.

The mindfulness-creativity paradox

Which brings us to the mindfulness-creativity connection. Before I took the eight-week course, there was a particular paradox in the field that just didn’t make any sense to me. On the one hand, the neuroscience of creativity literature shows that the “default mode network”—which is involved in mind-wandering and the construction of our sense of self—is absolutely essential for creative thinking. On the other hand, some mindfulness studies were showing that mindfulness practice reduces default mode network activity but simultaneously increases creative thinking. How can this be??! How can the brain network most associated with daydreaming both contribute and not contribute to creative thinking?
I found some ways out of this paradox. I warn you that this is all going to get really technical really quickly, but heck, I assume the readers of this blog find that just as fun as I do.
OK, first way out: Creativity is not a single thing. It’s a whole process that involves various different stages—some messier than others. For instance, during the process of bringing something original and meaningful into this world, there are times when you want to think divergently and generate lots of possibilities. But there are times when you want to focus more intensely on a single idea and help it grow and develop. Different forms of meditation are conducive to different stages of the creative process. Recent research supports this idea. Consider the work of Lorenza Colzato, who found that focused-attention meditation supported the ability to arrive at a single solution, whereas open-monitoring meditation facilitated the ability to generate many new ideas. Consistent with this, a recent meta-analysis looked at the combined effects of multiple studies on the mindfulness-creativity link and found that while yes, overall, there was a relatively weak connection between mindfulness and divergent thinking, the open-monitoring aspect of mindfulness was much more strongly linked to divergent thinking than the sheer awareness aspect of mindfulness.
This really dovetails with my own experience meditating. Right after focused breath meditation, I really do feel much calmer, settled, and at peace with myself. But I can also really truly say that I feel less creative (at least as measured by creativity researchers), and even feel less motivated to be creative. If you asked me right after a good focused breathing meditation to come up with as many uses for a brick as possible within a minute, I think I’d be too calm and focused to come up with a lot of novel uses. But after open-monitoring meditation, I think I’m in a better position cognitively to consider many different possibilities.
Now, let’s consider the second way out of the mindfulness-creativity paradox. This way out returns to Singer’s seminal insight that there are different forms of mind-wandering. A new dynamic framework for mind-wandering by Kalina Christoff and colleagues fleshes this out in greater detail from a neuroscience perspective. Take a look at this graph from their paper and then we’ll try to make sense of it:
Map of different types of thoughtChristoff et al.
First up is “rumination and obsessive thought,” which is akin to Singer’s “guilty-dysphoric” daydreaming style. When we ruminate or become obsessed with one really negative aspect of our existence, this tends not to be when we are at our creative best. In fact, under this dynamic framework, rumination isn’t even worthy of being called “mind-wandering” because when we ruminate our minds are actually doing the opposite of wandering—they are becoming locked in to a particular idea over and over again.
Within the realm of truly “spontaneous thought,” our thoughts can be deliberate or automatic. Overall, the sweet spot for creativity seems to be a mindful state of consciousness in which you are aware of your spontaneous thoughts, but not *too* goal-directed so that you miss out on unexpected connections.
So from a neuroscience perspective, we can say that, generally speaking, creativity is best when the “executive attention network” has strong communication with the “default mode network.” When these two brain networks talk to each other, they allow for a unique state of mindful daydreaming, which seems to be an optimal state for creativity.
Of course, it does depend on the stage of the creative process you’re in. Here’s a neat graph that shows relative activity of the executive attention network and default mode network during different states of consciousness, from REM sleep to waking rest to idea generation to idea evaluation:
Brain activity during different types of consciousnessChristoff et al.
Note that during REM sleep, there is very little executive attention and a lot of imagery and episodic memory retrieval going on. Dreaming involves extremely unconstrained thought. During waking idea generation, you get overlapping activations with REM sleep, indicating that the thinking is still unconstrained, but less so, because you get some executive attention activity and other parts of the default mode network associated with self-monitoring come online. Idea evaluation is the most constrained part of the creative process, as you see greater activation of the executive attention network than during idea generation and during REM sleep.
Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that regardless of the stage of creativity, it’s never good to be so completely mindless that you are completely oblivious to any insights generated by your spontaneous thoughts. I believe that if we are to ever satisfactorily solve the mindfulness-creativity paradox, this is the level of nuance we will have to take: looking both at the dynamic interactions among various large-scale brain networks as well as the interactions among the subcomponents of each brain network!
Along these lines, I really like the recent work of David Creswell and colleagues. In the Kabat-Zinn book we were reading for the course, Kabat-Zinn discusses studies showing that mindfulness meditation reduces default mode network activity, and he interprets this as meaning that mindfulness meditators have gained greater distance from their “narrative mind” (as he describes the default mode network). While I think this is partially correct, I think we can add some more nuance. After all, the default mode network has many different subcomponents.
As David Creswell’s research is showing, mindfulness training decreases communication between the executive attention network and certain subcomponents of the default mode network but increases communication between the executive attention network and other subcomponents of the default mode network. In particular, mindfulness meditation reduces focus on our self-critical thoughts and self-relevant cognitions, but makes us more mindful of the aspects of the default mode network associated with a broader range of personal emotions and experiences. Indeed, research shows that self-compassion facilitates originality, particularly in those who are already very self-critical individuals. So it seems that meditation may alter the connectivity of the default mode network in such a way that it isn’t as self-focused and self-critical, which can really facilitate the creative process.

Benefits of long-term meditation?

Which makes me think of a possible benefit of long-term mindfulness meditation. Recently, an expert meditator came to the Positive Psychology Center. I asked him about this mindfulness-creativity paradox and he responded, “Yes, well, Van Gogh was creative but then again, he did cut his ear off.” Ouch! (literally) Then he went on to say that maybe what he personally has lost in creativity from his long-term mindfulness practice, he gained in wisdom.
Well, by this point I had already been through weeks of the mindfulness course so I took what he said with open monitoring awareness (if it were months ago, I probably would have responded to this comment with instant disdain). Could it be that most of these studies that look at the mindfulness-creativity link are too crude? They have people meditate a few minutes, and then ask them to Quick! Think of many uses for a brick! Maybe this isn’t the path to a deeper, wiser form of creativity. You know, the form that allows you to see reality more clearly than anyone has ever seen it before.
There are hints that there might be something to this idea. Colzato—the Italian cognitive scientist who studied the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring meditation on creativity—conducted a follow-up study in which she compared a group of novice meditators to a group of expert meditators. Regardless of meditation experience, open-monitoring meditation facilitated divergent thinking. However, expert practitioners applied an insight strategy to solve problems that require a single correct solution, whereas novices tended to apply an analytical approach to solving such problems. Similarly, a hot-off-the-press article in Mindfulness reports on data showing that divergent thinking is enhanced by long-term mindfulness training (greater than 1,000 hours), but doesn’t show any improvement among short-term mindfulness practitioners.*
So while, yes, mindfulness meditation can help us to put more distance between our emotions and the self-critical and self-conscious aspects of our narrative mind, mindfulness can also make us more aware and mindful of our ongoing stream of consciousness. Put another way, while it’s true that long-term meditation practice helps us regulate our emotions, regulation is not the same thing as control. Regulation gives us more freedom to pay attention to what we want to pay attention to. And often I really do want to pay attention to my daydreams. So I would say that long-term meditation gives us a more nonjudgmental awareness of our mind-wandering. It’s both the mindfulness and the mind-wandering that are essential to insight and creativity.
Well, this is the insight I came to after eight weeks of intense mindfulness meditation. On the last day of the course, which happened to correspond with the election results—yes, we all really needed mindfulness that day—we all went around in a circle and talked about what we learned from the course. I mentioned that I was still processing what I went through, but that I felt as though I no longer so urgently felt I needed to take an SSRI. That I had a tool I could use to relax the mind when I needed it. I also mentioned that I found the full day silent mindfulness retreat that was part of the course quite profound. Sitting nonjudmentally with my thoughts for an entire day made me truly realize the thought patterns that keep coming up over and over again in my spontaneous cognition. This made me better realize which patterns I’d like to not attach to anymore, and which ones I’m fine attaching to.
After the class was over, I asked someone to take another picture of me.
Scott Barry KaufmanScott Barry Kaufman
I don’t know if you can tell by looking at the before-and-after picture, but I am much more authentically at peace in the second one. Indeed, I got independent verification: One of my fellow students came up to me after the class and said she noticed a big change in me from the first day, that I seemed much calmer, and much less judgmental.
This is all great, but hopefully you can also see just a glimmer of skepticism is still there. While I greatly increased my appreciation of the benefits of mindfulness meditation, I hope I will never be so nonjudgmental that I just take what meditation gurus say at face value. Thankfully, we can use the tools of science to test the nature of reality. But I must also admit that it wasn’t science alone that was most beneficial to me. It was this combination—science and experience—that led to my biggest insights.
*However, the researchers also found that long-term mindfulness training was negatively correlated with default-mode-related low-gamma inter-hemispheric connectivity. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I suspect that not all subcomponents of the default mode network showed the same reductions in connectivity.

Acknowledgment: Much gratitude to Michael Baime for the course and for his patience with all of my burning questions.