Mindfulness for Empathy and Kindness

TIME magazine reported last month on a recent study that showed that participants who learned mindfulness were more likely to show concern and act to help a person who was ostracized in an online scenario. From the article:

“When people witness someone being victimized, it’s really common for us to get distressed by it,” says study author Daniel Berry, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University San Marcos. But that distress doesn’t always translate into empathy. “Sometimes that upset is displaced so that we’re not feeling upset for the other person; we’re just feeling negatively,” Berry explains. “When that happens, people actually tend to turn away from the person in need.”

The study authors suggest that mindfulness allows participants to better regulate their emotions and thus to be more present with the distressed/victimized strangers. 

The researchers observed marked increases in empathetic behavior among players who did mindfulness training before beginning the game, compared to people who did attention training or no training at all, Berry says. While everyone in the study was able to identify the ostracized character, players who had undergone mindfulness training showed more concern for that person and were more likely to compensate for their exclusion with extra tosses during the next round, or with kind words in a post-game follow-up email. (TIME)

So in this case the mindfulness training made people act in kinder ways.

The study seems to support another one from 2015 in which participants were trained and then instructed to go to a waiting room. The room only had 3 chairs. Two were occupied. The participant naturally took the third, but then entered a person on crutches. The test was: would the participant get up for the injured individual? 

Only 16 percent of our subjects (or three people out of 19) offered their chair to the actor on crutches. But of those who meditated, half (10 of 20) immediately and spontaneously offered their seat to the woman. It’s important to note that none of the participants had meditated before, and were all equally interested in signing up for the course (even though they knew some might be assigned to a waitlist). The resulting differences, then, didn’t stem from any factors related to a pre-existing interest in or experience with mindfulness. The only difference between the groups was that one meditated for eight weeks and the other didn’t.  (The Atlantic)

Both studies point to the commonly studied "bystander effect" in which individuals see a distressed individual and can ignore them because they see others ignoring them. Both studies suggest that with mindfulness this doesn't occur: the (more basic?) human connection to the suffering person overrides the bystander effect or eliminates it from the start.

It's worth noting that the second, earlier study was small and would merit attempts at replication. The first one, while larger, should also be rigorously checked, as per the scientific method, for replicability to ensure that mistakes weren't made in design, implementation, or interpretation of the study.


Guideful Meditation Platform featured on "The List"

Last month, Guideful, Co-founded by Justin Whitaker, Ph.D. and Bob Funk, was featured on "The List", A national Emmy-award winning show tracking trending ideas, activities, and products in America. 

We're honored to both be on the show and to be featured in such great company! Congrats to Buddhify and Calm, two other excellent resources out there for folks who want some guided meditation in their pocket.

As you'll see from the video, Guideful is the only option that is still completely free. As we grow, we'll continue to provide free guided meditations to all and to develop areas for more intense study and guidance. Meditation, like so much of life, is not one-size-fits-all. 

Whether you use the app or not, finding a helpful community and experienced teacher is essential to identifying obstacles and moving beyond them.

Reflections on China, 2017 (with Photos)

Summer has nearly come and gone. Like so many, it has been busy, trying to fit in as much travel, time with friends and family, time in nature, and time alone in meditation as possible.

Like last year, this summer I joined the Woodenfish Foundation's Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program in China as a member of the core faculty team. We met in Shanghai in late June and traveled to nearby Ningbo, where area mountains provide an apt setting for Buddhist monastics.




A panorama of our temple complex, Jin'e, outside of Ningbo, China.

 A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

A butterfly on bamboo in the bamboo forest surrounding our temple.

The rural setting of the monastery was perfect. The air was clear (a big deal in eastern China) and crisp. Rain fell regularly, sometimes in torrential pours. The food was delicious, the air conditioning worked perfectly.

Students arrived soon after we had and we quickly entered into a routine of morning meditation, tai chi, breakfast, and academic classes, followed by lunch, rest, and an afternoon of cultural activities and further meditation.

This was my second year with the team and things, much more than before, seemed to fall very nicely into place. This was particularly true with our teaching team: Peter, Karl, myself, and Guttorm. I had the pleasure of covering aspects of the study of religion, early Buddhist thought and practice, modern mindfulness, and Yogacara. 

Sadly, my time there was shorter than usual - just 16 days instead of a full 4 weeks. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and Ven. Yifa, and to dig deeply into material I otherwise do not get to explore as thoroughly. And it was good to get away from the constant news cycle of American politics. Each trip plants more seeds of potential, connection, dharma, no matter how short or busy. 

 Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

Ven. Yifa instructing students in front of our main shrine room

 Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

Ven. Yifa telling students about the meaning of shaving one's head in Buddhism - including the spiritual (and practical - no shampoo or conditioner!) benefits.

One of our cultural activities included a visit from Shaolin monks. Along with a show of their proficiency in martial arts, they gave teachings on music and calligraphy. 

 Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

Students in formal robes for a chanting ceremony in our main shrine room, guided by Ven. Yifa.

 One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

One last photo op before my departure. From L to R in back, Karl, me, Peter, & Guttorm. 

Mindfulness Retreat: Journey into Silence

Join us for this opportunity to do the work of journeying within. I will be leading a silent retreat at a beautiful center on Flathead Lake in N.W. Montana. 

The retreat will be from Friday, October 6 at 5pm (silence beginning at 7pm) until Sunday, October 8 at 1pm (with silence ending at noon). Long-time meditators will see this as a very short retreat, less than two full days, but it will feel incredibly long for those who have never experienced this sort of period of silence and meditation. 

I've written some thoughts out (and borrowed liberally from some excellent writers) that you can read here: Silent Meditation Retreat: What to Expect. It will be updated, and those who sign up for the retreat will get more information and the opportunity to speak with me about any questions or concerns. 

Like meditation itself, it is a wonderful opportunity to get to better know your mind and to bring some semblance of order and calm into your world. But it helps to have a group of committed fellow meditators/retreatants with you along with a guide - someone who has done many retreats like this in the past and has guided new meditators into and through their practice. 

More information and registration can be found at Merlin CCC

Mindfulness Workshop June 18 at Dancing Lotus Center

Join us in this workshop to learn basic mindfulness and compassion practices, improving your well-being through deeper awareness of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness techniques have been proven to help those with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep difficulties, poor concentration, low self-esteem, burnout, and more. We will explore formal meditation practices, sitting and walking (with postures to accommodate all abilities), along with informal practices such as mindful talking and listening.

Sunday, June 18, 11:10am-1:40pm

See the poster below and visit the Dancing Lotus Center (click on event) to register. Space is limited.

1/2 day retreat for teens in Helena, Montana

Join us Saturday, June 17 from 10am - 4pm for a unique workshop dedicated to helping high school aged teens build essential life skills. We will feature elements of psychology, life coaching, philosophy, and mindfulness, with individual and group activities; all in a natural environment near Marysville, MT (transportation to/from provided). 

We will begin and end at the Reeder's Alley Interpretive and Convention Center (101 Reeder's Alley, Helena MT 59601).

Full scholarships are available (normal cost is $80/person) via the Helena nonprofit, the Awareness Network.

See the poster below or click here: https://merlinccc.org/philosophy-workshops/ for more information and registration.

Grief, Loss & Heartbreak Workshop June 16

5:30 - 9pm at the Reeder's Alley Interpretive & Convention Center.

I'm very grateful to be taking part in a second workshop on this topic with Troy and Marisa. This is a short period of time, but it gets very deep very quickly. Come with a heavy heart and leave with an open heart. This is not an empty promise, nor is it as radical a transformation as it might seem. 

It is just a matter of orientation; seeing that the heart was open all along. 

From the website:

Grief can manifest for a number of reasons — the death of a loved one, loss of a job, a change in status, issues related to personal health and the environment, and more. It can also include numerous emotional components — sadness, loss, angst, frustration, anger, and despair. How do we deal with these feelings? What sorts of things can we do to stay afloat and/or dive in?

$60 per person

Hot tea, meditation cushions, and chairs provided.  

A unique evening workshop for individuals struggling with grief, loss & heartbreak incorporating elements of philosophy, psychology, mindfulness meditation, reflection, sharing, and simple & effective tools to help navigate grief.  Workshop facilitators include Troy DaRonco, Justin Whitaker, Ph.D., and Marisa Diaz-Waian, M.A.  For more information please contact Marisa at marisa@merlinccc.org or #406-439-5788.

Register for Our Workshop at Merlin CCC