Evidence of the benefits of mindfulness: 60 Minutes

This short clip from 60 Minutes serves as a fitting follow-up to my Tuesday post about thinking. 

Anderson Cooper wires up his brain to show visual evidence of the calming effects of meditation. When Cooper drops into meditation after thinking about a stressful event, his brain responds immediately. His brain leaves behind the red stress zone and enters a “blue mindfulness zone.”

For centuries, meditation practitioners have touted the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits of meditation, but naysayers dismissed the claims as a bunch of unscientific hooey. Scientific evidence gives such naysayers permission to trust in the unseen.

The next time stress-inducing thoughts pop into your head, remember Anderson Cooper’s brain, focus on your breath and find your own blue mindfulness zone.

Click on the link below to watch the video: 60 Minutes


Time to think: The power of quiet time

My friend, Jennifer, thought of me when she read a New York Times article last week: “No Time to Think” by Kate Murphy. Jennifer thought of me because I am not like the people described in the article—people who are so afraid of being alone with their thoughts they actually administer electric shocks to themselves if left alone with nothing but their thoughts for as little as 6 minutes.

postcard poem ArleneJennifer is the friend who coined the “Laughing Thinker” phrase I use as part of my bio; I take it as a compliment that she sees me as both profound and happy. I love to think. During the day when I am at home, I never turn on radios or TVs. I live in silent contemplation all day, and I love it.

During the Christmas season I work part-time at a bookstore in a shopping mall. Many of the younger solo shoppers enter our store with ear buds in both ears. I think, “They can’t even go shopping without some din in their ears?” Are they really so afraid of their own thoughts? Apparently so.

Why is this a problem? What does it matter if people shut themselves down? According to researchers, the main reason people don’t want to think too much is they don’t want to dwell on the negative or ruminate on their problems. But if we don’t allow ourselves the time to sort ourselves out, it hampers ability to empathize with others. 

Lost creativity is another cost. Murphy writes, “. . . an idle mind is a crucible for creativity.” Thinking about problems outside of reality adds new dimensions to the issue and allows for novel solutions to challenges.

Empathy and creativity melt away so many negative issues. At this time of year, it’s tempting to rush, rush, rush and party, party, party. At this time, some of the negative family, friends and financial stuff we suppress the rest of the year raises its unavoidable ugly head for us to deal with. So, at this time of year it’s more important than ever to foster thinking time.

Winnie the Pooh and Tigger were onto something: Think, think, think, and laugh a little too.

Laughing Thinkers

Laughing Thinkers




A good time of year to dance: Hafiz

At this time of year, many people for many different reasons contemplate God or the God-ness in our world. These two poems by Hafiz, as translated by Daniel Ladinsky in The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Masterreminded my that, more than anything, for whatever reason, this time of year is good for dancing. And better dancing than fussing about details or interpretations.

The God Who Only Knows Four Words



Has known God.

Not the God of names,

Not the God of don’ts,

Not the God who ever does

Anything weird,

But the God who only knows four words

And keeps repeating them, saying:

“Come dance with Me.”




What Should We Do About That Moon?

A wine bottle fell from a wagon
And broke open in a field.

That night one hundred beetles and all their cousins

And did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby
And began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.

Then the “night candle” rose into the sky
And one drunk creature, laying down his instrument,
Said to his friend—for no apparent

“What should we do about that moon?”

Seems to Hafiz
Most everyone has laid aside the music

Tackling such profoundly useless


Arlene, dancing like nobody is watching.

Arlene, dancing.

Puppy rooms: Evidence the world is getting better

I know the world is getting better and better. My evidence: Puppy rooms.

My daughter brought this to my attention. It’s exam time at universities, and these institutions of higher learning have started providing therapy dogs to help students deal with stress.

Oh, how I wish such a thing were available when I was in university.

Of course, every good idea must have its detractors, and at least one columnist suggested that work is the ideal solution for extreme stress. Give that man a puppy!

This story reminded me of an entertaining TED talk video featuring Hans and Ola Rosling. These Swedish researchers discuss “How not be ignorant about the world”. At the TED conference, the Roslings asked audience members to answer with their predictions about three topics:

  • How did deaths per year from natural disaster change in the last century?
  • Women aged 30 spent how many years in school?
  • In the last 20 years the percentage of people living in extreme poverty . . . increased, stayed the same, or decreased?

The respondents tended to take a dim view of societal events.

In general, we believe everything is getting worse, we believe in a large, increasing gap between rich and poor, we believe countries need to be rich before they can improve social conditions, and we exaggerate the number of people harmed by things that scare us. But in every case the results were better than people expected and improved today over what happened in the past.

The Roslings suggest if we want to interpret the world, to “turn our intuition into strength,” we might follow their “rules of thumb” and assume that:

  • Most things improve
  • Most people are in the middle economically
  • Most countries improve their societal conditions and then benefit economically
  • The things that scare us (terrorist, shark attacks) harm few people.

My unscientific examination of the societal conditions in Canada suggest that this country is indeed a better place today than it was three decades ago. My evidence: Three decades ago my university had no puppy room; today my daughter’s university does.

I rest my case. 


TED Talk: Hans and Ola Rosling –



Imperfect but authentic heroes: Daniel Alfredsson

In Ottawa, Canada where I live, one of our hockey players earned some time in the spotlight last night. Daniel Alfredsson, who played for the Ottawa Senators NHL hockey team from 1994 to 2013, soaked up a shower of adulation on the day he announced his retirement from the game.

We Ottawa Senators fans adore Alfredsson, affectionately known as Alfie. He is so good, fans of opposing teams boo him, and that’s a sure sign of high quality play. We adore him even though he left our city for a while; we adore him because he left our city for a while to stand up for his principles. We adore him even though he made occasional (very rare) missteps; we adore him because he made occasional missteps. We adore him even though he spoke the brutal truth when our team did not play well; we adore him because he spoke the brutal truth and didn’t feed the media stock soundbites.

We think we want heroes of the bulletproof variety. We expect to lose faith in them if they fail. But we don’t. We like our heroes real, and that inevitably means fallible.  Heroes that stick, the real, durable sort, gain that status because they don’t try to be heroes. They live their truths—win, lose, gain, fail—because they don’t know any other way, not to please us.

That’s what I’ll remember most about Daniel Alfredsson. I’ll remember his determined style of play, I’ll remember his last-second, save-the-day goals, and I’ll remember his role as an ambassador for mental health awareness. Most of all, I’ll remember his authenticity.

Authenticity. The word crops up around me more and more often these days. Unconventional heroes proclaim themselves in this transformational age of authenticity, and we love the real people who beam with joy once they shed a false faςade. How can we not love Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris? Their authenticity reassures millions of LGBT people around the world. And how can we not sigh with relief when we learn that the adorable Sean Mendes gets zits just like the rest of us?

 Be real, everybody. If you are, you’ll be a hero to someone.

The art on our walls: Memories of my father

Fifteen years ago on this date at about this time in the morning, I received a phone call. My mother told me my father had dropped dead of a heart attack.

I reeled upon hearing the shocking news. I sat on the family room couch in a daze.

I was home with my five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son. My daughter quickly figured out that all was not well. I pulled her close and told her the news. Without saying a word, she left the room.

A short time later she returned and handed me this picture. “Now you’ll always remember what your father looked like,” she said.


I framed the soul-laden picture and hung it on the wall in my office. It is one of the many pieces of art on our walls that holds great meaning and tells a story.

Is the art on your walls soul-laden?


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